Martha, Donna, and the Rest…

So, as soon as she stepped away from the TARDIS rumours abounded that Martha was out because the writers couldn’t develop her character further. I’m prepared to pledge now, as a regular Doctor Who viewer: I’ll keep watching, even if there is no character development for the companion across a whole season. Gosh! What’s more, I don’t need the season to build up to a a themed crescendo. Keep Martha, a very descent companion, but tell a few more stories (Blink style), from the POV of new characters.

But I was interested in a new companion, hoping they’d be from another planet. Or at least another era. But no, they’re not even going to be new. I can’t feel the production team have got things arse about face with their companions. Keep Martha in the TARDIS, and send Donna to the Hub. I’d love to see her telling Jack and the crew what w*****s they all are.

It really was infallible link bait for Who anoraks, but it worked: the Guardian listed the five best and worst Doctor who companions to celebrate Martha’s arrival. With the announcement of the recent shakeup, I can’t resist the temptation anymore. Here’s my list:

Best

  1. Ace.

    Whilst we were drunk, a fellow Who fan persuaded me of this; and even sober I’m now convinced she’s the best. Tough, violent and good with explosives; she only makes it to No. 3 in the Guardian poll, but she did for the Doctor Who what Rose was to be celebrated for: she was a contemporary companion with a story arc.

  2. Romana

    She and the Doctor made a great team; they were equals, close but independent, respecting and trusting one another. She’s a clever, classy companion (but not according to the Guardian). Martha is a companion in this vein, but without the explicit equality of status that a fellow Time Lord has.

  3. Zoe Heriot.

    A young brilliant mathematician with a sense of fun and a spangly catsuit. The Guardian have her, though only at No. 5, and compare her to Emma Peel. Zoe brought a youthful enthusiasm and a sense of fun.

  4. Leela.

    The introduction of Leela was a masterstroke, not just for er… “keeping the Dads happy” but because her savage violence was such a perfect counterpoint to the Doctor’s pacifism. Rather than the Doctor “civilising” her, there are occasions when he turns a blind eye to her vengeful ways when it suits him, adding a nicely ambiguous moral dimension. Outrageously neglected by the Guardian poll.

  5. Liz Shaw

    Sarah-Jane tops the Guardian’s poll. She’s at the top of almost every poll in fact. She’s the feisty feminist companion who put an end to all the screaming and being rescued, we’re always told. But this is wrong on two counts: she quite clearly didn’t put an end to it (or we’d never have had Mel Bush) and she wasn’t the first: Liz Shaw, physicist and medic was an expert in her field and headhunted by UNIT 3 years earlier (our time). She had little respect for her military masters and even the Doctor had to earn her respect. Liz Shaw is also ignored by the Guardian. But the Doctor had to earn her respect; much as he did Donna’s (not that the latter is the former’s intellectual equal).

Okay, I quite like Sarah Jane; but she’s not the best. And despite the extended air time she seems to be getting anyway, I suppose I should mention Rose as a runner up.

Worst

  1. Jo Grant

    So I know this may be a bit controversial (though the Guardian put K9 in its 5 worst, so I don’t think this is so bad). But here’s the case against: a bubbly blonde replaces Liz Shaw (see above) having only gained the job by nepotism. She takes the companion role straight back to screaming and being rescued. And she’s popular because…? I suppose it’s that Dalek picture…

  2. Tegan

    For some reason, whining was popular with 80s companions. Peri had other facets to compensate, Adric… well, he’s just too easy a target (though not for the Guardian…), as is Turlough, but Tegan… What was the point of her? The best thing about Nyssa for me was that she was the one who didn’t whine, for that alone her place in the Guardian’s worst 5 is underserved. Besides, I’ve become rather attached to her in the Audio adventures. Tegan can take her place here. As someone said on the Outpost Gallifrey Forums, “show a girl the universe, and all she wants is Heathrow.”

  3. Vicki

    This might seem harsh, but for Vicki the problem was she wasn’t Susan. Grafted in to take her place, she didn’t have that “unearthly” quality that Susan seemed to posess, instead slipping into a generic child role; basically she just wasn’t needed.

