Defending My Own Least Favorite Companions

Yes, this is another Doctor Who post. One of the things that I’ve been noticing more and more lately, is the divide in the fans. There has always been debate. No one’s opinions align exactly. That’s part of what’s so great. Every single Doctor is someone’s favorite. Every single companion is someone’s favorite. Think about how cool that is. That’s cool!

But people get very protective and very mean and very petty, attempting to cut down other people’s opinions. We just can’t stand some of these characters and are infuriated when people disagree. That’s uncool. I’m not immune to this (I’m ashamed to say). There are some companions that I harbor a special kind of distaste for.

I’ve talked a bit on my blog about how, you know, people in fandom should try to be nice to each other, and I’ve also mentioned on multiple occasions the companions I LOVE. But maybe every companion has their place. So I’m taking closer a look, and defending the very companions that I so often eyeroll at.

I’m really only focusing on full-time companions and exempting characters that only appeared in a single special. There are quite a few companions that I just feel neither here nor there about who are spared from the list.

And I’m talking about the CHARACTERS, not the ACTORS, who are generally lovely people that I’ve seen interviewed in person and are sunshine-y gumdrops I adore.

In order of appearance:

Susan Foreman

I actually had a bit of an internal struggle on whether or not to include Susan on the list. I don’t have the same disdain for her as I do for the others. I mean, she’s the first one! Surely, that counts for something.

It absolutely does. A missed opportunity by the writers, Susan could have been a groovy swingin’ 60’s teen alien with a magical, adoring grandfather. After all, they ran away together. The rebel Time Lords.

This wasn’t the case. She made what was already a difficult era for me even more difficult. Not that there wasn’t a great female character on show in Barbara Wright. But there were times when she was the only thing that kept me going, and one character, especially if they aren’t the central character, wasn’t always enough to keep my attention.

Carol Ann Ford, the actress who played Susan, was apparently frustrated with Susan’s character for similar reasons and decided to leave early in the second season.

But the importance of her character can not be overstated. However many twisted ankles (there were only 2 actually), however many screams (decidedly more than 2), however many times she cried for her grandfather, she was a rebel, too and the original companion.

She’s the one who came up with the moniker TARDIS for the Doctor’s time machine/spaceship, for God’s sake!

And there is no excuse for abandoning her, after she asks you not to, on a Dalek-ridden, post-apocalyptic Earth, (it’s not even her home planet) with some dude she’s only known for a couple of days WITHOUT ANY SHOES! Really, Doctor! Of course, this resulted in quite possibly his finest speech. We have Susan to thank for that as well.

The Doctor said he’d come back. Maybe we haven’t seen that last of Susan. Maybe these lost years have made her sophisticated and daring. I hoped that Maisie Williams’ character might be Susan regenerated (“What took you so long, old man?”). She wasn’t. We’re still waiting. I think one day Susan will return. And you know what? I’m very much looking forward to that.

Victoria Waterfield

If you plucked a Victorian era girl out of her time and whisked her away from her planet, after the death of her only remaining family, she would behave exactly the way Victoria does. She was written and performed appropriately. So I sort of have the opposite problem with Victoria as I do with Susan.

She was exactly the way you’d expect that character to be…if that outlandish premise were ever to happen. My problem here is that the character wants no part in the Doctor’s story. She doesn’t want to go on the adventures, she’s frightened of EVERYthing from the monsters to the technology to the Doctor. And, as a personal preference, that’s not the type of companion that I find enjoyable to watch, nor the type of character that drives a story forward.

When she’s first introduced she’s feeding birds through the window in the room where she’s imprisoned. Like she’s Snow goddamn White. There’s a nice little moment where she stands up to a Dalek (BADASS!), and as soon as it leaves, she collapses into a puddle of tears and stays there until her eventual departure at the end of the next season.

She wants the Doctor to assure her safety, which he can’t and won’t. She’s the damsel. She’s distressed. We get it.

