when you're a time lord dashing around the far-flung corners of the space-time continuum, it's always best to have some company in your TARDIS. someone you can explain stuff to. someone to keep you connected to humanity (or at least humanoid-ity). someone to save from danger ... and someone to pull your own ass out of the fire. this is why every doctor, from one to ten, has had companions (aka assistants). the illustration above (click it to see it bigger) is the brilliant "doctor's girls," by mimi-na, and do follow the link b/c she also has one of the doctor's boys that is not to be missed (see the link in the artist's comments). and her opinions on rose and the whole companion-love thing are also great. but, uh, the comments seem to number in the zillions.
anyway, in the vast history of the 5,280 episodes of doctor who, only once did our renegade time lord go totally companion-less (in his fourth incarnation). and what happened? he fucking nearly got framed by the master for assassinating the president of time lord homeworld gallifrey. plus, he walked around talking to himself a lot more than usual.
(why, yes, friends. it's yet another obsessive post about doctor who.)
being a companion is exciting -- all those strange new places, new sky overhead, new ground under your feet, thrilling adventures, etc. not to mention you get to run around with the doctor. sure, it's dangerous, but the doctor won't let you down. in fact, he'll move heaven and earth to save you if he has to. the only real drag about the gig is that one day it will end. and you'll be stuck back in a life that, even if it remains somewhat extraordinary, won't ever be the same again.
i can only talk about the who-verse in terms of the doctors i know (that would be four, nine, and ten, plus a glancing acquaintance with one). but all of them seem to complain about their companions and how they never listen and need to be told what's going on and such. nine even harshly calls rose a "stupid ape" when she does something, yeah, dumb and selfish ... although he could've stopped her and didn't. but the doctor really doesn't want to be rattling around in that TARDIS all alone.
the very first companion was a novelty in the series: the doctor's granddaughter, susan foreman (the only time his assistant was a relative). she was in fact the first time lord tv ever showed, in 1963's "an unearthly child." and she was a right freaky, psychedelic chick, definitely ahead of her time.
but the first companion i ever met was sarah jane smith -- and i loved her from the start.
this is sarah in "pyramids of mars," with the fourth doctor -- in which we learn she likes the same dress as queen victoria and is a pretty good shot. sarah started out with the third doctor, so she's with the fourth from his first moments after regeneration. (she seems pretty unfazed by the transformation -- way less freaked than rose is when nine turns into ten.) and she is still one of the most beloved companions -- so much so, she has her own series now, the sarah jane adventures, thanks to who-reinventor russell t. davies. (i read in the l.a. times recently that the sci fi channel will begin airing this show here in april, along with the new season of who.)
sarah had a way of being at once resolutely brave and quiveringly vulnerable. she was with the doctor for a long time and got into a lot of tight spots with him. (not to mention having to put up with the irritating harry calling her "old girl.") she was a journalist, and somewhere along the line she says she's from 1980 (though the actual years she was on the show are 1973-76). i heard that while rewatching one of the fourth doctor serials; it was a revelation. it kind of explained her strange taste in clothing. which is rather '80s, really.
anyway, sarah was a loyal but typically disobedient companion -- never staying put, which seems to be a requirement for companionship. she got the doctor out of jams but often had to be rescued herself. in those days, DW didn't get into a lot of hugging and all the touchy-feely emotional jazz that went on with the doctor and rose, but it was still clear that he loved sarah. one of the things i always liked about the '70s who was the sense that the girl and the guy weren't romantically entangled but just fellow travelers and adventurers who had a bond, sure, and even loved each other, but in a way that ... i don't wanna say "transcended" romantic love. but it was just different, and that made it cooler. (sorta like how great it was b/w mulder and scully on the x-files until they fucked it up.)
so it was a bit shocking when the doctor got the call to return to gallifrey and just sorta dumped sarah jane back on earth (in the wrong place, natch). she definitely didn't want to go -- even though she'd been making noise just a minute earlier about being fed up and wanting a bath and a more comfortable life. she was still stunned when he was like, yes, good, you have to leave now. (b/c humans weren't allowed on gallifrey.) they had a kind of moment right as she left, and he totally led her to believe they would see each other again (probably unintentionally, but still ...). but there was no chance of changing his mind, and she stepped back into the real world, through no true choice of her own. she wanted to stay with him ... but she couldn't. (and the real drag is that it turned out the doctor wasn't even being officially summoned to gallifrey anyway, but just tricked by the master.)
the doctor went off and had his one solo adventure ("the deadly assassin," referenced above). then he met leela, the savage girl who was so popular "with the dads," as the story goes, b/c of her skimpy costume of animal skins.
