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Doctor Who For Newbies: The Companions, Part Three

The 1970s had been a banner decade for Doctor Who. Jon Pertwee’s five seasons brought the show increased popularity, and Tom Baker’s six had taken it even further. Now, with the 1980s, the show would show a marked change in style, pace, and tone. Tom Baker would depart after his seventh season and with the new Doctor would come a return to the “crowded TARDIS” days of multiple companions, but the show soon slipped back to the tried-and-true single companion adventures before taking a very long break (known as cancellation). But, sadly, we must begin with the bottom of the companion barrel.

ADRIC
Played by Matthew Waterhouse
1980-1982
10 Stories
The first of many crossover companions during Tom Baker’s final season, Adric meets the Doctor, Romana II and K-9 when the TARDIS was transported into E-Space (or Exo-Space) through the Charged Vacuum Emboitments (whatever the hell those are).  He stows away on the TARDIS and stays with the Doctor when he finally returns to N-Space (or Normal Space) leaving Romana and K-9 behind to have adventures in a white room full of space lions (Warrior’s Gate).  He is among the companions present at the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration. Adric is a mathematics genius and wears a gold excellence badge almost all the time. He’s shown to be incredibly opportunistic and often disloyal, usually siding with the bad guys in order for them not to kill him, and then returning once the Doctor wins. This, and his tendency to whine at the Doctor, has resulted in his being a fairly disliked companion among fans. In his final story, Earthshock, he stays aboard a crashing space freighter heading for ancient Earth (a scheme of the Cybermen) intent on breaking the code that would prevent the collision. He is ultimately unsuccessful as the control panel catches fire before he can input the code. Adric and the ship crash into Earth, yet another in-continuity explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs. The crew aboard the TARDIS are speechless and the credits roll in silence over an image of Adric’s gold badge. But hey, don’t feel too bad; the crew all but forget him the next story. An image of Adric appears in Time-Flight and during the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration in The Caves of Androzani.

NYSSA
Played by Sarah Sutton
1981-1983
12 Stories
Nyssa is from the planet Traken and first appeared in the Fourth Doctor’s penultimate story, The Keeper of Traken, as the daughter of Consul Tremas, the future Keeper. It is revealed that the Master is behind a plot to become the Keeper himself and eventually inhabits the body of Tremas, leaving Nyssa an orphan. She shows up in the following story, Logopolis, having been brought there by the Watcher, which was really a future projection of the Fifth Doctor. Confused yet? She remains with the Doctor through his regeneration and for most of the next two seasons. Nyssa is another really smart kid and has some sort of ESP which allows her to… sense stuff, I guess. It’s not really explained. Since there were so many companions, Nyssa always seemed to be the one who suddenly became ill and had to stay in the TARDIS for the entire story (Kinda). Her character was never given much chance to grow, and only for part of one story (Arc of Infinity) was she the Doctor’s lone companion. She was written out of the series rather unceremoniously in Terminus, where she decides to stay aboard a vessel full of lepers to help save them. Noble, at least.

TEGAN JOVANKA
Played by Janet Fielding
1981-1984
19 Stories
A self-described “mouth on legs,” Tegan was an Australian airline stewardess who happened upon the TARDIS by accident, believing it to be an actual police box during Tom Baker’s final story, Logopolis.  Her aunt, with whom she is staying while in England, gets shrunk to death by the Master’s tissue compression eliminator. Once the Doctor regenerated, all she wanted to do was go home, and basically every episode for awhile consists of her wanting to get back home and getting angry with the Doctor when they don’t go there. Eventually, after Adric’s death, they head back to contemporary England (Time-Flight) and the Doctor and Nyssa leave Tegan behind, even though she seems to not want to be home anymore. She’s not gone too long, though, as she re-joins the team only a story later (Arc of Infinity).  Tegan is mouthy and opinionated and gets very upset when she sees injustices. She and the Fifth Doctor had a very tumultuous relationship that usually resulted in him rolling his eyes at her. She also didn’t trust Turlough, but to be fair, he was sent to kill the Doctor. Perhaps the most interesting stories for Tegan were the two Mara stories, Kinda and Snakedance, where she is possessed by the evil serpent entity, the Mara. At the end of Resurrection of the Daleks, Tegan decides she’s had enough of the death and violence and tearfully stays behind on Earth. She has the distinction, along with Jamie McCrimmon in the 60s and Sarah Jane Smith in the 70s, of being the longest-serving companion of the decade.

