The State of Doctor Who Companions

It has been said that the companions in Doctor Who since its return in 2005 have been better written, more well-rounded characters.  That the female companions especially are more independent, stronger female roles, and they aren’t there just to say “What is it, Doctor?” and be captured and need rescuing by the Doctor.  The prime example when all this started was Rose Tyler, because she saved the Doctor in the very first episode of the 2005 series, “Rose.”  Sure she did save the Doctor and helped defeat the Auton menace, but what happened in the very next episode?  That’s right, she was captured and had to be saved by the Doctor.  The very beginning of episode 3 (“The Unquiet Dead”), what happens?  You guessed it: Rose is captured and has to be rescued by the Doctor.  Sure Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy; they have all saved the Doctor at times, but more often than not, they are the ones that are captured and the Doctor has to rescue them, and usually they end up asking at some point “What is it, Doctor?”

You see, they do get captured, as often or more so than the “Classic Series” companions did, and yes, the Doctor has to explain things to them as often as in the “Classic Series”, but certainly they are stronger, more independent, better rounded characters.  Or are they?  I’ll stick to the female companions because frankly there have been a lot more of them, and for some reason everyone seems to think they were all just pretty faces that screamed a lot.  I am also only using the TV series as reference, not any of the Book, Comic, Audio Plays, or Video Games.

Susan – The Doctor’s Granddaughter:  Very intelligent in some subjects, terribly ignorant in others.  Primarily screamed a lot, got captured often, said “What is it, Grandfather?”, and twisted her ankle an inordinate number of times.





Barbara Wright – History Teacher:  Sure Baraba screamed, and got captured quite often, but also held her own against the Aztecs, while pretending to be their Goddess.  ‘nuff said.





Vicki Pallister – Incredibly intelligent teenager from 25th century:  Vicki could carry on scientific discussions with the Doctor.  By the age of 10 had obtained certificates in medicine, physics, computers, chemistry, and other sciences.




Katarina – Trojan Servant:  Katarina did not travel with the Doctor long, but gave her life to save his.





Sara Kingdom – Space Security Service Agent:  Sara was a high ranking member of the SSS, she was sent to kill the Doctor, but ended up joining him in his fight against the Daleks.  Ultimately, Sara was killed while helping the Doctor.





Dodo Chaplet – ???:  Pretty much screamed and was captured a lot.





Polly Wright – Professor Brett’s personal assistant:  Screamed, captured often, and made a lot of coffee and tea.





Victoria Waterfield – Edward Waterfield’s Daughter:  Captured a lot and screamed even more.





Zoe Heriot – Genius Astrophysicist on board The Wheel: That’s right another super smart teenager, this time from the 21st century.  Zoe could carry on scientific discussions with the Doctor as well.  She also had a photographic memory.  Occasionally the Doctor would ask her to do complicated equations for him because she was faster and more accurate than he was.




Dr. Liz Shaw – Well-known Cambridge Scientist:  Liz possessed several doctorates





Jo Grant – Hired as the Doctor’s assistant at U.N.I.T.:  Well, maybe not Jo, she pretty much got captured and asked “What is it, Doctor?”





Sarah Jane Smith – Well known Journalist/feminist:  Sarah Jane didn’t take anything off anybody, and at times kept the Doctor in line.  Sarah Jane was also a crack shot with a hunting rifle.  Later she went on to have many of her own adventures with her own companions that would ask, “What is it, Sarah Jane?”.  Her companions would also get captured and need to be rescued by Sarah Jane Smith.  Repeatedly saved the planet on her own while babysitting.



Leela – Warrior of the Sevateem:  Leela was a skilled warrior and huntress, she quite often came to the rescue of the Doctor.  Leela became the primary action hero of the series, allowing the Doctor to focus more on the role of scientist/teacher.





Romana I/Romana II – Time Lady:  Romana was a Time Lady from the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey.  She was considerably younger than the Doctor, but graduated the Time Lord Academy with Honors, where as the Doctor scraped by on the second attempt.  Romana could fly the TARDIS with better accuracy and smoother landings than the Doctor ever did.




Tegan Jovanka – Flight Attendant:  Ok, Teagan pretty much screamed, yelled, and got captured.