what i love about leela is her unwavering toughness and belief that her knife can solve all problems. plus she's curious, and clever as well. she was no screamer, but a warrior. the worst thing for her was having to wear the ridiculous clothes, as it seemed she and the doctor so often went to victorian settings. i cherish the memory of leela in "the talons of weng-chiang," where she has to get new clothes after escaping the ravenous rat of unusual size in the sewer. (although the part where she's swinging a cricket bat with a satisfied look on her face is also pretty groovy.) the doctor sees her in her fetching frock and is clearly charmed. and she seems pleased that he likes it. then he announces they're going to the theater, and she's like, "ooo! the theater!" and he thinks she's excited about seeing the show. but she's thinking that's where their enemy is, and she wants to smite him. and the oblivious doctor grins toothily and says, "yes! and if you're very good, i'll buy you an orange!" ahaha!
ahh, leela. brave and tough and true. and she gets to go to gallifrey, in "the invasion of time." plus, leela chooses to leave the doctor. when the dust settles after the sontarans invade gallifrey and all that stuff, she stays behind with her hunky captain of the guard. which, some have said, means she was there when the planet was consumed by fire in the time war. but maybe she had already lived her life and was dead before that. if not, i can see her, brandishing her knife at the burning sky and going down fighting.
in any event, leela got what sarah jane didn't have -- a say in her own destiny where the doctor was concerned.
it's fun to compare sarah and leela, the first two companions of the fourth doctor, with rose tyler and martha jones, the first two companions of the tenth doctor -- the most popular one since four. the parallels are sorta trippy.
first off, rose was a holdover from nine, like sarah was from three. she had some funky taste in clothes too. and, as it turned out, rose was also pretty handy with a gun.
like sarah jane, rose was wonderful and well loved too. (and she even bonded, after first being insanely jealous, with sarah in "school reunion.") the doctor did seem to have special feelings for rose, and it sure felt like he was actually going to say he loved her at the end of "doomsday." but maybe he was just going to say it b/c he thought he'd never see her again. i mean, that's pretty safe, right? (or not.)
anyway, we know for sure that rose loved him. and she, like sarah, didn't have a choice, either. she had to leave him. circumstances conspired to keep her alive, but apart from the doctor. very far apart. it devastated her -- like it devastated sarah. if one can wonder what goes on in a fictional character's mind, i wonder if rose thinks of the things sarah told her, and sarah's experience, as she lives on in a world w/o the doctor? and does she think that not even sarah jane smith could have helped her with this?
then came martha, who the doctor obviously liked right away but really resisted keeping around -- although it's a good thing he did, since she ended up saving the world.
b/c, like leela, martha was brave and tough and smart. i mean, she laughed at the master! kick ass. she did fall for the doctor, but ... she was old enough, maybe, self-aware enough, to not be able to just get caught up like rose did. not quite naive enough to believe in forever.
also like leela, martha got to choose. she left the doctor. true, she had to take care of her family, but she still walked away. and it wasn't just b/c of her responsiblities: she didn't like pining for something she could never have. more important, she moved on: when she showed up in torchwood this season, she said she had a boyfriend. she definitely handled leaving the TARDIS better than captain jack (who clearly still pines for the doctor). and i mean -- i love, love, love rose. but martha is the shit. with her, we got to see a companion fully formed, her time with the doctor a fond memory and an amazing experience, yes, but only part of her life. i think sarah got closure from seeing ten -- lord knows the fandom did, and thank you for that, RTD -- but martha made her own closure. and that's what being a stupid ape is all about, right? evolving.
CODA: ANOTHER SATELLITE
so it took me a loooong time to write this post, and while doing so i started thinking about the fun/weird ways that romana, four's next companion after leela, is like donna noble, who will be taking martha's place in the TARDIS next month.
romana (the doctor's shorthand for romanadvoratrelundar) is a younger time lord assigned to travel with him and help find all the parts of the key to time. she's not thrilled about the gig at first b/c he is an annoying, unorthodox old codger who barely even passed at the academy, while she, romana, was an ace student. not to mention he shortens her name. she arrives in the TARDIS wearing a white dress and a tiara. luckily, the doctor has the perfect coat to match her ensemble. (couldn't find a picture with the tiara, but here's the coat. he sure has a nice selection of women's clothes in that time machine!)
then there's donna, who first arrives in the TARDIS wearing a white dress and a tiara, as she is "the runaway bride." (that episode actually happens before martha arrives, but whatever.)
donna is literally yanked into the TARDIS, and, same as romana, she is none too impressed with our renegade time lord at first. but apparently she changes her mind. i guess almost marrying a creep who sells you out to a giant alien spider-woman might do that to a girl. anyway, donna's definitely not the same sorta companion as the ones ten has had thus far. i didn't like her much the first time i saw "the runaway bride," but she kinda grew on me the second time i watched it. it was sort of refreshing to see someone not all moony-eyed over the doc. i can't help wondering if the producers are hedging their bets with donna, though -- after all, they're bringing back both martha and rose at various points this season. but, whatev. viva la difference -- and bring on the new season!