Friday, 9 March 2012

The Companions (TV)

Check out this little montage of companion photos I've just popped on YouTube - they definately keep the Doctor Young at Heart! Stick it on full screen and smile!

Does Doctor Who actually need a companion? Well that depends who you ask. Verity Lambert insists on a family for the Doctor to travel with - Granddad (the Doctor), Mum and Dad (Ian and Barbara) and annoying little kid (Susan). Barry Letts thinks a companion is important as long as she’s not too clever so the audience can relate to them (thanks Barry). Philip Hinchcliffe wants the Doctor to be able to teach his companion, in a Higgins/Doolittle fashion (Leela). John Nathan-Turner wants to give the audience something to wank over, to take their mind off the insane storytelling (Tegan, Peri and Ace for the boys, Adric and Turlough for the girls. I think we know who got short changed there). Russell T Davies sees the companion as more of an everyday 9-5 sort of gal, somebody who your average Joe can buy in to. Whatever you do don’t ask Tom Baker who thinks either he can go it alone or have a talking cabbage sitting on his shoulder. And Steven Moffatt wants you to experience the entire timeline of his companions just not the right way round. So who has the right approach? Which of the Doctor’s travelling companions were the most successful?

Personally I love them all. I know that is rather a broad statement but looking back over 50 odd years of television but there has been very few of the Doctor’s assistants that I have not enjoyed a moment or two with. What’s fascinating is just how representative of their era they are. The early sixties of BBC English, manners and morals are encapsulated in the schoolteachers from Coal Hill. Polly drags the show into the swinging sixties. Grungy, colourful, crazy Jo Grant is a poster child for the early seventies. Career obsessed Sarah Jane and intellectual Romana round of the seventies. The 80’s see an eclectic bunch of loud and brash non-entities bullying the Doctor. Ace hits our screens in the late 80’s where characterisation is starting to gain focus again. Rose, Martha and Donna are all outspoken, thoughtful women, very much a product of our emancipated times. And Amy Pond…well she’s Scottish so that automatically makes her a powerful woman.

Taken as a whole you have the best cast of any TV show, period. More versatile than any Star Trek series, more interesting than all the Stargates, better written and performed than a dozen other of your favourite shows. Yes you’re lumbered with Jackie Lane and Matthew Waterhouse but what about at Jacqueline Hill, Peter Purves, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Caroline John, Elisabeth Sladen, Louise Jameson, Lalla Ward, Sarah Sutton, Sophie Aldred, Billie Piper and Catherine Tate. Most shows would kill for half that arsenal of talent. Even when you are not entirely thrilled by the casting or characterisation of the Doctor (although I love some of their stories I can happily skip watching any Peter Davison or Sylvester McCoy tales for some time) you have the companions to boost your interest.

They have received a lot of stick over the years for being window dressing, just there to ask the Doctor questions, a handy way of splitting a story in two…but where would we be without them? Can you imagine Doctor Who without Sarah Jane falling down that slight incline in The Five Doctors? Or Jo Grant’s poignant decision to leave the Doctor for another man? Or Peri’s constant ‘all these corridors look the same to me?’ Who could imagine the show without Mel’s ear splitters, Adric’s whining, Rose’s pouting, Donna’s moralising, Leela’s knife wielding, Zoe brain, Sarah’s charm, Barbara’s historical horrors, Martha’s doting, Ace’s bombs, Romana’s wit…the companions are so much more than just window dressing. They fill the stories with fun, excitement and laughter, sometimes unintentionally (‘London…hoooommmee!’ or even better ‘why isn’t he here? Why is he never around when you want him?’) and they break the Doctor’s heart over and over again. And that’s always good viewing.

