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The 15 Greatest Doctor Who Companions

by  in Lists, TV News Comment
The 15 Greatest Doctor Who Companions

Would you like to see the world? Are you interested in embracing new cultures? Do you like to keep active? Then it sounds like you might be well suited to a position as a Doctor Who companion. Since the show began in 1963, all sorts of people have travelled with the Doctor. Whether teacher, teenager or Time Lady, the Doctor’s companions have always been an integral part of his adventures.

RELATED: How Class Fits With Doctor Who

Of course, over the 53 year history of the show, it’s fair to say that not all companions have been equally successful. Across TV, comics, audio adventures, novels and films, a bewildering number of characters have travelled with the Doctor; some are remembered fondly, while others failed to make an impact or overstayed their welcome. We’ve cranked up the time-space visualizer and looked back over the Doctor’s adventures through the years, narrowing the list down to 15 of the finest companions ever to travel by TARDIS.

15. Izzy Sinclair (1996-2003, Doctor Who Magazine)

Doctor-Who-izzy

While the Eighth Doctor only enjoyed one appearance on television, in the 1996 TV movie, his tenure in other mediums was significantly longer. Countless appearances in novels, comics and audio adventures helped develop his character and flesh out his world. With no set companion at the end of the TV movie, writers had carte-blanche to come up with new companions for the Doctor, and in the pages of “Doctor Who Magazine,” Izzy Sinclair was a key player in the his adventures.

Izzy was a 17-year-old science-fiction fan from a sleepy part of England, and leapt at the chance to travel with the Doctor. Her innocence and wide-eyed sense of wonder saw her through the most dangerous of adventures, making her a consistently enjoyable character to read about. Over time, readers were granted further insight into Izzy’s life and psyche, particularly when she was body-swapped with an alien — apparently irreversibly. Although understandably freaked out by now being a humanoid fish, even this couldn’t deter Izzy from trying to help others.

Izzy eventually returned to Earth and was reunited with her adoptive parents, departing as one of the longest serving companions in any medium – not bad for a girl from Stockbridge.

14. K-9 (1977-1981)

Doctor-Who-k9

It’s often said that a man’s best friend is his dog, although a robotic canine with a laser for a nose probably wasn’t what the originator of the saying had in mind. First appearing in the show in 1977, K-9 was intelligent enough to argue with the Fourth Doctor and could be relied upon to hold his own in a scrap when required. Due to his unique appearance, K-9 was also the first companion to be heavily merchandised. He even had his own spin-off programme: “K-9 and Company.” While this wasn’t picked up for a full series at the time, K-9 has made several other appearances in the years since, both in the re-launched “Doctor Who” and in “The Sarah Jane adventures.” He even starred in his own children’s show in 2010, while rumours persist about a potential feature film.

K-9 is a fun character, but there’s a nagging feeling that he could have done so much more in Doctor Who — the televised adventures at least — if he hadn’t had such a temperamental design. K-9 was often unable to travel across floors if they were too uneven, and his radio-controlled design often interfered with other technical equipment on the show, including the cameras. Not such a good dog after all…

13. Charley Pollard (2001-2009, Big Finish Audio)

Doctor-Who-charley

Played by India Fisher in a series of audio adventures from Big Finish productions, Charley Pollard is a companion who holds an unusual distinction. She has travelled with two Doctors — the Sixth and the Eighth — but travelled with the Eighth Doctor first. Wibbly wobbly timey wimey, indeed. Hailing from 1930s England, Charley was from a well-off family, but grew bored with her life and desperate for adventure. When she stowed away on an airship, she got her wish and would have died if the Doctor had not saved her, causing a temporal paradox in the process.

Only 18 years of age when she joined the Doctor, Charley was no shrinking violet and wore her heart on her sleeve. Critics of Doctor Who in recent years have often complained that companions have been given undue prominence and that too much of the narrative is driven by their actions. This is nothing new, with the ramifications of Charley’s non-demise shaping her entire tenure with the Doctor. Charley’s lengthy stint as a companion — appearing in over 30 audio adventures over this period — allowed for real character development as the character grew and matured; meanwhile, travelling with two Doctors helped bring out different sides to her character.

