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The Movies/TV 8-Ball: The Top 8 Doctor Who Companions

April 19, 2017 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

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Top 8 Doctor Who Companions

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

Rejoice, my fellow Whovians: the Doctor is back! Doctor Who began its tenth series this past Sunday, which will regrettably be the final run of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. The series also gives us a new companion in Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts, a character who had a great first episode and promises to make Twelve’s final episodes a lot of fun. Companions are an integral part of Doctor Who, going all the way back to the trio of individuals who accompanied William Hartnell’s First Doctor on his adventures. Throughout the years there have been many, many companions – some amazing, some less so (hello, Adric) – and this week, we’re going to celebrate the show by looking at the best companions in the show’s lengthy history.

Caveat: Okay, so let’s get down to the oft-debated details here: what exactly constitutes a full-fledged companion on Doctor Who? There are many debates about which of the Doctor’s associates qualify for companion status and at no point in the past fifty-four years has the BBC seen the need to define the term. And that’s fair. Ultimately, when referring to a “companion” for the purposes of this list I decided to define it as follows: a character who appeared alongside the Doctor for at least a major part of a season who travels with, or shares the adventures of, the Doctor in an allied capacity. In the original run of the series, a companion was usually (though not always) a subordinate or assistant. That changed a bit in the new series as the line became murkier.

In general, I’m trying to be a bit more discerning so characters like Christina de Souza, Astrid Peth and Craig Owens, who had single-episode adventures with the Doctor, didn’t qualify for me. Grace Holloway, who was part of the Doctor Who TV movie, did qualify since her sole appearance was also the Eighth Doctor’s sole appearance but she didn’t make the list. There is one person who I did not include, and this may be controversial, but I don’t consider River Song to be a “companion” in the traditional sense of the word. She is a lot of things to the Doctor, but all of the companions are generally considered to be somewhat less capable than him. River Song has shown herself to be an equal to the Doctor in pretty much every way, so she kind of defies the label of companion, as well as being ranked against the rest. I suspect that’s exactly the way the character would want it, too. For ranking purposes I was considering their impact on the Doctor, the length of their run on the show, the general quality of the character’s writing and performance and how the character influenced the general role of the companion.

Just Missing the Cut

• Ace (Sophie Aldred)
• K-9 (John Leeson & David Brierley)
• Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman)
• Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines)
• Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)

#8: Jack Harkness (John Barrowman)

While it wasn’t an intentional goal, my top eight is evenly split between Old Who and New Who companions. First on the list is a fan-favorite character from the New era. I debated a bit as to whether Jack Harkness really did qualify, because he sort of falls under the “River Song” category. But in the end, I decided to include him because while he grew into a life all of his own, Captain Jack fit all the proper qualifications and acted more in a subordinate fashion when he was working alongside the Doctor. Jack was an instant hit when he debuted in the first season, a pansexual and swashbuckling adventure man who had charm to spare thanks to a spot-on portrayal by John Barrowman. The character of Jack proved invaluable to helping showrunner Russell T. Davies set a tone of wonder and fun in a season embodied in a darker, more traumatized Doctor. One of the important roles of a companion is to form the tone of a season alongside the Doctor, and Jack’s panache melded wonderfully with Rose’s wide-eyed newbie and Christopher Eccleston’s survivor’s guilt-ridden Ninth Doctor as they helped get the new series off on the right track. Jack became popular enough that he earned his own series, the spin-off Torchwood that ran for three very successful seasons (and a fourth that many Whovians don’t like to talk about).

#7: Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

While I had seen episodes of Doctor Who on and off growing up and loved it, I didn’t truly become a Whovian until I sat down and began watching in earnest several years back. Being an insane level of completionist, I wanted to watch the whole thing from the beginning and thus I took advantage of my Netflix account and geek connections to embark on a project to watch every episode of the series from start to finish. As such, I truly began my series watching with the First Doctor and Susan Foreman, the first companion ever, was my first real companion I remember encountering. While Barbara and Ian followed later in that same episode, the Doctor’s granddaughter was the character who set the template for what the companion would become: a young and idealist character, often subordinate, who served as the assistant and more sympathetic connection to the Doctor and who often got in trouble. Susan holds an incredibly important place within Doctor Who lore, both as the first companion and the blood relation of the Doctor we know the most. Carole Ann Ford’s portrayal added humanity to the young Gallifreyan and we were able to see the First Doctor through her eyes, thus giving us the ability to appreciate him. Susan would eventually go her own way after being given a push of sorts by the Doctor. I’ve always hoped that she would come back at some point as a character, because she was my first companion and her significance to Doctor Who as a series really cannot be overstated.

#6: Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)

For years before the existence of Jack Harkness and River Song, the big debate on whether a character qualified as a companion or not centered around the Brigadier. If not for the New Who era, that debate may still be raging. Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart didn’t fit the mold of what traditionally qualified as a companion during his biggest era, that of the Third Doctor. He played more as an ally than the traditional “assistant” nature of the companions in those eras, where the companion tended more toward young women or boys. But as the show went on and the definition of the companion broadened, the Brigadier continued to appear past his regular run via guest appearances and became one of the most adored supporting characters in Doctor Who history. Through the expanded universe of the show — including the Big Finnish audio dramas — Lethbridge-Stewart proved to be an invaluable ally and close friend to almost all of the Doctor’s reincarnations, sharing adventures with each of them (with the exception of Eleven and the War Doctor that we know of). Nicholas Courtney lent depth to his role and established great chemistry to all of the characters, and even after the actor passed on Steven Moffat figured out a way to honor him in an adventure with the Twelfth Doctor in which he is raised as a Cyberman but stays true to who he is, preventing the Doctor from murdering Missy. The Brigadier is one of the show’s most hallowed characters and he certainly deserves his place on this list.