  4. Harry Sullivan

    Oh, I know he was likable and all that, but he represents the generic third companion. Like Hex, Cr’izz and Erimem he’s a hanger on. Nice, but unnecessary.

  5. Adric

    I said he was too easy a target, but (sorry) it’s too much to resist. I’m ashamed of myself now. He’s not actually as bad as Adam Mitchell, but I’m not sure Adam really counts as a companion.

Martha, Donna, Jack and Rose aren’t in the five best, or five worst. If they haven’t been “fantastic” they’ve been pretty good, and Martha and Jack came close. Martha and Donna aren’t finished yet either, so they may earn their places (at either end!) yet.

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

8 thoughts on “Martha, Donna, and the Rest…

  1. I’m glad to hear there are rumours that they couldn’t develop the character further because I hold that, but putting any companion in a position like Rose or Martha, where they obviously fancy the Doctor, they must be ultimately be dead-enders.

    For all the “growing up” they’re trying to put on Doctor Who, it just can’t be a “Will they? Won’t They?” show. And even if it were, we know what invariably happens to those types of shows when they finally do.

    By throwing Martha in practically fawning on the Doctor in the first episode, she was between a rock and a hard place character-wise from the start.

    Who can resist a list?! I’m going to think about best and worst companions for a bit… no, I’ll think about best for a while, worst is easy, all I have to do is think which ones make me cringe when they’re on screen… in no particular order.

    Adric (Easy target, as you say, but for good reason.)

    Turlough

    Teagan (Donna strikes me as being another Tegan, but without the endearing accent and not as physically attractive.)

    Mel

    Ace (Ace had her moments, but not enough of them.)

    I hadn’t meant that to be an indictment of the JNT era, but apparently it is. I didn’t really care much for Nyssa or Peri, either. However, Nyssa was unoffensive and Peri… well, I like her “facets” rather a lot. She got a free “get out of whiney jail free card” with her opening appearance in Planet of Fire.

    Oddly, I can’t think of any I actively disliked prior to JNT… I mean Adric.

    I’m going to ponder a top list for companions, but one thing I’ll say in Sara Jane’s defense; her character did evolve. The fiesty, feminist of Time Warrior doesn’t exist by Hand of Fear. She and the Doctor are best friends, no longer Doctor and companion, but not the same as Rose and the Doctor. Probably because the ninth and tenth Doctors are too young and too normal.

    Companions simply couldn’t have looked at Pertwee as other than a father or uncle figure and Baker (I) was too weird looking/acting.

    I hope Tennant sticks around for a long time, but when they replace him, I hope they’ll think about ageing him a bit to change the balance in the Doctor/companion relationship again.

  2. I’m glad to hear there are rumours that they couldn’t develop the character further because I hold that, but putting any companion in a position like Rose or Martha, where they obviously fancy the Doctor, they must be ultimately be dead-enders.

    For all the “growing up” they’re trying to put on Doctor Who, it just can’t be a “Will they? Won’t They?” show. And even if it were, we know what invariably happens to those types of shows when they finally do.

    By throwing Martha in practically fawning on the Doctor in the first episode, she was between a rock and a hard place character-wise from the start.

    Who can resist a list?! I’m going to think about best and worst companions for a bit… no, I’ll think about best for a while, worst is easy, all I have to do is think which ones make me cringe when they’re on screen… in no particular order.

    Adric (Easy target, as you say, but for good reason.)

    Turlough

    Teagan (Donna strikes me as being another Tegan, but without the endearing accent and not as physically attractive.)

    Mel

    Ace (Ace had her moments, but not enough of them.)

    I hadn’t meant that to be an indictment of the JNT era, but apparently it is. I didn’t really care much for Nyssa or Peri, either. However, Nyssa was unoffensive and Peri… well, I like her “facets” rather a lot. She got a free “get out of whiney jail free card” with her opening appearance in Planet of Fire.

    Oddly, I can’t think of any I actively disliked prior to JNT… I mean Adric.

