Nyssa the Stoic

nyssaCompanion Tropes 17

Imagine for a moment what your reaction would be to the following…

An evil monster kills your step mother, which is a shame because you rather liked her.  Then he kills your father, and starts walking around in his body.  He’s wearing his skin, but it’s not him.  That same monster of a man is then responsible for destroying everyone and everything you know, your entire planet, wiped out of existence, in a stroke making you the last of your kind.  You are an orphan, stranded on a spaceship with people you have only just met.  You can’t even go back to the area of space where your planet used to be and look up at those familiar constellations, the night sky you used to gaze at as a child.  Those constellations don’t exist any more either, the entire sector of space replaced with a black void.

I’m guessing you would be a little upset about that, to say the least.  Nyssa is upset too, but she delivers a simple, plaintive speech, and then moves on with her life:

The Master killed my stepmother, and then my father, and now the world that I grew up in, blotted out forever.

Nyssa is a stoic.  For those who are unsure exactly what that means, stoicism is a philosophy that dates back to 3rd Century BC Greece, and advocates living by logic and personal ethics, not allowing oneself to be ruled by worries, pain or desire, basically living in the moment.

Right from her first appearance, in The Keeper of Traken, we can see these qualities in Nyssa.  She has spent her entire life living in absolute peace, and yet she adapts in an instant to doing things like breaking people out of prison, taking everything in her stride.  She even improvises a weapon for that purpose.  If the situation calls on her to achieve something, she gets on with it, even though it is so at odds with anything she has experienced up to that point in her life.

Nyssa rarely panics, although the nature of Doctor Who at this point means that she has to provide the occasional cry of “DOCTOR!” for the sake of a cliffhanger ending.  But normally she is unflappable.  In Castrovalva she is matter-of-fact about their impending doom:

TEGAN: Crash? Is that likely?
NYSSA: Inevitable. The star densities in this galaxy vary inversely with the square
TEGAN: Oh, rabbits!
NYSSA: Tegan, I don’t know what’s happening to the Doctor, none of us understands it but, I do know that panicking is no use.

She’s about as different from Tegan as it’s possible to be, and Tegan struggles to understand her:

NYSSA: We’ve passed the boundary layer. We’re heading straight towards the in-rush. Thirty eight seconds.
TEGAN: How can you be so calm? We’re playing Russian roulette with the Tardis.

But Nyssa is always practical, and her calming influence can be a great benefit to Tegan.  After suffering at the hands of the Mara in Kinda, Tegan is struggling to get over it, but Nyssa’s advice is to move on, to forget:

NYSSA: You weren’t hurt?
TEGAN: No. No, but that’s not the point. It’s unnerved me.
NYSSA: You’ll soon be on Earth with all this unpleasantness forgotten.

After the death of Adric in Earthshock, once again Nyssa just gets on with things after a moment of grief:

NYSSA: Cyber fleet dispersed.
TEGAN: Oh, great. You make it sound like a shopping list, ticking off things as you go. Aren’t you forgetting something rather important? Adric is dead.

…and she is quick to work with the Doctor in distracting Tegan from that moment by heading off somewhere exciting:

DOCTOR: But he wouldn’t want us to mourn unnecessarily.
NYSSA: Where are we going?
DOCTOR: Special treat to cheer us all up.
NYSSA: 1851, Earth, London. What’s so special about that, Doctor?
DOCTOR: Hyde Park, the Crystal Palace.

As she doesn’t allow her grief to get the better of her, she is able to see through the fake Adric and the fake Melkur in Time-Flight, applying logic to the situation, but living life by logic alone can have its disadvantages.  At times it leads Nyssa astray.  She is fooled by Mawdryn pretending to be the Doctor, because logically there is no reason why he shouldn’t be.  Also, Tegan goes by instinct with her opinion of Turlough, while Nyssa is rarely one to use instinct:

TEGAN: I don’t trust that boy.
NYSSA: Oh, I don’t know. I thought he was rather nice.

In The Visitation, we get another good example of this:

NYSSA: Have you any idea who the aliens might be?
DOCTOR: No, not really. Polygrite is found in many parts of the universe. So are power packs.
NYSSA: Why are you so concerned about them? They might be friendly.

