My Top 10 Doctor Who Companions

The new season of Doctor Who is three episodes deep—this would be Series 10 of the rebooted series—and it started with the introduction of new companion Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie. So far, she’s a fun character, and her chemistry with Peter Capaldi is fantastic. It’s too early to tell how she’ll be viewed in the annals of Who companions, but it got me to thinking about the best companions throughout the history of the show.

One role of the companion is to provide an audience surrogate into the show, someone who can ask questions to The Doctor so he can explain things. Throughout part of the original series, the companion was also someone who got into trouble so The Doctor could save him/her. Back then, after a companion stopped traveling with The Doctor, they’d never be heard from again.

In the new series, the companion’s role has changed. They often act as The Doctor’s conscience or advisor. They’re more involved in the day-to-day operations of the TARDIS and solving problems. And much more emphasis is placed on how traveling with The Doctor impacts their lives.

So after much thinking, I present a Top 10 list of Doctor Who companions. I set a goal to mention at least one for each of The Doctors, so this is nicely split between the classic and new series.

SPOILERS WILL BE AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 

#10 – Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickland)

Turlough was a companion in the later seasons of Peter Davison’s time as The (Fifth) Doctor. What makes him really stand out for me are the circumstances that made him join the TARDIS crew. Where many companions are asked aboard, and a few have stowed away, Turlough traveled with the Doctor specifically to accomplish a dastardly plan. He was in the service of the evil Black Guardian and was out to kill The Doctor. He first posed as a schoolboy in Mawdryn Undead, and through that and the next two stories, he tried to wreak havoc. Eventually, he sees the error in his ways, and The Doctor allows him the chance of redemption. He turns out to be loyal and trustworthy, and he has a rich backstory about being exiled from his home planet. In his final story, Planet of Fire, he first saves Peri Brown, his successor in the TARDIS, from drowning, and returns home a hero. But it’s his original dubious intentions that make him more than the standard companion.

 

#9 – Rose Tyler (Billie Piper)

It’s often said that the companion is more important than The Doctor. The alien and irascible Time Lord is going to be who he always is, even as he regularly regenerates, but the companion is who the audience needs to identify with. Thus, when the show rebooted in 2005, there needed to be a strong companion. Enter Rose Tyler, shop girl with a heart of gold and a sense of adventure. Though she later developed romantic feelings for The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), and I’m not a big fan of her getting the human Meta-Crisis version of him as a consolation for being trapped in an alternate dimension, her time with The Doctor is significant. The new show put much more focus on how traveling with The Doctor changes people; the effects on families of companions are often shown. For these reasons, Rose is a true pioneer. She has a great introduction in Rose and a heartbreaking departure in the awesome Daleks-vs.-Cyberman battle in Doomsday and set the stage for great new companions—and fans—to follow.

 

#8 – Jamie McCrimmon (Fraser Hines)

A majority of The Doctor’s companions are female. However, the companion that holds the record for most consecutive episodes is Scottish Highlander Jamie McCrimmon. Now, back in the days of The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), stories were several episodes long, and Jamie’s time ends in the epic ten-part The War Games, so his record is a sign of the times. But to travel with The Doctor for that long indicates that something fantastic was going on between them. Jamie was fiercely loyal to The Doctor, and having seen a few episodes with him, it’s clear there was a late-60s bromance going on between the two characters. It’s also an interesting dynamic because he doesn’t originally come from present-day London, even though the difference of a couple hundred years on Earth is nothing compared to The Doctor’s lifespan. I didn’t see much of his original time with The Doctor, but when he and Two appeared alongside Peri and Six in The Two Doctors, it was like they never skipped a beat.

 

#7 – Dorothy Gale “Ace” McShane (Sophie Aldred)

Ace is the final companion in the original “Classic” run of the series, yet she definitely is the precursor to what the New-Who companions became. She traveled for the final two seasons with The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), and the writers definitely gave her a character arc unlike any companion before her. A couple stories focus on Ace fighting her own demons as well as the monsters of the week, and The Doctor—in his most manipulative chess-master kind of way—seems like he’s preparing her for something in the future. The show ended in 1989 before it was revealed, but there are rumors that she would’ve been enrolled at the Time Lord Academy! That would have been fantastic! She was loyal to The Doctor—or, as she called him, Professor—and she was willing to do a few things he wasn’t, like explode things with her own special chemical blend Nitro 9. Oh, and she beat the crap out of a Dalek with a baseball bat. That alone earns her a spot on a Top 10 Companion list!

