‘Fear makes companions of all of us’ is one of the many really good lines in season 1 of ‘Doctor Who’ and undoubtedly one of the most telling. After being kidnapped/accidentally thrown back to the year 100,000BC, only to then end up on Skaro, Ian and Barbara learn the hard way about what life is like travelling with the Doctor. It’s these characters and relationships that form the basis of a new collection of essays entitled ‘Companion Piece: Women Celebrate The Humans, Aliens And Tin Dogs Of Doctor Who ‘ edited by LM Myles and Liz Barr.
Everyone has favourite ‘Doctor Who’ companions often but, not exclusively. related to their time of enjoying the Doctor as a child. As you grow-up tastes change. Today, I’d rate Ian and Barbara over K9 and maybe even Ace, no matter how resourceful and adorable I thought they were at the time. ‘Companion Piece’ chooses for its essays a variety of companions for discussion and analysis. Companions are an integral part of what makes ‘Doctor Who’ as they should be our gateway into the adventure and a reference for the audience to understand and empathise with versus the Doctor’s ‘alien’ nature. In recent years, that relationship has changed both into one of a moderating influence, as needed by David Tennant’s Doctor in the 2009 specials or as a mystery that needs solving, both Amy and Clara fulfilled this role in their debut seasons. ‘Companion Piece’ therefore arrives at a timely moment in ‘Doctor Who’ history, where the role of the companion has evolved.
Not all would agree with that statement though. Foz Meadows in her analysis of new series female companion roles sees that the only end-story we’ve had for those characters has been to end in romantic fulfilment. This probably makes sense for Amy and Rory, but Martha and Mickey ending up together was always a bit of a head-scratcher. This was particularly cruel in the mind-wipe/marriage ending of Donna Noble. While companions in the classic series did sometimes find love on their adventures and leave the Doctor, there were plenty that didn’t. Meadows therefore sees the new series’ treatment of female companions leaving for romance to be regressive, rather than progressive.
Likewise Nina Allan in her essay on ‘The Time Warrior’ and the arrival of Sarah-Jane Smith was surprised at how revisiting the story made her feel. In Allan’s eyes, Sarah-Jane is presented as a figure suitable for mocking, something for the audience to laugh at. The Doctor gives her gobbledygook when she asks for an explanation of his rhondium sensor, doubly bad because the Doctor gives the Brigadier a perfectly good explanation. I think this may be more to do with the Doctor telling his friend, the Brig, the truth instead of explaining it to the investigative journalist who’s just forced her way into his life. This is rather than the Doctor being massively sexist. The comment about the coffee when he first meets Sarah-Jane is flat-out inexcusable though.
In her essay on the illustrious Amy Pond, Una McCormack presents us with the girl who just about had it all. She gets married but then puts life on hold to take her husband adventuring with her ‘best friend’, the Raggedy Man. The relationship with Rory was not only conducted on Amy’s terms, but also her relationship with the Doctor largely was, too. In short, Amy had her cake and ate it.
Other essays are less concerned with gender politics and instead are flat out celebrations. Mags L Halliday on Ian and Barbara, Phoebe Taylor on Romana I and Sarah Groenewegen on Adric (yes, Adric!) were all a joy to read, reminding you why you loved these companions in the first place and how they might be redeemed in the eyes of some viewers.
Some of the pieces veered more directly to the academic cultural studies area for example ‘Stories And Fairy Tales: Feminism, Agency And Narrative Control With The Pond Family Women’ by Karen K Burrows has a title that sounds like dialogue cribbed from ‘Dragonfire’ but makes some interesting points about how we, as the audience, are conditioned to respond to certain ways that the Doctor/Companion relationship is presented. My favourite point-of-view here was that while Amy and Rory’s relationship is heteronormative, the Doctor and River’s could be seen as positively queer.
‘Companion Piece’ is a great selection of essays that gets to grip why we love those who travel with the Doctor so much. Yes, the gender politics involved in the discussion can grind after a while. I’m not sure that Steven Moffat is as concerned about having a gender-balanced writing staff as he is with the enormous task of simply getting 13 episodes out on our TV screens every year, but with a show as ‘progressive’ as ‘Doctor Who’ claims or at least its fans claim, it’s important to raise these discussions. One to help ‘Doctor Who’ fans broaden the mind and maybe change a viewpoint or two.
(pub: Mad Norwegian Press. 233 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-93523-418-0)
check out website: www.madnorwegian.com