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Why the Doctor Who companion is important

Finally! After months of waiting for news, the announcement all Whovians have been waiting for is here. The new companion has not been revealed yet- but will today. This is of course a good time to discuss the role of the companion in the show. While I’ve discussed the companion before, here I will explain why the role of the companion is so important and why the new companion needs to work. Here are three pointers for the new companion-

Relatability

Let’s talk about the previous companion- Clara. One of the reasons I never really connected with her during her tenure was that she didn’t feel real. She became too overpowered, completely ruining relatability towards her. Now of course I won’t fully relate with Clara- she’s a female teacher, I’m a teenage boy, but the point still stands. Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy and Rory all felt real. They had real lives and real flaws and behaved like real people. I’m a huge fan of Donna because she felt so relatable. If someone was travelling in time and space, chances are that they’ll act like Donna. I would.

I rewatched the Bells of Saint John today and while I like the episode, I noticed a fatal flaw in it- Clara wasn’t the focus. She isn’t introduced until five minutes in the episode and she barely has any impact on the story. She gets captured twice and the focus is on the mystery surrounding Clara and the whole wi-fi plot. The other companion introduction stories- Rose, Smith and Jones, Partners in Crime and the Eleventh Hour all introduced the companion almost immediately, with the plot being driven around them. In short, we the audience need to feel like the companion is a real person before they meet the Doctor.

Now the new series does a much better job of introducing companions in their first episode than the classic series did. Sometimes a companion would just stumble in at the tail end of the story and then do nothing for the next story. Yet there’s a lot more variety in the classic series companions- there’s modern day (for the time) people like Sarah Jane, Ian and Barbara, yet there’s also savages (Leela) robot dogs (K9), Scottish Highlanders (Jamie), Time Lords (Romana, Susan) and aliens (Nyssa, Adric). In the new series, only Jack and River are truly unique.

Relatability does not mean 21st century Earth. A good character is relatable to everyone, no matter where they’re from. Star Wars has relatable characters- Luke and Rey both strive to travel and do good, Han Solo is cocky and always has a smart remark and Kylo Ren is torn between good and evil. Relatable character traits can apply to any character no matter what genre they’re in or what species they are. I know there needs to be an audience surrogate, someone who the audience can relate to, but they do not need to be from Earth. And if they are from Earth, make them different and make them a strong, fleshed out character who anyone can relate to. Also, if they’re a teenager, don’t make them a walking sterotype. I know what a teenage acts like.

No mystery, make them normal

Amy and Clara had both had mysteries surrounding them, and while it worked for Amy (man I love Series 5) with Clara it devalued her character. I want a companion who has a normal life, with no hint of a mystery. I really don’t like this trend in the new series of the companions being so powerful. Rose fairy dusts a Dalek armada to death (urgh), Donna became a hybrid (A HYBRID!) and destroys a Dalek empire and Clara is there at every victory the Doctor ever had. Martha’s victory was normal and human, and Amy, while still a mystery, was still pretty normal. Let’s have the companion travel for the joy of it, and save the day through wit, skill and cunning and not a prophecy or deus ex machina. Sarah Jane did not need the Bad Wolf to talk the Doctor out of genocide. Ace did not need the DoctorDonna to beat a Dalek with a baseball bat. They were normal people who proved to be strong characters through their actions, not by chance. I know Ace had a mystery surrounding her, but she was still a character first.

My favourite Clara moments are the little moments, like when she confronts the Half Faced Man, beats the Boneless by using their own powers, distracts the Cybermen using her wit and tricking Bonnie using logic. These are all actions done by Clara that feels natural and doesn’t overpower the character, instead making her character stronger. That’s why I loved her departure in Face the Raven- it was sad, but also showed her selflessness and willingness to accept her fate. Then Hell Bent came along and completely devalued the point of her character arc to make her an overpowered being again.

The new companion needs to prove herself. She needs a defining moment where she saves the day or tricks the monster, but it needs to be natural. No mystery, no prophecy and no overpowering. Just a character who travels because it’s fun and who learns and grows through the course of the series.

Who else is ridiculously excited? I’m obviously not going to watch Match of the Day just to find out, but it’s the Internet so I’ll know soon enough. Where will the show go after this? I’m hoping the new companion can bring some magic and mystery into the show again, as we can experience the Whoniverse through new eyes.

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About Ben Williams

I'm 16 years old. I like animals, lasagne, comic books, films, role-playing games and Doctor Who. I write cool stuff - Doctor Who, science fiction, film reviews, and quirks about Britain. I have a blue-tongued skink called Georgy and a cat called Billy.

2 responses »

  1. Graham Williams

    Interesting and intelligent analysis. However, I will stick with my original comment. So long as the companion is young, female and pretty, I do not care how she is introduced or what powers she demonstrates. And this proves that you are a thinker and I am an irredeemably shallow male.

    Reply
  2. When the new companion was announced as “Bill,” I had hope that a man would once again step into the role of the Doctor’s companion and leave behind this need to have a young, pretty female who is smarter than she looks or complicated with baggage. Rose’s baggage was her boyfriend and mother. Martha’s baggage was unrequited love. The only fascinating companion with little baggage was Donna, who embraced the traveling life with the doctor with honesty, reality, and a tremendous sense of humor.

    Then to find out that Bill is a woman, well, the days of the Doctor traveling with Captain Jack, the wonderful Jamie McCrimmon in his sexy kilt, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart are over it seems. At least I hope they bring us someone a mix of Donna and Sarah Jane Smith, with a little Captain Jack thrown in for fun.

    Wouldn’t you like to see Captain Jack come back and shake things up?

    Reply

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