Before the Docbacks became what they are (and aren’t) today, a number of readers suggested we occasionally break from episodic coverage to explore a number of macro subjects pertaining to the series. This would be comfortably in keeping with ‘the Docback should be about all things WHO’ manifesto outlined at the bottom of this article, and allow a broader scope of discussion than our more limited focus on specific episodes sometimes does.
Accordingly, today I thought we’d ponder the importance of COMPANIONS to the DOCTOR WHO universe - a topic especially relevant given our forthcoming Season/Series 7 introduction a new companion, played by Jenna Louise Coleman.
More on this below., But first...
EARLIER THIS WEEK...
BBC issued new and spectacular promotional art from its forthcoming seventh Series/Season of DOCTOR WHO. This image is embiggenable, but variations of it can be found on BBC's site HERE.
No word yet on when DW S7 will begin transmitting.
AND...here's a new trailer, from BBC America. An identical version, ending with the the more traditional DW logo, can be found HERE. The embed below offers HD, whereas the others didn't the last time I checked - hence its inclusion.
I'm sensing some awesome new action figures coming-up...
That an episode of S7 is actually called Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and that the Doctor actually utters the phrases, is Geeky perfection by my estimation. Can't wait!
ALSO EARLIER THIS WEEK, TANGENTIALLY RELATED TO DOCTOR WHO...
Christopher Eccleston, who played the Doctor in the first Season/Series of Russell T. Davies' relaunch of DOCTOR WHO, is set to portray Malekith The Accursed in director Alan Taylor's follow-up to Kenneth Branagh's THOR.
Per THIS piece at Deadline:
He is a super-villain in the Marvel Universe, the ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim. In the Marvel Comics, he clashed mightily with Thor, and will go up against the hammer-wielding god of Odin
As regular readers may recall, I am currently in the process of making my way through every DOCTOR WHO ever made (including audios, reconstructions of lost episodes, etc) - often, but certainly not always - in sequence. Thus, I am not presenting myself as authoritative in such matters, and admit I may well lack the rounded perspective required to contribute fully to a discourse. However, I’ve seen enough to formulate my own notions about the innate significance of those who travel with the Doctor - a few of which I’ll share herein. Feel free to expand upon these assessments, offer completely different perspectives, or to shoot down my perceptions completely. All of this is, after all, intended to promote mulling and discussion in the Docback below.
From the earliest moments of An Unearhtly Child, the first DOCTOR WHO ever made, the template for Doctor/Companion interaction was firmly established. This template was more-or-less maintained throughout the Classic Series‘ run, and is still very much alive in DW’s contemporary iteration.
On the whole, Doctor/Companion(s) relationship seems distillable to four essential elements:
1) a companion is, quite simply, there to keep the Doctor - a very lonely man despite his funkiness, bluster and occasional abrasiveness - company.
2) Companions are viewer's counter-balances for the (literal and figurative) madness of the Doctor. He/she/they allow viewers “everyman” access to the endlessly fantastical and sometimes perplexing worlds of this show (when they react like we’d react, when the Doctor must explain what’s happening to them in laymen terms we, too, can understand, etc.)
3) In a similar vein, Companions help keep the Doctor grounded. Sometimes he’s so busy being....Doctory...that he looses sight of simple, basic truths...looses touch with fundamental emotions which define us all: love, empathy, belonging, etc. Sometimes, the presence of Companions quell Hurricane Doctor - bring him back down to Earth (figuratively). Companions can keep the Doctor centered.
4) Companions are, perhaps, DOCTOR WHO’s best avenue by which audiences can explore themselves - their own hopes, their own dreams, their own sense of identities and belonging. Some companions (like Susan Foreman) seem re-born, or newly enlightened , when their time in the TARDIS is over. Others seem haunted and filled with antipathy towards their adventures (Tegan Jovanka). Some (Donna Noble) seem addicted to the escape provided by the TARDIS and the Doctor. [NOTE: I always interpreted Donna’s arc as something of a drug parallel. When we first meet Donna after the events of Christmas invasion, she’s been yearning for adventures in that Blue Box...longing for both it and the Doctor...she;‘s craving. The end oif her arc basically finds her burning out, with the Doctor needing to intervene to save her.] All of this means: Companions, perhaps moreso than the Doctor’s own journey, are instrumental in show’s exploration of the human condition, bringing very real world confusion, desires, apprehensions, and mistakes into equations which are often over the top. It is through companions, and their reactions to their trials and tribulations in the TARDIS, that we learn a bit more about what makes US tick. A hugely significant driving force in DOCTOR WHO’s effectiveness and longevity.
Presuming the above assessment is any any way valid, lets activate our Imaginators (to borrow a term I use with my five year old) for a moment and conjure how far this long-standing companion model can be stretched. Again, discussion is most warmly invited.
IS THE TARDIS A COMPANION?
In many ways, the TARDIS is a main character - I’d even posit that the TARDIS is as much a ‘main character’ as the Doctor, although the show’s writers have not regarded it as such historically.
Sentient or not (it’s presumed sentience having been firmly established very early on, and pointedly actualized in Season/Series Six’s The Doctor’s Wife), the TARDIS impacts the Doctor as fully as any human companions by virtue of it being a random and unpredictable element with a penchant for putting the Doctor where he needs to be, as opposed to where he wants to be. And this is a tremendously vital ingredient in any “hero’s journey.”
