Before I continue to the new series of Doctor Who (2005-present) with my audience identification articles, I needed to write a companion piece. My bone of contention with the idea that the companion is the person for whom the audience identifies has always been that I identified with the Doctor and my instinct says, so do most people. So I’ve been taking a tongue-in-cheek look at what that means with all of the companions. If the BBC says it’s the companion we identify with, what does that say about us? If, on the other hand, we’re meant to look at the companion as a role model, again, what would we be learning based on the way those companions are written? In many cases, I’ve been playing up the negatives about these characters. But I need to take a less tongue-in-cheek look at it for a moment because my conscience has been nagging at me!
The fact is, the companion should represent us in two ways: firstly, that a regular person is allowed access to a magical adventure. Who knows, it could be one of us next! Yes, it’s the dream of all Doctor Who fans that one day, one magical, miraculous day, we will hear that wheezing, groaning sound and we too will go on the trip of a lifetime. Until then, we have the television show. The other way they should represent us is that through their interactions with the Doctor, they become more than they were before. They become better men and women, they grow, learn and change for the best. I can say from experience, this is true for so many of us. We fans have found something in Doctor Who that is different than all the other stuff on television. It’s more fun, more aspirational, and more accepting. It’s about hope and kindness and wonder. So the Doctor, by default, accepted all of us the way he accepted his on-screen companions. In that way, we are indeed like the companions; we’ve been accepted into his adventures and we come out with a sense of kinship with our fellow fans. Even when I’ve been to conventions, the instant chemistry between fans is uncanny. It always feels like meeting old friends even when it’s the first time many of us meet. We may be an odd group, but like the Doctor’s companions on television, the fact that we’ve entered that TARDIS makes companions of all of us. We have all bonded in a way that sees past color, gender, sex, team allegiance. We are all travelers in that TARDIS and in that way, the companion does, and should, represent us. It’s part of the magic of Doctor Who.
Of the actual companions who we’ve all seen on television, I’ve had the extremely good luck to meet a number of them over the years and can say that, without fail, that they have all been genuinely great people. I thank them all for their work on the show and for being ambassadors. I don’t know if they truly recognize that they have been immortalized by taking those roles; that we, the fans love them for the joy they added to our lives for being in the series. It’s been a long time since I met Sophie Aldred but she was bubbly and fun; every bit her TV counterpart, Ace. Probably more fun; she didn’t carry that teenage angst that her television alter ego possessed. Most recently, Sarah Sutton amazed me with her authenticity and though brief, my conversation with her was a highlight of a convention visit. The same happened a year ago with Daphne Ashbrook and she’s had a huge array of SF credentials, but that did not stop her from being wonderful. Fraser Hines simply couldn’t be more polite. Easy going and enjoying every bit the fact that he is still loved as Jamie McCrimmon, he was a blast to spend time with. (And he got me watching Homeland because of a case of mistaken identity; true story!) William Russell is still doing conventions at 93 and what an impressive man he is. I feel honored to have met him and shaken his hand! Anneke Wills and the late Michael Craze were together in Chicago years ago and Anneke acted like an old friend even though I had never met her before. Even Brian Blessed, although not strictly a companion, was friendly and still Ycarnos (having recently climbed Mount Everest).
The characters they played were part of the success of a show that we all love and at no point can I say I ever disliked a companion. I’ve had my share of favorites on screen and a handful have extended off-screen. I should point out that I’m not easily star-struck. I’ve been on the subway with Robert DeNiro and had a chance to see Tom Cruise when they were filming something on Staten Island. These guys have name power, but no place at my core; they have never been heroes to me. They’ve done some great movies, but they never connected with me at a deeper level. Shaking hands with William Russell, talking to Sarah Sutton or Daphne Ashbrook, just waving at Sophie… these were my star-struck moments. These people are part of a legacy that will outlast eternity. And they are part of my own personal history. They are part of something magical and all the teasing I’m doing about the audience identification is but a shadow of the truth: these people are parts of that Doctor Who family of which we are all members. It’s a great family to be a part of.
I intend to go on with picking on the companions for New Who with Eccleston’s era next but it should be noted that not one of these companions, from Susan to Bill, have ever lost that magic. Doctor Who was enriched by every one of them, as they all have enriched us by their presence and it’s important to put that out there as we move into the next Doctor’s time in the TARDIS.
And now, back to teasing them… ML