Is Doctor Who really all about the companion?

In a recent interview posted at Den of Geek, Steven Moffat stated that “The story of Doctor Who is always the story of the companion, it’s always their story. It was Rose Tyler’s story, it’s Amy Pond’s story – the story of the time they knew the Doctor and how that began; how it developed and how it ended.”

(he said lots of other things of interest, so be sure to read the article)

But this struck a cord on me. Was this actually true? I decided to look back randomly at a few ‘eras’ of Doctor Who to see how this holds up.

The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara meet Marco Polo

One can see that the initial lineup was an ensemble cast where Ian, Barbara and Susan (to an extent) all had an equally important role. Ian and Barbara are probably the strongest characters to ever be featured in Doctor Who, but I doubt anyone would claim that stories were focused on them during their time on the show.

The constant is of course the Doctor.

This was more the case after Susan, Barbara and Ian all departed, a series of assistants flew in and out of the TARDIS, especially in regards to Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Dodo and Polly. They were all important, but one can hardly say that even the strongest companion of this era was the focus or that the program was presented through his/her eyes.

Tom Baker saddled with two more companions (Adric is somewhere off-screen)

In the 80’s, Romana, K-9, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion and Peri all traveled with the Doctor through the 4th and 5th incarnations. Was the program ‘about the companion’ in that case? One can argue that as Tegan was present through a regeneration and had such a strong relationship (albeit an argumentative one) with the Fifth Doctor that she had some focus but was Timeflight, King’s Demons or Terminus all about Tegan?

The only place that this argument fits (to my mind) is in the case of the Seventh Doctor and Ace, but even so it was the relationship and collaboration between the Doctor and his companion that was the focus here. It wasn’t simply Ace’s journey and how the Doctor had changed her, but how they changed each other.

In many ways, the final series of classic Doctor Who holds many influences on the Russell T Davies version that followed in 2005, but in many others it is more mature and fully fleshed out. In the 1988-89 stories, Ace is slowly developed through her experiences and the viewer either comes to accept that or not. In the 2005-06 series Rose is the focus from day one (even the premier episode is named after her!). Rose became so important to Doctor Who that not only was a large portion of screen time and plot given to her in a two-parter about the Daleks fighting Cybermen, but she continued to haunt the program for two solid years afterwards.

Rumor has it that when the program was pitched to Sci-Fi in America (no SyFy), they not only thought that it was a spoof of the classic but agreed to run it as Rose and the Doctor as she was clearly the star, not Chris Eccleston.

In last year’s set of stories, the focus was most definitely on Amy and River Song even while the plot revolved around the Doctor’s death. It’s clear that Moffat, like Davies, has more interest in the companions than the Doctor himself. For some bizarre reason, Moffat even states that the alternative is the Doctor traveling alone!

And... the Doctor is killed off on his own show

Surely there’s some room for common ground. Series 5 is a good example as Amy is introduced as a strong companion and plays an important role, but alongside the Doctor rather than at his expense.



5 thoughts on “Is Doctor Who really all about the companion?

  1. Wow, is Moffat actually an *alien* because if he isn’t it’s incredible that he can talk out of his ass. If he’s *only* talking about the revival he’d have a partial case but even then there’s plenty of things to refute that (it isn’t Doctor Who & Company), and if he’s talking about the series as whole it’s arrant nonsense from an egomaniac who won’t let reality get in the way of a soundbite. The companion has been given a more central role in modern Who which might seem like a good idea but all too often has led to self-indulgent soap operaisms in order to appeal to the hard of thinking which has been detrimental to the series. Davies and Moffat’s idea of making the series “about” the companions has often merely meant that they have had to be “in love” with the Doctor and that’s no good thing. In my ‘umble opinion!


  2. Part II
    Originally the series was as much about the reactions of Ian and Barbara to the Doctor as it was to the Doctor himself that was because there was supposed to be a sense of mystery about this strange, cantankerous, at times whimsical and decidedly unheroic figure. Soon however the companions’ actions were shown to have an implicit influence on the Doctor as he became more benign and actively heroic; the arrival of Vicki as a replacement interestingly made the Doctor more central as their relationship had a warmth to it. Barbara and Ian had been more traditional moral heroes but with their departure the Doctor got an injection of morality without compromising is essential odd “Doctorness” (note that in The Aztecs and The Massacre he’s aware that time will militate against what you might ideally wish to do, New Who is notably less mature about this cf. Fires of Pompeii). Although most companions have an important part to play the series is quite obviously *not* “always about” them. It’s a silly thing for Moffat to say especially when anyone with a mind can refute it as a statement, of course if I were feeling nasty (or wanted to amuse myself) I might say that Moffat’s more obsessive acolytes show signs of barely owning half a brain so he’s safe but I’m not, so I won’t ;).


  3. Not wanting to bash the companions… but the notion that the show is about them requires a failure to recognize how TV shows work… and coming from a showrunner, that is disconcerting. It might go further towards explaining some of the failings of the new Who too… because I admit there are many episodes that do feel like the Doctor is an afterthought on the show.

    The companions, as I understand them… are largely the typical foil to allow the viewer to connect to the unreality of the show. If the Doctor has a sidekick that is completely comfortable with the weirdness, then how does the viewer connect? The viewer connects to the Doctor via the companion… who is the normal person thrust into the weirdness who says “what the heck” or when the Doctor goes off course says “hey, that’s not right”… the companion is often the conduit for all of us yelling at the screen “that makes no sense”…

    The other function of the companion is to further the story, usually by introducing conflict. Beyond that, it is sometimes true that the companion gets an arc to evolve as a character… and that works. but I don’t think Doctor Who has ever been an ensemble show.

    Firefly was an ensemble show… I haven’t watched it but I gather Blake’s 7 (for the british connection) was an ensemble show.

    Star Trek (the original) was NOT an ensemble show. Despite what some of the actors thought… it was Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley as the stars and the rest were there for the ride. Star Trek Next Generation, however, was created from the start to be an ensemble show.

    We like the companions… just like we liked the other cast members on original Trek… but while they got to shine in their own right, the show wasn’t about them. It was about the central stars/characters.

    Maybe (among the other things we have picked about Moffat and Davies on the new Who) this notion of trying to make Doctor Who be an ensemble show furthers the understanding of why it just doesn’t work sometimes… if they are trying to turn it into something it is not.


  4. I’m not sure if it /is/, but I think it should be. We’ve had nearly 50 years to get to know the Doctor, but the companions rarely last more than two. Of course they should get more emphasis in each episode.


    • Aaaand you prove my point. By your thinking as Kamelion had the least amount of screen time, that would make him the most important.

      If Moffat wants to elevate the companion, do it for a good story, not just because he has no idea how to make the program work with just the Doctor. That’s the implication of what Moffat is saying. In series 5, Amy was indeed a big part of it, but for a reason that served the larger part of the plot rather than eclipsing it.

      In series 6, the Doctor is just side-lined and the companions take over the screen almost entirely, even when a massive time machine full of tiny people and Hitler are also in the episode, it’s all about River Song. The finale was filled with temporal paradoxes, monsters galore and the Doctor as seer yet it was titled ‘THE WEDDING OF RIVER SONG.’ That’s just silly and sad.


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