 

#6 – Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)

Clara first made a surprise appearance in Asylum of the Daleks, the first episode of The Eleventh Doctor’s (Matt Smith) final season. She referred to herself as Oswin Oswald, but it turned out she had been converted into a Dalek. The Doctor meets her again five episodes later in the excellent Christmas episode The Snowmen (perhaps the best of the Christmas episodes), this time as a Victorian governess, but she dies. Then he meets her a third time in modern times in The Bells of St. John. This gives her the status of “The Impossible Girl,” and for the rest of that season, she’s more of a plot device than a true companion. However, she really comes into her own when traveling with Peter Capaldi (The Twelfth Doctor). At first, she’s his moral compass—his “carer” as she’s called in Into the Dalek—and as time progresses, she is given the chance to make the big decisions that The Doctor has to make. After the death of her boyfriend Danny Pink, she starts acting more and more invincible like The Doctor, and it makes for compelling stories. I thought her death at the end of Face the Raven wasn’t an end befitting the character, but the send-off they really give her in Hell Bent—complete with her own diner-shaped TARDIS—is awesome.

 

#5 – Leela (Louise Jameson)

In the early to middle seasons of Tom Baker’s tenure as The Doctor, they were riffing on some classic horror stories. Some of the very best Classic Who stories came out of this period. After the exceptional The Deadly Assassin, which featured no companion at all, The Doctor met up with Leela, who was drastically different than any previous companion. She was a scantily-clad warrior of the Sevateem Tribe, well-skilled with a knife and other weapons. She’d rarely scream for The Doctor’s help, and on several occasions, he chastised her for resorting to violence first instead of the discussion and negotiation he preferred. The producers and writers were setting up a Henry Higgins-Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady) relationship between the two, where The Doctor would try teaching Leela to be more refined. At times, it worked. But at other times, I just wanted to watch her kick some ass! Louise Jameson is a classically trained actress, and she imbued the savage character with a sense of heart and believability. I just wish she had a more fitting sendoff, as it seemed odd to me that she’d choose to stay on Gallifrey to marry a Time Lord.

 

#4 – Romana (Mary Tamm / Lalla Ward)

Immediately following Leela’s departure, The Doctor is given an assignment by The White Guardian. He is to track down the six segments of The Key to Time, scattered throughout the universe and disguised as other objects. It was an ambitious idea for Season 16 of Classic Who: the first season-wide story arc of six otherwise independent stories. Accompanying him on the quest is a companion on equal footing, the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelunder (Romana, for short—a name that’s not a title like The Doctor, The Master, The Rani, or The Valyard). Romana got better grades at the Academy than The Doctor—and she reminded him regularly—but he had more experience. This made for a fun dynamic, and Mary Tamm played the part with such haughty elegance. I have a soft spot for her because the Key to Time is perhaps my favorite concept in Classic Who. However, Mary Tamm only chose to stay for one season, but the idea of a Time Lady companion was too cool not to keep, so Romana regenerated. Now played by Lalla Ward, she was a bubblier incarnation of the character with phenomenal chemistry with Tom Baker (they were temporarily married). Though the stories veered more towards comedy and camp, she stayed on for almost two seasons, and they were a cool traveling team.

 

#3 – Donna Noble (Catherine Tate)

When comedienne Catherine Tate guest-starred as Donna Noble in the Christmas Special The Runaway Bride, she was loud and brash and obnoxious. It worked for that story. When it was announced that she’d return a season later as a companion, there was much skepticism. Though her return episode, Partners in Crime, has some really funny moments—particular she and David Tennant noticing each other and communicating through the windows—I wasn’t yet convinced. Well, she’s this high up the Top 10 list for a reason, so my mind was changed. First off, the lack of romance between her and Ten was a step in the right direction. After the blatant flirting with Rose and the unrequited love Martha Jones was forced to endure, the sibling-like relationship was refreshing. More importantly, as she started seeing more of the universe and The Doctor saving the day so often (and developing a Messiah complex), she was more than willing to call him out on his shenanigans. And that was what he needed! She grew as a companion—as a person—during her time in the TARDIS, which made the circumstances of her departure even more tragic. She was instrumental in saving the universe in Journey’s End, but the only way to save her afterwards was to wipe her memory, thus removing all the great character growth. So sad, but so glad we saw it happen.

