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Doctor Who Companion typology - Office of Naval Contemplation

Jul. 30th, 2012

11:46 am - Doctor Who Companion typology

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Over the course of watching through the surviving Classic Doctor Who stories in order with evilben and ophiomancer (we're currently about half-way through the Troughton (Second Doctor) era), it's occurred to us that just about all of the Doctor's companions fit the archetypes of the original three companions from the beginning of the show.

Ian was the original Handsome Male Lead of the series, usually filling the Action Hero role. Ians are characterized by being action-oriented and street-smart and having a sense of responsibility independent of the Doctor's, providing both muscle for action-heavy stories and a push for the rest of the party to adopt more direct, confrontational plans, and often taking a leadership role independently of or in support of the Doctor.

Barbara was the secondary hero of the early series, taking a knowledge-based hero role to complement Ian's action-hero role. Originally, they'd switch off the lead, with Ian being the primary hero in sci-fi stories and Barbara in historicals. Barbaras are characterized by being calm, collected, and resourceful, contributing the the party with practical knowledge or technical skills, and often acting as the party's moral compass in terms of thinking through the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

Susan was the Doctor's 15-year-old (or the Time Lord equivalent thereof) granddaughter, placed in the series to act both as a mysterious figure (adding depth to the mysteries around the Doctor's background) and as a sympathetic audience surrogate -- a difficult balancing act to pull off, and one that met with only limited success with the original Susan. Susans are characterized by innocence and naivety, often combined with a very high level of raw intelligence and book learning, and almost always combined with being curious to a fault. Their plot role is the classic "chick" role: heart and soul of the team, sympathetic audience surrogate, and driving the plot by wandering into trouble and needing to get rescued. But for most Susans, the raw cleverness shows through enough to give the character flashes of awesomeness.

In thinking through categorizing the companions, there are some that only sort-of fit in the original framework, with the big problem being that some of the buckets (especially the Susans, and to a lesser degree the Ians) seem a little too big: for example, Zoe and Romana fit best as Susans, and Dodo and Rose fit best as Susans, but the former two are very, very different from the latter two. This is resolvable, though, by subdividing the Susans into three categories: Zoe-Susans (who emphasize the intelligence and cleverness), Vicki-Susans (who emphasize innocence, naivety and "heart"), and Mixed Susans (who balance the characteristics). Likewise Ians can be subdivided into Brigadier-Ians (who emphasize initiative, responsibility, and leadership), Jamie-Ians (who emphasize strength, combat skill, and street smarts), and Mixed Ians.

So, my classification of the Doctor's companions over the years:

Hartnell Era
Susan Foreman -- Mixed Susan
Barbara Wright -- Barbara
Ian Chesterton -- Mixed Ian
Vicki -- Vicki-Susan
Stephen Taylor -- Jamie-Ian
Katerina -- Vicki-Susan
Sara Kingdom -- Mixed Ian
Dodo Chaplet -- Vicki-Susan
Polly -- Barbara
Ben Jackson -- Jamie-Ian

Troughton Era
Jamie McCrimmon -- Jamie-Ian
Victoria Waterfield -- Vicki-Susan
Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbrdige Stewart -- Brigadier-Ian
Zoe Hariot -- Zoe-Susan

Pertwee Era
Liz Shaw -- Barbara
Captain Mike Yates -- Mixed Ian
Jo Grant -- Vicki-Susan
Sergeant Benton -- Jamie-Ian
Sarah Jane Smith -- Mixed Susan

Tom Baker Era
Harry Sullivan -- Barbara? (or maybe Mixed Susan?)
Leela -- Jamie-Ian
K-9 -- Doesn't fit the categorization
Romana -- Zoe-Susan
Adric -- Mixed Susan
Nyssa -- Don't remember her well enough to categorize
Tegan Jovanka -- Don't remember

Davison Era
Vislor Turlough -- Don't remember
Kamelion -- Don't remember
Peri Brown -- Vicki-Susan

Colin Baker Era
Melanie Bush -- Don't remember

McCoy Era
Ace -- Mixed Ian? (or maybe Jamie-Ian)

McGann Era
Grace Holloway -- Mixed Susan

Eccleston Era
Rose Tyler -- Vicki-Susan
Mickie Smith -- Vicki-Susan
Captain Jack Harkness -- Jamie-Ian

Tennant Era
Donna Noble -- Barbara
Martha Jones -- Barbara
Wilfred Mott -- Not sure
River Song -- Brigadier-Ian

Smith Era
Amy Pond -- Mixed Ian
Rory Williams -- Barbara


[User Picture]
Date:July 30th, 2012 09:41 pm (UTC)
The companions exist for two purposes - someone to explain the plot to, and someone to put into danger in order to move the plot forward. Beyond that, I've always been happy to let 'em all be themselves.

