Continuing along with the idea of who the audience was meant to identify with during each of the Doctor’s tenures, we have arrived at the Pertwee era. This really only included three companions, as I’m not including para-military organization, UNIT, in the mix.
When Patrick Troughton’s time came to an end, the Time Lords gave him options on what he wanted to look like for his exile. Finding nothing appropriate, he fussed, “That one’s too old. That one’s too young, isn’t he?” He didn’t find his “just right” fit, so they chose for him. Similarly, a certain blonde haired girl was wandering through the land of Telly when Lord Beeb spotted her and said, “Goldilocks, we know who you are! You did a jolly good job with those bears, so we wanted to give you a chance to decide who the best audience identification figure is for the Pertwee Era!” Goldilocks twirled her hair and looked over all three: Liz Shaw, Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.
“This one’s too cold”, she said. And, to be fair, Liz was a bit cold. I’m not saying she was wrong for being that way with Pertwee’s Doctor. He is frequently a barrel-chested chauvinist. I can hear him saying “my dear young lady, I’m about to say something totally demeaning to you and I expect you to look up to me while I’m doing it!” In many ways the Doctor is a product of the time, so the companion was going to show the flip side of that chauvinism. She’s super-smart and no-nonsense. She even knows real science, or as much science as any human did for that time; she was a female Einstein for the Who universe. But she’s not a warm, fuzzy companion. She, like Zoe before her, might make a good role model for the young female viewer where her intellect was concerned, but that coldness probably kept many from looking up to her. The idea of either representing us or being a role model for us can be looked at differently from a perspective of the era too. Very few fans would have actually been scientists like her – that’s the product of another generation, namely this one. So many of the scientists of today were the fans or children of the fans of yesterday. Liz isn’t like the fans of today though, but she may have been like the fans of yesterday. A bit more scientific, less emotional, some still coming off the late 60’s “I grok Spock” mind set. I’m not sure she made the best companion though because she was often at odds with the Doctor. He was the teacher and Liz was just proven wrong time and again by the Doctor’s pseudoscience. It was a conflict of intellect, if you will.
“This one’s too soft”, says Goldilocks, walking over to Jo Grant. Jo is the perfect image of the dizzy blonde. She’s an airhead. I’m not creating the stereotype, I’m just capitalizing on it! Somehow under the airhead, she was smart… but she’s mostly an airhead. She does have some escapology skills, but I’m still struggling with this and have been for years. How does that come about? “Oh, my friend ties me up and has me get out of these bonds. Sometimes I have to squirm out of my clothes when Daleks are around!” STOPSTOPSTOP! Jo, I don’t want to hear any more! She douses the Doctor’s experiment on their first meeting, then nearly blows him up later that same day. She leaves him to wander the Amazon with a guy she met just a few days earlier who happens to be a complete and utter hippy, growing mushrooms in the “nut hutch”. “I’m not judging you!” I truly hope the BBC didn’t think all fans were airheads nor did they want girls to follow Jo’s footsteps. (Good lord!) She was a better companion to the Third Doctor’s personality however, because Liz would have smacked him for all his pomp, while Jo liked to think of him as a kindly, eccentric uncle. And she did love traveling with him even if periodically she would have near-breakdowns. (Axos, anyone?) Still, I’ve always liked Jo but because, like Victoria, she has a sweet, innocent way about her, despite her proclivity towards handcuffs.
“Oh, but this one is just right!” Goldilocks says, approaching Sarah Jane Smith. I freely admit that I am biased but my introduction to SJ was during Baker’s era. For Pertwee’s she was still great, but portrayed differently. She still has her own strength to work with, for one. She’s strong and intelligent but warm and approachable. She gets scared appropriately, like when she finds herself face to face with a Sontaran, but she’s not a typical damsel in distress either (except for in The Five Doctors where she rolls down a 12 degree incline and needs to be rescued with a rope). But try as I might, I never recall her going all mental like Jo did. If the BBC wanted to make her a role model, they did not do a bad job because she knows who she is as a person, she has an inner strength and is comfortable doing her job without the Doctor. Yet she finds him interesting enough that she opts to learn from him and spend time with him. She could also represent fandom as regular people with jobs who find themselves whisked away like she was into the fantasy of it all. She was treated with respect without all that pomposity that was present with her predecessors. It might be part of the reason everyone knows and loves Sarah Jane and why she would eventually become the returning companion.
Like the fairy tale, we found one that was just right! Lord Beeb smiled on Goldilocks. “Good job. I may need you again in the future. In the meantime, would you like a jelly baby?” ML