Companion Tropes 36
We have arrived at the person who I consider to be the most important ever Doctor Who companion, and she is such an unusual character that there isn’t really an existing trope that will fit the bill. So let’s create a new one for Vicki: she is the Mentor Companion.
Back when we were writing about the individual Doctor Who stories, I mentioned how Vicki shapes the character of the Doctor and turns the series into the version of Doctor Who that endures to this day. Freed from the burden of having to protect his granddaughter, the Doctor is reborn and just starts having fun adventures with his new best buddy Vicki, trying to impress her as much as he can, and what an amazing best buddy she is. Despite being almost a child compared to the Doctor, Vicki accidentally becomes his mentor, showing the Doctor how to be the version of himself we know and love.
What are the character traits that define the Doctor, as we know him/her today? I would suggest that we would have to put the following near the top of the list:
- The desire to fight injustice.
- A joy for adventuring.
- Finding beauty in difference rather than being xenophobic towards “monsters”.
- A childish excitement at being involved in history.
These are all qualities the Doctor learnt from Vicki. Without her, basically he’s not the Doctor as we recognise him now.
In her first story, Vicki is introduced to us as somebody who has a pet monster, Sandy. Barbara kills him through fear, illustrating the difference between these two companions. Throughout her travels, Vicki consistently sees beauty in difference, the opposite of xenophobia, and she actually has to teach this ethos to the Doctor. She gives “monsters” cute nicknames, even coining the name of my own favourite “monsters”, the Chumblies.
VICKI: Oh, look. It’s got a sort of chumbley movement.
VICKI: Yes, you know, all sort of chumbley.
DOCTOR: It’s gone now.
STEVEN: Bang goes my swimming.
VICKI: Oh, it doesn’t take much to put you off. A sweet little thing like that?
Where Steven sees something to fear, Vicki just sees something “sweet”. But our defining example of this, where Vicki tries to teach the Doctor himself a lesson, can be found in The Web Planet, when Vicki gives a Zarbi the nickname “Zombo”:
VICKI: He’s quite cute, isn’t he, when he’s like this.
DOCTOR: Well, I haven’t noticed it before, my dear, but since you mention it, no I don’t think so.
VICKI: I’ve told you before not to judge by appearances.
This is a key moment. Pre-Vicki the Doctor is a xenophobe. His mentor/companion shows him a better way. In fact, she’s the equal of the Doctor in so many ways. In The Space Museum, the travellers encounter versions of themselves in glass cases. Ian asks the Doctor to explain it, and Vicki interrupts, taking on the Doctor role herself:
VICKI: Time, like space, although a dimension in itself also has dimensions of its own.
DOCTOR: So you know about it, child? We must have a little chat some time.
VICKI: Yes, you see, we really are in those cases, but we’re also standing here looking at ourselves from this dimension.
It’s really just a load of Doctorish technobabble (and maybe the Doctor learns some of that from Vicki too) but the point is that she is far from being a useless, panicking companion. Instead she is showing a Doctorish scientific fascination with a potentially life-threatening situation. Later in the same story she sees injustice and helps to spearhead a revolution:
VICKI: Well, you can’t just accept it. We’ve got to help them. Well, sitting here planning and dreaming of a revolution isn’t going to win your planet back.
SITA: We do all we can.
VICKI: By making a nuisance of yourselves, that’s all it is.
TOR: What can we do without weapons?
VICKI: Nothing. We must get some.
…and then she proceeds to acquire the weapons for them, using her intelligence. The Doctor up to this point has generally been somebody who wanders into dangerous situations and then tries to escape. Vicki helps to show him how their job can be to find injustice and start revolutions, a repeated scenario in later Doctor Who stories but with the Doctor as the revolutionary. Like the Doctor, Vicki is incredibly resourceful. Abandoned by accident in The Chase, look how she stows away on the Dalek ship and then tries to get a mayday out to the TARDIS.
Probably Vicki’s most important quality though is her thirst for adventure. As soon as she joins the TARDIS, she is repeatedly paired up with the Doctor, with Ian and Barbara separated off. The Romans is immediately a great example. Ian and Barbara and just enjoying a nice holiday, and Vicki is frustrated:
Well, the way you spoke I thought we were going to have adventures and see things. We’ve been here nearly a month and all everyone wants to do is sit around and rest.
So Vicki persuades the Doctor to take her to Rome with him, and off they go on a jolly fun adventure together. Safety comes last (and Vicki helps the Doctor defeat an assassin, nearly getting the opportunity to smash an amphora over his head), and Vicki is wide-eyed at the whole experience, especially the prospect of seeing Nero (whom she nearly kills with poison), and then eventually we find them marvelling at the Great Fire of Rome, which the Doctor has just inspired. Vicki just jokes about the Doctor not being mentioned in the history books. It’s all about having fun adventuring for Vicki.
After Ian and Barbara leave, and the Doctor is all down in the dumps, look how keen Vicki is to just get on with things:
VICKI: Anyway, it’s done now. I wonder where the Tardis’ll take us next?
DOCTOR: Yes, it’s done now, although I must admit I’m left with a small worry.
VICKI: You know, I wouldn’t mind New York. I didn’t get to see a lot of it, what with the Daleks and everything. But what I saw from the top of the Empire State Building, I wouldn’t mind going back there.
DOCTOR: My dear Vicki, I’m trying to talk to you.
VICKI: Oh, sorry.
This conversation is the reverse of what we will eventually come to expect from Doctor Who. Nowadays it is the Doctor who moves on quickly and gets giddy about where they’re going to go next.
Vicki’s departure is an unfortunate betrayal of her character, getting married off to become “and Cressida”, but at least her final words show ambition. She wants to help Troilus achieve great things:
We can start again. With your cousin’s help we can, we can build another Troy.
She’s going to inspire another man to be a better person, just like she has always done with the Doctor. So, yes, Vicki is the most significant companion in Doctor Who ever. Quite simply, she teaches the Doctor how to be the Doctor. RP
Maureen O’Brien’s success as Vicki was certainly most important in establishing how change would be most essential to the continuum of Dr. Who. Thank you, RP, for one of your most thoughtful and wise companion tropes and thank you, Maureen, for Vicki. 💖
LikeLiked by 2 people
Great article, especially for someone who is just a newbie in the Who universe like myself. Very interesting how subsequent Doctors took on traits established by Vicki. I am always interested in the writing – wonder if a writer had the epiphany of “hey, this character is more interesting than the doctor, lets steal those traits” of if it was a gradual process no one was really aware of.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I think it happened by accident to a large extent. Before Vicki there was Susan who was the Doctor’s granddaughter and he was always hampered by the need to protect her. That made him an authority figure and cautious by necessity (not all the time). With Vicki there was much more of a best mates having a laugh vibe, despite the huge age different (what does that matter anyway?!) and I just think what happened with the Doctor after Vicki arrived was just an organic process – the natural result of putting those characters together, rather than a granddaughter who needed a “jolly good smacked bottom”.
LikeLiked by 1 person