Why Can’t A Doctor Who Companion Just Be A Companion?

By | Posted on 27 December 2012

Before they brought Doctor Who back from the icy depths of an eighteen year slumber, the companions were often simply that – companions. They were people who went along with the Doctor out of a sense of adventure, or the time was right, or any number of perfectly understandable reasons.

But most of them were simply companions. There were exceptions, starting with the very first – Susan, to be sure. But the majority of them were simply people. Good people, yes. True people, yes. People worthy of travelling with the Doctor, mostly yes. But people.

Since the revival, since the new series started, that’s been the opposite of what’s been going on. I’m thinking over a list of companions here and not very many of them are just, well you know, companions:

Rose (special Bad Wolf Time-Vortex sucking Rose), Captain Jack (Immortal, ex-Time Agent Jack), Mickey (Ayyyy! Mickey! You’re just Mickey!), Martha (Yup, still just Martha), Donna (DoctorDonna, if you’re nasty), Amy (The Girl Who Everything-ed), Rory (The Last Centurion), River Song (Hello, oh so special sweetie) and now Clara (Or is that Oswin, or is that something else, my you’re special looking).


So in the entirety of the new run of Doctor Who we have had two companions who weren’t super-special snowflakes to begin with and didn’t become them later on. Two. Out of nine. Them’s not good odds.

And it gets a bit old, doesn’t it? Look, I love Doctor Who. I, quite frankly, adore Doctor Who. And I love Donna and Rory and… I don’t begrudge the occasional “Look how special you are” but when it is the majority of the time it simply stops being special.

It starts to lack something for me. Just a bit, but there is a noticeable twinge of lacking going on. I miss Sarah Jane, who was only special in that she was a great companion and had her eyes opened by her travels, allowing her to do the sort of work the Doctor does in a smaller scale. And that’s grand. That’s perfect. Or Ace, or Peri – what was wrong with not having to up the companion stakes every time? Why must we now make them more special, more critical each season as if the Doctor alone can not carry his own show?


And maybe that’s it. We enhance the companions to diminish the Doctor a bit, to hide his light just a wee bit, because there’s a sense of worry that if the Doctor were allowed to shine next to a “normal” person he would make them look small, and that would make viewers feel small.

Maybe I’m reading way too much into it.

But either way, though I still love the current show for exactly what it is, I still find that I miss the time when a companion could be a companion, not the focal point of a series.

Eisner & Harvey award winning editor, writer & tired person. Co-Writer of AMELIA COLE, ARTFUL DAGGERS and ACTION CATS. Editor of Jamal Igle's MOLLY DANGER. Writer of lots of other comics, novels & essays.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.drummey Matthew Drummey

    Well said, those are pretty much my thoughts exactly. We don’t need more companions with a big mysterious secret – we just need companions. i doubt anyone will ever beat Sarah Jane – Elisabeth Sladen played that role to perfection and created an immortal icon with it.

    The only part i disagree with you on is Jack – He was awesome.

    • http://twitter.com/adampknave Adam P. Knave

      Oh I love Jack, don’t get me wrong!

  • Who?

    Actually, it only leaves one. Because martha went on to work for Torchwood, so she wasn’t entirely ‘normal’ either!

    • http://twitter.com/adampknave Adam P. Knave

      I dunno, I’d argue that Martha is still normal, she just had a temp job.

  • http://twitter.com/Thogar Tom Gardiner

    Martha never seemed to get the attention I thought she deserved. I really liked Freema Agyeman in the role, but she didn’t seem to be very popular with fans overall. I’m wondering if a lot of the focus on “special” companions doesn’t have something to do with the current, new fan base? These days everyone wants to be special, so maybe the producers are feeding that desire. I just want to be left alone with my TV and a large pizza.

    • http://twitter.com/adampknave Adam P. Knave

      I wish Martha had been written better, frankly. Everything was there except the character kind of went missing after the first few episodes.