The TARDIS’ actions and inaction shape the Doctor, forming who he is and determining what happens to him. Which, in turn, ripples down through the other characters (both guests and regulars) on the show. That’s a GARGANTUAN impact on DW’s narrative, and is as consequential as, say Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda shaping Luke Skywalker’s destiny...or a parent guiding their young child through the world. As the Doctor is rarely without it, and as the TARDIS’s disposition is often as consequential as the state of its occupants, this would make the TARDIS a Companion not dissimilar to those who travel within it, would it not? Or, does, it?
CAN/SHOULD A COMPANION EVER GO BAD?
Like...really bad? There are any number of ways this might be accomplished via narrative. Considering the show’s long-standing propensity for throwing curve balls at the Doctor, and hitting him where it counts, creating a companion who is not at all who he/she presents themselves to be might be a total kick in the nuts to the character. And, if handled correctly, this could well play as an enormous WTF moment for audiences in general. Especially if such a reveal reflected the Doctor’s significant misjudgment of someone around him, someone with whom he’s grown close.
I.e. his sometimes fumbling efforts to remain connected might paradoxically result in severe emotional damage to a Doctor who’s never been particularly adept at relationship maintenance. What a lovely inner-conflict this could create for the Doctor character. Personally, I think there’s room for this and such a turn could bring a very interesting complexion to the show 0 for a while, at least. Or, would it muddy the waters too much?
SHOULD A COMPANION EVER BE NOT HUMAN?
As stated above, Companions (as people) are very much an audience’s entry into the WHOverse. Would casting, say, a Silurian or Sontaran companion break down that access corridor by virtue of their inherent alienness? Or, would it provide a fun change of pace for a Doctor who has a difficult enough time dealing with humans - and must now confront an altogether different set of issues, habits, and interpersonal challenges? It is here that I must once again register my undying support and enthusiasm for A Blue Blob Called Steve. You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?
Here I want to re-assert how interesting it might be to have a companion not representative of modern culture - at least in a traditional sense. A while back, I used an Aborigines as an example of a potential companion - someone who is still human (thus accessible to audiences), but also plugged into the world and the universe in way most ‘regular’ folks are not...and in some ways even the Doctor does not seem to be. This could directly relate to the Doctor’s ongoing exploration of humanity and its potential, and cast a different spin on his interactions with those around him.
Imagine how the Doctor might relate to a situation such as this - and how the show might be able to utilize gags such as this creatively.
All of the above...is a lot to take in, and there are numerous subsets to be considered which I haven’t even posited yet (DOCTOR COMPANION ROMANCE - YAY, NAY, WHY OR WHY NOT? for example).
What are your thoughts? Over the show’s long history, which companions were best handled, which worked least well dynamically and in terms of story, and which ones were most promising but wasted?
Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott - Donna Noble's grandfather - in Tennant-era WHO. For my money, the most magical and tragically under-utilized DOCTOR WHO companion ever.
We may well be revisiting this topic - in a tweaked form - in some long-time-from-now Docback, once I've looked upon all the DOCTOR WHOs there are to see, and encountered every companion there is to meet. I also imagine a few of these topics will be touched upon once more when Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character is introduced in this year’s Christmas Special. Which, I'm sure, will be a medically themed episode entitled The Doc's Back. You know I'm right.
More to come, and stay tuned...
The Mind Robber (Troughton, Story #45)
[SEASON / SERIES SIX DOCBACKS]
"The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" (2011 Christmas Special)
[RETRO-WHO DOCBACKS - MOST RECENT DOCBACK IS HIGHLIGHTED]
"An Unearthly Child" (Story #1)
"The Daleks" (Story #2)
"The Edge of Destruction" (Story #3)
"Marco Polo" (Story #4)
"The Keys of Marinus" (Story #5)
"The Aztecs" (Story #6)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7 - full DVD release)
"The Reign of Terror" (Story #8)
"Planet of Giants" (Story #9)
"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Story #10)
"The Rescue" (Story #11)
"The Romans" (Story #12)
"The Crusade" (Story #14)
"The Space Museum" (Story #15)
"The Chase" (Story #16)
"The Time Meddler" (Story #17)
"Galaxy 4" (Story #18)
"Mission to the Unkonwn" (Story #19)
"The Myth Makers" (Story #20)
"The Gunfighters" (Story #25)
"The Tomb of the Cybermen" (Story #37)
"The Krotons" (Story #47)
"The Seeds of Death" (Story #48)
"The Colony in Space" (Story #58)
"The Daemons" (Story #59)
"Day of the Daleks" (Story #60) + Preview of the DotD Special Edition
"The Three Doctors" (Story #65)
"Carnival of Monsters" (Story #66)
"Death to the Daleks" (Story #72)
"The Robots of Death" (Story #90)
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Story #91)
"The Sun Makers" (Story #95)
"The City of Death" (Story #105)
"Nightmare of Eden" (Story #107)
"Kinda" (Story #118)
"Snakedance" (Story #125)
"The Five Doctors" (Story #129)
"The Awakening" (Story #131)
"Frontios" (Story #132)
"Resurrection of the Daleks" (Story #134)
"The Caves of Androzani" (Story #136)
"Time and the Rani" (Story #144)
"Paradise Towers" (Story #145) + New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits
"Dragonfire" (Story #147)
"The Happiness Patrol" (Story #149)
"Doctor Who: The Movie" (aka TVM) - McGann)
Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor (How Merrick Got Hooked On DOCTOR WHO)
"The Crash of the Elysium" (Manchester version - interactive DOCTOR WHO adventure)
[Season / Series Seven Docbacks]
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