Love After The Doctor: The Classic Years

Jo: “In a funny way, he reminds me of a younger you.”
The Doctor: “I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.”
–Jo Grant and the Doctor discuss her new love interest, Cliff Jones

Rose: “He’s a lot like you, Doctor, only with dating and dancing.”
–Rose Tyler, on Jack Harkness

Does traveling with the Doctor ruin companions for romance after they leave him? What mere man could ever compare to a charismatic Time Lord with all of time and space at his fingertips? Inspired by Bumble Toes‘ post on the Doctor as a romantic rival in the new series, here’s my take on the same dynamic in the classic series.

As the above quotes show, companions do seem to appreciate some Doctor-like characteristics in their romantic partners. It seems equally clear to me that the idea of companions perpetually pining over the Doctor, incapable of moving on, is native to the new series. I think it was born of RTD’s penchant for deconstructing the series, and an excellent example of how this deconstruction can backfire.

To me, the most genius decisions that RTD made were the most straightforward:

  1. He realized that the companion has the hero’s arc, not the Doctor, and
  2. He took the questions that the series had spent forty years studiously avoiding, and placed them front and center:¬†How does the Doctor pick companions–what does he look for? What kind of person would leave everything she knew behind to go adventuring in time and space with an alien? She’s usually young–do her parents know what she’s doing? Do they approve? Do they know about the Doctor’s history of absconding with young women, not all of whom make it home? Might the companion ever look upon the Doctor with romantic intent? Might the Doctor ever return that glance? What would happen? Finally, and maybe most devastatingly, what happens to her after the end? Is the TARDIS door perpetually closed to her, or could the Doctor return for more adventures?

The classic series seems to have given companions exactly two possible exits: a) status quo ante, dumping you back into your old life, or b) permanently stranded in the alien society of your choice. (Hope that marriage works out!)

There’s an orthodoxy in some corners of fandom that the classic series never went anywhere near Doctor/companion UST, that the new series focuses too much on Doctor/companion UST, and that the new series is inferior for that reason. Mostly you hear this from men, and mostly this charge is levied along gendered lines–”attracting female viewers” being given as a reason for the new series’ willingness to have Doctor/companion ships.

But for all that everyone insists that the classic series never ever went anywhere near Doctor/companion romantic tension, they did go there a little bit. The best example is Jo Grant, companion to Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor.

The Doctor and Jo seem to relate primarily as father/daughter: when he realizes, in episode 1 of “The Green Death”, that she is outgrowing him, his response is to compare her to a fledgling leaving the nest. Yet there are also hints that the Doctor has deliberately interfered in Jo’s love life: she’s about to leave on a date with Mike Yates, at the very beginning of “The Curse of Peladon”, when the Doctor drags her along with him. In fact, “The Green Death” keeps the Doctor physically elsewhere as Jo and Cliff bond, perhaps aware that they can’t do so if the Doctor’s disruptive presence is about. And, famously, the Doctor looks deeply hurt at Jo’s decision to leave. He even slinks out of the engagement party and drives off alone. It’s all subtext, but taken all together it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Doctor may just have been a little bit into Jo. Certainly he behaved possessively towards her in a way he hadn’t for other companions, and that we would rarely see again.

But Jo married, and the marriage seems to have been stable and long-lasting, per the Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Death of the Doctor”, so it’s hard to argue that her adventures with the Doctor ruined her for an ordinary life with a human partner.

So, even though the Doctor may have been a little bit into Jo Grant, it’s not true that she was necessarily into him, and certainly not true that the Doctor as a romantic rival outshines human suitors.

4 comments

  1. Great post!

    There’s certainly strong implications that Professor Jones is a human, husband-worthy version of the Doctor, right down to the scene where he and Jo meet, which mirrors her meeting with the Doctor (she breaks something in his lab).

    This also makes it the most overt example of implying that there was any romantic tension between the companion and Doctor in the narrative of the classic series – though it’s not really there with Jo and the Doctor at any other time!