12. Jo Grant (1971-1973)

Doctor-Who-jo-grant

Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor is often characterized as the action man of the original Doctors, forever driving vehicles at high speed and using Venusian Aikido to battle his enemies. It therefore seems fitting that he seemed most comfortable with Jo Grant as a companion, and not the scientist Liz Shaw or the journalist Sarah Jane Smith.

Jo Grant embodied many of the traits often linked with female companions in early Doctor Who — namely a habit of stumbling into dangerous situations and being in possession of a good set of lungs. The character was even criticized by some commentators at the time for being a regressive “damsel in distress” type. It’s true that Jo was no scientific genius, but as a companion she worked wonderfully. Her years on the show coincided with the high-water mark of U.N.I.T; and along with the Brigadier, Yates and Benton, she was one of a number of close relationships that the Doctor — at this point exiled on Earth — formed.

Jo’s relationship with the Doctor was one of mutual affection and it’s lovely to watch the evolution of their bond, with the Doctor gradually changing from irritation to an almost paternal sense of affection towards her. When Jo left the Doctor to get married, it was a rare occasion where the Third Doctor showed a vulnerability: his sorrow at her departure.

11. Frobisher (1984-1986, Doctor Who Magazine)

Doctor-Who-frobisher

Frobisher is a character that could really only have worked in the medium of comics. As a Whifferdill — a member of a shape-changing extra-terrestrial race — he could change into any form, but preferred to spend his free time as a penguin. Quirky? Perhaps, but it seemed strangely appropriate for the Sixth Doctor’s comic strip adventures, which included some of the Doctor’s most imaginative and entertaining adventures.

Readers were first introduced to Frobisher in his guise as a private investigator, where he attempted to claim a reward on the Doctor’s life. However it was apparent even then that Frobisher was not a bad guy, and his travels with the Doctor proved him to be a good friend and loyal companion. The Sixth Doctor on television could often appear unlikeable when he directed barbed comments at Peri and snapped at everyone around him. When he tried to do the same to a sarcastic penguin, who gave as good as he got, the effect was blunted, with the result that the Sixth Doctor appearing in comic strips was a much more likeable character.

10. Rose Tyler (2005-2006)

Doctor-Who-rose

It’s fair to say that the news of Billie Piper’s casting as Rose Tyler was met with some trepidation from Doctor Who fans, many of whom were only familiar with her through her short-lived music career. Few could have predicted the extent to which the character would drive the show’s narrative, nor how the audience — many of them children discovering “Doctor Who” for the first time — would come to embrace Rose.

With the show returning to TV screens 16 years after the last full series had ended, Rose was the viewpoint character for the audience, desperate to discover who this strange man was and whether he was an alien or just a madman. Her growing bond with the Doctor, from awkward first meeting to complete trust, was brilliantly played out, and the different dynamics between her character and the Ninth and Tenth Doctors were well judged.

Some fans may have groaned at Rose falling in love with the Doctor, but it would take a heart of stone not to feel for the characters as they said their goodbyes — perhaps for the last time — when Rose was transported to a parallel universe.

9. Ace (1987-1989, TV; 1991-1995, The New Adventures)

Doctor-Who-Ace

More likely to attack a Dalek with a baseball bat than run away screaming, Ace was a spunky teenager who took all the threats of the universe in her stride. As Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor became a darker character in his final stories, the dynamic between him and Ace shifted. Moving away from the traditional notion of Doctor and companion, the Doctor appeared to be training Ace, making her confront her past and exposing her to ethical dilemmas.

When the Seventh Doctor and Ace continued their travels in the original New Adventure books, this plot-line was continued. The Doctor became more and more of a manipulator until Ace, sick of the games and deceit, left his side. When she returned, she was older and harder — more capable, perhaps, but more difficult to like as a person. Her evolution highlighted both the good and bad parts of travelling with the Doctor: companions rarely left one of his incarnations the same person, for better or for worse.

