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The Doctor's Companions: "All in"? Or "I Want Out"?

Among the plethora of companions, assistants, friends, and family that have traveled with the Doctor, the different ages, sexes, colours, and creeds, you can more or less boil them down into two groups. Those that are “All in” and never ever want to leave the Doctor and those who say “I want out” and will leave as soon as they get the opportunity.

True, there are a few that seem to fall into the cracks, some grey areas, but I maintain that’s down to substandard writing and producing. There have been companions that were inherited by producers that simply didn’t have the proper skills to deal with certain characters and for whatever reason lacked imagination or just wanted the old companions gone so they could put their new cast in place – an unfortunate scenario that thankfully didn’t happen too much. So, we sally forth, starting, of course, with the mixed bag that was the original TARDIS crew…

Susan was very much an “All in”. We have no way of knowing just how long Susan had been with the First Doctor before we met them but we know if she had her way, she would have put her life on hold indefinitely in order to stay with her grandfather. That’s why, when he realised this, he got her off the ship for her own good.

But then you’ve got Ian and Barbara in the “I want out” category. Although Chesterton and Miss Wright were among the greatest companions ever in the TARDIS, and enjoyed a fair amount of their adventures together with the Doctor, they made it very clear that if the Doctor ever managed to control their flight path and could get them home, they’d be gone. They were, after all, basically kidnapped from that junkyard and, for a time, were very unwilling traveling companions.

Those companions that followed included Vicki – a marooned orphan as well as a perpetual hostage to a lunatic; a chance to go along with the Doctor was the only logical, sane choice to make and she was ever happier for it. Only when she fell in love at Troy did she then decide to leave. I’d classify her as “All in”. The same for Steven – similar circumstances to Vicki in that he was held prisoner for years by the Mechanoids with no other humans on the planet. The Doctor rescued him and he was happy to be anywhere other than Mechanus. If the Doctor had not urged him off the ship to lead the indigenous population at the end of The Savages (grey area), he’d probably have stuck around.

We’re going politely gloss over Katarina, the poster child for said grey area.

But then you get Dodo… Some prime grey area there. Popping in at the end of The Massacre with the bizarrely coincidental surname of the historical figure they just left. That almost sounds like an Amy, Donna, or Clara cosmic-kismet season theme! But instead, it was a one-line gag; Dodo didn’t have much else to offer except bacterial contamination in The Ark, and then got unceremoniously dumped during The War Machines. All that simply because the producers simply didn’t think things through.

Ben and Polly are another grey area, in that they wandered into the TARDIS by mistake, and midway through the next season, they were gone. The production team brought them in and at one point wanted to get rid of Ben but keep Polly.

Once firmly in the Patrick Troughton era, there seemed to be more focus going down the line as to the companion’ motivations. Jamie: All in – Loyal to the bitter end, Jamie would have stuck with the Doctor forever, had the Time Lords not sent him back to his own time. But poor Victoria was more of a “I want out”: orphaned and very much out of her element in the TARDIS. She cared deeply for the Doctor and Jamie but this was not the life for her and when the right situation arose, she stayed with another family to try and live a quieter, more normal life. Zoe was “All in”. Life with the Doctor seemed rather run of the mill for the brilliant girl. Seemingly comfortable with their adventures, she also would have stuck with the Doctor if not for the Time Lords sending her back to her time and place.

With the coming of the Jon Pertwee era, things changed though. Being part of the UNIT era, the Doctor didn’t have a proper TARDIS to travel in, so Liz Shaw never had to make a decision. Jo was in the same boat for most of her time with the Doctor but when the chips were down, she was an “I want out”. Although she did accompany the Doctor on some of his travels, as soon as she met a younger, more home based version of him, she said goodbye.

Transitioning from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker: Ah, Sarah Jane. If ever there was an “All in”… Having begun her adventures with the Third Doctor and seeing him through the regeneration to the fourth and getting closer to him still, she would have stayed with him until the end of time, had he not had the call from Gallifrey. A specific call that forced him to drop her off. Plus, there was the very real threat of her becoming far too important to him and those feelings for a short lived human are not easy for a nearly immortal Time Lord.

As for the rest of the Fourth Doctor’s run, we had numerous companions who can be categorised as “I want out”: Harry was a normal bloke who was just as happy to sit it out after the Zygons attacked; and Leela seemed unconcerned about hopping into the TARDIS, mostly out of curiosity. Although she seemingly enjoyed her time with the Doctor and the education he gave her, once she found a new tribe on Gallifrey who wore animal skins, she split. She also stayed for that dopey guard Andred but I’m guessing the animal skins and spears are what really hooked her. And of course Romana – playing second fiddle to the Doctor was fun enough but every Time Lord needs their own space and she eventually went to find it.