People moan that the potentially yucky idea of the Doctor and his companion getting it on has been exploited too much of late. Oh please. The second Doctor and Jamie bromance started the trend! The third Doctor and Jo Grant flirt outrageously and his reaction to her leaving is that of a jilted lover. The fourth Doctor and Romana skip through Paris hand in hand, their love spilling into the actors lives who were desperately in lust with each other at the time. Tegan is clearly obsessed by the fifth Doctor…why else would she give him such a hard time? Peri wears ever outrageously sexual clothes during the sixth Doctor’s era... Rose and Martha are certainly more verbal about their feelings for the Doctor but this is simply a continuation of what we have already seen before. The Doctor and Captain Jack share a kiss before he walks off to his death. The thought of nookie in the TARDIS is horrifying to some but the Doctor locks tongues so often these days it’s barely noticeable. He’s a good looking bloke most of the time so who can blame his companions for getting a bit hot under the collar?

Can you imagine a show with just the Doctor wandering about the universe talking to himself? That shot in Partners in Crime where the Doctor turns to gabble excitedly about his latest discovery only to find the console room empty speaks volumes. The Deadly Assassin is so special because it is a one off. The companions are a delightful reminder of why the Doctor travels. He has seen it all; done it all but through their eyes he can discover the beauty of the universe anew. Without them, the show would ground to an abrupt halt. Nobody to rescue. Nobody to rescue him. Nobody to talk to. No flirting. No fun.

Before I go I would like to remind you of why these guys and gals are so special…some you may recognise, others you may not. May I suggest you dig out those DVD and VHS tapes and remind yourselves how much fun it is to travel with the Doctor…

‘A thing that looks like a Police Box, standing in a junkyard, it can go anywhere is Time and Space? Oh Susan don’t be ridiculous!’ - Ian
‘If I could start the destruction of everything that is evil here, then everything that’s good could survive when Cortez lands!’ - Barbara
‘I come from another time, another world.’ - Susan
‘Oh by the way I think I’ve poisoned Nero.’ – Vicki
‘Wherever this machine of yours lands next I’m getting off.’ – Steven
‘I’m not crying…me nose is running!’ – Dodo
‘Hold on tight Dodo, the Navy’s in trouble…’ – Polly
‘There are no such thing as Macra!’ – Ben
‘Who’s the Yahoos!’ – Jamie
‘Aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’ – Victoria
‘And that’s how Jamie’s face was changed you got it all wrong!’ – Zoe
‘Me? What about you? You really believe in a man whose helped to save the world twice…with the power to transform his physical appearance? And alien being who travels through time and space…in a police box?’ – Liz
‘I’m your new assistant!’ – Jo
‘Why don’t you take off that ridiculous gear and go home to your butchers shop!’ – Sarah
‘Die bent face!’ – Leela
‘No not perfectly master, adverb attributed was normally.’ – K9
‘I suppose after the first few decades things get a bit foggy, don’t they?’ – Romana I
‘Despicable worm!’ – Romana II
‘Why isn’t he here? Why is he never around when you want him?’ – Adric
‘Call yourself a Time Lord? A broken clock keeps time better than you! At least it’s accurate twice a day…which is more than you ever are!’ – Tegan
‘You pig!’ – Nyssa
‘My home…long ago…it was…an INFECTION!’ – Turlough
‘This cinder we’re standing on is all that’s left of my world. Everything I know…’ – Peri
‘Aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’ – Mel
‘I felt like I could run forever.’ – Ace
‘That’s how good the Doctor is!’ – Rose
‘So what are you trying to tell me…you’re prejudiced?’ - Jack
‘Do you hear me Saxon let them go!’ – Martha
‘I can’t go back…please don’t make me…’ – Donna
'Spoilers' - River
'All those boys chasing me but it was only ever Rory' - Amy
'Putting Hitler in the cupboard' - Rory

Here’s to the Doctor’s companions. Every stupid, wonderful, brilliant, miserable, hilarious and goofy one of them! Does the Doctor need a companion? I think the question should be does the companion need a Doctor? Sarah Jane has certainly proven otherwise!

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