 

#2 – Amelia “Amy” Pond (Karen Gillan) & Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill)

When Matt Smith took over as The Doctor, it was only the second time that a new regeneration of The Doctor coincided with the introduction of the new companion. And that last one was when the Time Lords wiped Two’s memory and exiled him to Earth. Here, Eleven starts off by crash-landing the TARDIS in young Amelia Pond’s backyard. This is one of the best character intoductions ever—meeting the companion as a child and sharing fish fingers and custard with her, only to mess with her teenage years when everyone else writes the encounter off as an imaginary friend. Then the “Raggedy Doctor” returns while adult Amy is working as a Kissogram (sign me up now, please). She and her fiancé Rory Williams help The Doctor save the world, and then the Doctor returns the night before their wedding for Amy to run off with him. This was a great character dynamic, especially when Rory came aboard. It wasn’t a love triangle—with the exception of one kiss, there was no romance between Amy and Eleven—but it was symbolic of choosing security vs. risk, something people go through before their marriage. I didn’t feel right giving them separate spots because they’re a pair, and we watched all aspects of their relationship: their courtship, their wedding, their daughter Melody get taken away, learning who she was, and all the repercussions of it all and how it drove them apart, temporarily anyway. In the end, Amy chooses Rory over The Doctor in a poignant though somewhat plot-holed moment in The Angles Take Manhattan. I thought the episode was kinda hokey, but their departure made me teary-eyed because I loved them so much.

 

Before I get to MY FAVORITE DOCTOR WHO COMPANION, here are five Honorable Mentions:

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) – He may never have been an official “traveling companion” of The Doctor, but he was one of The Doctor’s closest friends, having interacted with his 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th incarnations.

Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) – The producers and writers shamefully saddled her with unrequited love for The Doctor, who was still pining for Rose. But look at what she endured in Human Nature / Family of Blood and The Last of the Time Lords, and you’ll see how amazing she was.

Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown (Nicola Bryant) – Cheesy American accent and plunging necklines aside, anyone who endures the erratic behavior of The Sixth Doctor and lives to tell about it (wait, didn’t she die? Or did she marry King Yrcanos? Her departure is kinda wonky), deserves mention.

Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) – The very first companion, The Doctor’s “granddaughter,” deserves a spot on this list for her sheer unearthliness. I’m intrigued that in the current season, there’s a picture of her on his desk, along with…

River Song (Alex Kingston) – Again, not an official “traveling companion,” but she’s such a significant part of his life. She’s his wife, and Amy and Rory’s daughter, and her chemistry with 11 (and the one story each with 10 & 12) was awesome. Spoilers!

 

And if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you should have expected…

#1 – SARAH JANE SMITH (Elisabeth Sladen)

Seriously, of all the companions in the Doctor Who universe, who else could top this list? Is there one more beloved than Sarah Jane Smith? Why else would she have gotten the chance to star in several spin-off series? She started traveling with The Third Doctor and became a new template for the companion. She was a career woman, being a journalist first. She was opinionated. But she also had the loyalty and curiosity (that would often get her into trouble) of previous companions. I can’t imagine how The Fourth Doctor would have gotten through his post-regeneration craziness without her there by his side. She traveled with Four for more than two more seasons, was there for the classic Genesis of the Daleks and then through all of Season 13—often considered the best of the original series. Her departure in The Hand of Fear was somewhat abrupt, and she was merely dropped off in the wrong place, but it was a tremendous surprise to see her in The Tenth Doctor episode School Reunion as the first real on-screen link between the two series. No other companion deserved it more, and it got her the lead in another spin-off! Alas, that series ended too soon when Elisabeth Sladen passed away, but Sarah Jane will always remain in the hearts of true Doctor Who fans.

 

Agree? Disagree? Want to comment? Go ahead, and be sure to tune in for the new season!

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