Last week we looked at the female companions in Doctor Who and the different roles they fulfil. Let’s take a look now at the male of the species, much rarer than their female counterparts (about 10 or 12 compared to about 25, depending on how you count them), despite being almost universally successful. So what are the connecting themes that define the male companion in Doctor Who?
- The Hero. This is the most obvious one, right from the start. This doesn’t mean heroic in the same way that the Doctor is heroic, but more in the traditional sense: a brave man who punches the villains and protects the girl. If this sounds horribly old-fashioned it’s because it is, which is probably why the male companion hasn’t been played like that since the 1970s. The First Doctor has three of these: Ian, Steven and Ben, for the obvious reason that he is an old man and can’t do the fisticuffs himself… except when he does that anyway. Harry was brought in for similar reasons when it looked like we were going to get Doctor Pastry, and was hastily re-imagined as a likeable bumbler.
- Contemporary Man. Like the contemporary female companion, this is surprisingly uncommon until we get to very recent times. Leaving aside the UNIT chaps, we have only Ian and Ben from the original run, and Adam, Mickey and Rory from the 21st Century. Harry barely fits into this category because he is basically a Victorian throwback, but like Ian and Ben he goes back to his own time at the first opportunity.
- Man from the future. Surprisingly common: Steven, Adric, probably Turlough, and Jack. You would think this would put them on a more equal footing with the Doctor and lose their ability to be audience identification figures, but neither is true in practice. The only real difference is the ability to share some of the technobabble in the scripts.
- Man from History. Companions from the past are used sparingly as the assumption is always that they will spend all the time being out of their depth and unable to interact with the plot beyond being a victim. This is nearly always a false assumption, with Jamie functioning perfectly well as an audience identification figure, whilst retaining the quirks of somebody who has no understanding of contemporary technology, let alone anything from the future. Just look how possessive he is about that little transistor radio in The Invasion. It’s an endearing quality. And talking about Jamie brings us onto…
- Best Buddy. Like the previous category, Jamie fulfils this one as a category unto himself, although there are hints of it with Steven, the Brigadier, Adric (when he’s not being too whiny), Rory and also pseudo-companions such as Craig and Wilf. But Jamie and the Second Doctor is the original Doctor Who bromance, with Jamie accompanying his Doctor from his second story right through to the end. They are a wonderful double act. “Yes Jamie, it is a big one.”
- The Soldier. Notably, one of these never gets to be a full-time companion. Harry is a member of UNIT but he is a medic not one of the troops. The Brigadier, Benton and Mike all get virtually no experience of travelling in the TARDIS, although the Brig does get offered companion status after a fashion at the end of Terror of the Zygons. Jack has an uneasy relationship with the Doctor, and his leanings towards the military perhaps play into that more than the Doctor admits, and Danny is roundly criticised by the Twelfth Doctor. Ultimately a military companion is an awkward fit for Doctor Who, because they will do what the Doctor almost never does, and solve a problem by pulling a trigger and thus collapse the narrative.
- The Villain. So you have the Doctor and a female companion. What interesting things can you do with a male character added to the mix? One possibility is to bring in a failed companion or an unpredictable one. Mike betrays the Brigadier, Adric is a whingeing thorn in the Doctor’s side who often can’t be trusted (e.g. State of Decay), Turlough spends his first three stories trying to pluck up the courage to kill the Doctor, Adam uses time travel for personal gain and gets kicked out. This sort of things never happens to the female companions, because it plays better into a kind of male rivalry dynamic, which brings us to…
- The Competition. This is very much a modern feature of Doctor Who. Mickey, Adam and Jack are all rivals for Rose’s affections. Amy tries to ditch Rory for the Doctor until she is set back on track by the Doctor in an interesting subversion of the previous standard approach.
Like the female companions, all these different approaches are ways to explore the Doctor through different eyes. But unlike the female companions there is nearly always an extra factor added into the mix. This is not just a Doctor/companion dynamic, but a Doctor/female companion/male companion dynamic. How the Doctor fits into that triangle is a fascinating way to show different facets of his character. So he can be a rival, a superior alpha male (the male companion always has to be the beta, or else needs to be spun off into his own series), an owner (K9 and Kamelion!), a teacher, or most successfully just simply a really amazing friend. And that’s what makes Jamie and the Second Doctor the greatest Doctor and male companion team of them all. RP