For yesterday’s blog, Roger took a look at the companion in Doctor Who, focusing on the female companion. We share weekends, sometimes getting a weekend each, and other times splitting the days, but I wanted today to be one to follow on his heels for a reason. There have been far more females traveling with the Doctor, so it made sense to start with them anyway. But today is a special day for me to look at “the best female companion”.
From the earliest days, the Doctor was traveling with his granddaughter; a companion who should have been the most interesting of all of them but was relegated to a screaming child that even the Doctor wanted to be rid of. Barbara boarded the TARDIS and was completely out of her element but in a very realistic way. Vicki was able to be a bit more of a friend and equal for him as they interacted in a fantastic way. Then Katrina and Dodo, one is killed off and one is forgotten… Even with Polly, who was certainly a fun, hip, 60’s girl, the female companions were up and down. The strongest of the original era was probably Sara Kingdom. And to be clear, I mean strong as in: not reduced to a screaming child but even she was killed off in the same story as Katrina!
Zoe was the next to offer some strength of character. That is, until she saw the Doctor floating around in a void in The Mind Robber. But fair dues: I think many a man would have screamed too, so I don’t want to hold that particular one against the writers. As sweet as Victoria was, she never really managed to be anything more than a gentle child herself. Then Liz Shaw came along with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and was so strong… they wrote her out ignominiously without a word between seasons. And then she came: Sarah Jane Smith.
Played by Lis Sladen, she was the Doctor’s companion when I was first watching the show in 1980. I stumbled upon Doctor Who with The Ark in Space and was transfixed. It is said that the companion is the gateway to the show; the audience identification figure. I never felt that way. For me, it was the Doctor. And as a boy of 8, I wanted nothing more than to be the Doctor. The problem was, like Holmes needing his Boswell, the Doctor needs a companion and by my reckoning, Sarah Jane was that perfect companion; they were truly best friends. And I had no one who wanted to talk about Doctor Who with me in grade school.
But on January 21st 1980, on this most auspicious of days, I too got a companion. And although it would be a little while before she could pretend to escape Krynoids with me in our grandparents’ backyard, my baby sister was born! I had my “Sarah Jane”! We had many, many adventures together. Like Sarah Jane, my sister went on to have her own adventures, currently with her own child companions, and while there may not be a Rani or Clyde… there is a Luke (and a Nick)! And as life happens, like my hero, I went on to have other adventures of my own with other companions too. But like we saw so clearly in School Reunion, the Doctor and Sarah Jane would be linked forever.
Which brings us back to the Doctor and his companions. Jo Grant, Leela and Romana (both of them), Tegan and Nyssa, Peri and Mel and Ace… All with strength and weakness, all eventually reduced to damsels in distress; although one might argue that Ace pushed the mold… Then there was Grace, played by the lovely Daphne Ashbrook, breaking the mold of the original female companion in 1996 (my sister watched this episode when it aired). It would still be some time before the likes of Rose, Martha and Donna would travel in the TARDIS and with each, they helped shape the landscape of what Doctor Who would be for the modern era. Then came Amy whose mental health was always in question! And Clara, who I would argue had the most broken of relationships with the Doctor; abusive and codependent. A bad situation indeed. And that brings us to Bill; possibly the best of the modern era; her end is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
But, while Bill may be the best of the modern female companions, in my heart the best will always be Sarah Jane Smith.
And it doesn’t matter for me if she’s played my Lis Sladen or my sister!
Happy birthday, little sibling. ML
I came home early from work because of a cold one day in 2011 and checked my email. I saw the heartbreaking news from DWAS (which I was a member of then) that Liz Sladen had passed from cancer. I was shocked and saddened. But I may always reminisce with her legacy as Sarah Jane Smith on YouTube and Dailymotion for which G7TV has a Sarah Jane Adventures Redux of K-9 & Company. There’s always a foreword tribute by David Tennant to Liz’s autobiography on YouTube which I recommend. Thank you for this article.
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That was awesome. Thank you. Love you big bro.
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