On the flip side, once producer John Nathan-Turner came in, in advance of the coming of the Fifth Doctor, he started piling on the “All in” orphans with nowhere to go, Adric and Nyssa. They were more than happy to stay, barring death and lepers. Adric threatened to leave, but he only wanted to prove he could do it. JN-T mixed them with a definitive “I want out” in the form of Tegan, who, if you really paid close attention, you might have heard. She stuck around for a fair bit though, before the corpses got to her. And for Turlough, the Doctor was, for the most part, a means to an end for him. Although they finally reached an understanding, it was only a matter of time before he left. Definitely an “I want out.”

Let’s take a moment now to try and categorise Perpegillium Brown. Or at least the somewhat poorly-thought-out companion’s journey that was Peri. It cannot be said she enjoyed much of her time on board. Or did she? She, too, was a sudden orphan, afflicted with being an American who didn’t speak like one… but she clearly fancied this dashing, beige Time Lord. Then he quickly died and she ended up with some maniac in a clown suit who constantly berated her and dragged her through all sorts of misery. Lord only knows why she bothered to stick around. Then, just when things started to get a bit better, one confusing thing led to another and she got stuck with King Yrcanos. So, grey area? All in? I want out? Masochist? All of the above?

Mel: a screeching grey area. This is partly because we didn’t see her board the TARDIS, but her exit feels somewhat abrupt too.

Rounding off the classic era with the Seventh and Eighth Doctors, we had Ace, who was “All in”. Ace was running from her life and she was perfectly fine sticking with the Doctor to the end; and Grace, who was so “I want out”, that she asked McGann to come with her. McGann was an “I want out”.

With the arrival of the new era of Who, the showrunners had a new problem: there was going to be a much larger emphasis on the quality and lives of the companions’ characters. But there’s no excuse for a Dodo-like exit in this era. These companions would fully realise their opportunities and, in some cases, they’d have to be mercilessly torn from the TARDIS.

First came Christopher Eccleston and his bringing in of Rose. She quickly became an “All in” and after the emotionally vulnerable Ninth Doctor became the younger, sexier Tenth Doctor, she was even planning their lives together. It took marooning her in a different dimension to get rid of her. Mickey, however, was an “I want out” – Mickey turned out fine in the end and a better person but he was only in it for Rose; and Captain Jack Harkness was not only an “All in” – he was “the weekend guest who never ever leaves”.

As the Tenth Doctor’s travels played out, you had Martha, an “I want out” – loyal and brave to the end but she was just in it because of a crush. Once she realised that was a dead end, she was done. The year of hell helped. And poor Donna. An “All in” and a tragedy. She was such a better person with the Doctor and she would have stayed forever, if not for the brutal mind-wipe. Russell could be very cruel.

The Eleventh Doctor had a very different relationship with Amy Pond, who was technically an “I want out”. Her life ran parallel to the Doctor’s adventures for so long: even if she started as an “All in”, the important things in life like Rory won out. And Rory was just in it for Amy.

Clara Oswald, traveling with the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, was the epitome of an “All in” and became a cautionary tale because if it.

Nardole was an “All in”; having been saved and rebuilt by the Doctor, he was personally fine with sticking with him until the end and we’re really not even sure how long he’d been with him as it was. And poor Bill Potts. She’d shown her devotion to the Doctor by waiting for a decade in a hospital on a ship tethered to a black hole with a chest conversion unit in place. Not that she had much choice, but talk about “All in” loyalty! She deserved her reprieve in the end and happiness.

Finally, the Chris Chibnall/Thirteenth Doctor era. Graham, Yaz, and Ryan remain in the grey area. Even after a full season, I don’t have enough to go on with any of these characters. They seem to come as a 2-dimensional prepackaged bundle with little to their characters. Even Graham, emotionally adrift. I can’t quite place him. Maybe because he’s just one in a crowd after only 11 episodes.

Looking back, interestingly, the “All in’s” and “I want out’s” are about 50/50, which I suppose is a nice testament to the writers and producers trying to give the fans variety.

But how about you, dear reader? All things considered, if you had the opportunity and the choice – all of time and space – would you be “All in” or “I want out”…?

Rick Lundeen

The Doctor's Companions: "All in"? Or "I Want Out"?

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 8 min
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