Ah, the Doctor’s companions. No matter who they are, they exist to allow the Doctor to have someone to exposit to and keep him company on his adventures. There’s been about forty of them, mostly attractive women, and they’ve been everything from a Scots highlander to a 51st century time traveler, to a Time Lady, to a robot dog.
Now before we get into this list we have to define what makes for a companion. There’s several possible definitions, but I’ll be adopting the incredibly subjective definition of “they’re a companion because I say they are”. I have the vague guideline that they have to have stared in more than one story, and not get written out in their second story. Traveling with the Doctor in the TARDIS is a nice bonus, but not required. Thus I include potential top 10 companions like the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton, Sarah Kingdom and Captain Jack, but reject such official BBC companions like Katarina, Astrid Peth and Adam Mitchell. Also, please note that I’m not counting the spin-off companions, like Frobisher (all hail the giant talking bird!), Hex, Evelyn Smythe, Erimem or Hex.
So that in mind, here’s the ones I consider to be “real” companions and therefore eligible to be on this list: Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki, Stephen, Sarah Kingdom, Dodo, Ben, Polly, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe, the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan, Leela, K9, Romana, Adric, Tegan, Nyssa, Kamelion, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Ace, Rose, Captain Jack, Martha, Donna, Amy, Rory and River Song. Those names in mind, let’s get started!
10. Tegan Jovanka
Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) was a flight attendant who wound up stumbling into the TARDIS while trying to find a police box. During her first adventure, she found out her aunt had been killed by the Master and watched the Fourth Doctor regenerate. Over the course of the rest of her time on the TARDIS she got possessed by the Mara, helped the Fifth Doctor fight the Cybermen, the Daleks, the Sea Devils and the Silurians. She was also there for “The Five Doctors” and by the Doctor’s side during one of those rare times when a companion died, and remains the only companion to leave and then come back to continue her adventures with the Doctor.
Tegan could be brash, sarcastic and downright obnoxious at times. She had little to no patience for nonsense and the Doctor often had to spend time calming her down. That fact alone made her far more interesting than the average companion who just did whatever the Doctor said and never challenged him even once.
Leela (Louise Jameson) was a warrior woman from a future human colony. She was something of a “noble savage” and frequently far more violent than the Doctor liked. She was always armed and used deadly force against the Doctor’s enemies on more than one occasion. She was also essentially an “Eliza Doolittle” character that the Doctor continually tried to civilize.
Leela, again, sort of broke the mold for being a companion. She was a human, like all the others prior to her, but being from a primitive tribe of colonists in the distant future, she was also nothing like any of the companions who had come before. We never really saw anyone until her who could easily kick the backside of anyone who threatened the Doctor and do so without breaking a sweat. She remains very popular with the fans, and it’s no surprise that when Tom Baker began doing audio adventures for Big Finish, Leela was the first companion to join him.
Ah, Ace (Sophie Aldred). The interplay and relationship between her and the Seventh Doctor was one of the only reason a great many people continued to watch the show during the late 80s, a time when such “amazing” and “watchable” episodes as “Ghost Light”, “The Happiness Patrol” and “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” came to grace our screens.
Ace was a feisty teenage girl, quite fond of carrying homemade explosives, who the Doctor relentlessly manipulated in a series of interesting stories that were supposed to culminate in her going to Gallifrey and attending the Doctor’s old Time Lord academy. That never happened, but at least we got some wonderful TV adventures with her and she continues to appear frequently in Big Finish’s line of Doctor Who audio adventures.
7. River Song
Yeah, you knew she’d be on here. River Song (Alex Kingston… and others, but she’s the one who matters) is unique in the fact that her first story is also her last one. She’s also someone who is very important in the Doctor’s life (though I’m still unclear as to why they had to get married). She’s the offspring of two of the Doctor’s other companions and has had an interesting, non-linear series of adventures with him.
Personality-wise, River also has the traits I most enjoy with companions, especially the female ones: she’s very smart, frequently able to put the Doctor in his place and is a strong woman who is more than capable of handling herself in just about any situation.
6. Romana (both versions)
Romana (Mary Tamm, Lala Ward) was a Time Lady who joined the Fourth Doctor for “The Key to Time” series. She remains the only member of the Doctor’s race to travel with him. She initially appeared as a fairly aloof woman who, when menaced by various baddies, often gave the impression that she was rather bored with them. For no particular on-screen reason, Romana decided to regenerate and became a bit more relaxed and fun-loving.