Nyssa – from the planet Traken:  Nyssa was very intelligent and specialized in bioelectronics.  The Doctor even trusted her to make minor modifications to some of the TARDIS’ systems.  Left the TARDIS to assist in finding a permanent cure for Lazar’s disease.





Peri Brown – American College Student, specializing in botany:  Ok sure, for the most part Peri screamed and got captured a lot.  But she did know her botany, and quite often would point out the obvious thing that the Doctor was overlooking.





Melanie Bush – Computer Programmer:  Yeah, Mel screamed a lot.





Ace – Drop Out:  Makes her own explosives, and took on a Dalek with a Baseball bat.





Dr. Grace Holloway – Cardiologist:  I don’t really count Grace as a companion, as she was just in the one story and never really travelled with the Doctor.  I clump Grace in with the likes of Astrid Perth, Rosita Farisi, The Lady Christina de Souza, Adelaide Brooke, and any other one-off assistance from specials.




Rose Tyler – Shop Girl:  For the most part screamed and was captured a lot.  After being left in an alternate dimension for a while returned willing to face down Daleks with a big gun, but then was captured, needed to be rescued, and have the Dalek plans and the “Handy” Doctor explained to her.




Martha Jones – Medical Student/Doctor:  When the Doctor first encountered Martha she was in her residency at the Royal Hope Hospital.  Martha was very intelligent, and at one point travelled the Earth for a year during the Master’s reign to tell everyone the story of the Doctor.  Martha for the most part got captured a lot, and screamed quite a bit.




Donna Nobel – Best Temp in Chiswick:  Donna doesn’t take anything off anyone.  She is more likely to yell at a threat than scream.  More often than not, she does still get captured and need rescuing.  Donna was also instrumental in the creation of the Human Time Lord Meta-Crisis “Handy” Doctor.




Amy Pond – Kiss-O-Gram:  Grew up with a crack in space/time in her bedroom.  Amy more often than not is used as a plot point than a person.  She is often captured, and has to ask “What is it, Doctor?” Amy also gave birth to a baby with a *Time Head.





* River Song – aka: Melody Pond/Time Head Baby/Weapon of the Silence/Doctor of Archeology:  Daughter of Amy and Rory Pond.  River and the Doctor are infatuated with each other .  River also understands how to operate the TARDIS and Old High Gallifreyan, the ancient language of the Time Lords.  River has also been imprisoned in the Storm Cage for the murder of the Doctor, but comes and goes as she pleases.  Still has to have things explained to her by the Doctor.




????? – ?????:  Played by Jenna-Louise Coleman.  There has not been anything officially released yet about the new companion that will begin travelling with the Doctor in this year’s Christmas Special.  We will just have to wait and see what the writers and Jenna have in store for the new companion.  I would be willing to bet that she screams, get captured, and asks “What is it, Doctor?” on a fairly regular basis.




As you can see there really isn’t much change in the companions from the “Classic Series” to the “New Series”.  With any large group of people there will be some who are stronger willed than others: Vickie, Zoe, Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, Romana, Ace, Donna, and River Song.  Then you will have some that become stronger due to their experiences with the Doctor like: Barbara, Jo Grant, Nyssa, Peri, Rose, and Martha.  There are still others that don’t really progress at all in their own personal development: Susan, Katarina, Dodo, Polly, Victoria, Melanie, Amy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the new companions as much as I like the old companions, but if you really look at it most of the “Classic Series” companions are just as strong-willed and well-rounded characters as the “New Series” companions are.  The notable exception being River Song, as her backstory is so convoluted that special consideration has to be given to it.

The prime function of the companion, female or male, is to be put in harm’s way, be rescued by the Doctor, and have things explained to them.  This can be done with a flat one-dimensional character, but is much more enjoyable with a well-rounded character.  I have only covered the female companions in this article, but the male companions have to be rescued and have things explained to them just as often.

Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have both said that Doctor Who isn’t about the Doctor, but about the companion’s journey.  They are wrong.  Doctor Who is about the Doctor’s journey, the companion is there so that the audience has someone to relate to, and see the journey through the companion’s eyes.  Let’s never forget that Doctor Who is a series about an alien from the planet Gallifrey that travels through time and space in a Police Box.  The companions are necessary, but disposable, the Doctor is not.