    I’m going to ponder a top list for companions, but one thing I’ll say in Sara Jane’s defense; her character did evolve. The fiesty, feminist of Time Warrior doesn’t exist by Hand of Fear. She and the Doctor are best friends, no longer Doctor and companion, but not the same as Rose and the Doctor. Probably because the ninth and tenth Doctors are too young and too normal.

    Companions simply couldn’t have looked at Pertwee as other than a father or uncle figure and Baker (I) was too weird looking/acting.

    I hope Tennant sticks around for a long time, but when they replace him, I hope they’ll think about ageing him a bit to change the balance in the Doctor/companion relationship again.

  3. I’m glad to hear there are rumours that they couldn’t develop the character further because I hold that, but putting any companion in a position like Rose or Martha, where they obviously fancy the Doctor, they must be ultimately be dead-enders.

    For all the “growing up” they’re trying to put on Doctor Who, it just can’t be a “Will they? Won’t They?” show. And even if it were, we know what invariably happens to those types of shows when they finally do.

    By throwing Martha in practically fawning on the Doctor in the first episode, she was between a rock and a hard place character-wise from the start.

    Who can resist a list?! I’m going to think about best and worst companions for a bit… no, I’ll think about best for a while, worst is easy, all I have to do is think which ones make me cringe when they’re on screen… in no particular order.

    Adric (Easy target, as you say, but for good reason.)

    Turlough

    Teagan (Donna strikes me as being another Tegan, but without the endearing accent and not as physically attractive.)

    Mel

    Ace (Ace had her moments, but not enough of them.)

    I hadn’t meant that to be an indictment of the JNT era, but apparently it is. I didn’t really care much for Nyssa or Peri, either. However, Nyssa was unoffensive and Peri… well, I like her “facets” rather a lot. She got a free “get out of whiney jail free card” with her opening appearance in Planet of Fire.

    Oddly, I can’t think of any I actively disliked prior to JNT… I mean Adric.

    I’m going to ponder a top list for companions, but one thing I’ll say in Sara Jane’s defense; her character did evolve. The fiesty, feminist of Time Warrior doesn’t exist by Hand of Fear. She and the Doctor are best friends, no longer Doctor and companion, but not the same as Rose and the Doctor. Probably because the ninth and tenth Doctors are too young and too normal.

    Companions simply couldn’t have looked at Pertwee as other than a father or uncle figure and Baker (I) was too weird looking/acting.

    I hope Tennant sticks around for a long time, but when they replace him, I hope they’ll think about ageing him a bit to change the balance in the Doctor/companion relationship again.

  4. I think you’re outrageous putting Ace in your worst five, gridman. I’m less surprised that Mel’s there, but I have to admit (I’ll whisper this) I’ve never seen a Mel story. I have, however, heard her in several Big Finish plays, including The Fires of Vulcan in which she was excellent, so I rate her above many of the other companions. Similarly Nyssa, who never stood out on for me on TV, is far better when she and the Doctor travel alone in the audios.

    Actually, while I’m off television for a moment, Frobisher‘s a classy companion.

    Your suggestion of aging the Doctor reminds me of audio only companion Evelyn Smythe, with the dynamic of the relationship there dramatically changed (and successfully, I believe) with an older companion. I’m not sure I want to see an older Doctor again (unless it’s Bill Nighy, of course) and I think Martha could have been (and could still be) a really great companion. She was the one good thing in LoTTL.

  5. I think you’re outrageous putting Ace in your worst five, gridman. I’m less surprised that Mel’s there, but I have to admit (I’ll whisper this) I’ve never seen a Mel story. I have, however, heard her in several Big Finish plays, including The Fires of Vulcan in which she was excellent, so I rate her above many of the other companions. Similarly Nyssa, who never stood out on for me on TV, is far better when she and the Doctor travel alone in the audios.

    Actually, while I’m off television for a moment, Frobisher‘s a classy companion.

