Thursday, November 21, 2013

Doctor Who: Eleven Companions, Eleven Stories

I had quite a lot of fun last week mentally rambling through favorite Doctor Who stories by Doctor, and have been toying with the idea of doing a "companions" list ever since. This runs into two problems - the fact that there are so many of them, and the fact that what defines a Who Companion is somewhat vexatious. Most attempts to define it within fandom end up being too narrow, too broad, or riddled with exceptions and caveats, so in the decided to pick just 11 of them. It seemed appropriate, and although there are some omissions I almost feel guilty about (Tegan and Jo Grant, for example) and as for if the Brig counts as a companion or not, well of course he bloody does. Presented in order of appearance, so as not to have to pick favorites.

Dr Liz Shaw - Doctor Who and the Silurians
I have a huge soft spot for Caroline John's Liz Shaw, one of many women who came into the show on the promise of a female character who wasn't just there to be alternate between asking dumb questions, and being imperiled by monsters, but who struggled to achieve that in the scripts on offer. Liz fits right into John Pertwee's first season, with it's more adversarial relationship with humanity, and UNIT in particular, and Doctor Who and the Silurians, with its sad, tragic finale and underlying moral message fitting to the times, is as good a showcase as any for her questioning, quietly authoritative nature. It's a shame the show couldn't make better use of her.

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart - The Daemons
Jenkins! Chap with the wings there. Five Rounds Rapid. 

What isn't to like about the Brig? He's seen Doctors come and go, monsters all stripes invade the Earth, and he's as steadfast and stoic as ever. I'm still gutted he never made it into the relaunched series. The Daemons doubles as a great showcase for Roger Delgado as the Master, a real slice of the strengths of the show in it's prime, shifting genres serial to serial and blazing with ideas. 

Sarah-Jane Smith - Pyramids of Mars
And of course Sarah-Jane Smith, the Companions' Companion. In some ways another attempt to do what Liz Shaw never managed, and be a more independent female co-lead, And for all Sarah-Jane spends her fair amount of time "in peril" she's also a forthright, take-no-bullshit presence under both the Third and Fourth Doctors, anchoring a transitional time for the show. Pyramids of Mars is another of those pastiche stories that the Tom Baker loved so much, this time with a "Curse of the Mummy's Tomb" vibe, a scenery chewing villian and lot of the right sort of running around.

Leela of the Sevateem - Horror of Fang Rock
In many ways, Leela shouldn't work as a character. She's a sort of leather-bikini wearing Pygmalion riff, and a "savage woman" archetype is the sort of thing you'd never get in the modern era. What does make Leela work is her absolute determination to meet every challenge with Knife in hand, a bloodthirsty, combat-ready warrior ready to spring. I nearly picked The Sun Makers just because of her outraged derision of the feckless revolutionaries in that story, but Horror of Fang Rock is a slick thriller on the "base under siege" model that shows off both Tom Baker and Louise Jameson pretty well.

Romana I - The Ribos Operation
Oh dear, another slightly stuttery attempt to do a "strong female character". Foisted in the Doctor, Mary Tamm's Romana is inexperienced and naive but carries the sort of presence you'd expect from a Time Lady, poised and arrogant and someone in control, whether they actually are or not. The Ribos Operation is a heist story, a romp on a primitive world with several neatly juggled strands that come together a lot more neatly than many classic era stories attempting the same things do.

Romana II - City of Death
The Fourth Doctors' true Partner in Crime, Lalla Ward's regenerated Romana is a breezy, confident joy to watch, even as she gradually grows out of him to take on her own, independent responsibilities. It feels like an arc for the character across two lifetimes, probably more happy co-incidence than anything planned, but something that works neatly. City of Death is another of the Fourth Doctors great romps, filmed on location in Paris and with a madcap script from Douglas Adams. One of the indispensable Doctor Who stories.

Nyssa of Traken - The Keeper of Traken
In a lot of ways, Nyssa is pretty drippy. Certainly she's overshadowed in the "shouting at the Doctor" stakes by Tegan, but as part of the Fifth Doctors rolling Hotel TARDIS inmates I've always kind of liked her. Maybe its because I was at an age when girls were starting to register with me, but even re-watching she's a smart, capable character who really just never gets enough to do outside of this, her first story, and Terminus, her last. She is saddled with a terrible costume, too.

Vislor Turlough - Enlightenment
On the other hand, Turlough got all the plot. The Black Guardians attempt to avenge himself on all those who have mocked his ridiculous bird-hat takes up a lot of Turloughs' time in the TARDIS, but he's such a spikey, perpetually outraged presence its good times for the show. Enlightenment is a mix of high philosophy and "Pirates in Spaaaaace" excitement,  from a point at which the darker elements that would sweep in to damage the direction of the show had to yet to really work their way into all it's aspects.

Dorothy "Ace" McShane - Survival 
Because sometimes you just want someone who can kill a Dalek with a base-ball bat. In a lot of ways, Ace is the first modern companion, someone with their own agency, own story arc, and the first companion since Romana to feel like a true equal to the Doctor in story terms. In part this is due to Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoys great screen chemistry, and partly due to the slow (if too late) rebuilding of the show behind the scenes. Survival, ironically enough, marked the end of Doctor Who for many years, but has a lot to recommend it, not least Anthony Ainleys best (and most restrained) portrayal of the Master and the perfect, bittersweet last scene.

Rose Tyler - Rose
Rewatching the TV movie recently served as a reminder of just how good Rose - the opening episode of the 2005 relaunch - actually is. In many ways they've got similar ideas, but whereas the TV Movie is saddled with a terrible, terrible plot, Rose stays focused on Rose Tyler herself, keeps everything moving, and showcases what Doctor Who could be in the modern age. I'm not the biggest fan of where they took Rose herself, especially her relationship with the Tenth Doctor, and I find the chunk of fanbase that is still weirdly dedicated to her as the "special companion" a little, well, weird, but shes a key part of why the show's return was a success.

Amy Pond - The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang
I've come to view the Ponds as a sort of joint companion; I know that Rory is in many ways - as the Doctor seems to suspect - a sort of hanger-on for Amy, but I found having a couple on the crew was a refreshing change from the "everyone loves the Doctor" era that came before it, and is, lets be honest, the shows basic setup for most of it's run. Their relationship does hit the same beats several times, with varying success, but the heart of it comes down to the events of The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang, which close off the Eleventh Doctors first series. In the spirit of the Fairy Tale theme running throughout, good triumphs over evil, love conquers all, and order is restored to the Kingdom. Hooray for that, I say.

Next...only Two Days to go to the Day of the Doctor....