In the era of New Who, we don’t get much in the line of a TARDIS team like we had in the old days. Instead, the Doctor travels with one companion most of the time. In the Ninth Doctor’s case, that was Rose Tyler. Mickey did not get to be a companion until the Tenth Doctor although the brief team up of the Doctor, Mickey, Rose and Jack in Boom Town did earn both Mickey and Jack honorable mention. Once again, we’re going to look at what the audience was meant to identify with. Post Dr. Grace Holloway (The Movie, 1996), Doctor Who must have realized it had to do a better job with the companions. Grace was a model companion. She was a real person, with a life of her own and an identity. She raised the bar on the companion game. So how would 2005 treat the companion?
Meet Rose Tyler. A down to earth girl in her late teens or very early 20’s. She works at a shop, has a boyfriend, and a mom. Her mom is widowed but still loves her husband and brings Rose up on stories of how wonderful he was. Rose isn’t particularly great in school and in most respects she’s an everyday kind of person. And we can totally relate to that. We’re not meeting a scientist from another planet, a woman with no past or one who is too determined to get to her job. She is like the rest of us. She’s streetwise and in most ways average, staying out far later than she should and worrying her mom to death… but meeting the Doctor changes her. “You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say “no”! You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away!” That’s what happens when the Doctor touches us. That’s what it is to be a companion to the Doctor. Open-minded, intelligent, and ready to become more! The creators of Doctor Who may have been onto something here. (“Now, you’re getting it!”)
Adam offers a stark contrast to Rose. As an audience identifier, he’s set up from the beginning to be the odd man out, working for a selfish megalomaniac in an underground bunker collecting alien equipment. Adam is not altruistic. He’s intelligent but in a position of which none of us could relate. His first outing with the Doctor and Rose causes him to pass out, throw up, and try to steal knowledge of the future to make his family rich. He is not outstanding nor is he improved for his time in the TARDIS. We are not meant to be like Adam and his abrupt expulsion is a clear indication of exactly what not to be if we want to be allowed access to the wonders of the universe. But that’s the point really: it’s a mirror for us to see what would be frowned upon and change that in ourselves. And in that way, his character is well utilized, if not well loved.
Briefly we should address Mickey Smith. He is a slow burn and at this stage we can view him as a skeptic. He improves with age, but most of that is as a result of wanting to impress his one true love: Rose Tyler. And in that way, the Doctor is largely responsible for Rose’s growth who in turn triggers something in Mickey. So as a companion, he’s functioning in a way in which we can relate. On top of that, he’s hurt when his girlfriend leaves him but she only leaves for a better life, not that she wasn’t happy with him. In her world, there is still room for him if he raises the bar for himself. And so he begins the slow journey. Which, again, is exactly the right thing! As an identifier and a role model, he is working, even if it takes him a little longer to get there. (We don’t all mature at the same rate!)
And then there was Jack. Jack is his own best friend yet even he is made better from being with the Doctor. Only traveling with him for 2 stories (beyond his intro), Jack starts off the selfish con-man. We may not be able to identify with him barring that we can all have our moments of selfishness. But it’s that time he spends with the Doctor that actually makes him a better person. He becomes altruistic. He gives up his own life to save others. (Well, sort of.) He changes from coward to hero. “Wish I’d never met you, Doctor. I was much better off as a coward.” Again, he displays what it takes to be traveling with the Doctor. His character as a companion fulfills the requirements. The new era is shaping the companions into real people, and that’s wonderful!
The Doctor may choose being a coward over a killer and that’s a subject for much debate especially in context of Davros’ condemnation that the Doctor turns people into weapons, but that’s not for today’s discussion. For now, we look at the companions. And it seems that in the era of New Who, the writers and creators may have finally understood what it means to be an audience identification figure. We can relate to these people and we can see ways in which to improve ourselves. With lessons like these, we may yet learn what it takes to travel in the TARDIS with the Doctor. ML
Chris Eccleston’s era as the 9th Doctor is particularly unforgettable for how short it was regardless of whatever prompted Eccleston’s early departure. His Doctor still lived on, from Aquatics64’s The Eleven Doctors with archive vocals to Reverse The Polarity Productions’ Trek Through Time which got to see the 9th and 10th Doctors mash-up with Star Trek. There were novelizations, including a Big Finish tribute for the 50th’s Destiny Of The Doctors series. Speaking for myself, having always admired Eccleston since I first saw him in Shallow Grave, I still like him as the 9th Doctor and wish he had been in The Day Of The Doctor outside of “And for my next trick…” archive footage used in the “Gallifrey Stands!” climax. Each Doctor is remembered for different reasons. Tom Baker went on record for saying that no one has ever failed as Dr. Who, not even one-hit-wonders like Richard E. Grant, Trevor Martin or Arabella Weir (despite the blatant drawbacks of Exile). Eccleston was a fine Doctor even if he doesn’t look back on it as fondly as the others. He certainly deserves points for the Doctor’s first same-sex kiss with Jack.
Speaking of which, even though Jack was the first openly pansexual character I saw in Dr. Who, it was shortly after that (thanks to YouTube) that I finally got around to see Pt. 2 of P.R.O.B.E. where a secret romance between two schoolboys was recognizable enough. That was in 1995. So I can further appreciate the Wilderness Years in that sense for motivating the return of Dr. Who to make more strides in its unrivaled flexibility. Star Trek has braved these waters, first with Deep Space 9, then Phase 2 and now Discovery. So Dr. Who’s return in 2005 quite synchronously prompted our revitalization of SF/fantasy from revived franchises to advanced story material. Eccleston made it possible by signing on to be the 9th Doctor. So rest assured, Chris, fans will always thank you for that including me. Thank you both as well for your reviews.
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