With so many Doctor Who companions, some are bound to be given more love and attention than others. Sometimes this occurs correctly because, yes, they are that awesome (*cough*Barbara*cough*) and sometimes it makes you tut your head sadly (…I shall be diplomatic and name no-one). And sometimes you’re simply overcome with woe that truly great ones are so often forgotten. So here is a list glowing with love at the finest of the companions that simply don’t get the joyous flail that they deserve.
What? you might say, “the screamer??” First of all, yikes. NO. I will not accept any Doctor Who companion being dismissed as “a screamer”. Some companions may *scream*, yes – they may scream a lot – but every single one of them has so much more to their character.
Alas, Victoria is often a victim not only of the fact that she screams (though it’s often pointed out her scream actually saves the day in Fury from the Deep), but that there’s this pervasive idea that a “strong female character” (I hate that phrase) means physically strong, or smart, or brave, or heroic; when what it really means is *interesting* female character. They don’t need to be super cool at something, they need layers, and facets; they can be weak and petty and cowardly and still be *interesting*, and an interesting character is a strong character.
Victoria is scared. She’s scared a lot. She’s out of her depth, she misses her home, and her father, and she has nowhere to go except the TARDIS. And unlike the orphan at number three, she neither relishes nor thrives in her TARDIS travels. It’s a little bit heart-breaking, and melancholic, and really not the best idea for a companion given we’re meant to be yayful and excited to follow their adventures. But it is *interesting*. It’s doing something unique amongst sixty years of companions. And Victoria herself is gentle, and sweet, and we are so rooting for her, so those moments where she gets angry, or summons her courage are truly glorious. (And a shout-out to her Victorian era chemistry education so she could tell the Doctor how to make stink bombs.)
Take a pinch or two of context for the fact it’s the sixties and Steven is a smashing example of masculinity (which I think is a nice way to look at why he’s great given how often I get to read people conflating masculinity and toxic masculinity because it’s so hard to understand how adjectives work).
ANYWAY, the point is Steven is a dudely dude and he is awesome. He’s brave without being silly about it, protective without being patronising. His big brother/little sister relationship with Vicki is a delight. His respect for Sara Kingdom’s superior fighting skills is a truly excellent writing choice; it doesn’t damage his confidence, he doesn’t feel emasculated, he’s just “okay, fair enough, let’s get on with things”. He is comfortable with the fact a stuffed panda is his best friend. Throw in Peter Purves’ superb performance and you have a top notch companion who somehow manages to take over Ian Chesterton’s role as Companion Who Is A Boy and not instantly fold beneath the epicness of William Russell’s shadow. Steven is a truly worthy successor, a strong enough character to be a lead in his own right (as seen in The Massacre) and he deserves more admiration and fannish flail.
I confess, Vicki actually gets a fair amount of love. Certainly, it feels like appreciation for her has grown within the time I’ve been in fandom. But it is *enough*? No. I’m afraid the greatness of Vicki is still vastly underestimated. She is, in most of the ways, what Susan should have been. The real difference between them should be that while Susan is a rather mysterious and slightly aloof alien; Vicki is more gregarious and apt to giggle. What actually happened was the writing for Susan often fell down into making her somewhat wet, while Vicki got to be adventurous and fun and confident. There’s such loveliness in her being an orphan adopted by the TARDIS family, to be indulged by the Doctor as they conspire against the more sensible Ian and Barbara.
And then there’s a touch of melancholy as her parental figure depart, but it’s only a moment or two before she gets her big brother, who is mercilessly teased because she’s got time travel experience and he’s insisting on being very confused. And Maureen O’Brien is so good in the part; she adds such beautiful little moments of humour and light, and works her comedy lines for all their worth.
Of all the Big Finish companions, I feel very confident in saying my beloved Erimem is the most underrated. Now, I have no factual evidence for this, and there may be a smidgen of cognitive bias involved, but even back in her heyday it was all “Evelyn, Eveyln, Evelyn”. Which is fine, whatever, by what about my fav, dammit? WHY DON’T YOU LOVE *HER*, FANDOM?
Ahem. Anyway, the greatness of Erimem is several fold. Firstly, she’s a would-be pharaoh from ancient Egypt which is a rather neat idea. Her civilisation is comparatively primitive to the modern day, but it is the most advanced of *its* day and Erimem is an incredibly well-educated member of it. Plus, despite her youth, she’s a leader; someone used to both political machinations and leading armies. She has authority, practicality, sincerity and yet there’s still a streak of naiveté. It’s a whole new angle for a companion, and one that allow characters interactions never explored before (or since.)
While the Doctor and Erimem work splendidly together, the very best of those character interactions are with Peri. One writer after another takes full advantage of the vast gulf in experiences, expectations, and temporal origins between the two. And we are gifted with one of the most delightful friendships in all of Doctor Who.
I confess, I too was once guilty of underestimating Polly. It’s not my fault, it’s the fault of Over Thirty Years in the TARDIS (a documentary made back in 1994) only showing a clip of her where she’s asked to make the coffee. In my young state, I thought this rather poor; as I got older and saw more of Polly’s top notch antics, I realised, actually, I’ve no problem with her being asked to make the coffee. Why? It’s The Moonbase. She’s working with the Doctor to try and find a cure, and she’s keeping the suspicious and tetchy moon base personnel chill. What are Ben and Jamie doing? Jamie’s asleep in bed and Ben’s doing sod all.
Context matters, and while I can understand if you, reader, insist on tutting at Polly’s coffee-making, I feel certain that you’ll agree her later plan to take out the Cybermen with her NAIL VARNISH REMOVER is epic. I can’t express how much joy it gives me that the most glamorous of sixties companions uses her knowledge of beauty products to take out Who’s iconic villains. It’s both ridiculous, makes half-decent sense (the acetone, as Polly points out, melts plastic) *and* it’s just perfectly in character for Polly.
And that is her thing. She makes PLANS and they are tremendous plans that have an element of silly (“let’s escape by pretending to be witches!” “Let’s trap the English officer in the pit and he’ll probably fall in love with me!” “Don’t worry, Doctor, I’ll just pretend to be a god!”). No other companion has ever matched her for sheer competence in the ridiculous ideas. And this is what she should be remembered and celebrated for.
You may have noticed something of a theme here: it’s mostly sixties companions, and sixties companions who’ve lost a fair bit of their run to the BBC destroying their archives back in the seventies. *Of course* sixty year old characters with half their stories only existing on audio and telly snaps (or cartoons now) are going to be less talked about and celebrated than ones from a few years ago.
And yet, these five are still marvellous creations, and reminders that throughout the show’s history, the Doctor has travelled with the most wonderful of ordinary, and extraordinary, people.
3 thoughts on “Top 5 Underrated Doctor Who Companions”
Hooray for Polly particularly. The executive assistant who comes more into focus as we see more of her – and that Thirty Years in the TARDIS clip – was it one of those transposed from Resistance is Useless? – only served the faction who wanted to portray Doctor Who as part of the remote and primitive television past.
Victoria and Vicki are two of my favorites as well!
I’m a Victoria mark. Yes, the screaming got on my nerves (as that type of thing, often, does), but I was as upset as Jamie was, when she departed.