That said... ;)

Despite the actress's dreadful skills, I'd break out the "Zoe" type as a bucket all by itself. Adric and (to a lesser degree, Turlough) would land right in it, imho.

Totally agree that Jack's a Jamie-Ian, though. ;)

I salute your fortitude in watching the very early era of the show. I've seen bits and bobs and I'm afraid a lot of it was wasted on me. With a couple of exceptions, things don't really pick up for me and that show until Pertwee comes on to the scene. Even more so with the introduction of The Master. ;)

Edited at 2012-07-30 09:42 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]
Date:July 30th, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
The connection in my mind between the Zoe role and the Susan role is that the original Susan had some very Zoe-like moments, particularly in The Unearthly Child and The Sensorites. From what I gather, Carol Anne Ford envisioned the character as much more of what would become the Zoe archetype, emphasizing the "unearthly" side of Susan's nature, whereas the writers mostly preferred to use her in the Vicki-like role, emphasizing the "child" side of her nature (probably partly because, as you say, they need someone to get into danger and they need someone to explain things to), and this conflict was the main reason CAF left the show. Looking at the early stories in hindsight, especially with what's now been established about what Time Lords are, I pretty firmly favor CAF's side.

This typology actually started out with the Vicki-to-Susan transition, where Vicki was pretty transparently a drop-in replacement for Susan in her usual role (minus most of the flashes of Zoe/Romana-like awesomeness). It became a running joke for us to refer to Vicki as "New Susan". Then when Ian and Barbara left and Stephen joined, the transition was a bit better-executed, but Stephen was still a pretty obvious replacement for Ian's plot role.

The seeds of the idea probably came from some thoughts and discussions I'd had about the new series through a bit after Rose left, about how (up to that point) the "action hero" companions (what became the idea of the Ian archetype) were absent except for two or three appearances by Captain Jack, while in the classic series they'd been a major staple for much of the show's run.
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[User Picture]
Date:July 30th, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
The early Hartnells were indeed pretty rough going (with a few flashes of brilliance, like "The Sensorites"), interesting more for historical interest than for its own merits, but the show seems to be really finding its feet in the Troughton era. I can definitely see the roots of the show's style in the Pertwee and Tom Baker eras in the Troughton stories I've seen so far. It's also, looked at in a different way, pretty strongly reminiscent of the Matt Smith era -- I've read part of an interview where Smith identified Troughton as a major influence on his portrayal of the Doctor, and I can definitely see that.

From the historical interest perspective, I really mourn the loss of all the early Troughton stories. In particular, there's a huge difference in style between Hartnell's Doctor and Troughton's, as well as in the overall feel of the show, and I would have liked to have been able to watch that transition happen.

Totally agreed about the Master's arrival, though. I'm a huge fan of that character, especially in the original Roger Delgado incarnation, and I break with conventional wisdom by identifying the Master rather than the Dalek's as the Doctor's best and most important recurring adversary.
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Date:July 30th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
I really mourn the loss of all the early Troughton stories.

Preaching to the choir, my friend. Erasing master tapes in the name of saving money wasn't one of the BBC's most brilliant moments, no. But they couldn't know they had a cult hit in the making. ;)

Oh, I agree with you re: The Master. I mean, I love the Daleks and all, but an alien conqueror of the universe that couldn't climb stairs until 1988? Pssht.

I'll have to dig up the essay I saw somewhere that posited (not without merit) that all of Delgado!Master's schemes were grandiose attempts to get the Doctor to pay attention to him, dammit. ;)

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Date:July 31st, 2012 07:24 am (UTC)
One of my few big complaints about the new serieses is that they've reinterpretted Daleks as *individually* unstoppable killing machines. In my mind, that was never what made Daleks scary. What made them scary was that collectively, they're relentless. Sure, you can kill one Dalek. You can kill a thousand Daleks. And they'll just keep coming. Well, right up until they have to climb a staircase. Then they're stuck until the camera cuts away and the Dalek somehow finds a way up off-camera.
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