Dodo the Millstone

dodoCompanion Tropes 8

STEVEN: What’s the matter? Are you crying?
DODO: No, me nose is running! 

The practice of using a millstone, a circular disk to grind grain, goes back to the Neolithic.  Human beings have been particularly talented at thinking up punishments over the years, and sometimes it seems like the thinking has been the crueller the better.  The gospel according to Matthew in the New Testament of the bible includes the following:

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble!

Woe indeed.  Executing somebody by drowning with a millstone around the neck was a longstanding punishment, for example Saint Florian, who was drowned in the river Enns.  Another thing humans like to do is to think up metaphors based on this kind of thing, so the expression “millstone around the neck” came into existence, to describe a person who is a liability to have around and makes things go wrong.  Step forward Dodo Chaplet.

STEVEN: What’s all the fuss about? The man’s caught Dodo’s cold, that’s all.
DOCTOR: All? All? These people, this generation, have never experienced the common cold for the simple reason it was wiped out many generations ago before they were born. They have no resistance to it.

Often disaster seems to surround a millstone, not always through any fault of his/her own.  The Ark is a good example of this.  Dodo is another innocent victim of the kidnapper Doctor, ending up aboard the TARDIS by accident.  Arriving in the far future, she brings a cold virus with her and nearly wipes out what remains of the human race in the process.  It’s not her fault, but it’s the sort of thing that seems to happen to Dodo.

DODO: Steven, do you think he’s really hurt?
STEVEN: It’s another trick. Roll the dice.
DODO: Look, he’s bleeding. He’s hurt his foot. We can’t just leave him.
DODO: No! I’m going to help him.
DODO: Oh, look! You’d better take your sock off. Hey, That’s red ink!
CYRIL: Of course it is. You’re so easy to fool, you are. Now you can go back to the start for getting out of your triangle, and miss a turn. That means it’s my turn now!
DODO: Well, of all the spiteful things!

More commonly, the millstone causes problems for the other regular characters by doing something silly.  In the example above from The Celestial Toymaker, she acts out of compassion.  A millstone doesn’t have to be a character the audience automatically dislikes.  She can often be somebody who is ruled by her heart and that clouds her judgement.  The viewers can see that she is being tricked, and so can Steven, but the millstone around his neck drags him down.

HOLLIDAY: What’re you attempting to do with that there offensive weapon?
DODO: Shoot you if I have to.
HOLLIDAY: Now how’d you reckon to get back to Tombstone without me?
DODO: I shall try not to kill you. I shall aim for your arm.
HOLLIDAY: That’s real thoughtful. Just at the moment you’re aiming right between my eyes.

That’s Dodo almost killing Doc Holliday by accident, before he can get to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, threatening to derail the course of history.  A millstone is a very useful character to the writers.  After all, without the millstone messing things up there probably wouldn’t be enough story to stretch.  That’s why most Doctor Who companions manage to fall into that category at one point or another.  The difference with Dodo is that she contrives to do that in every one of her stories.  In The Savages we are in very standard millstone territory for a Doctor Who companion, with curiosity getting the better of her.  This plays out the way we expect it for a companion, with Dodo wandering off to explore and providing us with an important moment of drama:

TECH 3: She must be from outside. Is she for transference?
TECH 2: She must be. What else? We’d better make preparations.
DODO: No, no, no!

It’s commonplace for a millstone to need saving.  And if somebody needs to be possessed by the villain of the week, it’s always going to be the millstone.

DODO: What are my instructions?
WOTAN: Doctor Who is required. Bring him here.

In The War Machines Dodo gets mind-controlled by Wotan.  Again, it’s not really her fault, but bad things just happen to the millstone.  For that reason it’s sometimes hard for the viewers to warm to a character like that, and a millstone that endures will often risk derailing a series through a lack of realism.  Her departure probably had nothing to do with that factor, but it wasn’t long before Dodo got dropped unceremoniously from Doctor Who anyway, not even getting a farewell scene.

POLLY: She says she’s feeling much better and she’d like to stay here in London, and she sends you her love.
DOCTOR: Her love? Oh, there’s gratitude for you.

It’s a great shame, because there is so much more to Dodo than fulfilling the millstone role in the narrative, but she never really got her chance to shine despite being a contemporary Earth companion with so much potential.  At least as a companion she has some defining qualities: curious, compassionate, determined… but ultimately dumped out of the narrative of Doctor Who.  As millstones go, Dodo is one who deserved a better fate.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Editor of
This entry was posted in Companion Tropes, Doctor Who, Entertainment, Science Fiction, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dodo the Millstone

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I first saw Jackie Lane as Dodo in Ep. 4 of The Celestial Toymaker on The Hartnell Years VHS. It wasn’t really the best way for me to get to know her at all as a TARDIS companion. BBC Clips on YouTube like from The War Machines may have helped in that regard. I think that Babelcolour for how Humphryes could include some very small footage of her (with Steven) in that opening scene for The Ten Doctors quadrilogy was something of a retribution. That’s just my own opinion.

    For the penultimate female companion in Hartnell’s era before Anneke as Polly, Jackie can be for the most appropriate reasons remembered for her time on Dr. Who being a time when the classic series was clearly on the verge of pivotal changes. Thanks for your article on Dodo.

    Liked by 1 person

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