There’s not a whole lot of arc to her. The bravest thing she probably does is tell the Doctor that she doesn’t want to leave with him in her final story, a decision that means she will be forced to forever live out of her time.

Zoe’s arrival immediately follows Victoria’s departure, and proved to be a stark contrast. I try not to compare them, comparing anyone to your favorite of something is unfair, but it’s hard not to. Zoe was obviously taking Victoria’s place. And she was the opposite. She wanted the adventure (to the point where she stowed away on the TARDIS), she was futuristic and forward thing. She may have been the damsel, but she was not in distress. Her relationship with Jamie went from rivalry to best friend, all without the implication of romance, and Zoe’s cleverness could rival the Doctor’s.

Season 6 is my favorite classic series, which sometimes makes me super harsh on Victoria, who had to pave the way in season 5, with arguably more groundbreaking and complex stories, like “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Enemy of the World.”

And the Doctor didn’t choose Victoria, he just sort of ends up with her. And while he grows to like her, he’s got nothing on Jamie. If you’ve liked any TARDIS romance, you owe a debt to Miss Waterfield. Sure, there were implied relationships between Ian and Barbara and Ben and Polly, but Jamie and Victoria’s romance seemed a little less a suggestion and more a straightforward romance. And he’s pissed that the Doctor let’s her go so readily, but the Doctor explains that ithat’s Victoria’s decision. That’s important too. Victoria is ultimately the one deciding to leave, and therefore she doesn’t lose her agency (we can’t say the same for Zoe, who’s essentially forced out of the TARDIS).

Apparently, there’s a movie (which I haven’t seen), Downtime,  in which Deborah Watling reprises her role as Victoria. The twist is that the Doctor never shows up. So it’s up to her, the Brig, and Sarah Jane to stop an alien attack. I’d be curious to see the character as an independent grown-up. I think she could prove to be a powerful ally.

And if you ever have the chance to see an interview with Deborah Watling, take it! Especially if Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are with her. They always tell the craziest and raunchiest stories.

Peri Brown

Poor Peri essentially gets a spot on the list just because she’s annoying. And a lot of this stems from the voice.

Doctor Who has a long history, that continues on to this day, of British actors putting on bad American dialects, but Peri is one of the most memorable. She’s also the only official recurring televised American companion the Doctor’s ever had. In other words, not counting Grace, who was in fact played by an American.

To their credit, the writers were trying to mix it up a bit. They’d just recently had Australian Tegan on the TARDIS crew and were clearly trying to include human companions that weren’t British, but could speak English (the “gift of the TARDIS” explain-away device, which allows you to speak any language, was an RTD invention. Not that we’ve taken advantage of that with any of the new series companions). Peri’s American dialect just doesn’t cut it (unfortunately, Nicola Bryant didn’t have any trouble fooling the Brits and couldn’t land roles as British characters after she left Doctor Who).

Do she and the Doctor even like each other? What was that relationship all about anyway? Well, the more you peel away the layers, the more interesting Peri actually becomes.

And then there’s the Howard thing. Howard was Peri’s step-father. That’s the short, simple explanation. But their relationship might be more complicated then that. It comes down to personal interpretation. Their interactions are a little strange, and in the Doctor Who novella, Shell Shock, it was retconned that Howard had sexually abused Peri. The Doctor Who production team deny that this was the intention of the script/shoot, but his brief time on the show raised some eyebrows. They don’t explicitly go into it on the show, but that’s a potential MAJOR issue they were dealing with.

What about the Doctor? Well, he meets her as the 5th Doctor. At the time, his only companion is Turlough (who, I’ll grant you, is a little bitch, but I don’t hate him enough to include him on the list. And at least he comes with an interesting plot built in). He doesn’t know her, but after a run-in with the Master and poor Kamelion, the Doctor exchanges a Turlough for a Peri, whisks her away, and promptly dies.

The 5th Doctor dies sacrificing himself to save Peri. And then he becomes 6. He immediately attempts to strangle Peri, and even after deciding that probably wasn’t a great idea, continues to spew verbal abuse at her. They do nothing but argue and bicker, often with a mean-spirited attitude.

