Writing this in 2022, and with Jodie Whitaker departing from the role as the Thirteenth Doctor, speculation will arise as to who the next companion will be. Since the show’s debut broadcast back in 1963, all of the companions (except for K9 and Kamelion) all have one characteristic in common, they have all been humanoid. Human beings might be The Doctor favourite species, but he’s travelled with a fair share of ‘aliens’ from different planets; an unnamed planet in the far future, Alzarius, Traken, and even his own home planet Gallifrey. Maybe it’s time The Doctor took onboard a companion who doesn’t conform with the humanoid template for a companion, and instead take someone else under his or her wings. So, should it be an alien? Robot? Human? Or perhaps, The Doctor should go it alone for a while, and travel companion-lite.
The Case for an Alien Companion
The relationship between other alien beings and Gallifreyans has continuously been problematic and complex. Time Lords are not exactly saints or role models, infact for a while they saw themselves as superior beings. As revealed in The Five Doctors (1983), the Death Zone on Gallifrey, was used for the Time Lord’s amusable and pleasure. A time scoop would snatch beings out of time and space and dump them in the Death Zone where species would fight to the death; whilst the Time Lords would gladly watch on; like a jeering audience looking down into a Roman Colosseum as Gladiators would wipe each other out. Rassilon put a stop to the games, and the Death Zone became no more. The Doctor refers to this peroid in Time Lord history as ‘dark times’, and he’s right, the Time Lords acted pompously, as Mr Finch (Anthony Head) puts it in School Reunion (2006), ‘I always thought of you as such a pompous race.’
There have been many other incidents of Time Lords meddling with the order and structure of the Universe, often assisting in wiping out entire species. Millions of years ago, the original fifth planet of Earth’s Solar System was wiped from the records, in a bid to destroy the Fendahl in Image of the Fendahl (1977), the Minyan Civilization looked up to the Time Lords as gods, and mentors, as The Doctor puts it in Underworld (1978), ‘The Minyans thought of us as gods, you see, which was all very flattering’, only for the Minyan civilization to destroy itself. During the revived series, it is revealed that during the Dark Times of the Universe, the Time Lords joined the fledging empires to destroy the Arachnid Racnoss in The Runaway Bride (2006). It is also implied in Rose (2005), that the Nestene Consciousness lost its protein worlds, and in The Unquiet Dead (2005) the Gelth lost their physical form because of the Time War.
In PROSE: Sky Pirates!, the Time Lords were also responsible for the destruction and annihilation of the Charon, thus adding another species that the Time Lord’s wiped out to the ever growing list.
Time Lord history would seem to argue against the prospect of The Doctor having an alien companion, since they don’t have a very formidable track record. However, an alien companion would have its advantages. When referring to an ‘alien companion’, humanoids from different planets do not count, nor humans who might have alien blood running through their veins. The alien companion doesn’t have to be too technically complex, nor should the character be realised through computer animation or motion-capture. The alien in question, can be very simple in design, someone whom the audience could relate to. That’s the purpose, of writing strongminded characters, connecting with audiences; the alien could come from a planet which has been ravaged by War, and on which their entire family has been wiped out. The alien could be born into a family where racial discrimination would result in a troubled upbringing, or perhaps the alien wants to find meaning and purpose in their life, and travelling with The Doctor would do just that.
There are other benefits in having an alien companion: firstly, The Doctor would be taken away from Earth (for at least one episode), Doctor Who is after all a science-fiction show, so why on Earth is he or she always returning to Earth every other episode? Secondly, it would expand the Universe in a way that would allow Time Lords to come down to level with other species; the alien shouldn’t just be a companion, they should be a friend to The Doctor, and not someone who is just along for the joy ride. Thirdly, it would force The Doctor not to have ‘feelings’ for the companion, since interplanetary relationships could cause problems of their own accord.
An alien companion has been utilised in comic strips with Frobisher, the shape-changing Whifferdill from the planet Xeron. Frobisher eventually took on the form of an ordinary Earth penguin; but he wasn’t just an animal; he was The Doctor’s close friend. During COMIC: Changes, Frobisher becomes very ill, and The Doctor goes to great lengths to cure him, whilst in COMIC: A Cold Day in Hell, Frobisher parts ways with The Doctor, and The Doctor tells him that his happiness is what matters most.
