I will say this for Chris Chibnall — I think he thought he at least gave Graham and Ryan a good send off in Revolution of the Daleks. I think his intentions were good and they were not unceremoniously dumped when leaving the show. That is to his credit.
This is undoubtedly in large part because he created the characters in the first place. If a producer creates the companions, he or she probably feels a greater responsibility to them, as opposed to inheriting them from the previous regime. Still, you’d like to think there’d always be a certain level of respect for the actors and the characters in which they’d invested themselves. This wasn’t always the case.
John Wiles took over the role of producer from Verity Lambert early in the third season. In interviews, Wiles has spoken frankly about not being happy in the position. It was not really what he wanted to do but allegedly had little choice. It also couldn’t have been easy following Lambert. Wiles inherited script editor Donald Tosh, stars William Hartnell (the First Doctor), Peter Purves (Steven), and Maureen O’Brien (Vicki). His run as producer encompassed four stories, The Myth Makers, The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Massacre at St. Bartholomew’s Eve, and The Ark. He made it through a total of 24 episodes.
During the very first story on his watch, The Myth Makers, Wiles quickly got fed up with Maureen O’Brien and contrived to get rid of Vicki at the first opportunity. O’Brien’s offense was that when scripts called for her to do something that adversely affected Vicki, having her doing or saying something stupid, or just being an ankle twisting screamer, she objected. These days, there’d be more of a professional collaborative effort to rewrite scenes, but this was over 50 years ago and Wiles wasn’t having any dissent. So, in the midst of the fall of Troy, Vicki quickly fell in love with young Troilus and decided to stay behind.
Now, a couple things. First, it’s to O’Brien’s credit that she sold the whirlwind romance to the audience. She’s a good actor, and frankly, a more competent and stronger companion than Susan, her predecessor. Whereas Carole Ann Ford played along with the mandate to facilitate the Doctor’s granddaughter as a helpless screaming teenager, O’Brien wanted something better for her character. An admirable goal, but she was well ahead of her time.
Secondly, Wiles replaced Vicki with Katarina (Adrienne Hill), a simple servant girl from Troy who believed very heavily in the gods, knew nothing of science, and upon entering the TARDIS, was out of her depth and way in over her head. And thus began the three month experience that was the 12-part Daleks’ Master Plan.
It’s at this point, one has to consider the professionalism, the respect, and the responsibility of the producer to the show and his actors. Or lack thereof. O’Brien was complaining too much? Out she goes. Let’s throw a new girl in there. Okay, admittedly, we didn’t think this through, so let’s throw her out an airlock.
You might look back to when I mentioned one might have a greater sense of compassion for a companion they created, instead of one they inherited. Well evidently, it’s not a hard and fast rule.
I’m really not sure if Wiles and Tosh planned poorly, or if Katarina was just created for the express purpose of a horrible demise. Later comments from Tosh and Wiles led us to believe it was the former though, as they quickly realised that Katarina was just too ignorant of the world she’d been thrown into. I suppose some writers or producers in a different era might have invested in the potential of Katarina, had the Doctor and Steven support and teach her about this new world. It took Wiles and Tosh five weeks to fling her into the icy death of outer space with a convict. Well, it was a way to go, and it was memorable.
Speaking of the death count, during the epic Daleks’ Master Plan, Wiles and Tosh also brought in agent Bret Vyon (Nicholas Courtney), another ally for the Doctor who was killed soon after by Sara Kingdom (Bret’s own sister), another agent brought in to be an ally for the Doctor. The Daleks’ Master Plan was so long, that some considered Sara another companion just for being a guest star for some two months. Kingdom was an excellent, complex character, with plenty of skills to come along with her backstory baggage. Wiles and Tosh killed her off as well. Death by immediate old age via the Time Destructor. Wiles’ time truly was the era of disposable companions.
By Wiles’ third story, he’d already disposed of four companions (or would-be companions). By the end of The Massacre, he introduced Jackie Lane as Dodo Chaplet, potentially a descendant of a character the Doctor and Steven just met in the historical adventure. Ah, Dodo. Wiles’ tenure as producer ended with The Ark, a Twilight Zone type four parter, where Dodo’s cold destroyed a civilization.
Wiles then passed the producer’s torch, and Dodo, to Innes Lloyd, the man who, when it came to companions, desperately wanted a complete turnover.