8. Bernice Summerfield (1992-1997, The New Adventures)

Doctor-Who-bernice

With the Seventh Doctor growing darker and more unlikeable with every book, and with his relationship with Ace becoming poisoned by secrets and lies, “The New Adventures” were crying out for something to alter the TARDIS dynamics. Paul Cornell, in his first published Doctor Who novel, duly obliged, creating the character of Professor Bernice Summerfield. It’s hard to describe what a breath of fresh air Bernice was when she first appeared: she drank, she was honest and open, she wasn’t going to put up with any nonsense from the Doctor and — most importantly — she had a sense of humor. Hallelujah!

The importance of Bernice to the New Adventures can really be shown by two specific events. Firstly, the celebratory 50th New Adventure focused on her wedding, her development over the series being intertwined with the books themselves. Secondly, when Virgin lost the Doctor Who licence, the series simply carried on with Bernice as the main character, continuing to use many of the characters and concepts that had been created over the previous four years.

7. Romana II (1979-1981)

Doctor-Who-romana-ii

Romana (or Romanadvoratrelundar to her friends) originally appeared in 1978, as a Time Lady sent to assist the unwilling Doctor with his search for the key to time. The original Romana, played by Mary Tamm, was something of a prickly character, rather condescending towards the Doctor and his ramshackle ways. When Tamm declined to sign up for a second season, the producers took advantage of the fact that she was a Time Lady and simply regenerated the character. And so Romana II, played by Lalla Ward, appeared on TV screens.

This Romana was a different kettle of fish. As smart as the Doctor — even smarter in some ways — she was also more inclined to tolerate his eccentricities, and even encourage them at times. With Romana, the Doctor and K-9 all travelling in the TARDIS at the same time, the group was hard to beat in terms of brain power. The developing friendship between the Doctor and Romana always made it seem as if the characters had tremendous fun traveling together, regardless of whatever dangers they faced. Life imitated art, with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward marrying in December 1980, shortly before her departure from the show was broadcast.

6. Fitz Kreiner (1999-2005, Eighth Doctor novels)

Doctor-Who-fitz

Over the course of his journey, the Doctor has tended to travel with females rather than males. The First Doctor’s era is a notable exception, with William Hartnell’s age necessitating a younger male companion for fight scenes and other dramatic moments. Where male companions were used in later years, they tended to be special in some respect — child prodigies in the case of Adric, or double-agents in the case of Turlough. In contrast, what made Fitz Kreiner such a brilliant companion is that he was utterly and unapologetically normal. There were no hidden agendas, secret origins, advanced abilities or special powers, he was just a young man who liked a drink and a smoke, loved pretty woman and wanted an easy life.

Of course a character like Fitz — so at ease in 1960s England — was often completely out of his depth when encountering alien civilizations, but this just added to his appeal. More important was his loyalty to his friends and his trust in the Doctor, even when it was sorely tested.

5. Donna Noble (2008-2010)

Doctor-Who-donna

If the casting of Billie Piper was met with scepticism from some Doctor Who fans, news that Catherine Tate — primarily known in the UK as a sketch show comedian — had been cast as a new companion was met with slings and arrows from some quarters.

That Tate could do physical comedy was never in question, and there were plenty of hilarious exchanges between her and David Tenant during her tenure. What was more of an unknown quantity was her ability to do “serious” acting. It’s fair to say that she silenced her doubters. From the moment that Donna travelled with the Doctor to Pompeii and tried to make sense of the death and destruction around her, it was clear that she was going to be a more complex companion than many had first envisaged.

After Rose and Martha, who both had romantic feelings towards the Doctor, it was refreshing to have a companion that treated the Doctor like a best friend. Donna made him smile again after the losses he had endured, and during her time on the show, mixed humour with compassion and the special kind of joy that came from finally living life to the fullest.

4. Tegan Jovanka (1981-1984)

Doctor-Who-tegan

Although Tegan first appeared in the dying days of the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, the lion’s share of her most memorable moments come from her time with the Fifth. They were a classic pairing, her direct manner (famously describing herself as a “mouth on legs”) counterbalancing his calm, low-key nature. An Australian air stewardess, Tegan stumbled aboard the TARDIS by accident, but quickly grew accustomed to life with the Doctor. Not shy in the slightest, she gave as well as she got and formed a close friendship with Nyssa, a fellow companion.

