Companion Tropes 38
Many years ago I was on a family holiday when we had a medical emergency and needed help. Thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious. I set off to find help at a brisk walk, knowing that running and collapsing halfway from an asthma attack would help nobody. It was not long before I was able to find a first aider and explain the situation. This was his jackass comment:
“You don’t seem very concerned.”
And I had to ask him how he thought panicking would have helped the situation.
Now, let’s look at a quote from The Wheel in Space:
RYAN: No, it’s all a problem in solid geometry to you, isn’t it. Don’t you care what happens here?
ZOE: Well, of course. I’m only telling you what’s going to happen.
RYAN: Just like a robot. Fact, calculations.
RYAN: Proper little brainchild. All brain and no heart!
Zoe is dealing with an emergency situation in a calm manner, using her intelligence, and Ryan attacks her for not panicking. In doing so, he completely misunderstands Zoe’s personality. She has probably had a (short) lifetime of this which, let’s face it, amounts to ignorant bullying due to a difference of temperament and a different intelligence level and/or application of intelligence, and then later we get this conversation:
CORWYN: Do you ever feel anything emotional, Zoe?
ZOE: Emotional? Do you know, that’s the second time I’ve been asked that in the last few hours. Leo Ryan said that I was all brains and no heart.
CORWYN: Yes, it’s your training. I shouldn’t worry about it.
ZOE: Oh, but I do. I don’t want to be thought of as a freak. Leo said I was like a robot, a machine. I think he’s right. My head’s been pumped full of facts and figures which I reel out automatically when needed, but, well, I want to feel things as well.
Isn’t that sad? Zoe is actually believing Ryan’s vitriol, and thinks there is something abnormal about her. There isn’t, of course. She’s just a victim who is starting to believe what her bullies say about her. Her self esteem has taken a knock. Zoe is perfectly capable of normal human feelings. In fact, we don’t need to look any further than The Wheel in Space to find the following amusing encounter between Zoe and Jamie:
ZOE: Sorry. You must be (laughs)
JAMIE: What are you laughing at?
ZOE: Your clothes. You’re wearing female garments.
JAMIE: Female? Look, I’ll have you know this is a kilt. Have you not seen it before?
ZOE: Kilt? Kilt. A barbaric form of garment as worn by a kiltie! Are you of Scandinavian origin? Danish?
JAMIE: No, I am not. I am a true bred Scot and I’ll just thank you to
ZOE: Oh, a Scot. Scotland, of course. Pre-century history isn’t my field, you see.
JAMIE: Aye, maybe not, but just you watch your lip or I’ll put you across my knee and larrup you.
ZOE: Oh, this is going to be fun. I shall learn a lot from you. Come on, James Robert McCrimmon. Do you know anything about interstellar flora?
That’s not exactly an emotionless exchange is it. In fact, David Whitaker sets up a fascinating contrast between Zoe and the Cybermen in The Wheel in Space. Zoe recognises that life cannot be lived by logic alone. She is no Cyberman.
Every so often with this series I have attempted to deconstruct a commonly held belief about a companion (see also Leela the “noble savage”), and I think the “all brain and no heart” assessment of Zoe is one of the most insidious, which I want to break down. That quote really stuck, although it has its origins in a moment of bullying.
Throughout her travels, Zoe proves herself again and again to be super-intelligent. She destroys the Cyber ships in The Invasion by setting up a chain reaction. She achieves double the score of any Gond on the teaching machines in The Krotons. She works out the location of the space pirates’ base from the trajectory of the beacon segments in The Space Pirates. But these achievements do not come at the expense of her humanity and personality. Just look how she destroys the IE computer in The Invasion by talking it to death, and then descends into a fit of laughter, or how desperate she is not to lose the Doctor in The War Games, or how frightened she is in The Mind Robber, or just her friendly, teasing relationship with the Doctor and Jamie in general. She even has a giggling fit when the Doctor appears at the weather station in The Seeds of Death, covered in foam. That might be thanks to a moment of corpsing from Wendy Padbury, but it actually fits Zoe’s character beautifully.
So let’s stop equating intelligence, stoicism, the application of logic, a tendency not to panic, all that frankly very valuable stuff, with a lack of emotion. It’s an assumption based on ignorance and I’m delighted that Doctor Who illustrated that with a character like Zoe Heriot.
All brain, a great sense of humour, and a big heart: that’s Zoe. RP