He also had limited patience for the Doctor, for that matter…
Lloyd wanted to clean house. He wasn’t getting along with Hartnell, as Bill’s health was deteriorating, as was his mood on set. Lloyd was more than willing to get rid of him by the end of his first story, The Celestial Toymaker. Turns out, he’d have to put up with him for an additional five more stories running into Season 4.
But the companions? Ah, they were fair game. Along with the aforementioned Dodo, Lloyd inherited Purves’ Steven Taylor, who was a very good character and a great second banana to Hartnell’s Doctor, ever since the end of The Chase from Season 2.
It was at the end of Lloyd’s third story, The Savages, that he chose to have the Doctor make the abrupt decision — hey, Steven, why don’t you just stay here and be king or something, okay? See ya. It was out of the blue and, frankly, a bit forced and unnatural.
In the final season 3 story, The War Machines, Lloyd continued the fire sale — everything must go before Season 4! — by committing easily the most egregious dumping of a companion ever. Off camera, Dodo had a headache, and went to have a lie down in the countryside. Never to be seen again.
“Mom, what happened? Where’s Dodo?”
“Oh honey, they had to bring Dodo to a farm way out in the country. She’ll be fine, she’ll have plenty of space to run around and play with… other companions. Now watch the show.”
This was all down to Lloyd bringing in his own companions, Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze). She was nice enough; he was a bit rough around the edges, as the constantly complaining sailor. Lloyd seemed happy enough with his choices, as the fourth season started. And by the end of the second story, The Tenth Planet, Lloyd even got his wish for a new Doctor, via Patrick Troughton.
But during the fourth story, The Highlanders, Frazer Hines’ Jamie McCrimmon rolled in and quickly gained favourite companion status on set, going from guest star to regular. This created a problem at first, as Jamie wasn’t originally supposed to be in the next few stories, so Ben’s lines were to be shared between the two at first. The writing was on the wall, as Jamie was a lot more likable than Ben.
Suddenly, there was a whole new chemistry within the TARDIS, and a few stories later during The Faceless Ones, Lloyd was looking to looking to change up the roster. He was initially looking to add guest star Pauline Collins’ character Samantha to the team, but Collins wasn’t interested in committing to a series. Lloyd was getting rid of Ben and Polly, but since Collins fell through, he asked Wills to stay. To her credit, she left with Craze as a sign of unity. A rushed goodbye at the end of The Faceless Ones and they were gone, leaving the Doctor and Jamie. And at the end of the fourth season, Lloyd also left, passing the torch to Peter Bryant. Lloyd had some of the most massive cast shuffling during his time as producer.
There have been other companion departures that have been quiet (Liz Shaw) or downright laughable (Leela and Andred?!), but usually, none nearly as crude as some of the choices made by Wiles and Lloyd.
Sure, Mel leaving with Glitz, just like Ace arriving via… time tornado (?) was ridiculous, but well, Season 24.
Liz Sladen’s Sarah Jane departed mostly as an unfortunate miscommunication of rom-com proportions. Philip Hinchcliffe just assumed Liz was ready to leave, Liz assumed they were ready for her to leave, when both parties would have been very happy for her to stay. Lord knows Tom wanted her to stay!
Of course the other award winner for worst off camera dumping of a companion goes to poor Peri. Even Nicola Bryant didn’t know where she ended up until she did the DVD commentary for the story in question!
I admit, that was actually funny, hearing her first time reaction live.
For the longest time, I imagined any one of several later incarnations of the Doctor finally dropping by to check in on Queen Peri, and her just up and decking him. (Or her.)
The departure of companions has been handled somewhat differently in the new era. The process has gotten trickier to be sure. By and large, the companions during the Russell T Davies (Part 1) and Steven Moffat eras were more fully realised and cognisant of the fact that traveling with the Doctor is the trip of a lifetime that’s almost impossible to give up.
So what do you do with companion’s who —
Just. Won’t. Leave?
Let’s see. You shunt them to a different reality, you abandon them because they’re immortal, you constantly blab about your old girlfriend until the current one leaves, you wipe their memory (rude), you shunt them off to a different reality again with a half human consolation gift… or, you let the Weeping Angels steal them away, or you watch them die but not really. Very complicated, and at times, a bit rough, but that goes with the territory when you have the well developed, well written characters, such as the ones featured in Series 1 through 10.
But at least you’re not sending them away to run around on some farm, or some worse fate.