Changing the overall image of the companion, could prove popular with the kids and adults alike. Science-fiction shows should be stimulating and not stilted and dull (unfortunately Doctor Who is becoming just that), and an alien companion could just be what The Doctor ordered.
The Case for a Robot Companion
When it comes to robot companions, the show has had one major success (K-9) (voiced by John Leeson and Andy Brierly, and one major failure (Kamelion) (voiced by Gerald Flood).
Despite the success of K-9, the little robot dog was a major burden on the production personnel. The first K-9 prop lasted a total of four adventures with The Doctor, and was totally absent (apart from being severally damaged in the Tardis) during Image of the Fendahl. Due to technical problems it was decided to replace K9 with another prop, and K9 Mark II was introduced in The Ribos Operation (1978). However, K9 Mark II would go onto miss or partially miss 6 serials for various reasons; the prop was unable to move across marshland, so K9 was marooned in the Tardis for The Power of Kroll (1978-79), in Destiny of the Daleks (1979), K9 contracts laryngitis which The Doctor finds hard to believe, ‘How can a robot catch laryngitis?’, and during The Leisure Hive (1980), K9 casually plunges himself into water in order to catch a beach ball – who’s a dumb boy – eh?
Kamelion was also plagued with technical problems. The Kamelion prop was a masterpiece of engineering and software design, pre-recorded dialogue could be matched to the prop’s mouth movements, and was designed to match the popularity of K9. However, Peter Davison was not so impressed, and the robots’ operator Mike Powell was unfortunately killed before he could write up sufficient instructions on how to work the robot. The production team for The King’s Demons (1983) were left with very little, and the prop was often positioned sitting down on a chair, doing very little. Kamelion was subsequently dropped from the line of companions; his absence in the preceding serial to his introduction, The Five Doctors (1983) is never explained, a scene featuring him during The Awakening (1984) was cut, and Planet of Fire (1984) wrote the character out completely, again Kamelion himself, is hardly seen on-screen.
A robot companion could work today, with advances in technology, computer graphics and software engineering, technical problems shouldn’t be a problem. The companion could resolve an underlying hatred that The Doctor has for robots, as he puts it in The Waters of Mars (2009), ‘I hate robots’, but in Kerblam (2018), The Thirteenth Doctor says ‘Some of my best friends are robots’, is she referring to K9, or some other robot friend?
Robots themselves do not have a great track record in the world of Doctor Who; often being portrayed as servants to humanity or species. In The Chase (1965), the Mechonoids (voiced by David Graham) are sent to the planet Mechanus to prepare the planet for human colonisation; only for the planet to be forgotten about during an interplanetary war. In Galaxy 4 (1965), the Chumblies (played by various artistes), are the servants to the walrus-like Rills (played by various artistes), many of whom are left behind, when the planet, which serves as the main setting for the serial explodes. In The Dominators (1968), the Quarks (voiced by Sheila Grant, and played by various artistes) are crude weapons used by the merciless Dominators. In Robot (1974-75), the K1 Robot (Michael Kilgarriff), the beautiful creation of Think Tank Scientists, is used to carry out a series of robberies and murders in order to gain world control. In The Robots of Death (1977), Sandminer Robots (played by various artists) are servants, carrying dangerous tasks which would otherwise be lethal to humans. The Raston Warrior robot (Keith Hodiak) in The Five Doctors (1983) is the perfect killing machine ever created presumably be a race much older than the Time Lords, as revealed in PROSE: The Eight Doctors. Robots have never really by seen as equals, and a robot companion would elevate a robot’s place and purpose in the Universe.
A robot companion can bring so much creative potential. It can be great fun for designers to come up with a robot companion which will delight both kids and adults alike. A robot doesn’t age, so it would be the perfect direction to take for the new companion. The companion is question could stay on the show for a long time, since The Doctor doesn’t have to worry about ‘it’ dying, he or she would just have to insure they have an instruction manual at hand in case of any technical difficulties.
