Updated: Jan 8
What makes a good companion? A companion to The Doctor must be resourceful, fearless, level-headed, intelligent, and about all loyal. These qualities and personality traits are hard to come by and only a select few have ever travelled with The Doctor. To be chosen as a companion would be like begin trusted with Pandora’s Box (it’s a big responsibility and a lot can go wrong), and the opportunity should never, EVER be taken for granted.
In 2005 Doctor Who fans were introduced to Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley); a genius employed by the billionaire Henry Van Statten (Corey Johnson). It doesn’t take long for Adam to join The Doctor through time and space; a period which will only last 1 televised adventure. The Long Game (2005) depicts Adam being overwhelmed with the vast amounts of technological advancements which the human race has achieved. He is soon overcome by power and greed, and the under the guise of exploring the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, he devises a plan to send information back to his home in 2012 where he can make a fortune for himself by inventing computer systems thousands of years early. The Doctor subsequently discovers what Adam has been doing, and promptly takes him home. Adam is unique because he is the first companion to take advantage of time-travel and to misuse The Doctor’s trust.
Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson) is the exception to the rule because he was somewhat forced to at the bidding of The Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall). Turlough attempts many, many times to kill The Doctor, but in Enlightenment (1983) he goes against The Black Guardian and ultimately becomes a close friend and ally of The Doctor although Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) still holds her doubts at times.
However, Adam is not the worst companion to travel with The Doctor. The worst companion has no redeemable skills, knowledge, or even a personality. This character only serves as the comic relief, the pop culture dictionary, the character who get the meaningless lines in the script and is as interesting as watching a snail compete in a race. The worst companion by far is Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh).
Graham was first introduced in The Woman Who Fell to Earth (2018), and in the 2 years where he travelled with The Doctor, never did he once justify his place onboard The Tardis. In The Snowmen (2012), The Doctor reveals something interesting when he choses his companions, saying, ‘I don’t know why. I just know who’. It would seem that The Doctor has to see something in his companions before he allows them onboard his wonderous and ancient Time Machine. This would seem logical in hindsight; The Doctor looks for someone who can aid and assist him on his travels; skills and attributes which can help him save the day. However The Doctor’s reasoning does not work with everyone, especially Graham.
The show has a long line of distinctively strong companions in the classic series; in Liz Shaw (Caroline John) we have the resourceful and intelligent scientist; in Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) the curious journalist who can use her skills and knowledge to get in and out of tricky problems; in Leela (Louise Jameson) the savage warrior who can handle herself and others in challenging times, and in Ace (Sophie Aldred) the strong and rebellious teenager who will never back down from a fight. The revived series was just as strong, Rose (Billie Piper) turned The Doctor, who was suffering from post-Time War anger and frustration into a better person, and Martha (Freema Agyeman) acted as someone whom The Doctor could open up to, and discuss his sadness about the destruction of his home planet.
Each of the individual companions have had moments of triumph during their time with The Doctor: Liz using her talents in Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970) to find a cure for the Silurian’s disease; Sarah Jane Smith taking an active role in Robot (1974/75) to find out the true nature of Think Tank; Leela using her savage customs and ways to dispose of baddies in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977), leading a group of disgruntled shipwreck survivors in Horror of Fang Rock (1977), a band of outlaws to overthrow their oppressors in The Sun Makers (1977), and outcast Time Lords in The Invasion of Time (1978), whilst Ace uses her love of nitro-9 as a weapon in Dragonfire (1987), Silver Nemesis (1988), and Battlefield (1989) and of course the famous scene in Remembrance of The Daleks (1988) where she bashes a Dalek to pieces with a baseball bat.
It is also important that The Doctor does not have to babysit his or her companions, they should be able to rise to the challenge, and face problems and challenges with a brave face. You cannot say that about Graham, at all. Graham and The Thirteen Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) are like magnets, they must always be together. They have been separated on a number of occasions but neither Graham, nor The Thirteen Doctor for that matter have ever proven why viewers should care about them.
Over the course of the two and a half years in which Graham has travelled with The Doctor, he can be summed up in two words: moody and monotonous. Travelling with The Doctor should be an exhilarating and awe-inspiring experience, after all not many people get the chance to travel with the mysterious Time Lord. Repeatedly Graham has been shown to be moody and continually acts like he should be the one leading the pack. His moodiness can be seen in various episodes mainly, The Women Who Fell to Earth (2018), Arachnids in the UK (2018), Kerblam (2018), The Witchfinders (2018), It Takes You Away (2018), and Praxeus (2020), with little to no room for character improvement.
For a while Graham went through a state of mourning after losing his spouse Grace O’Brien (Sharon D. Clarke) in The Women Who Fell to Earth. However the death of a close family member has been quite common for Doctor Who companions over the years; Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) lost her father prior to the beginning of The Rescue (1965), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) lost her father in The Evil of the Daleks (1967), Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) lost his brother in Full Circle (1980), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) discovered that The Master killed her father in Logopolis (1981), whilst Tegan finds out from The Doctor that her Aunt Vanessa (Dolores Whiteman) had also been killed by The Master in the same serial. Ace meanwhile is introduced as someone who wants to distance herself from her family for reasons unknown.
