With a long wait ahead of us until new Doctor Who arrives (next Christmas? Aaaargh!!!), and while waiting for the announcement of a new Companion for the Doctor’s upcoming episodes, we thought it’d be a good time to look back at the best of the previous Companions on Who. Rather than drive ourselves completely crazy, we’ve limited our choices of Companions to those who actually traveled in the TARDIS with the Doctor at some point, and those who only appeared on TV series (both “Classic” and “New” iterations).
So, without further adieu …
10. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) recurring, 1968-1989
“Chap with wings – five rounds rapid!”
The superb, never-ruffled Brigadier has traveled with the Doctor on several occasions, so yeah, he counts as a Companion! Classically British in the best sense of the word, the Brig would often pooh-pooh the Doctor’s scientific solutions to a crisis and look for something to shoot. This eventually became something of an in-joke, but it paid off in the 7th Doctor story, “Battlefield,” when the Brigadier returned to the show after a long absence and pretty much saved the day by firing silver bullets into a demon. It was the last Who appearance for the Brig, but he returned in The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2008. It’s a sign of the character’s strength (and the actor’s talent) that the Brig’s influence continues into New Who, with his daughter Kate now appearing in tales with the 11th and 12th Doctors.
9. Leela (Louise Jameson), 1977-1978
“These ‘taxes’… they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?”
Don’t mess with the fierce warrior of the Sevateem and her skimpy leather hunting outfit. She certainly was unlike any previous Companion up to that point, having little compunction about killing enemies, although the Eliza Doolittle-Henry Higgins relationship between her and the Doctor created enough comedy to brighten up the dark spots. Her clash with Victorian England dining habits in the excellent “Talons of Weng-Chiang” is a moment of sheer joy. The fact that “Weng-Chiang,” like most of Leela’s stories, occurred during the great, dark, gothic Philip Hinchcliffe era didn’t hurt. Also, while Leela is best known for her savagery and fighting, she was surprisingly good at inspiring others to find bravery inside themselves.
8. Jo Grant, 1971-1973, 2010
“One minute you’re condemning the Doctor to death, and the next minute you’re proposing to me!”
Television in the Seventies (and Eighties and Nineties…) wasn’t renowned for character development. And yet here’s Jo Grant! In the course of three years, she goes from being an earnest but vapid assistant to the Doctor to being a bold, spirited adventurer who could face down the Master one on one, armed with nothing but good, old-fashioned pluck. Her departure in 1973’s “The Green Death” was deservedly treated as a big moment. She wouldn’t meet the Doctor again until the “Death of the Doctor” episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
7. Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (William Russell and Jacqueline Hill), 1963-1965
“I’m lending her a book on the French Revolution.” “What’s she going to do? Re-write it?”
How can you separate these two? The schoolteachers introduced us to the Doctor in the series’ very first episode, “An Unearthly Child,” and they left together two years later. Not only did they give us, the viewers, a reference point in those early days, Ian and Barbara helped to “humanize” the Doctor, forcing him to confront his own stubborn beliefs and eventually compelling him to view the people around him as more than just pieces of history data. They also set the bar high for all the Companions to come. Barbara, in particular, was remarkably feisty for an early Sixties woman on TV, a credit to both Hill and producer Verity Lambert. Barbara’s argument with William Hartnell’s Doctor in “The Aztecs,” where she attempts to violate history and persuade the Aztecs to follow a more peaceful path over his near-panicked objections, remains a favorite Who moment. And for a skinny science teacher, Ian could kick ass.
6. Ace (Sophie Aldred), 1987-1989
“Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers 9 on the Richter scale?”
Speaking of kicking ass, there’s Ace. A juvenile delinquent with a knack for explosives, Ace was bold, reckless, completely devoted to “the Professor,” emotionally damaged, and fearless. She could shoot anti-tank missiles at Daleks and take on Cybermen with only a slingshot and a bag of gold coins — and she could fall to pieces if anybody dredged up memories of her mother. She was the culmination of then-producer John Nathan-Turner’s desire to feature “interesting” Companions, and while her backstory – such as it is – seems weak compared to what’s happening in the series now, Ace did blow up a path for these current Companions to follow.
5. Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), 2012-2015
“Run. Run, you clever boy … and remember.”
From the Impossible Girl’s first appearance in “Asylum of the Daleks,” Clara’s tenure aboard the TARDIS has certainly been anything but dull. Although the mystery surrounding her arrival often overshadowed her actual character at first – somewhat understandable, since she died twice in her first two appearances! – she began coming into her own during “The Name of the Doctor” … and by the time “The Day of the Doctor” rolled around, she was more than holding her own with three Doctors! It was with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, though, that Clara really found her voice, and could often take charge of a, well, impossible situation as well as the Doctor. Could she be bossy? Sure. Abrasive? Yes. But much like the Doctor himself, everything she did was in the name of finding adventure – and more importantly, helping others.
4. Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), 2010-2012
“Raggedy Man, I remember you, and you are late for my wedding!”
An attractive Scottish redhead with an attitude? What’s not to like? But even beyond the looks and the sass, there’s a lot about Amy Pond that makes her such a great Companion. Amy possesses a determination and confidence that rarely has been seen in the series. In her own way, she’s more intimidating than Leela, more tenacious than Donna, more resilient than Rose and Ace, and sexier than the whole lot of them. And it’s her fierce, passionate love for her friends – her love for Rory, and especially her love for the Doctor – that drives her to often do the impossible.
3. Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), 2006, 2008
“Oi! Watch it, spaceman!”
From her beginnings as a bad-tempered, about-to-be married ‘temp from Chiswick’, Donna Noble arguably had the most complete evolution as a Companion in the whole of the series. A departure from her predecessors, Donna had no romantic interest in the Doctor – she simply wanted adventure. And as she found adventure with the Time Lord, she managed to discover so, so many good things about herself as well. She also helped keep the Doctor grounded, such as in “The Fires of Pompeii,” when the Doctor horrifically realizes that HE is responsible for triggering Mount Vesuvius and killing thousands of people in ancient Pompeii. In that moment, she stands beside him and won’t let him face that decision alone.
Sniff. Oi, you were brilliant, Donna. And Bonus points for the epic tragedy of her departure. Double sniff.
2. Romana II (Lalla Ward), 1979-1981
“Do you know what I don’t understand, Romana?” “I expect so.”
Romana’s second incarnation went from being a novice Time Lord who often was unsure about herself (and played wonderfully by the late Mary Tamm) to being one of the few Companions ever to stand on equal ground with the Doctor himself. Smart, funny, and extremely charismatic, Lalla Ward as Romana was a genuine joy to watch. At times, she was a powerful force to be reckoned with – watch her performance in the otherwise forgettable “Horns of Nimon,” it’s outstanding – and by the time Romana leaves the Doctor’s side in “Warriors’ Gate,” it’s quite clear that the character is more than ready to face the universe (or E-Space) on her own. (It also didn’t hurt that the evident off-screen chemistry between her and Tom Baker carried over to their televised stories, and brought a smile to every viewer’s face.)
1. Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), 1973-1976, recurring and ongoing through 2011
“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”
It’s more than nostalgia – and longevity – that makes Sarah Jane the best companion of all. But that would be excluding the fact that she’s returned to Who in recent years — even starring in her own series — and is just as awesome! Originally cast as a nod to the changing times in the Seventies (“women’s lib”!), Sarah is smart, inquisitive, feisty, and a whole lot of fun. Sarah was always ready to stand up for herself – and her friends – in trying to do the right thing, but with Sarah, you could also see that, underneath, what was happening terrified the ever-loving crap out of her at times. But nonetheless, she always stood her ground. Marvelous acting by the late Liz Sladen, always – both during her classic appearances with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, and during her most recent stints on the modern iteration of the show with David Tennant. (Not to mention how terrific she was on her own spinoff show, The Sarah Jane Adventures!) For longtime followers of the show, she’s still quite deservedly the most popular Companion. And the best.
So … who’d we leave out? Who should’ve been ranked higher or lower? Or who did we include that you can’t stand? Give us a shout in the comments!
-Ken & Mike