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:
- He realized that the companion has the hero’s arc, not the Doctor, and
- 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.