The series seemed to hammer in the fact that Graham had lost someone special which is tragic in its own right, and to Graham’s credits he does find closure. However, Graham’s place in The Tardis is very contrived, because the loss of his wife affect him in a way which hinders him from being useful to The Doctor. Many of the classic Doctor Who companions mentioned in the above paragraph had to move on pretty quickly, there was no time for mourning for more than half of a season, let alone various serials.
It is also quite irritating that Doctor Who produces a companion who is a cultural knowledge encyclopaedia. The series for a while could not go without Graham busting out a pop culture joke when the narrative of various episodes ran not surprisingly dry up halfway through. I guess the purpose of Graham spouting pop culture references is to get the kids to laugh or young adults to throw their hands up in the celebration. Now to be fair it was implied by Lance Bennett (Don Gilet) that Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) was obsessed by pop culture in The Runaway Bride (2006). However, Donna became a fully-fledged companion during Season Four, with her old personality nowhere in sight. With Graham, The Ghost Monument (2018) and Ascension of the Cybermen (2020) are just two examples of him trying to look and sound cool, but alas his attempts are as cold as the heart of the villainous Kane (Edward Peel) in Dragonfire.
If there is something which every show should have, apart from good writing and directing, it’s subtle acting and unfortunately Bradley Walsh just cannot seem to find the right blend for Graham. If readers are familiar with The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-11) then check out the season two, two-parter Day of the Clown (2008), where Walsh plays Odd Bob the Clown. Walsh uses subtle hand gestures and facial expressions to really sell the character of a sinister clown. He nailed playing the sinister, smiling, and spooky clown to perfection; but with Graham there is something just not right with his performance. A big example is the continually attempts to get a fist bump from Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole). The gesture would be fine if it wasn’t over egged and the show does just that. Whilst not Walsh’s fault, he is after all just doing what the scripts say, the repetitive ‘bro’ gesture is no quality for a good companion.
There are good sides to Graham on the other hand, the series has depicted him standing up against racism in Rosa (2018) and sexism in The Witchfinders. These qualities can make a great companion, but they are forgotten about in the preceding serials. This is a fault of the writing team. The inconsistency of Graham only brings his calibre crashing down to Earth like the Tardis in The Eleventh Hour (2010) or the Titanic in Voyage of the Damned (2007). There have been many companion actors who have left the series because they were dissatisfied with their character development, but the difference between the likes of Vicki and Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) is they had skills and charisma to keep the show fresh and entertaining.
Perhaps the deciding factor which makes Graham the worst Doctor Who companion is the overcrowded Tardis sydrome. The series first started out with three companions which worked to a certain degree. Bearing in mind the regulars, Carole Ann Ford, Jacqueline Hill, and William Russell were allowed a two-week holiday during the recording of the series. There were times when writers had one less character to think about which allowed them to concentrate on others. The trend was not seen again until Logopolis where three companions battled it out for attention and screen time until Adric’s death in Earthshock (1982). Season 19 was already much smaller with only 26 episodes compared to the 42 episodes allocated for season 1, serials were only two or four-parts long compared to six or seven part narratives which dominated the first season. The overcrowded Tardis of Season 19 resulted with Nyssa being absent for two episodes of Kinda (1982) after a ridiculously out of place faint at the end of the preceding serial Four to Doomsday (1982). The Tardis never saw any more two companions at one time until Journey’s End (2008), a special occasion where all of the revived series companions got together for a special occasion.
The seasons between 2018-2020 and the 2021 New Year’s Day special Revolution of the Daleks have been no different. Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) has often been the forerunner whilst Ryan has been the hanger-on, and Graham has often been left drifting in the Time Vortex. The result of three companions at any one time has resulted in Graham always looking for attention, wasting any time to make a meaningful contribution to The Doctor’s travels, and has often been as out of place as finding a Police Box in the 1980s, according to Tegan in Time-Flight (1982).
The writing hasn’t helped the matter. Every line should be meaningful in a script but unfortunately Graham often get what scriptwriters calls the ‘additional dialogue’ which could be cut from the final edit and nothing would be lost. Apart from spouting pop culture references, Graham often has sarcastic remarks and comments coming out of his mouth, and sometimes he acts like he’s been asked to outsmart a super intelligent computer with the mind of a five year old. As the scripts stand between 2018-2020 Graham has not been given a great service, and as such he fully deserves the title as the worst companion of Doctor Who despite the fact that this is no fault of his own.
It is a shame when a companion is given the distinction of being the worst. The show has also had other less than desired companions over the years, Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford) has been criticised as has Adric for many years. Graham would have undoubtedly been left behind if he travelled with any other Doctor over the years. Not because they would not get along but because he just does not have any place in the world of time travel, let alone begin given a place on the Tardis.
In hindsight the revived series has done pretty well to go thirteen years without an overtly bad companion. Then again with Yaz’s appalling attitude towards The Doctor in Revolution of the Daleks, and the arrival of another non-actor companion makes one wonder if the worst is yet to come.