The Case for a Human Companion
The problem with the new companion being human is simple; every companion to feature in the revived series has been human. There has also been a continuous sexual tension between The Doctor and companions; Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) professing her love whilst crying her eyes out for The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) in Doomsday (2006), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) subtly linking her relationship with The Doctor, to that of a friend who was in a relationship that just wasn’t working in Last of the Time Lords (2007), and Amelia Pond (Karen Gillan) snogging The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) in Flesh and Stone (2010), which The Doctor seems oddly proud of in The Vampires of Venice (2010), and recently Yaz (Mandip Gill) developing a crush on The Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whitaker), to which The Doctor is totally nonchalant. This never occurred in the classic series; apart from Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) kissing The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) on the cheek at the end of her swansong Terminus (1983). Sexual tensions were never brought up, and for good reasons. The Doctor has always been a mentor, and the companion(s) the student(s). Anyway, The Doctor is HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD!, and Rose is 19 when she started travelling with The Doctor, what on Earth is she doing drooling over him all the time?
A human companion could work (again), but the relationship with The Doctor has to purely professional. If so the relationship would need to allow both the companion and The Doctor to better understand each other as the series progresses. The connection between the pair of them would need to be believable and relatable to audiences at the same time. If audiences fail to connect with a human companion, then their place in the show’s cannon would be diminished; or the human companion could provide another purpose.
The human companion would work exceptionally well if they were a scientist, a professor, a historian, an astrologer, someone whom travelling with The Doctor could provide a better understanding of the Universe. The next companion could achieve something which they believe is only possible in their imagination. When the time comes for the companion to move on, they would have fully developed as a person and be ready to use the first-hand experience to better themselves and those around them. The Doctor has often taken companions under his or her wings, and shown them that they can achieve amazing things in life, like Rose Tyler realising that there is so much more to life than just, as The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) puts it, ‘I mean, you lot, all you do is eat chips, go to bed, and watch telly.’ Rose does eventually achieve something exceptional by working at the Parallel World version of Torchwood.
I would be great if the next companion wasn’t human, but they probably will be, if so that’s fine, if not even better. You have to let bygones be bygones, most audiences like to see the same old recycled trash week in week out, humanity seems to life like that in reality anyway. Familiarity and nostalgia seems to be the norm when writing for Television and Film nowadays, and Doctor Who has certainly been drawn into this trap. So if the next companion will be human, get a great all-round actor who can match the performance of the actor or actress destined to play The Doctor, and not a gameshow host or comedian.
The Case for The Doctor Travelling Alone
The Doctor very rarely travels alone. The first time The Doctor travelled companion-lite was in The Deadly Assassin (1976), until Leela (Louise Jameson) started travelling with The Doctor at the end of the next adventure The Face of Evil (1977). The Doctor has travelled alone a few times during the revived series, but the occurrence overall is uncommon.
If The Doctor travelled alone there would be some beneficial factors; The Doctor wouldn’t have to ‘explain’ everything he/she is doing to companions(s), and could concentrate on saving the day, there would be no risk in losing anyone and The Doctor wouldn’t feel remorse or guilt if something bad happened to his/her companions it would be easier to write better storylines without having to juggle two or three companions, and find something meaningful for them to do, it would make any one-off relationship between The Doctor and a secondary character all the more special, and it would discipline The Doctor not to get carried away showing off his/her brilliance to those he/she meets.
A companion-lite series for Doctor Who wouldn’t be a bad thing; in fact it would bring about necessary changes to the format which haven’t changed in nearly 60 years. The Doctor, time and time again has screwed up peoples lives, and has often punished himself/herself for it. As The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) puts it in Let’s Kill Hitler (2011), ‘Come on, there must be someone left in the Universe I haven’t screwed up yet’. A companion-lite Doctor would also allow viewers to get better acquainted with The Doctor, building a strong bond between character and viewer, and thus making the departure of the future incarnation all the more heart-breaking.
The next companion whether it will be a carbon, silicon, mechanical, or some other chemical compound lifeform will always have their place in the universe of Doctor Who. Perhaps its time for the show to dive into the deep end and try out something new. Taking risks and challenges is something which keeps shows fresh and original, and its high time for Doctor Who to regenerate itself in the coming years. The next companion, can be anything the production team want them to be, so why not leave humans to life their everyday life on Earth, and create a character from a far off world, or let The Doctor roam through time and space alone for a while. Whatever they decide, will hopefully satisfy all audiences (both new and old) for years ahead.