    Your suggestion of aging the Doctor reminds me of audio only companion Evelyn Smythe, with the dynamic of the relationship there dramatically changed (and successfully, I believe) with an older companion. I’m not sure I want to see an older Doctor again (unless it’s Bill Nighy, of course) and I think Martha could have been (and could still be) a really great companion. She was the one good thing in LoTTL.

  6. I think you’re outrageous putting Ace in your worst five, gridman. I’m less surprised that Mel’s there, but I have to admit (I’ll whisper this) I’ve never seen a Mel story. I have, however, heard her in several Big Finish plays, including The Fires of Vulcan in which she was excellent, so I rate her above many of the other companions. Similarly Nyssa, who never stood out on for me on TV, is far better when she and the Doctor travel alone in the audios.

    Actually, while I’m off television for a moment, Frobisher‘s a classy companion.

    Your suggestion of aging the Doctor reminds me of audio only companion Evelyn Smythe, with the dynamic of the relationship there dramatically changed (and successfully, I believe) with an older companion. I’m not sure I want to see an older Doctor again (unless it’s Bill Nighy, of course) and I think Martha could have been (and could still be) a really great companion. She was the one good thing in LoTTL.

  7. Well, part of the reason I don’t really like Ace is how far-fetched she is. The “good kid” teenage bomb-maker. Not just bombs but her own special blend “Nitro 9” that she whipped up after being transplanted myseriously to an alien planet and getting a job working in a… was it a diner? I don’t remember.

    I just couldn’t believe this character… and that’s saying a lot considering how strange some of the Doctor’s companions have been.

    I realize they brought her in to add some needed muscle, much like Leela, for the Doctor, but it just didn’t work for me, Leela I could believe.

    With the Big Finish productions, (which, I admit, I gave up around #35 because they were pushing too many Eighth Doctor stories, and those weren’t very good) I felt that they “fixed” a number of problems with the later companions and Doctors. Colin Baker never had better stories and he really shows what kind of Doctor he could have been, and companions like Mel and Peri were toned down and eliminated their annoying qualities. Likewise Davison was given much better stories.

    For example, I loved Whispers of Terror, that was Peri’s finest hour and we couldn’t see her facets at all – and it’s an interesting story because it could only have been told in audio. The Spectre of Lanyon Moor stands out in my mind as being somewhat of a retread, but a nice vehicle for Colin and Evelyn Smythe, who was a decent companion. My favorite of the “new” companions from the audio adventures.

    Mel was vastly improved in the audio adventures, with nary a single “Oh come on Doc! That’s the spirit, drink some carrot juice!” at the most obnoxious and shrill vocal level she could muster, but, in ranking them I stuck to TV episodes only.

  8. Well, part of the reason I don't really like Ace is how far-fetched she is. The “good kid” teenage bomb-maker. Not just bombs but her own special blend “Nitro 9” that she whipped up after being transplanted myseriously to an alien planet and getting a job working in a… was it a diner? I don't remember.

    I just couldn't believe this character… and that's saying a lot considering how strange some of the Doctor's companions have been.

    I realize they brought her in to add some needed muscle, much like Leela, for the Doctor, but it just didn't work for me, Leela I could believe.

    With the Big Finish productions, (which, I admit, I gave up around #35 because they were pushing too many Eighth Doctor stories, and those weren't very good) I felt that they “fixed” a number of problems with the later companions and Doctors. Colin Baker never had better stories and he really shows what kind of Doctor he could have been, and companions like Mel and Peri were toned down and eliminated their annoying qualities. Likewise Davison was given much better stories.

    For example, I loved Whispers of Terror, that was Peri's finest hour and we couldn't see her facets at all – and it's an interesting story because it could only have been told in audio. The Spectre of Lanyon Moor stands out in my mind as being somewhat of a retread, but a nice vehicle for Colin and Evelyn Smythe, who was a decent companion. My favorite of the “new” companions from the audio adventures.

    Mel was vastly improved in the audio adventures, with nary a single “Oh come on Doc! That's the spirit, drink some carrot juice!” at the most obnoxious and shrill vocal level she could muster, but, in ranking them I stuck to TV episodes only.

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