#5: Amy Pond (Karen Gillan)

If this was a list of strictly personal favorites, Amelia Pond would rank near the very top. The Eleventh Doctor’s closest companion is one of my all-time favorites and while I know there is some side-eye from parts of the fanbase over how some of her storylines were handled, she was one of the key players (along with a couple names further up the list) in defining what it meant to be a companion in the New Who era. When the show went through a full cast and showrunner shakeup as part of David Tennant’s departure, there were many people who were concerned about how big of a change this was. It was one thing to replace a Doctor, a companion or the man guiding the series along behind the scenes, but replacing all three — all beloved parts of the series — was viewed as a major risk at the time. As it turned out, we didn’t have anything to worry about as Steven Moffat cast a wonderful pair in Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. Both characters have been criticized for being cast to appeal to a more teen demographic, but whatever the reasons they fit wonderfully. Amy Pond pushed forward the idea that the companion was less an assistant and more a partner in the Doctor’s adventures and her run on the show brought big laughs, big adventures and — when she departed — big tears. I wanted to include Rory Williams in this team but while I love him, he was more of a secondary player. Amy Pond left an indelible impression on the show and on Eleven himself. The moment of his regeneration, when she appears to him and says goodbye — gets me emotional to this day. She was bold, passionate, brave, sympathetic and vulnerable, sometimes all at once. The mark she left on the show and on the idea of companions will remain for a long time.

#4: Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding)

Tegan is perhaps the most underrated companion in Doctor Who history. Many people tend to look past the character, who traveled with the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, for a variety of reasons. But she was a major part of the Fifth Doctor’s history in particular and was the prototype for many of the companions who came after her. Tegan was about to start a job as an air stewardess when she got picked up by the Doctor and serves as a counterpart to both Four (in his last adventure) and five, never afraid to stand up to him and speak her mind when she believes that she has a point he needs to hear. She departs from the Doctor’s company after the death of Adric in “Earthshock,” but joins back up a year and a half later in-universe when the next season arrived. She set the stage for the likes of Ace, Donna, Amy, Clara and many others who would follow in her footsteps and proved herself to be far more resourceful than most ended up giving her credit for. A companion ahead of her time, Tegan helped change the direction of the role on the series and for the better.

#3: Donna Noble (Catherine Tate)

Oh, Donna Noble. People always talk about how polarizing Clara and Amy were, but they forget that Donna split audience opinion first. Of course, now she is one of the most beloved characters in the Doctor Who canon and deservedly so, but her loud, brash manner and refusal to accept the Doctor’s BS at face value was initially a turn-off for many. Catherine Tate already had a pedigree in the UK as a great comedienne, but she took that to the next level with her role here. Donna is a woman who dreams of something more than the wedding she’s about to have when the Tenth Doctor comes into her life. She was the perfect foil for him at that time after he had just lost Rose, always willing to snap him out of his funk and call him on his nonsense. The ability for both characters to save each other resulted in some of the best episodes in the show’s history. Like all great companions, her story had to have its tragic moments, most notably at the end when she is imbued with the totality of the Doctor’s knowledge and uses that to stop the Master, but it’s more than the human mind can handle and her entire set of adventures with the Doctor had to be wiped from her mind. It was a brutal, painful experience for her, the Doctor and viewers and it helped cemented her place as, perhaps ironically, the most memorable of the companions the Doctor has had.

#2: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper)

Rose Tyler was the first companion of the New Who era, and thus one of the most instantly-impactful. Russell T. Davies knew that he had to re-establish the dynamic between the Doctor and his companion for a new audience and decided to go with a character who was in complete contrast to Doctor. Where Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor is a witty, darkly humorous and occasionally silly man wracked with survivor’s guilt, Rose Tyler seems to be a completely ordinary, average girl who just gets whisked along by virtue of getting caught up in his latest adventure. That allowed the new audience to see the worlds of Doctor Who through a newcomer’s eyes and to fall in love with the wonder, danger, excitement and terror that come part and parcel with it. With Billie Piper nailing the role, Rose grows into her own and becomes an essential part of Doctor Who’s lore, from the Bad Wolf arc through to when she returns after an extended absence to help Ten and his new allies against Davros and his army of Daleks in “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End.” Rose set the tone for the new era of companions, starting off as a clear subordinate and by the end of her run becoming an equal partner to the Doctor’s adventures. That’s enough to put her at the runner-up position.

#1: Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen)

This one was never really in doubt for me. With the exception of the Brigadier, no companion had as lengthy a run on Doctor Who as Sarah Jane Smith. And as great as he was, the Brigadier didn’t have the long-lasting impact in-universe or out that Elisabeth Sladen’s investigative journalist did. Sarah Jane came on the back of a series of companions who, while fine in their own right, were more or less just iterations of what had come before. Sarah Jane was something new, a woman who had her own goals and ambitions and proved to be more than just someone to get in trouble and kickstart whatever adventure the next serial was about. Sarah Jane enjoyed a long run with Doctors Three and Four and continued to return for various appearances, often with K-9 at her side. Sarah Jane proved to be such a popular character that she got her own spinoff during the New Who era that was quite popular in its own right, and returned to the main series to help the Tenth Doctor a couple of times. She embodied the perfect set of traits for such a role and stands as the best of the Doctor’s companions in his fifty-four years and counting.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.

URGENT NOTICE: For the time being, please access the site using 411WRESTLING.COM. Bookmark that URL and only access the site via that address. You’ll notice that all the article links already go to 411wrestling.com URLs. Please only use that domain until further notice. Thanks.