VISLOR TURLOUGH
Played by Mark Strickson
1983-1984
10 Stories
Turlough is a Trion from the planet Trion who was stranded on Earth in the 1980s due to being a political refugee. He attended a boys’ school and, being irritated and getting stuck on Earth, was a bit of a trouble maker. When we first meet him in Mawdryn Undead, he has stolen a classic car belonging to the Brigadier (retired, now a teacher at the school) and goes on a joyride. While in the infirmary after crashing it, Turlough is contacted by the evil Black Guardian, who says he can get Turlough off of Earth if he kills the Doctor. For the next three stories, Turlough is wracked with uncertainty as he tries to decide whether or not to obey the Black Guardian. He eventually chooses friendship over power and becomes a full member of the TARDIS crew. Turlough is a bit of a nay-sayer, and usually always believes everyone is going to die. He also gets captured a fair amount. Turlough is one of the few companions to have as decent an ending as he does a beginning. During Planet of Fire, he discovers that Trion no longer mistreats political prisoners and decides to go back. He is the last male companion until the new series.

KAMELION
Played by a broken robot and voiced by Gerald Flood
1983-1984
2 Stories
Producer John Nathan-Turner can be credited for trying a lot of outlandish new things during his time on Doctor Who, but none failed as miserably as the inclusion of Kamelion as a companion. He was a real robot who could move and talk when programmed and operated by its inventor, Mike Power, who sadly died in a boating accident without telling anybody how to control the thing. As such, the robot itself was less than believable, despite being quite impressive on paper. Within the story, Kamelion is a shape-shifting robot who impersonates King John in 1215 A.D. at the behest of the Master (The King’s Demons). Once the Doctor frees him, Kamelion comes aboard the ship to be a companion… except the next time you see him is in Planet of Fire, a full six stories later! Was he just hanging out in a closet somewhere? The truth is, the production team was so disappointed by the Kamelion robot, they only used him again to write him out of the show. But, you may well ask, if he’s a shape-shifting robot, couldn’t they have just hired an actor to play the human version of him? Yes, they certainly could have. But they didn’t. Wasted opportunities.

PERPUGILLIAM “PERI” BROWN
Played by Nicola Bryant
1984-1986
11 Stories
Peri was an American botany student, apparently from Pasadena, who meets the Doctor and Turlough on the Spanish island of Lanzarote while her stepfather is doing an archaeological dig (Planet of Fire). She ends up being a pawn in the Master’s plan to gain power using Kamelion, but eventually Kamelion gets destroyed and the Master burns to “death.” With Kamelion and Turlough leaving, Peri becomes the Doctor’s only companion. She is very young and naïve and is usually leered at by the bad guys (and the audience, to be fair). She witnesses the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration after they’ve both been infected with Spectrox Toxemia, and there’s only enough anti-venom for her (The Caves of Androzani). Peri immediately has a volatile relationship with the unstable Sixth Doctor, probably due to the fact that he tried to strangle her mere minutes after changing (The Twin Dilemma). It was a “regenerative crisis,” sure that’s what they all say. During the Sixth Doctor’s first full season, Peri was written, well, like a whiny, annoying idiot. She never wants to be anywhere they go, and gets in the way more than her fair share of times. Why would the Doctor keep her around? After the series took a forced 18-month hiatus while the BBC decided whether or not to cancel it, Doctor Who returned with the massive, season-long The Trial of a Time Lord. The Doctor is put on trial for meddling in the first degree and is forced to relive past and future adventures as exhibits of his guilt or innocence. During these, the Doctor and Peri are shown to have a much friendlier relationship, having apparently traveled together for a long while now. During the second story of this season, Mindwarp, Peri apparently has her brain replaced with an evil slug’s brain and then gets killed. A very sad ending for Peri, only to be completely undercut by a throwaway line at the end of the season telling the Doctor that what he’d seen had been a forgery and she’s actually just fine, but still off the show. Wow, guys.