Of course, aliens are almost never friendly in Doctor Who, but if it’s a logical possibility then Nyssa won’t dismiss it from consideration.  Avoiding the emotional response to a situation can also be very useful though.  For example, in The Visitation Adric is hot-headed and insists on leaving the TARDIS to look for the Doctor.  Nyssa protests that “I’m sure he’s alright”, and “you can’t do anything”, but to no avail.  She stays in the TARDIS, only to witness Adric being immediately captured on the scanner.  She has more success with Kyle in Earthshock, persuading her to sit tight and wait.

KYLE: Is there nothing positive we can do?
NYSSA: Try not to worry.

… and later she says to Kyle “I’m sure everything’s all right.”  It’s not quite her catchphrase, but it sums up Nyssa rather well, along with similar lines such as “It’s perfectly safe.” (The Visitation) and “we mustn’t panic.” (Mawdryn Undead).

Her stoicism makes Nyssa a very useful mediator at times.  The best example is during the first episode of Earthshock, when the Doctor and Adric have a massive row.  Nyssa calms them down, one at a time, first Adric:

NYSSA: Look, why don’t you calculate the course home? Show the Doctor it can be done. Then when he’s calmed down, we can all talk to him.
ADRIC: But will he listen?
NYSSA: Of course he will.

…and then the Doctor:

DOCTOR: All right, but I’m not taking him back into E-space, and that’s my final word on the matter.
NYSSA: Look at his calculations before you decide. It may be possible.
DOCTOR: All right, I’ll look, but I’m not promising anything.
NYSSA: Of course not, Doctor.

The emotions of human conflict do not shake Nyssa.  When Adric dismisses her as “only a girl” in Four to Doomsday, she is probably the only woman in the universe who wouldn’t have slapped him at that point.

When Nyssa decides to leave the Doctor, it’s a stoical decision.  She doesn’t let any kind of desires for comfort or friendship come into the equation.  She just puts herself where she feels she is most needed.  It’s a logical decision.

DOCTOR: Well, you can’t stay. It isn’t safe. Certainly not until the Vanir have sorted out how they’re to run Terminus.
NYSSA: And with my skills, I can help them.
TEGAN: We need you, too.
NYSSA: I’ve enjoyed every moment of my time on the Tardis, and I’ll miss you both, but here I have a chance to put into practice the skills I learnt on Traken.
TEGAN: Please, Nyssa.
NYSSA: I’m adamant. Please, let us part in good faith.
DOCTOR: You do fully understand the commitment you’ll be undertaking?
NYSSA: Yes.
DOCTOR: And that life here will be very hard.
NYSSA: I am fully aware of that, but I want to stay.
DOCTOR: Then you’re a very brave person. I wish you every luck.

…she won’t need it.  She’s Nyssa the Stoic, and she will just keep being magnificent.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Companion Tropes, Doctor Who, Entertainment, Science Fiction, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Nyssa the Stoic

  1. benmc47 says:

    I’ve really grown in my appreciation of Nyssa over the years. Great write-up!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. scifimike70 says:

    I liked Nyssa right away. I remember reading somewhere about an imaginable romance between her and Adric and I remember imagining that myself. Sarah and Matthew worked well together in Pt 4s of Logopolis and The Visitation. She and Janet successfully established female-bonding for the TARDIS crew which made Nyssa and Tegan an easy attraction for female Whovians. Even in stories like Mawdryn Undead and Terminus where their clothes were shortened.

    But it was Nyssa’s potential to intelligently match the Doctor that was particularly impressive. So I really enjoyed seeing Sarah and Peter work well together. Thank you, RP, for including Nyssa the Stoic in the Companion Tropes and thank you forever, Sarah, for giving life to Nyssa.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. DrAcrossthePond says:

    Great write up indeed. And having met Sarah Sutton, she impressed me with just how marvelously approachable she was! REALLY won me over. (Not that I didn’t like her before, but meeting her just made it even easier to appreciate her!) ML

    Liked by 2 people

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