It’s that magical time of year again, when the air grows colder, the stores and radio stations are playing holiday classics non-stop, and the BBC launches its line of Christmas specials, including the much-anticipated Doctor Who episode.
This year, we’re all a little excited about the prospects for the Twelfth Doctor’s future companions, what with Jenna-Louise Coleman departing the show and her role as the plucky schoolteacher Clara Oswald. I feel a little ambiguous about her leaving. While I wasn’t that thrilled with her character during most of Matt Smith’s run or her chemistry (or lack thereof) with Peter Capaldi, I did enjoy Coleman’s performance as Clara the Victorian-era barmaid and governess from the 2012 Christmas Special (“The Snowmen”).
Which brings me to my current perspective: Doctor Who needs to try something new with its lineup of companions.
The Present Trend: Safe and Relatable?
One of the trends established by the show’s current run (that is, every episode since the 2005 revival) has been this archetype of what the typical Doctor Who companion looks like. Between characters like Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, and Amy Pond, our average companion is a London-born girl in her 20s or 30s in a low-level job looking for adventure. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this image. It’s certainly easy for many young men and women in the audience to relate to those characters and their experiences.
But ask yourselves this, dear readers: Should Doctor Who only be about safe and relatable experiences?
I may not have grown up with the classic Who era and only know about it through Wikipedia articles, but I do know that there was a lot more variety to the type of companions that the Doctor brought on his adventures. This roster of veritable people included:
- Sarah Jane Smith, an intrepid reporter who once infiltrated UNIT
- Leela, a primitive tribeswoman from a distant planet
- Adric, a math prodigy from a parallel universe in the 32nd century
- K-9, a robot dog invented in the year 5000 A.D.
While the majority of his companions were young people from contemporary Earth, the Doctor did bring some color to the TARDIS family with his other companions. That’s the point of the show, really: to see bravery and intelligence and compassion in everyone, no matter how unlikely, no matter what era or planet or species they’re from.
The Possibility: History Brought to Life Again
I know it’s a long shot, but every time we get a new companion, I’ve got my fingers crossed for someone who isn’t from 21st-century London or the surrounding suburbs. Call me crazy, but I think there’s an opportunity for some really interesting stories and perspectives to be written into the show if the producers took a chance on someone from a different era or culture.
It’s not like this is without precedent, either. Since the revival, the Doctor has either recruited or attempted to recruit people from different eras of history in his adventures, such as the French courtier Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (“A Girl in the Fireplace”), as well as Queen Nefertiti of Egypt and the early 20th-century hunter John Riddell (“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”). They were all rooted in their eras, but they all shared the same intellect and zeal for adventure—qualities that the Doctor both shares and admires.
Of course I’m not against the Doctor choosing someone from modern-day Earth, but why stop there? Other incarnations of the Doctor have had multiple companions along for the ride, even recurring guests like the ever-popular Jack Harkness. And what’s wrong with the occasional companion who brings a whole history and professional set of skills with them? Why not choose, say, a soldier rescued from the battlefields of World War One or a non-human scientist from the other side of the galaxy? Or what about an actor fresh from the time of William Shakespeare, looking to leave their mark with future audiences? Any or all of these concepts would be worthy avenues to explore.
Doctor Who is a show that started out as an educational program aimed at children, but it’s easily grown into a science fiction juggernaut, surviving even its own cancellation in 1989. Audiences have grown and changed since the Eighties, so why not expand and alter the variety of companions to choose from as well? If we’re going to have a show that dares to explore so many worlds and conflicts across time and space, then we should see that reflected in both the ever-changing Doctor and his (or her) choice of companion.