So the BBC claims we, the audience, will identify with the companion in Doctor Who, to which I say “poppycock”. While I wish I were able to travel with the Doctor, for me, it’s more about being the Doctor. Impossible dream? Well, dream big. With Tom Baker’s run as the Doctor, the show had hit a high note. The Doctor was odd, eccentric, utterly alien, smiley, fun and manic. What this Doctor did was tell the audience that it was ok to be different and let’s have fun with it. I’d say for being the most alien of the classic Doctor’s, he was by far the most identifiable, because we are all odd in our own ways and he told us it was not just ok, but gloriously fun to be that way.
But if it were the companion that we were expected to look at and relate to, Tom gave us no shortage of friends. Sarah Jane Smith begins his run and she was everything we wanted in a companion. A loyal best friend, an intelligent woman, an inquisitive explorer and a role model to all who watched her. So good was she, that she even starred in her own spin-off where she befriends a young crowd in the same vein as what the Doctor was doing with humans. I don’t know if the BBC felt we were all like that, but if they did, I would not complain.
Harry Sullivan is an … awesome companion too. For me, this was the trio. Harry is capable and intelligent, but thrown into a world that turns everything he knows about the universe squarely upside down. Like Sarah, this man is loyal and a playful friend, willing to trade jibes and banter with his two traveling companions. It’s no wonder Doctor Who hit a high note when these two were traveling in the TARDIS with the Doctor. You couldn’t ask for more. And if the fans were thought of as a bunch of Harry Sullivans, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Harry got a bad rap, but that was because he was stopping the Doctor from having his way impressing Sarah all the time.
Now, Leela leaves something to be desired and I have a lot of questions about this if the BBC thought we identified with her. First of all, we went with Woman Friday with Leela. She’s a strong lead, but it’s like the BBC were told “women are more than screamers” so they said “Ok, here’s one who will kill everyone!” It’s an odd choice to go with a warrior who has the intellect of a child. She’s a strong role model in that she’s a leader, but a weaker role model because she didn’t understand anything. Her loyalty to the Doctor is commendable, but he was her teacher. This idea is brought back to much better effect during Capaldi’s final season. The audience was not all homicidal cavewomen thankfully nor were the bulk of them clueless about the worlds Doctor Who explored. Leela may have been a good companion, but I’d be hard pressed at knifepoint to agree that she was an identification figure!
K-9 may be a much-loved companion, but I’ll say only this: I think he was meant to be literally man’s best friend, with a future twist. We should all have a loyal dog as a pet. Add the ability to speak and what more can we say?
Romana gives us more to work with. In her first incarnation, she’s a bit of a snob rubbing the Doctor’s nose in her higher scores and placement within Time Lord hierarchy. Smart: check. Loyal: more or less. But she was on a mission that was given to her by a higher authority and that’s her goal. I hope the BBC didn’t think of the fans like that, but then fans do have a tendency of “knowing what’s best” (does this website imply something?) so maybe she did represent the fandom of the era. But it wasn’t until her next incarnation that Romana II really did something special. She was still snarky and wise-cracking but far more the Doctor’s friend. However she had an air of royalty when dealing with inferior species (aka humans, etc). Was this what fans did to non-fans, you sniveling drone? Oh, sorry, you’re one of us. (Who’s that looking over your shoulder? Poke him in the eye!) She did give us something to emulate though because she was smart and fun and part of the Doctor’s own people. But she didn’t have the draw the Doctor himself had. The Doctor would never treat others as inferior just because they were – they had to do something to warrant his scorn. Romana just carried herself like she was better than all the rest. Just ask Soldeed. (“You meddling hussy!”)
We come full circle now with the classic Doctors, pun intended. Adric, the boy who evolved from spiders, wore the same pajamas day after day, and who was so determined to be right, he crashes into the earth and kills all the dinosaurs and the Sleestak! (Marshall, Will and Holly too? I’m afraid so!) Tegan, the mouthy Aussie determined to get to her job to the point that she doesn’t want to experience the wonders of the universe, instead hoping to catch a flight with Paul Hogan. And Nyssa, the orphan who decided it was better to stop traveling via TARDIS and instead travel via plague ship, preferably with less clothes on! (Hey, I didn’t make her do it, I’m just saying…). As I said before, these were not what the fans were and they hardly made for good role models. They were the people lucky enough to travel with the Doctor.
I always said that if I had my way, I’d be the one picking up my own companions and traveling the universe with them. And as luck had it, that’s largely how life is. We are the masters of our own destiny and people enter our lives for a time and leave. They enrich us and make us better people but when the go, someone else steps in. Maybe now and then we find that one companion that travels with us forever.
I’ll keep going with the audience identifiers starting with that odd middle Doctor that exists both post classic and pre-“new Who”; Paul McGann. Until then, go have some jelly babies. ML