MELANIE “MEL” BUSH
Played by Bonnie Langford
1986-1987
6 Stories
If there was ever a companion you wanted to smack, it was Mel. First appearing in story three of The Trial of a Time Lord, Terror of the Vervoids, Mel is a future companion of the Sixth Doctor who is part of the evidence brought forth at the trial. We never see her meeting the Doctor and at the end of Trial, she goes off with the Doctor presumably to be dropped off somewhere so he can meet her in her past. Timey-Wimey, right? Mel is evidently a computer programmer who enjoys aerobics. She’s also incessantly cheery and upbeat with a scream so shrill it could peel the paint off of a Chevy Astrovan. She’s also apparently indestructible, as during the first story of Season 24, Time and the Rani, Mel is able to survive a crash landing that causes the Doctor to regenerate. Actress Bonnie Langford was predominantly a musical theatre actress and she brought all the wide-eyed earnestness of the stage to the telly screen. The screen is not big enough to contain that much perk. At the end of Dragonfire, Mel decides to leave the Doctor in favor of going off with space mercenary Glitz. You know, to annoy him incessantly instead of us.

ACE
Played by Sophie Aldred
1987-1989
9 Stories
Meeting the Doctor and Mel during Dragonfire, Ace was a gifted chemistry student and rebellious tomboy who’d been picked up by a time storm (which is apparently a thing) and deposited on Iceworld, where she got a job as a waitress. Quite an odd beginning, you must admit. After Mel fucks off, Ace becomes the only companion and the last one in the classic series. Ace has a fondness for violence and blows up quite a lot of things and even smacks Daleks with a baseball bat (Remembrance of the Daleks). It starts to be revealed that the Seventh Doctor chose Ace specifically for some other purpose and uses the entirety of Season 26 to get her to face her troubled past. In Ghost Light, she is forced to be in the childhood home she burned down (in the past), in The Curse of Fenric, she takes care of a baby who ends up being her hated mother, and in Survival she returns to her present day village and saves her friends from being turned into cheetah people. She gets one of the best story arcs of any companion, and surely the best of any classic one. Ace sets the stage for the new series’ companions who are deeper, more defined, and who have a family and back story. Make no mistake, without Ace, there’d be no Rose, Martha, Donna, or Amy.

So thems were the 80s. Crowded indeed, I think you’ll agree. Next time, we’re going to talk about the new companions, and a lengthy list this will be as well. Onward and upward, folks!

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7 comments

  • I started watching with Kinda, so I always had a fondness for Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan, and Peter Davison. They seemed to work together more than a lot of the combinations, and the Doctor wasn’t as know-it-ally as he was in many other forms.

  • Had I not entered the story line around Peri I don’t think I could have taken the Mel year. I kind of had the same feelings when Donna hit the scene (not so much toward the end) but I’m glad I held on through that as well. It’s as if every couple of years they write in a companion sorbet to cleanse the palate.

  • I always thought Nyssa would have been a better Full Time Companion then Tegan (Who annoyed the crap out of my). Nyssa was not only capable (I’m remembering Four to Doomsday) but extremely hot. And not annoying.

    My favorite would have to be Ace, though. I felt she was the most modern of the companions and loved her story. She took the momentum of Sarah Jane (That was lost immediately after her) and played the part of Heroin. (and also…hot) Well done!