Companion Tropes 30
When drama conforms to male stereotypes, we often have a traditional hero and also another male character who is the muscle, and the best buddy. This character will generally provide a strong contrast to the hero in his approach to situations and perhaps his ethics as well, while remaining a loyal and useful companion. Female characters will often act as moderators between the two lead males. This kind of muscle/buddy sidekick can be referred to as the “lancer”.
The term is derived from a medieval soldier with a lance, obviously a useful chap to have on your side, and the one who will hopefully kill the bad guys with his long weapon before they can get within stabbing distance of the hero. The character type is strongly influenced by the original portrayal of King Arthur’s foster-brother Sir Kay, although he is not always written about or depicted with a lance, and in later tellings of the Arthurian legends tends to be used as a comedy character more than a steadfast companion. But in terms of fiction/drama, the metaphorical “lancer” has two key roles: to provide contrast, and to provide back-up.
The original idea for Ian (pre-filming, when he was still “Cliff”) was a “physically perfect, strong and courageous” man, who was much more violent than the man who eventually made it onto our screens. But ultimately, with the main hero being an old man both within the fiction of the show and also in terms of the choice of actor, Ian ended up doing a lot of the physical conflict stuff throughout his time with the Doctor (which is a shame, because it’s far more entertaining to see the Doctor having a go at it in The Romans, but that’s beside the point).
Some examples can be found in The Daleks (Ian does the fake kidnapping and gets punched), The Aztecs (Ian has to fight Ixta), The Romans (Ian is made a slave on a galley and then has to fight in the arena), and The Crusade (Ian gets attacked, knocked out, nearly killed by Ibrahim and then overpowers him). That last example is actually a very good one from the point of view of the kind of role Ian has within Doctor Who, and how effective he can be, because he doesn’t just get the physical conflict. He is also the one who tries to save the damsel in distress, heading off in search of Barbara, and uses cunning as well as physicality to trick Ibrahim and then turn a murderous enemy into an ally.
So, as the lancer, Ian gets to play the hero with almost as much regularity as the Doctor. In fact, each of them have to save the other on several occasions. In The Keys of Marinus Ian is on trial for murder and relies on the Doctor to save him, while in The Space Museum Ian saves the Doctor from being frozen and turned into an exhibit.
That’s the muscle/sidekick side of things, but a lancer also has to provide a contrast to the hero, generally a contrast in methods to achieve the same goal. At the very start of Doctor Who this was especially important, and Ian was a vital character, with the Doctor himself being initially mysterious and untrustworthy, occasionally lacking a strong morality. In contrast Ian is the reliable, moral hero, fulfilling the role that was deemed necessary within the narrative of any jeopardy-related drama at the time, and a role for which the Doctor himself was initially an awkward fit. In drama, this kind of vibe between characters can lead them down two different paths: the road to conflict/betrayal, or an ultimate understanding and loyal friendship. The lancer’s story is generally the latter, and Ian is no exception, so by the time we get to his final story, The Chase, the TARDIS crew have long since become a tight-knit group of friends, and are having a jolly fun time holidaying on Aridius before those pesky Daleks turn up.
His replacement is Steven, who becomes far more than just a lancer, as we saw in a previous article in this series, but for the first couple of years of Doctor Who, Ian the Lancer was just what the doctor ordered. RP