    Very few companions actually leave to “get married” and Jo is the last one to have a decent romance written into the story – Leela’s and Peri’s were both unconvincing afterthoughts. The previous ones, Susan and Vicki, both had a parent-child relationship with the Doctor, so the premise “love after the Doctor” applies in very different ways to them.

    The Doctor and Romana feel like they have romantic tension, in both their guises, but it’s hard to ignore the knowledge that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were actually having a relationship, and many fans impose this on to the show.

    Peter Davison’s run is interesting for this because the production team were so determined to keep the Doctor asexual (not through any sympathy with actual asexual people wanting a hero to identify with, but to stem complaints from viewers of inappropriate shacking up) that there was a rule I think that the Doctor wasn’t even allowed to touch his companions – it hadn’t felt like a necessary rule in previous years, but now the Doctor was so closer in age to his companions, they all started panicking.

    Worth noting that the publicity images of all the companions & Doctor of that era are about 20 times sexier than the show actually depicted – they were using romantic chemistry to sell the show to viewers and then keeping everyone firmly buttoned up once you tuned in. This was even the case once the show became too violent for children and was moved to a weekday evening slot! Ah, the 80′s…

    & of course, the determination to keep away any suggestion of hanky panky in the TARDIS was the reason that there were no solo female companions for the entire 60′s run – the tradition only started during Jon Pertwee’s run because his companion wasn’t living in the TARDIS with him.

    Good thing no one knew about slashing back then, or they might have all given up and gone home!

  2. Rolf says:

    Good piece. I think because the Classic DW was a kids or family show, they didn’t broach UST. In the Peter Davision 5th Doctor period, with all the companions in the crowded TARDIS, it seemed very UFT (Unresolved Family Tension).
    And with the Tennant Doctor and Companion Rose admitting to their mutual love, welcome to adulthood in NuWhoville.

  3. Ritch Ludlow says:

    I think in Dalek Invasion of Earth, Susan says something to David about reminding her of Grandfather…not a romantic rival there, but still. Even Rory gets compared to the Doctor constantly, and only comes into his own by living for 1000 years, becoming kind of ‘alien’. The Doctor is somehow someone to aspire too, except David, Cliff, and Rory are all superior in that they stay in one place and are willing to settle for a normal life.

    • Yeah I agree, it’s not just the Doctor as a figure, it’s his life in the TARDIS – I don’t think there’s any companion in the classic series who envisages living that lifestyle with him forever (except perhaps Susan who has barely known anything else).

      I’m all for getting cranky at characters who get the keys to the universe and want to go home STRAIGHT AWAY (looking at you, Tegan) but I found the whole ‘I’m going to be here, doing this in the TARDIS forever’ vibe from both Rose and Donna in the new series a bit creepy. They weren’t INVITED to stay forever!

      I’d like to see more variety in what the companions get out of their travel experience, and to have a few who don’t take it quite as intensely as everyone has so far – I’m all for character development and romantic tension and dramah, but wouldn’t it be great to have a companion who is looking for (or finds) a destiny beyond the TARDIS that’s more interesting than going back to Earth?

      The cool thing about River Song (one of the many things) is that she’s allowed to have a relationship with the TARDIS that is distinct from her relationship with the Doctor.

      I think many of the current creators had frustrations (and fair enough) with the over-light attitude to hopping on and off the TARDIS in the old days – RTD in particular was quite committed to the idea that travelling with the Doctor was omg the best thing in the universe, and certainly that it was superior to anything that smacked of domesticity or “a normal life.”

      I really like the fact that Amy and Rory have been allowed to grow out of the Doctor, as it’s something RTD’s companions weren’t able to do (except Martha who still left under Circumstances and grew out of him when he wasn’t around) – I’m very wary that they are now going to be written out With Drama.

      But mostly I think that there hasn’t been enough of the kind of ending that was given to LOTS of companions in the old days (if not always written effectively or convincingly) where they find a new home for themselves and important work to do that gives them a greater purpose than jetsetting around time and space – their time with the Doctor is amazing and life-changing but ultimately they find something better and more stable.

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