Nerd School: Who’s Whose Companion?

by Joe on September 28, 2012

Psychology and Regeneration, The Pitfalls of Paradoxical Storytelling, The Missing Episodes

Inevitably when you are young, you play Batman (although I have a thoroughly Amero-centric viewpoint on many things, I believe this is a fairly universal right of childhood). Unfortunately there can be only one Batman, so someone in your group of friends has to be Robin. This of course leads to debates about who deserves to be Batman which make Kennedy/Nixon look downright monosyllabic. However, what most children miss out on is that even though Batman is unarguably the far cooler character, Robin is by far a much more interesting character.

Recently in our culture, the idea of the sidekick becoming the focus has become a very viable story concept. If we think about it, many of the heroes of our shared modern mythology have become more monolithic and unchanging. They cannot grow beyond their two dimensional ideology, because the consumers of their stories have a set idea of who these characters are and how they will act. Of course the writers want these characters to grow and change, but the corporations which hold these characters in lock and key tend to kibosh this out of worry for the money making capacity that might fly away due to negative fan reaction.

With this mindset, the characters we love, like Batman and The Doctor become idolized, on a pedestal more than what they are because they become the sum whole of what the fans want. Writing for these characters becomes infinitely more difficult because gods need godlike stories. However, the introduction of a far more human sidekick (or companion) opens up a whole new world.

The Doctor has had numerous companions since the beginning of the show in 1963. Though who is officially a companion is often a contentious debate.  But this isn’t necessarily about who is a companion, but more about the role of the companion in the story.

When the show debuted,  the relationship between The Doctor and his companions was rather different from the traditional hero/sidekick archetype that emerged later. Initially, the protagonists were Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, who provided the audience’s entry points, which became the traditional audience entry point  for the show. There was also Susan, The Doctor’s granddaughter, who was supposed to be the entry point for the children viewers. (it’s important to remember that the show was/is traditionally a children’s show.)

However when watching the evolution of the show, the companion became traditionally female. The role of the companion though became less important in context in the show. Though the companion was always the viewer’s porthole into The Doctor’s world, their role became reduced over the years to “damsel in distress” or “scream-queen”, like Melanie Bush or brought in for sex appeal, like Peri Brown.

However, there began a radical shift in the way the companion was treated starting with the 7th Doctor’s companion, Ace. Unlike previous companions which were generic foils for the bizarre nature of The Doctor, Ace actually began matching The Doctor in eccentricities. Her motivations and actions were a mystery to The Doctor. First appearing in the 1987 serial “Dragonfire”, she was shown to be a troubled teen.

Though the exact details of why she was such a troubled teen are important to the point, going into depth is unnecessary. The point is that Ace started a shift into more “companion-centric” stories.  “The Curse of Fenric”  and “Ghost Light” focused almost more on Ace’s development and by the time the original series was cancelled, the show was just as much about Ace as it was The Doctor.

When the series was restarted in 2005, the shift had gone fully to the other side, where the plot development centered around the companions almost by default, with Doctor-centered stories being the exception.  The companion and the companion’s relationship with The Doctor was now the central focus of the show. The story of a particular episode was merely background for development of the companion/companion-Doctor relationship.

Rose broke ground by becoming the companion The Doctor actually fell in love with, and in fact the “Bad Wolf” mentioned throughout the first season was her. Her relationship with her family and friends pushed the show. Though Martha was transitional, her development allowed her to make the choice to leave the Tardis. Poor Donna Noble was a force of nature that guided The Doctor more than the other way around.

Seasons 5-7 have shown us the longest tenure and thus development of (a) companion(s) yet. We have seen Amy and Rory grow from reluctancy to a mature couple over time. Their emotional growth is juxtaposed by the strange backdrops the show features.

A perfect example of the current dynamic is the 6th season episode “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Here, what in an earlier season would have been a story involving aliens or monsters in WW2, was actually more about The Doctor and his companions dealing with the previous episodes revelations. In fact, the entirety of season seven so far has been about the changing dynamic of the Tardis crew back dropped by the outstanding circumstances.

By this reasoning, they have become the focus of the conflict and development.  The companions are the true leads of the show.


Read some other stuff from Joe, hear him on the Planet Arbitrary podcast, or follow him on Twitter @planetarbitrary


Read Joe’s other articles:

Doctor Who: Doctor Who Season 6 Round Up, An Alternate History of the DoctorDoctor Who Season 6 primer, Psychology, and Regeneration, The Pitfalls of Paradoxical Storytelling, The Missing Episodes

Game of Thrones: Casting Roundup 1 and 2, Game of Thrones Primer IIGame of Thrones Primer I, Inn at the Crossroads Interview, Season 1 recap, The Greyjoy Rebellion, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.1, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.2, Robert’s Rebellion Pt. 3, The Religions of Westeros, The Races of Westeros

Star Trek: Evening the OddsStar Trek Blu-rays 1 and 2 Trek in your Queue 1 and 2, Obama TrekStar Trek: A Different Generation, Failed Star Trek Spinoffs

Misc: Sci-Fi ComposersThieving Sci-Fi, Paranormal Activi3The Walking Dead Primer, The Genre Problem, Conan Primer, Mutant Fatigue, Sci-Fi A-Team, A Love Letter to Natalie PortmanThor Primer


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