I always have a lot to say on the subject of companions, the Verity! podcast’s focus for 2015. I already had a lot to say on this week’s podcast, in spite of having only listened to half of it so far:
First of all, I don’t think the ‘awesome guest star’ trend is Moffat-specific. This show has always had great guest stars: who can forget Camica from ‘The Aztecs’ or Jenny from ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth?’ How about Anne Travers or Isobel Watkins? The Moffat era has plenty of fabulous side characters – I too love Psi and Saibra, and think Rita would have been a wonderful new direction in companions – but truthfully, so does the entire run of the show.
(As a side note, I can’t help noticing how many of the guest stars who returned or became regulars are male: the Brigadier and his team, Jamie, Jack. Are there other Donna Nobles I don’t know about? Other Samantha Briggs?)
Secondly, regarding the ‘Adam test,’ I am not convinced that Adam himself counts as a companion. Yes, he appears in two episodes and travels in the TARDIS, two criteria often held against the Sara Kingdoms and others like her. However, the Doctor took him on only as a favor to Rose, as a kind of pretty toy; he never had any proper companion characteristics or credentials. Rose thought he would be a good fit because he wanted to see the stars, but he turned out to be cowardly, self-serving, and irresponsible. Even Turlough, the traitor, managed to make himself more useful than that. Plenty of characters who fit neither of the other criteria – multiple episodes, TARDIS travel – do more for the Doctor and his mission than Adam. [ETA Cathica, for example.] So while he may check a couple of critical boxes, I don’t personally consider him a companion at all.
Finally, my personal choice for returning character would be Nasreen Choudhry. Wonderfully written and delightfully played (by fangirl Meera Syal), she is an intelligent, active woman, a scientist, fascinated by the potential of the TARDIS, with a sense of humor and adventure and no difficulty putting the Doctor in his place. She is also, coincidentally, non-white and over 40, which would be a nice switch. The resolution of her story leaves the door open for a return; while I don’t expect one, I would absolutely love it.
And of course there’s more, and always will be. For the moment, though, I’d like to address a thought that came up in the podcast and several comments, which is a fan’s desire to see people like themselves become companions. I do think that I fell for Rose so hard in part because she is somewhat like me, but beyond that, I’m not sure that ‘like me’ is a high-ranking criterion for companionship.
What is ‘like me’ for me anyway? I am closer in age to Donna than any other modern companion, closest in appearance to Rose, closest in employment status to Clara, closest in education to Martha, closest in height to Amy though sadly un-Scottish. By nationality, the only companion like me is Peri, who is generally pretty unbearable. (I suppose one could count the American Jack Harkness, but since he’s from a different century and a different planet, I don’t.) I wonder what the podcasters meant when they said ‘like me?’ Appearance? Education? Life situation? Age, gender, race?
I absolutely identify most powerfully with Rose; though I couldn’t say for certain precisely why, I suspect among other things that her failures most endear her to me. She isn’t perfect – she gets scared and irrational and mean and jealous – but she does her best, overcoming her negative qualities to face the Sycorax, befriend Sarah Jane, find compassion for Cassandra, and so on. Even more than that, though, my life, like hers, took a sharp turn at 19 and has never been the same.
Hers is much cooler.
I actually thought I had a connection to Clara when we learned that she, like me, lost her mother at a young age. However, thanks to his Moffatness, there is no connecting to Clara. Her characterization is too random, too flighty, too disconnected. She lacks Rose’s (or Martha’s or Donna’s) grounding. She’s a decorative toy with occasional flashes of personality. I like her a lot, but I don’t relate to her.
Moving forward to the companions I’d like to see more of: are they people like me? In short, not really. Nasreen, Rita, Journey Blue, are all about as unlike me as you can get. Alice Obiefune is marginally closer, having a dead mother and a library gig. But what interests me about these characters has little to do with how like or unlike me they are. I’m much more excited by who THEY are: interested, engaged, intelligent, aware, active people with their own minds and hearts and histories, both meshing with and clashing with the Doctor in interesting ways I’d like to see expanded.
I’d also like to comment on a few characters whose return other fans apparently clamored for: Jenny, Reinette, Sally Sparrow, and Shona. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for any of them. For one, much as I adore Rose, I am over the youthful blonde. We could go the next ten years without one and not miss a thing. But mostly, I don’t see what would make any of them a particularly good companion.
- Jenny has Time Lord DNA and a sense of adventure, but would be much better off leading her own adventures than playing second fiddle to the Doctor.
- Reinette suffers, like Martha and Amy, from an irrational emotional attachment. Though she does get to know the Doctor for himself over the course of the episode, he can still hardly to hope to measure up to the Doctor she has envisioned since childhood. Yes, she’s intelligent and adventurous, but can she get over him enough to really enjoy the adventure? Can she adapt to sharing a TARDIS with ‘commoners’ like Rose and Mickey? I think she would find that life much more difficult than she imagines.
- Sally Sparrow‘s story is wonderful, but complete. Her life is fine as it is, mystery solved and moving on. Would she enjoy a trip in the TARDIS? Probably, but I think she would feel she had to give up too much of herself to get it.
- Shona I just don’t understand at all. She is young and cute and funny, and she asks good questions, but she is barely engaged in life. She is happy to sit back and let things happen to her. A trip in the TARDIS would probably be more than she could take. Of her associates at the North Pole, Fiona Bellows is by far the most interesting potential companion: an older woman, a scientist (in my headcanon anyway), with a life history and a large extended family to ground her in the ‘real’ world.
Basically, none of them has the right balance of enthusiasm and thoughtfulness, intelligence (of any kind) and curiosity, independence and cooperation, courage and compassion that makes a great companion.
I did warn you that I had a lot to say. Don’t even begin to think that’s all of it.