And…there no Doctor/companion dynamic more fiercely loyal. We’re talking going to the ends of the Earth to save each other. Even if it means death. And in both their cases it does.

5 already died saving her, and Peri is killed while traveling with the Doctor. Well, technically they took it back, and were all “no! She didn’t died. She married that dude! Remember? That one dude?” Yeah, we remember that one dude. Peri would never have married that dude. My head cannon is that Peri did die and they just told the Doctor she didn’t to make him feel better.

Anyway, the point it there’s definitely more going on with Peri than many people, myself included, really care to give her credit for.

Nicola Bryant’s another one: her interviews are not to be missed.

Clara Oswald

 

*sigh* As she’s most recent, this one will probably get me in the most trouble. Which is probably part of the reason I had such an aversion to her. I had to sit through week after week of her episodes, rather than binging through. So this is gonna be the hardest one for me to defend. I really don’t like Clara. And I’m gonna have to dig into why, but I’ll get to the defense in the end, I promise.

“I was born to save the Doctor.” = Manic Pixie Nightmare

For the most part, Doctor Who has been really good at creating interesting three-dimensional characters since their revival. Giving them backstory and families, showing and not telling us how they fit into the world. Then the Doctor comes in and flips the character’s life upside-down. And they give up their everyday life for a life of adventure. Unless, you’re Clara.

Part of the complication began with introducing Clara before the show actually introduced…Clara. Because she wasn’t in the beginning. She was Oswin Oswald. Then she Clara Oswin Oswald. Then when she finally became a proper companion she was Clara Oswald. These are all three different characters. Or are they? What was that splintering business about? All 3 of these characters are different, because why? Wouldn’t the splinters all have the same personality? Apparently not.

And I actually quite liked Oswin. She reminded me of a contemporary Zoe, and if she had been the prime Clara this list might have looked different. She’s clever, she’s helpful, but she seems to have her own thing going on. A whole interesting life that has backstory and that we’d like to explore. And then she turns out to be a Dalek. And Victorian Clara Oswin Oswald was okay, I guess. Really my problem is this Clara Oswald.

Moffat himself admitted that she was no more than a plot device in series 7. Then series 8 was all about her romance with Danny Pink, but knowing little about Clara, made me care little about the outcome of that relationship.

Clara seemed to think quite a lot of herself, but never did anything to earn that, she was just charmed to walk into the right situation at the right time.We lost the “show don’t tell” element that used to work so well, they’d explain all the reasons we should like the character, rather than allowing Clara to demonstrate them.

She seems inconsistently written at times, possibly a result of them trying to cover all their bases when people made complaints, when the best thing they could have done was make a decision and stick with it. I could never tell through her Push-Me-Pull-You relationship with the Doctor if she wanted to travel with him or not.

Adding to this predicament was a model of episode structure that actually began with the Ponds at the start of series 7. The companion no longer lived on board the TARDIS, but rather the Doctor would pick up the companion for a trip. This is less like a companion and more like a pal (see: Craig, Rigsy, the Paternoster Gang).

But I think the death of poor Danny Pink was actually a good thing in the end.

Clara’s showing in series 9 was too little too late for me, but it was a marked improvement. Ideally, she would have had her Last Christmas exit. I found this by far the strongest ending to her story. She traveled all over the world like she wanted to, she doesn’t have a family, ultimately deciding it wasn’t what she wanted (a really nice point to make for people like me who aren’t putting a family on their to-do list), she was happy and fulfilled, and she didn’t need to the Doctor. Then, Jenna Coleman decided she wanted to stay another season, and the Doctor basically refused to believe that she could have had a nice life without him, meaning it was all a dream. Yikes. Ouch.

That being said, while she maybe should have been left well enough alone after “Face the Raven,” her final actual (please, for the love of Rassilon) ending, had a similar message. So I appreciate that at least.

