Companion Tropes 33
- What’s that? A police telephone box?
- Did you build it from a kit?
- Then how did you get it in here?
- Why pick on me?
- What do I call you?
- Doctor what?
Just about the first thing Bill does when she meets the Doctor is to completely bombard him with questions. This might seem like business as usual for a new companion, but for 21st Century Doctor Who it is actually on a different level to anything we are used to. Notably, it continues. Bill just questions and questions and questions. At times it can make her seem shallow and a bit silly, particularly when she is feeling overwhelmed:
BILL: Is this a knock-through?
DOCTOR: Well, in a way, yes.
BILL: Look at this place. It’s like a
DOCTOR: A what?
BILL: A really posh kitchen, all metal. What happened with the doors, though? Did you run out of money?
DOCTOR: What you are standing in is a technological marvel. It is science beyond magic. This is the gateway to everything that ever was, or ever can be.
BILL: Can I use the toilet?
Her tendency to ask lots of questions continues throughout her time with the Doctor, which is probably one of the qualities that cement their friendship. She has an inquiring mind. She is Constantly Curious.
This is the oldest of old character tropes, and is the obvious way to elicit exposition from the main character. Bill is Watson to the Doctor’s Holmes. All Doctor Who companions ask questions to a certain extent, but I do think when Doctor Who returned in 2005 there was a concerted effort to make the companions different to their 20th Century counterparts, and that meant moving away from the traditional companion role: ask questions and scream a lot. In the Classic Series virtually every companion plays the Constantly Curious trope straight, but there was clearly an attempt to do something different when Doctor Who returned in 2005. The companion as the person who stands around asking questions was toned down, at the very least.
But Doctor Who followed a trajectory from 2005 onwards of trying to be different to the past and then gradually reintegrating past elements, step by step. It turns out that a lot of the things that worked in the 20th Century also work in the 21st. Who would have thought it?
Why Bill, though? Why did it take so long for a showrunner to wholeheartedly embrace the Constantly Curious trope for a companion, and why was Bill the companion of choice? To answer that, we need to look at the kinds of relationships the Doctor had with his previous companions:
- Rose. She was the love interest. The Doctor fell in love with her, and then lost her.
- Martha. She was the rejected love interest. She fell in love with the Doctor, and was turned down.
- Donna. She was the best buddy. Ah, savour that refreshing breath of fresh air (and ignore the obligatory kissing). It won’t last.
- Amy. She was a love interest, but in a far less wholesome way than Rose. Let’s make a correction there. She was a lust interest.
- Clara. She was a love interest, but in an even less wholesome way. Bubbling under the surface was an exploration of a toxic relationship.
Then there were those temporary companions like Astrid and Christina, mostly love interests of one kind or another. At the risk of pandering to the “Doctor Who is too soapy” brigade, these are all very soapy relationships. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – soap operas at their best can be brilliant. But it was perhaps time for a different vibe. So for Bill, Steven Moffat tried a couple of things:
Bill fits both of these. Superficially, it is a student/teacher relationship, but there is a clear attempt to hammer home the point that Bill reminds the Doctor of Susan, so their relationship is also equated to that of grandfather and grandchild. The curiosity, the constant questions, that all plays into both kinds of relationships that are being tapped into with Bill and the Doctor. So Constantly Curious Bill is useful from a storytelling/exposition point of view, but, more than that, the characteristic allows for a different kind of Doctor/companion relationship… one where the Doctor doesn’t need to be jealous of the boyfriend, ogle her butt, almost but not quite tell her he loves her, turn down her advances because she’s not a blonde from the Powell Estate. It’s refreshing, it’s brilliant, and that one astute decision was instrumental in turning around the floundering 12th Doctor era. Sometimes the old ideas really are the best. RP