What is the role of the companion on Doctor Who? What are they there for? What purpose do they serve for the Doctor?
Is he just traveling the universe as a galactic stow-away, picking up strays, as the TARDIS called it in “The Doctor’s Wife”? Or do they serve a much greater purpose to his life and adventures?
So, why does the Doctor travel with others?
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Martha Jones told Mr. John Smith in “Family of Blood” (season 3) that it’s because the Doctor is lonely.
River Song advises against his traveling alone in “Angels Take Manhattan,” (season 7) and Rose Tyler says to Donna Noble in “Turn Left” (season 4) that Donna is who taught the Doctor how to know when he’s gone too far.
In season 9, “Face the Raven,” Clara Oswald gives him this farewell speech:
“You..Now you listen to me. You’re gonna be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re going to be furious, and you’re going to be sad. But listen to me: don’t let this change you. Listen. Whatever happens next, wherever she’s sending you, I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Promise me. Be a Doctor. Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster.”
Speaking of “Turn Left,” that is an entire episode warning against the dangers of what happens when there isn’t a companion nearby to save the day. In this eerily almost-Doctorless episode in season 4, Donna Noble is attacked, in a way, by a creature of the Trickster’s Brigade that feeds on potential energy.
This creature essentially rewinds Donna’s timeline to a seemingly innocuous moment in her past where it forces her to make a right turn instead of a left turn, which turns out to steer her path away from the Doctor’s, causing cataclysmic consequences. Basically, showing us exactly how paramount the companion’s role is.
We, the companion, are here to remind the Doctor how important each individual life is. We are here to keep the Doctor humane, kind, and compassionate. We bring perspective.
Donna Noble with her stubborn sass, always keeping the Doctor in check.
We help him love.
Martha Jones and Donna Noble via GIPHY
We keep him flirty.
Captain Jack Harkness via GIPHY
We keep him laughing.
And we keep him thinking.
Like in the 50th Anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor,” when after about 15 minutes deliberating on how to open the prison cell door, the three Doctors are surprised when Clara busts them out of the Tower of London claiming “it wasn’t locked.”
The Doctor/companion relationship is complex and nuanced. Mistakes are made, feelings are developed, friendships and lives intertwine. When you travel with the Doctor, it’s a roller-coaster of loopedy-whirls of laughter and games…
like with Rose Tyler and Sarah Jane Smith here in “School Reunion” (season 2).
…and curly-doos of adventure and quests…
Rose and Captain Jack Harkness in “Boom Town”
….all tied up in a neat little blue police box of danger.
The best part of the Doctor/companion relationship is how empowering the Doctor is.
In “The God Complex”(season 6) episode about our worst fears manifested and locked inside personalized hotel suites, Amy Pond is confronted with hers: that when she needs him the most, the Doctor won’t show. The Doctor, then, has to level with Amy and convince her to give up her faith in him.
It is faith in herself that will save Amy this time, which is a lesson learned by all his companions. The Doctor doesn’t just protect them or save them, it’s not only about “duty of care,” as Twelve loves to boast.
The Doctor teaches them their worth. He teaches them the strength they have within: the confidence in their cleverness — their cunning — are their best tools for saving their own rear-ends.
Take this moment, also from “Turn Left,” season four:
The Doctor changes many lives, and we get the privilege to watch him change through his adventures with his friends. His gang. His family.
Second to Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my personal favorite and fictional hero, River Song.
And actually, lastly, a very special shout out for, arguably, the most important companion of all:
Our very own TARDIS (seen here in Idris form, “The Doctor’s Wife,” season 6).
Learn all about the new companions for season 11 here at Anglophenia.
Tell me about your favorite companion moments and the very many companions not mentioned here! Talk to me in the comments below!