Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Your Favorite Doctor Who Companion?

Billie Piper has made quite the splash on the new BBC Doctor Who series. But as a companion to a traveling Time Lord, she's merely the latest in a long and honorable line of characters. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, Doctor Who "girls" could give Bond girls a run for their money!

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to remember today the actresses and characters who worked so hard to bring us years of adventure and enjoyment on the original Doctor Who television series. Which one of these characters is your favorite? You can rate 'em based on looks and sexiness, acting skill, or values their character brought to the continuing series and the TARDIS, but I'd love to know who is your favorite, who you rate as the single best. For the purposes of this post, I'm focusing only on old school Doctor Who (1968-1989); and just females. No Adric (!) and no K-9 either.

To refresh your memory, the following women have been traveling companions to the Doctor over the decades:

Susan (played by Carole Ann Ford)
Barbara (played by Jacqueline Hill)
Vicki (played by Maureen O'Brien)
Dodo (played by Jackie Lane)
Polly (played by Anneke Willis)
Victoria (played by Deborah Watling)
Zoe (played by Wendy Padbury)
Liz Shaw (played by Caroline John)
Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning)
Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elizabeth Sladen)
Leela (played by Louise Jameson)
Romana # 1 (played by Mary Tamm)
Romana # 2 (played by Lalla Ward)
Tegan (played by Janet Fielding)
Nyssa (played by Sarah Sutton)
Peri (played by Nicola Bryant)
Mel (played by Bonnie Langford)
Ace (played by Sophie Aldred).

I have to say, I'm a real fan of all these characters, and an admirer of the long-running series to boot. I really enjoyed the icy intelligence and crisp delivery of Liz Shaw (Caroline John) in the Pertwee years. I adored the cute-as-a-button Zoe (Wendy Padbury) in the Patrick Troughton era. I got a kick out of the haughtiness and humor of the first Romana (Mary Tamm), and was physically attracted to Peri (Nicola Bryant). I know many people absolutely loved and adored Ace (Sophie Aldred) in Sylvester McCoy's tenure, and I liked her a great deal as well. A tough cookie (but with a tender side.)

But, proving, perhaps, the pull of nostalgia, my two favorite female companions to the Doctor both come from the era of the fourth incarnation, Tom Baker. That was the era I first saw on television (on WWOR TV) in the 1970s-1980s.

My runner-up is Leela (Louise Jameson; pictured at top left). She was the "warrior" character, and I thought it really interesting that the Doctor should have a female protector; female muscle. That was a new twist on a series that was often derided as sexist. Secondly, I loved her interaction with the Doctor: society was new to Leela since she was essentially "a primitive," and so she and the Doctor shared a charming and funny mentior/student relationship. Also, I happen to think that many of the serials from this period, including "Talons of Weng Chiang," "Face of Evil," and "Robots of Death" are among the very best of the series.

And yet, I think I must say that my favorite Doctor Who companion of all time is Sarah Jane Smith, played by the tiny (but resilient and strong!) Elizabeth Sladen (pictured second from top). She was the first companion I ever "met", and in some senses, she's the prototype as far as I'm concerned. She's curious, resourceful and adept at finding trouble, but she's also incredibly charming, and boy was I sorry to see her leave the series. Sladen's Sarah worked with two Time Lords, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, and again, she was aboard the production at one of the absolute best times (the mid-1970s). She starred in such stories as "Ark in Space" (one of the best), "Genesis of the Daleks" (which introduced Davros to the Dalek storyline...), "The Sontaran Experiment" and one of my personal all-time favorites, "Planet of Evil."

So who is it for you? But don't just give me a name. Tell me why. What makes one particular (female) Doctor Who companion a special memory for you?


  1. I like to be thought of as original and not jumping on the bandwagon (or TARDIS, in this case) but I share many of your same choices:

    First, the Tom Baker years were the definitive years of Dr. Who. I've seen other doctors and can appreciate their characters, byt no one, and I mean no one, can touch Tom Baker. And it follows that the best companion would come from that era, in the way of interacting with him.

    Leela was a hottie, claims of sexism being overlooked her for the moment, and she was also sexy in that she could provide the muscle to get the job done. Her interactions with the Doctor were amusing, to be sure. But her character didn't have depth. If Tom Baker was the quintessential Doctor than Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith was the quintessential companion. I don't know if it's an issue of sexy as much as it is likability. Sarah was the kind of companion that seemed like a real person you could know - the girl next door and all. But it's more than that. She was not outstanding in anyway (not physical like Louise Jameson's Leela or snobby intellectual like Mary Tamm's Romana) but she was always more than the sum of her parts. I've never thought of analyzing the whys... SJS has always been Companion #1 and always will be.

    A footnote: I did like the idea of a TimeLord... er... lady that updated (I forget the actual term used on the series) although it was handled so blandly.

  2. I totally agree with you about Sarah Jane. She is more than the sum of her parts, and it's almost difficult to sit down and write about what makes her special. It's something in the performance; it's something between the lines; it's something in the charisma she shares with Tom Baker. Elizabeth Sladen is quite extraordinary, really...

  3. Anonymous9:59 PM

    “Charming” is precisely the word that best describes Sarah Jane Smith. There isn’t much I can say about her that hasn’t been said here already, so I’ll simply add that Sarah is very dear to me, and that I appreciate Lis Sladen enormously.

    I’m also a fan of the original TARDIS crew: Ian, Barbara, Susan and the first Doctor (William Hartnell). I find it fascinating that in the earliest episodes of the show, the Doctor was not the noble hero and perpetual adventurer we would later come to know but was in fact a mysterious and downright untrustworthy anti-hero. Ian and Barbara were the heroes, with the Doctor serving as sage advisor and Susan playing the girl-in-peril. Brilliant though he was, the original Doctor had to learn to be our hero, and he learned this primarily from two brave, intelligent, compassionate schoolteachers from 1960’s London. I think that’s kind of beautiful.

    I don’t want to stray much further from theme of John’s original post (the women of Doctor Who), so I’ll put good old Ian aside for now. As for Barbara Wright, she may never have won any beauty contests but she was a well-drawn and well-performed character that I respect. Babs was certainly the strongest female character on the show before Sarah. Liz Shaw had enormous potential but I just don’t think we got to see enough of her.

    Speaking of strong, I have to put a word in for Leela. She’s a lot of fun, and I enjoy the unique dynamic between her and Tom’s Doctor. Other personal favorites include Jo Grant (sometimes annoying but so damn cute), Zoe (speaking of cute…) and the Lalla Ward Romana. Peri is a tough one: I find Nicola Bryant pleasing to the eye, to say the least, but I find most of her early performances abysmal. If only I could bring myself to watch Planet of Fire on mute…

    -Tony Mercer