So what’s left to defend? Well, I stepped back, trying to re-evaluate her character arc, when I realized something. She’s the sorcerer, the apprentice, the witch, and the familiar all rolled into one. And that’s actually kind of a good thing.

There was a lot of speculation when the first two episode titles of series 9: the the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the Witch’s Familiar were announced. Who was who? Is the Doctor the Sorcerer? Missy the Witch? Was Clara the apprentice or the familiar? It’s never really made clear. I think Davros maybe figures in their somewhere. But what if they’re all one in the same? What if Clara is the sorcerer, the apprentice, the witch, and the familiar all rolled into one? I doubt Moffat meant it that way, but it could actually mark the evolution of her time on the show. She’s her own guide to series’ 7-9.

Of course, this is Doctor Who, so magic is replaced with science and technology, but I think that the breakdown goes something like this:

Sorcerer: Someone who has magical abilities or is believed to have magical abilities

This is Clara and all her reincarnations in series 7, her deaths and resurrections. This is “Impossible Girl” Clara. The Doctor can’t explain her, even with all his knowledge. She wields an almost magical force through the leaf in Rings of Akhaten, makes an impossible leap in Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, and speaks to a dead River Song in the Name of the Doctor.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Someone who who kick-starts a process they can’t control

This is seen in the 50th anniversary and again in the 11th Doctor’s final episode “The Time of the Doctor.” In both cases she sets an Indiana Jones sized bounder rolling towards the Doctor, first in preventing him from using the Moment in “The Day of the Doctor,” then in resetting his regeneration sequence and getting him a new set in the following episode (oh, yeah, we can thank her for that too).

Witch: Someone who practices magic (often includes divination and healing)

After the Doctor’s regeneration, he begins to question things he knows, even himself. It then falls to Clara to take on a leadership role: “Deep Breath,” “In the Forest of the Night,” “Kill the Moon.” “Flatline,” anyone? Meanwhile “Listen” has an air of divination to it, while she becomes Danny’s healer throughout the season. By the time the final two episodes arrive, Clara is the one unconsciously pulling the strings, Danny’s death, and Clara’s determination to save him leads to Missy’s arrival, and sets her plan with the Cybermen into action. Finally, the last act between Clara and the Doctor in series 8 is them telling each other equally gutting lies, a trick Clara almost seems to have picked up from the Doctor and mastered herself.

Familiar: A spirit or demon who serves as a magician’s servant, spy, and COMPANION

In series 9, Clara’s role seems a lot more companion-y. She goes from Catalyst Clara to Death-Wish Clara. A side-effect to Danny’s death and having no one tying her to Earth, she’s more ready to take chances and stand in the line of fire…or…er…ravens. But she seems not only to act as the Doctor’s companion, but a companion to anyone who needs one: Missy, Cass, Rigsy, and Ashildr in Clara’s final scene.

The most important of the bunch though, is Rigsy. And the fact that she sacrifices her life for him of all people is very poignant. She meets Rigsy in “Flatline,” while the Doctor’s incapacitated in the tiny TARDIS. The episode was somewhat infamous in that Clara just decides “hey, I’m gonna be the Doctor now” (funnily enough, I actually really like this episode). So in their first episode she’s the Doctor and he’s her companion. In their last episode together, Clara’s the companion.

This time, she can’t swagger out of her death the way the Doctor would, she has to face the fatal human consequence. In both cases she saves Rigsy, but in the latter she can has to do so through an act of humanity. And that is the true role of a companion. To have humanity when they Doctor doesn’t. Because, after all, the Doctor isn’t human. It’s the ultimate move for a companion to make.

We’re also left with a nice little book end. When the Doctor first meets the splinter Oswin, she erases him from the Dalek’s mind, when he lasts sees her, she’s erased herself from his.

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About Risa Romano

Writer type thing. I work on stories for kids when I'm on the clock and screenplays quite a bit less for kids when I'm not. I have a blog: rambleonnerdyponderings.wordpress.com I'm also the creator and moderator of the Doctor Who vodcast/podcast A Disused Yeti: https://adisusedyeti.wordpress.com/
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