Sunday 14 April 2013

Individuality and Doctor Who's Companions

A note from @Catherinebuca on the characterisation of Dr Who's companions under Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat respectively.

Remember Donna? She became the most important human in all of history. And it worked because she wasn't the point of the whole series - she wasn't trying to get into the Doctor's pants and actually had some character. She was just another random everywoman, who didn't have a lot of faith in herself. She followed the Doctor around and slowly grew into someone who was kinda awesome in her own right, who worked as a foil for the Doctor and also as our eyes and ears in their journey around the universe. Since Donna, the companions have become the Doctor's reason for existing. They are the reason he goes anywhere, does anything, says whatever he says. His entire life is dedicated to working out why the companions are the way they are, who they are, and what they are.

It's perhaps not surprising the show has come to this. The cult of the individual has never been so prevalent as it currently is. All our TV shows are aimed at convincing us that we could be famous for being nothing at all, that our story is important, if only someone would listen ... the cult of the individual companion since Moffat's reign is what you would expect from that.

The companions are no longer important because they have a certain strength that comes from their abilities, from what they achieve. No, latterly they are seemingly born with this amazingness already built into them. Donna, Rose, and Martha (love them or hate them) all went from ordinary to extraordinary, capable of being worthy companions in the actual equal companion sense of the Doctor, because of how they grew through their experiences with him. Amy and Clara both appear to have some sort of inherent importance right from the get-go, which frankly leaves them utterly boring and incapable of development in any meaningful way. Rory fit the Donna/Rose/Martha mold, because he was a seemingly ordinary person who wasn't that great, and ended up doing some very great things, which perhaps shocked even him because he didn't think he had it in him.

If you can take any message away from what the companions are supposed to signify, it might be, perhaps idealistically, that each of us has the potentiality to grow and realise our own importance and worth. Each of us can be great in our own way. Unfortunately with the last two companions that message has got turned on its head. Their characterisation suggests that some people are born great. You don't need to work for this, you get it handed to you if you are lucky. And that "specialness", endowed by providence, places you at the centre of the universe.


Bea said...

Great post Phil, you are totally right. I'd like the add the other change that Donna brought; that the companion was not a romantic foil for the Doctor. Donna was simply his best mate, someone he found annoying but grew to love and value. I am worried about Clara because he has obviously found a mystery he wants to solve and already values her too greatly for a companion this early on.

catherine buca said...

Bea - well, that's why I mentioned that Donna wasn't trying to get into his pants. Of course, they still had to have their kiss, but you're right, Donna was his best mate, and every bit his equal at the end. She kept him in check right from the beginning, bringing something to the table that he lacked. They were companions, unlike Amy and Clara (so far) who were/are the plot.

Jim Jepps said...

I like this post.

I'm afraid my geekery may not be up to this quite but here goes... I agree Donna did things that made her special but there was a "destiny" element there and when the dr/donna thing happened that *was* a thing that happened to her that made her special - so there was an element of that awful tendency that got ramped up later.

Off this topic but on the TV show thingy...

i) can we ban that bloody sonic screwdriver? It's just a man with two bits of special tech these days.

ii) tonight's episode was pretty watchable but this series has been very thin. This makes the emotive bits a little tedious to be honest.

There - I said it!