Both versions were smarter than the Doctor and often able to do more than he was, something which in theory vexed him, but I think he secretly liked.
K-9, voiced by John Leeson, was a robot dog who accompanied the Fourth Doctor for a few seasons. He was built by a human scientist and wound up traveling with the Doctor for quite a while in at least three or four different incarnations.
K-9 was, of course, insanely popular with fans. And why not? He was cute to look at, had an adorable voice and was often able to outsmart the Doctor. He was popular enough that he’s had one attempted TV show based on him, one full TV show based on him, turned up in “School Reunion” with Sarah Jane Smith and also joined her for The Sarah Jane Adventures! Not bad for a tin dog!
4. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
Ah, the Brig (Nicholas Courtney). As head of UNIT (originally the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, but now the Unified Intelligence Taskforce), he was charged with keeping Earth safe and secure from alien invasion. This goal occasionally put him at odds with the Doctor due to the fact that the Brig preferred military solutions to various problems and the Doctor tended to prefer peaceful ones.
The Brigadier was introduced during the Second Doctor’s time and appeared on screen with six of the eight original Doctors. He also appeared in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, appeared extensively in Big Finish’s audio adventures (including his only appearances with the Sixth and Eighth Doctors), and was mentioned a few times in the new series, including most recently where the Doctor learned that the Brigadier had died (a recognition of Nicholas Courtney dying last year). Watching the Doctor’s reaction at the news of the death of his oldest friend gives you an idea of just how important he was to the Doctor and to the audience.
3. Jamie McCrimmon
Jamie (Frazier Hines), was a Scotsman from the early 18th century who joined the Second Doctor in his second story, the now completely missing “The Highlanders”. He was often something of a fish out of water due to the fact that he didn’t usually understand the technology of the future. But he took to it gamely and did his best to keep up.
Jamie interaction with the Doctor is part of what makes the Second Doctor stories so entertaining. He was loyal to the Doctor but not above sparring with him from time to time. It helped that Hines and Troughton both obviously cared about each other a great deal and clearly enjoyed working with each other. Jamie was also very popular with the fans, so it’s no surprise that when the time came for multi-Doctor episodes, Jamie appeared in both “The Five Doctors” and “The Two Doctors”.
Ah, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate, currently amusing American audiences in The Office). Just a temp from Chiswick. But what a temp! After the simpering love-fest that was Rose, and the overall feeling of “meh” that many fans had with regard to Martha, Donna was a real refreshing reminder of what a companion can be. Again, as with the best among them, she was feisty and not afraid to call the Doctor out when he was acting like an idiot, and she ended up with some of the best, most wonderful character development of any of the companions. Well, at least for a while.
Donna divided a lot of the fan-base, and it’s my experience that those of us who were into the older series first tend to like her better. I think that’s no surprise, since compared with Rose and Martha, she’s very much like the old-series companions. And those of us that loved her, loved her so much that we remain very annoyed at what Davies did to her in her final episode.
1. Sarah Jane Smith
Like there’s any surprise here. Yes, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), companion to the Third and Fourth Doctors, who also turned up with the First, Second, Fifth and Tenth. Initially a girl-reporter in the Lois Lane mold, she…well, honestly she sort of regressed a bit during the Tom Baker years and by the end of her stories, she wasn’t anything like she had been at the start.
But who cared? She was still wonderful. So popular with audiences that she got her own TV series. Gentle, caring, but with a steel rod spine when she needed it. She really did come off as the Doctor’s best friend on more than one occasion and set the gold standard for what a companion should.
Adric really hasn’t much business on this list because, frankly, he wasn’t that great of a character. But it’s my list, and I like him despite his flaws. The fact that I had a massive crush on Matthew Waterhouse back in the day has (almost) nothing to do with this!
Also, Wilfred Mott perhaps ought to be on this list. He was in more than one story, and did travel with the Doctor, but I still don’t entirely consider him a companion. If I did, he’d be in the top ten.
Bonus! The Best Doctor/Companion Teams!
First Doctor: Susan, Ian, Barbara
Second Doctor: Jamie, Zoe
Third Doctor: Sarah Jane Smith
Fourth Doctor: Romana II, K9
Fifth Doctor: Tegan, Nyssa, Adric
Sixth Doctor: Peri
Seventh Doctor: Ace
Eight Doctor: Charley Pollard (yes, I’m breaking my “no spin-off companions” rule here, but I kind of have to)
Ninth Doctor: Rose
Tenth Doctor: Donna
Eleventh Doctor: Amy, Rory
This article was first posted on March 14, 2012