The Fifth Doctor’s era saw the return of many classic monsters, including Sea Devils, Cybermen, Omega and Daleks, but the ramifications of these battles were more brutal than in years gone by. Adric died in the team’s confrontation with the Cybermen, while the death and brutality in their clash with the Daleks was the final straw in convincing Tegan to leave, sickened by all the death and horror that increasingly followed the Doctor.

While the Fifth Doctor would appear in two more stories after this, in many ways it was the departure of Tegan — his constant companion and best friend — that really marked the end of his era.

3. Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (1963-1965)

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It may seem a cheat to lump two companions together, but there’s no other way to describe Ian and Barbara. They entered the show together, they departed together and they were each other’s rock throughout all the strangeness, wonder and horror of their tenure with the Doctor. Individually they were fine companions; together they were perfect.

Ian and Barbara were both teachers at Coal Hill School, their interest in Susan — the Doctor’s granddaughter — providing the impetus for their initial meeting with him. Ian was a Mathematics teacher, taking new worlds in his stride and always willing to stand up to the Doctor. As a History teacher, Barbara was fascinated by this unexpected chance to gain first-hand experience of other times, but found it hard to resist the urge to alter events.

As Rose would do more than 40 years later, Ian and Barbara learnt about the Doctor’s world with the audience, every trip being a voyage of discovery. Despite their desire to return home and the Doctor’s frequent barbed comments towards them, a close bond quickly developed between the three. When Ian and Barbara finally returned home, it was clear to see how much the First Doctor would miss their presence, having lost first his granddaughter and now his surrogate family.

2. Sarah Jane Smith (1974-1976)

Doctor-who-sarah-jane

Sarah Jane is an iconic character and it was no surprise that she was the first companion from the original series to make an appearance in the re-launched “Doctor Who.” Indeed, her comeback garnered such a successful reception that she graduated to her own show on UK children’s television: “The Sarah Jane Adventures.” This ran for four seasons before Elisabeth Sladen’s sad death in 2011.

Sarah Jane first appeared in “Doctor Who” in the Third Doctor’s final season. While they became friends, their relationship never rivalled the closeness that he had displayed with Jo, his previous companion. It was with the Fourth Doctor that Sarah Jane really came into her own, helped by a winning combination of excellent stories and a fantastic rapport between actors.

What makes her departure from the series so sad is that it was not her choice or the Doctor’s. Ordered to return to Gallifrey, the Doctor takes Sarah home, the scene made all the more effective by Tom Baker’s low-key delivery, in contrast to his typical over-the-top performance.

“Don’t you forget me,” Sarah said to the Doctor as they exchanged their goodbyes. Neither he, nor the viewers, ever could.

1. Jamie McCrimmon (1966-1969)

doctor-who-jamie

A Scottish Highlander from the eighteenth century, Jamie travelled with the Second Doctor until his final story, “The War Games,” and proved himself a loyal friend and trusted companion over time. Always willing to throw himself headfirst into conflict, Jamie was by the Doctor’s side as they encountered all manner of monsters and threats. It’s hard to picture the Second Doctor without Jamie by his side, and it’s fitting that when he returned in 1985 for “The Two Doctors,” Jamie was once again there.

So what is it about Jamie that makes him so special? He’s not the smartest companion, but had heart and courage in abundance. He’s honest and direct, and in the TARDIS crew, found a new family to replace the one he left behind. He was often out of his depth with the technology and concepts encountered on their adventures, but always tried his best to help and to protect his own. He would have followed the Doctor to hell and back, and despite the Doctor’s jokes at Jamie’s expense, it was clear that he valued their friendship equally.

There have been numerous Doctor Who companions over the last 53 years, but there has only been one Jamie McCrimmon: the ultimate Doctor Who companion.

Have we missed any of your favorite Doctor Who companions? Let us know in the comments!

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bbc, doctor who
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