Doctor Who Series 9: Have companions become more important than the Doctor?

Invasion of the Zygons Doctor Who
Didn’t I say, if we hang around long enough we’ll get another show…


The fifth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. The return of the Earth invasion, politics and the last brilliant multi-Doctor story. But something wasn’t quite right. The Doctor wasn’t in total control. His companions were.

A question brewing for 10 years. Inspired by the The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion

IT’S NOT TOO SOON, IS IT? WHEN COMES TO DOCTOR WHO IT MAY AS WELL BE TOO LATE, SO LET’S JUST SETTLE ON THE TIMEING BEING EXACTLY RIGHT. From where I sit in the far future Clara’s been gone for centuries and I’ve managed to get over it… Yes, this might be a little strong. Episodes of Series Nine are increasingly piling up the doom and gloom surrounding Clara’s imminent departure. It could be any time now, but even if it falls before the series finale, the repercussions will reach to the end and beyond. It’s certainly going to be a wrench. As the recent two-parter proved, she’s not only the modern era’s longest serving companion, but quite possibly the most important companion in the show’s history…

But Clara’s colleague companions have been important for many years. If the New Series can be marked out from the classic years in any terms, it’s not the missing Time Lords but the increased role of who the Doctor calls his “friends”.

The Classic Years

Far beyond… “The nightmare scenario…”

Companions had a simple purpose in many of the padded stories of the classic era. Classic companions like Leela, who accompanied the Fourth Doctor, had foibles and qualities that fed into the tone of the stories that followed their introduction. In further adventures they often used these to find new and very personal ways to get into trouble. Leela brought an Eliza Doolittle model to the TARDIS. Harry Sullivan was an imbecile, but also a doctor. Sarah Jane Smith was a reporter. Nyssa was a scientist, specialising in bioelectronics. Tegan was an air stewardess who was constantly trying to get back to Heathrow airport and once did. Mel Bush had an eidetic memory and a spectacular scream. But often, despite their unique characteristics, companions served their greatest narrative function within the confines of their origin story. None of their characters defined subsequent stories.

Perhaps the nearest the series came to that was the delirious Brigadier in Series 20’s Mawdryn Undead, a Blinovitch loaded time bomb wandering around an alien ship until he created a scene. That same season Tegan fell under the spell of the Mara for a second time, although she was the bridge rather than the focus for these stories. Then came Mel in Trial of a Time Lord. Having seen her in Matrix projections of the future, the Doctor retrieved the companion he’s never met to form part of his defence, only for her to take a role in foiling the fiendish plot of the Valeyard inside the Matrix of the Timelords itself. Earlier came precocious Adric, whose sacrifice to mathematics enabled his friends to escape. It was his last act, but he certainly never found out if he was right.

Original crew

When she left, she left for love …

Even original companion Susan was as removed from adventures as her offish un-Doctorly grandfather. Indirectly, it was her elevated extrovertness and poor subtlety that brought two humans, Barbara and Ian, on board the TARDIS to kick-start the two exiles’ involvement in the universe. Susan and the Doctor didn’t leave Gallifrey to gallivant around the universe after all. With so little of the show’s fabric stitched by the time she left the TARDIS crew a year later, she was never attached to being a Time Lady or given their key abilities. She even had the sauce to claim the acronym of TARDIS as her own, as the Doctor presumably fondly remembered in The Zygon Inversion. That said, she did display telepathic abilities, saving Barbara in The Sensorites, that might just have exceeded her grandfather’s. When she left, she left for love. She didn’t play a part in any arc, presumably the Time Lords never caught up with her to put her on trial. Maybe she wasn’t pursued – but could she have escaped the Time War?  Read more…

Doctor Who: Silents II – “Back to back on the fields” (Whovember #11 Omega)

Eleventh Doctor and Handles #Whovember 

No, you haven’t forgotten… The final Whovember concludes the story of the Silents as their plot crawls towards the Fall of the Eleventh. Their second plan had failed, so the Silence turned to their tall and forgettable servants. They could definitely get the job done… 

