With Jenna Coleman due to bow out of companion duties, what better time for Standard Issue to talk favourite companions?
Growing up with two older brothers, my tomboy tendencies were strong at the age of six. In 1987, while other girls may have been coveting a Barbie dream house, I was desperate for the action figure of Michelangelo, the party-dude Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. My Sylvanian Family bakery would often boast a stormtrooper figure or two, y’know, just popping in for a croissant. I even made a bed for my brother’s Star Wars AT-AT because all four-legged Imperial Walkers need a place to rest after shooting the shit out of the enemy. In short, pink was out and badass was in.
And in 1987, badass usually meant being a boy, much to my disappointment. That is until I watched Doctor Who and met Ace, played by Sophie Aldred. Companion to the Seventh doctor, played by the wonderfully eccentric Sylvester McCoy, Ace was the first of the female companions up to then to get involved in the fighting, instead of screaming for help. I loved that!
In fact, Ace set herself up as the Doctor’s bodyguard, kicking the heads in of Daleks, Cybermen or anyone else who threatened him. And she wore a black bomber jacket with badges on, big black boots and carried a baseball bat… that is, when she wasn’t expertly handling a flame thrower. I wanted to be her so badly and thought I could be. She wore a scrunchie, I wore a scrunchie: what more evidence do you need?
She was rough, tough and super cool, setting up the mould for the modern companions who don’t just weakly scream and hide but get stuck in to the intergalactic melee. Ace truly was exactly what her name said and from seeing her burst onto the screen, baseball bat in hand, I was hooked.
Played by Louise Jameson from 1977–8, wild thing Leela, warrior of the Sevateem, in her skimpy leather outfit was originally seen as ‘something for the dads’. However, in attempting to give the Doctor an unsophisticated Eliza Doolittle to mentor, writer Chris Boucher, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes delivered the strongest female companion to date.
With her trusty knife and pouch of Janus thorns there was no screaming, whimpering or going over on an ankle for our Leela. Always quick to shoot first and not bother with questions, she was the antithesis to the usual innocent audience cypher the companion had previously been.
Even when shoehorned into full Victorian garb, replete with bonnet and petticoats, it wasn’t five minutes before she was cutting a swathe through the dockside ruffians with paralysing thorns, judo throws and pinpoint knife play. Much to the continued annoyance of the pacifist Doctor.
She was also the subject of my one and only fan-girl moment when I got her autograph after doing a set at International Women’s Day and freaking out to see Louise Jameson front and centre.
I’m not sure if ‘favourite’ is the right word, but the companion who quite blew my mind as a young child was Vislor Turlough. Or simply Turlough, as everyone called him because he wore a posh school tie, despite being in space and in his mid-20s.
Turlough was presented to us as a student of The Brigadier, a regular character I would have called one of the Doctor’s ‘very best friends’ for want of better understanding at the time. So, when Turlough’s storyline unfolded to reveal (sit down for this) he may not be a very nice person it FRIED MY TINY MIND. I had no idea a companion could even do that. “You’re allowed not to be kind?” I reeled… Worse! Not only was it very much looking like Turlough might be disloyal to everyone in the whole TARDIS, but this guy had arrived with REFERENCES.
I was completely traumatised by this, my first real taste of unexpected betrayal, all made worse as Peter Davison had very bouncy hair and a nice speaking voice and I was fairly sure I might marry him one day if Paul McCartney wasn’t up for it.
Turlough’s unfolding storyline is of course actually an age-old trial of personal good against evil, the angel and devil on both his shoulders. It’s positively Shakespearean in set-up and in much the same way I will always love Anthony Ainley’s Master for wearing black hose and a pointy beard and laughing with his hands on his hips like a right old ham. But Turlough was essential in teaching me that it’s entirely possible to be a shit to your friends and wear inappropriate clothing for your age/context without anyone really questioning you. Good man!
I’m a New Whovian, although, having seen that they had cast smiling, dancing former teenage pop star Billie Piper in the role of the companion, I didn’t think the series was for me. I was a little too young and a little too uncool to fit her target demographic back in the day. Little did I know that, through the medium of gas-masked children and a grumpy man in a leather coat, I would end up not only loving Doctor Who, but loving her character in particular.
She is the girl next door that everyone can relate to. She tells it like it is. She often saves the day. And she has a laugh along the way too.
Rose’s first Doctor was the rough, tough, very cold, deeply alien Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston. While he only stayed for one series, he and Rose brought out the best in each other; she softened his sharp edges, and he gave her character strength, which I think is why I loved her even more when she started travelling with the Tenth Doctor. My favourite Doctor, played by the delightful David Tennant. Ten was vastly different. Funny, emotional, flirty – very human, and although she was trepidatious at first, Rose grew to not only like him, but love him.
I still can’t hear the music to Doomsday without bursting into tears, remembering the moment that Rose had to say goodbye to the Doctor at Bad Wolf Bay. It is a scene that Old Whovians hate, citing this all-too-human Doctor as wildly contradictory to the alien he is, but I loved Ten, and I loved Rose for letting me live vicariously through her as his companion.
Since Rose, many of the companions have had a needy teenage crush on the Doctor, which has always disappointed me. Perhaps it was through her time with Nine that Rose’s character foundations were formed, and so building emotion on that solid foundation worked. Since then, with the exception of the brilliant Donna, played by Catherine Tate, all the companions have felt more like lovesick puppies, providing little resilience against the Doctor’s character.
If the Doctor could find some sort of timey wimey loophole to bring Rose back, I would be very happy indeed! Rose and Capal-Doctor would make an incredible and unbeatable duo. And failing that, do give me a call…
Dr Suze Kundu
Doctor Who was in his second Patrick Troughton-shaped incarnation when I started watching in 1967. My mum, then pregnant with my brother, took me to stay with her parents in Glasgow while she had the baby and my dad moved job to Leicester.
We arrived in our new English home a couple of weeks after my brother was born and I was homesick for Scotland.
The Doctor’s assistant was the kilt-clad Jamie. Even though he was played by the utterly English Frazer Hines whose Scottish accent sounded like he’d once met someone who’d been on a day trip to Edinburgh, Jamie was a rare representation of Scottishness: longing for my ain folk, he was my hero.
I adored Jamie more than the Doctor. When my friend Wayne and I played Doctor Who in his mum’s airing cupboard, I was Jamie while Wayne was relegated to the role of Victoria. I spent my pre-school years being Jamie, talking like him – “Och Doctorrr” – and rescuing Rosebud, a doll with a large brittle plastic head, from intergalactic peril.
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