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.
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.
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!
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.