THE SILENTS HAD TWO FIRST APPEARANCES, BUT OF COURSE THAT’S EASY TO FORGET. Previously, they’d subtly emerged in a ‘deadly’ cameo in Series Five‘s The Lodger before emerging from the shadows in the two-part premiere of the sixth series.  When that season wrapped up the associated River Song arc in the middle, the Silence had failed twice to eliminate the Doctor.  When it came to resolving the arc, and dodging the 50th anniversary antics, Moffat’s other definitive creation proved crucial. Yes, the time of resolution was near:

First, another cameo…

Closing Time (Series Six, 2011)

the River Song we left in Let’s Kill Hitler hears a song that she knows, like us, means a season finale’s coming

It’s a refreshing step back to department stores when Closing Time starts. Of course, it’s less a sequel to The Lodger than Gareth Roberts Series Eight episode The Caretaker. There it’s thematic, here it’s picking up the Doctor on his goodbye tour. The Doctor’s death at Lake Silencio has been constantly reinforced as fixed point in time. This may be a light distraction, a bit of a riff on the Tenth Doctor’s extended farewell tour, but it’s crucial… While this Doctor’s constantly convincing himself not to help, he doesn’t have as many people to see (even though it’s been a hundred years at least since he personally met Craig) and is strangely open to a way out of his predicament.

There are some nice touches amid the frippery. Oddly, Star Trek gets another mention, again twice. For all the lightweight filler of Closing Time, the Cyber reveal and their slow involvement actually makes for one of their better appearance in the New Series. Since 2005, they’ve been treated worse than the Sontarans. In that respect it’s just a shame that love proves to be the Cyber downfall. And yes, at the middle of the plot is yet another deserted ship where the crew are purposed, like The Girl in the Fireplace, like The Lodger… However, this time it’s fortunate that the lightweight plot doesn’t fill 45 minutes. That gives the Doctor time to purloin four TARDIS blue envelopes and a Stetson… And we flash forward to the Silences’ plot three about to kick in. The kids in the street, reflecting on their fleeting meeting with the Doctor as adults are nonsense, but does help to build inevitability as we realise why Closing Time has to be on this list. In the final few minutes, the River Song we left in Let’s Kill Hitler hears a song that she knows, like us, means a season finale’s coming:

 “Tick tock goes the clock even for the Doctor”

It’s a multi-verse premonition that pops up at the end of Mark Gatiss’ Night Terrors, and would carry through to the thirteenth episode of the series… Read more…

Doctor Who: Silents I – “You should kill us all on sight” (Whovember #11 Sigma)

Doctor Who and the Silence 

They appeared in a – what was I saying? Oh yes, they appeared with a bang in the bolder and more ambitious sixth series of Doctor Who. It would take a few years to find out who these all too familiar aliens were. The mid-point of the Eleventh Whovember looks at the appearance of the Silents in Doctor Who

THE FIRST PART OF THIS WHOVEMBER #11 LOOKED AT THE SILENCE THAT QUIETLY HOUNDED THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR’S TENURE. BUT THAT’S ONLY HALF THE MYSTERY. To uncover the rest you need to go singular. Yes the Silents, who first appeared in the Sixth series opener and went on to stage a number of invasions, and difficult sentences, until the fall of the Eleventh. They don’t appear in every episode of the Silence arc, but their presence was felt earlier than it appeared:

These mysterious, lanky monsters in their sharp suits, all memory clouding and random electricity, could be called a classic Moffat creation. Horrific, scary and with a special monsterish twist. They may look like typical Grey aliens, but you won’t remember them when you turn away. From the lofty view-point of the Twelfth Doctor it seems that the Silents’ story has definitively ended, possibly in extinction. But you can never say never, especially if you can’t remember it. There was always the risk they could be a one-trick pony; on their short journey much fun was had with their memory-evading powers so perhaps it’s not surprising that their presence was felt before they first appeared…

