For my first post on Doctor Her, I would like to present a conundrum I’ve been mulling over on and off since watching the first series in 2005: what would it take to reconcile character motivations to get a different type of companion into the TARDIS?
There are some basic similarities in the basic characteristics of The Doctor’s companions over the run of New Who (2005-present): she is young, without clear purpose and unsure of herself. This presents us with a problem from a feminist perspective. Once is a character choice, when the pattern repeats it becomes more of a troubling trend, something that the writers should be trying to solve as the series continues.
Rose was nineteen when she left her job in a shop to jump into the TARDIS with Christopher Eccleson’s Doctor, leaving her Mum and Mickey for worlds and times unknown. As the audience, we accept this premise. The time after leaving high school, especially for those young people who choose not to go on to University, or cannot afford to is one fraught with uncertainty, a lack of purpose, and perhaps a nagging sense of something better waiting for us out there. As an audience, we can understand how Rose would choose to leave a dead end job and a (not too serious) boyfriend when such a unique opportunity presents itself.
Martha, a medical student, also leaves behind her family, but this time she also leaves behind her studies, her hard work towards being a doctor in her own right, for the chance to travel with David Tennant’s Doctor. Martha has more concerns with leaving her life behind for adventure, needs reassurance that she could be back to the same day or only lose a few days in the process of this adventure. It is the family drama she wants to escape from, the demands of siblings and being caught between her parents’ divorce. Martha eventually leaves and goes back to her studies, and we later on see her become what she set out to be, in episodes of Torchwood. As an audience we understand this decision, with Martha’s caveat of returning to the time when she left, not losing any time towards her goal, and later returning to what she set out to do.
Donna at first declines the Doctor’s invitation but later on, still working as a Temp, living with her mum and grandfather, she accepts when The Doctor waltzes into her life again. We accept this, as the audience. We can understand why a woman, who’s relationship has recently fallen apart (spectactularly and because of aliens), who is working a dead-end job, and unsure of what she wants to do with her life, would take the opportunity to see the world.
And then we have Amy. Before we met Amy, we saw photos of her in a police uniform. What an interesting take that would be, a policewoman who chooses to travel with The Doctor? We were excited, but were unsure of how the storytellers would work their way around this one. Then, when the episode aired we found out that Amy wasn’t a policewoman, instead she was a kissogram, the police uniform carrying not power with it, but fantasy. She leaves on the eve of her wedding night, unsure enough of her decision to risk it all to leave with the man in the Blue Box. With Amy though, we have a history. Her life has been building up to this moment. Young Amy waiting in the garden for the man in the Blue Box to come back for her, suitcase packed. Then again when she’s in her early twenties, working as a kissogram, Matt Smith’s Doctor barges into her life. So even though Amy is happy enough to be soon married, we have a background that leads up to her willingness to run away with The Doctor.
Though their stories are all slightly different, the similarities are a troubling aspect of this type of storytelling. As writers, there has to be an explanation of this character’s motivation in leaving her (or sometimes his) life behind to travel in space. I would very much like to see a different type of companion to The Doctor. Someone sure of herself, established, less naive or easily persuaded. But how would she get into the TARDIS in the first place. Would we accept the premise of a companion with a career, a family, children? leaving everything to travel with The Doctor?
Another interesting moment to consider comes in series two, with the episode School Reunion, where Sarah Jane Smith gets her chance to return to the TARDIS. After the adventure of the episode, which takes place on Earth. The Doctor offers Sarah Jane the chance to travel with him again. She declines. She has a son, a life on Earth that she can’t leave. But I for one, can’t help but wonder how that would have played out, what it would be like to have someone established and comfortable with herself and her convictions travel with The Doctor.
So, my friends of Doctor Her (Doctor Hervians? Can we make this a thing?), what do you think? Is there a way we could accept a different kind of companion leaving her life and traveling in the TARDIS? As a storyteller, how would you reconcile this? I’m honestly curious, as it’s something I’ve puzzled over for a while now.