      • http://twitter.com/Thogar Tom Gardiner

        That’s true. It seemed like the writers didn’t know what to do with her so she was a bit bland most of the time. She had a lot of potential, but it was never explored. It would be fun to see Freema turn up every now and then with U.N.I.T. and maybe a personality.

  • Kimber

    I always felt that Martha had the toughest time of the companions in the recent series. She was stuck in 1968 for who knows how long (decades?? wibbley wobbley timey wimey) and had to get a job and she had to be a servant during that entire Family of Blood nightmare. And yet she held up through it all. Was Capt Jack really a companion? I’d always thought of him as sort of a “doctor” in his own right. Is the question really do they have to be “special” or do they have to be a love interest? That is what I think might be getting in the way of plot. I enjoyed the companion of Amelia Pond because of Rory and I like the idea of someone who seemed childlike but wise, but haven’t be quite as loyal since Matt Smith took on the role.

  • HollyQ

    I like to count Craig, because he’s another not-a-special-snowflake, and my favorite companion of the Matt Smith era. Martha is my favorite long-term companion of the reboot (and the most like Sarah), but, based on her general lack of popularity, it does seem like the current fan base wants gimmicky super special supernatural mystery companions.

  • http://twitter.com/Thogar Tom Gardiner

    If we could be so lucky as to somehow coax Mark Williams into reprising his role of Rory’s dad, Brian, and become a companion I’d be quite giddy. There’s nothing special about the character of Brian Williams, but Mark Williams is such a great actor that he could easily become one of the greats along the lines of Sarah Jane Smith. I’d even give him his own spin-off!

  • TomJ

    Err, Ace was shown to be not just someone the Doctor happened to meet in The Curse of Fenric…

  • beantown

    This is exactly what I’ve been thinking lately, especially about Clara/Oswin. During The Snowmen, I found myself repeatedly wondering, WHY are they trying to have the companion out-doctor the Doctor? I love Sarah Jane and Rory, and Donna has been my favorite of the recent companions because she and the Doctor had a real friendship. I agree with the other posters that poor Martha had the worst time of it, due to writing. My fingers are crossed though – this is a hard show to quit….

  • PH

    I wouldn’t say “special” companions, but Love Interests for the Doctor. Call me square, but he’s hundreds years old, and having him fall for twenty-something girls, well… I find it disturbing. I mean we had Rose, and then Martha was kinda in love with him but she was “rebound girl”, at first Amy was in love with him as well (before Rory stuck in), River Song was being naughty, and now Clara has already kissed him.
    That’s why I really liked Donna, because it felt like a brother and a sister travelling together. (And that’s why her ending made me so sad because she truly lost everything, while the others “just” moved on.)

    So to me the problem is not having companions that have special powers or are mysteries to the show, but always having young cute women who will have a thing with the doctor.

    (and to me, Mickey and Rory are not so much Doctor’s companion than their girlfriend’s companions: the Doctor wouldn’t travel with them by themselves)

  • http://twitter.com/CulturalGutter Cultural Gutter

    I haven’t been able to watch it since Donna’s final episode, but I was already feeling gloomy about much of this–and what everyone is talking about in the comments.

    For me, though, it goes in a slightly different direction. I feel like in having super special companions it undermines the specialness of regular, unpowerful, short-lived human beings who still tried their best. The Doctor saw something in earth and humans that he valued that was not about immortality or destiny or whatever. And to me, that has always been something interesting to ponder. It’s also a far more interesting dynamic to me. I love Tom Baker, but the episodes with Romana are the least interesting to me.

    And I agree. I thought Rose was an interesting twist on a companion–desperate, lonely, haunted Doctor gets involved. Now it’s all the time. I also think a lot of fans were hostile to Martha because of “shipping” issues, which is unfortunate.

  • Pingback: Choose Your Fate: Doctor Who Edition « The L. Palmer Chronicles

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