The Lodger (Series Five, 2010)

Since the first full appearance, there has been countless speculation on the possibility of Silent incursions into Doctor Who throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s life and indeed beyond. And why not? He may have thwarted their countless appearances before his Earth exile in the 1970s (or yes, the 1980s, UNIT pedants), but the Doctor will quite reasonably have encountered them many times during his travels on Earth and beyond. Particularly worth thinking about, are the fog covered streets of the East End in 1963. But, sadly, this is a television show. When a billionaire buys Doctor Who from the BBC, he may take a George Lucas approach to retconning Silents into the classic series (while he seamlessly recreates lost episodes, perfectly recolours the black and whites, and up-scales to 3d). But until then, the Silents must be viewed in their specific time. Yes, Amy and River both gasp and stare while uttering non-sequiturs during Series Five, but that’s not necessarily anything to do with the Silents. It’s some kind of web-felled, self-perpetuating retconning – something Moffat’s show-running lends itself to perfectly. But considering some of the clear logic breaks in the Silence arc, it’s difficult to believe that such things could be planned enough in advance. I’d certainly swap them for clearing up some other points of the arc. No, the lanky aliens don’t enter the universe until The Impossible Astronaut, opening Series Six.

Except, that’s not true. Read more…

Doctor Who: Silence – “Fooling you twice the same way” (Whovember #11 Alpha)

The Eleventh Doctor and the Silence that must fall 

It was the interminable, twisting arc that spun from the birth to the death of the Eleventh Doctor… Stay tuned for a Whovember look at the Greys of the Whoniverse, those oh so forgettable Silents themselves. Er, those oh so forgettable Silents themselves. But first… Comes a look at the quiet when they weren’t around: The Silence that constantly threatened to fall on number Eleven… 

JUST HOURS AFTER ONE OF HIS MOST EXPLOSIVE REGENERATIONS, THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR WAS EAR TO THE WALL, SONIC RAISED TO A CRACK IN THE PLASTER THAT WOULD BECOME ALL TOO FAMILIAR. Alright, it wasn’t quite exciting as it sounds – but it was confusing and it was everywhere: it was the Crack/Silence/Silents/River/Melody/Drop-off/ Generation game. But I think it’s safe to say that it finally ended when the Eleventh Doctor died on 25th December 2013. With many-a-head scratched.

He was the longest lived Doctor and he hardly had any respite from the Silence. All his scraps with the Daleks equate to a trip down the shops by comparison, Time War included. In fact, his only break came when he met the Impossible Girl and reintroduced himself to the Great Intelligence (which proved itself to be anything but).

When it came to the Eleventh Whovember, the complexity of this Doctor’s life posed a problem. But then thought Jokerside: Why not split the impossible riddle of the Silence in two: Betwixt the episodes featuring Silence and those featuring the Silents themselves, maybe there’s something interesting to find… And yes, she may glance on and off it, but that means the River Song arc is secondary.

First up, it’s all Silence, no Silents:

And it all began where it should, in the beginning…

The Eleventh Hour (Series Five, 2010)

This is a fairy tale and it’s glorious

You know, The Eleventh Hour might still be show runner Steven Moffat’s finest hour…. And that’s quite understandable considering it’s the one story he must have been writing for decades (and is tellingly on record as saying it’s the most difficult script he’s ever written). Sadly, little of the brilliance of this Smith opener was carried through Series Five. Second episode The Beast Below, despite intentions strong enough to form the basis for the Doctor Who Experience in London then Cardiff, managed to slow this new Doctor in his tracks and set an all too dreary direction for the majority of the series. Oh, there’s plenty to enjoy in those 13 episodes, but its washed out colour and change for change’s sake is a difficult adjustment after the pinnacle of the Davies, Gardner and Collinson years in Series Four. Although for the best part of an hour on 3 April 2010 you wouldn’t have guessed…
Read more…

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