Two Women in the TARDIS

So the TARDIS is a lady. We’ve always known that, right?

The Doctor’s Wife, which made concrete the Doctor’s characterisation of the TARDIS as female, and a living being with her own thoughts and feelings, makes re-watching older episodes a fascinating exercise. It brings an extra layer of meaning to almost every story since 1963.

But crucially, it shakes up the Doctor Who “formula” which, to so many people, sums up what the show is about: One Doctor, One Female Companion.

If you actually watch the show for any length of time, you know that this formula isn’t actually essential at all – but it’s amazing how often the media surrounding the show, official or otherwise, prioritises this depiction of how Doctor Who works. We all know that Jack, Mickey, Rory and River count companions (there hasn’t been a single full season of New Who in which the Doctor has one lone female companion at his side) and yet somehow they disappear in the way the show is pitched to the audience, in the newspaper and blog coverage, and even the merchandise (Arthur Darvill, after one year as occasional companion and a second year as a billed co-star, is only just receiving his first action figure).

[Ritch discusses why this might be the case in one of his Ritch and Space YouTube vids: New Companion, Old Companions]

It happened in the old days, too. JNT, a previous generation’s RTD, famously set up all manner of sexy photo shoots for the Doctor’s co-stars, to the point that you would easily believe that Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa or Janet Fielding’s Tegan travelled with him alone. Most non-diehard-fans remember a Doctor-companion combination that is singular. There’s a kind of mythic resonance to the concept of the “Doctor Who girl” and yet for huge chunks of the show from 1963 all the way through to the present, the Doctor travelled with more than one companion, often a man and woman together, but sometimes as many as three.

In fact, only the Third, Sixth and Seventh Doctors followed the ‘one Doctor Who girl’ format for their whole TV run, and considering that the Third Doctor had an ensemble cast as well as his female companion, it’s really only the late 80’s (and a few chunks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, depending on whether or not you count the robot dog) which completely support the ‘crew of two’ concept.

Now, of course, we know that the TARDIS *always* made three.

But I thought it was worth talking about one of my favourite companion combinations: when the Doctor has two women in his life at at time. (Well, okay, three.) Having more than one woman in the regular cast allows for multiple “types” of female character (yay diversity) plus we get to see them gang up on him, and when is that not fun?

So here are the best examples:

SUSAN AND BARBARA:
The Doctor’s grand-daughter and her history teacher, worlds apart in so many ways. It was Barbara’s curiosity about (and concern for) Susan which got she and Ian into this mess in the first place, and she often takes on a motherly (or at least, cool auntie) role with the alien teenager. I particularly like that they both have such different spheres of expertise, and often have something to learn from each other.
From The Unearthly Child (1963) to The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1965)

BARBARA AND VICKI: Just as Vicki was the substitute granddaughter figure for the Doctor, she had a similar relationship with Barbara as had Susan, though perhaps they erred closer to be being friends rather than teacher-student. It didn’t hurt that Vicki was human, if from the far future, which meant she had extra reason to think that Barbara (and Ian) were like, SO OLD, MAN. When the crew split up (as often happened back then) it often meant we had the Doctor and Vicki going one way and Ian and Barbara going the other, but we still get plenty of great scenes with these two very different women working together.
From The Rescue (1965) to The Chase (1965).

TEGAN AND NYSSA: After a very long gap including the entire Troughton and Pertwee years (and most of Tom Baker) the Fourth Doctor accidentally took on a random assortment of urchins and orphans in his last stories, including two women: Tegan, a mouthy Australian air stewardess and Nyssa, a demure alien aristocrat with mad science skills, along with alien boy genius Adric. While the scripts didn’t always give them the best material to work with (often the writers dealt with the three companion dilemma by making one fall mysteriously asleep for a whole story or otherwise disappear) we did get to see the forging of a strong friendship between these two young women, which was further developed after Adric left and we got to see them working together as the Doctor’s companions. More recently, in Big Finish, their friendship has been further explored with a series of adventures based on the premise that a much older Nyssa has returned to the TARDIS crew – fifty years have passed for her, while only a few weeks for Tegan.
From Logopolis (1981) to Terminus (1983) [TV]
From Cradle of the Snake [Big Finish Audio]

PERI AND ERIMEM: Not only does Big Finish provide us with a bunch of new stories for Doctor-companion combinations that didn’t get much time in the TV show (like Five-Peri) they also create new ones! Erimem, the feisty female Pharaoh who chose a different destiny for herself by leaping into the TARDIS, makes a great offsider for Peri, and their stories involve a lot of girl talk as well as culture clashes between them – for the most part it’s a warm, supportive friendship. I haven’t listened all the way through to Erimem’s end, though!
From: The Eye of the Scorpion [Big Finish Audio]

DONNA AND MARTHA: After two years of Rose, it felt like Martha Jones left too soon, and so it was lovely to have a story in which the Doctor returned at her summons to help with a UNIT mission that turned out to be a Sontaran attack. Even better, we got to see new companion Donna join forces with her predecessor without a hint of jealousy between them. The scene in which the Doctor watches, baffled, as they hug and shriek and mock him, is pure Doctor Who gold. It’s particularly nice because Martha’s era had been overshadowed by her cranky jealousy of her own predecessor Rose, and it’s the first time we get to see a Martha who isn’t in love with the Doctor any more. The Doctor and Donna then manage to kidnap Martha for at least one more spin in the TARDIS.
From The Sontaran Stratagem to The Doctor’s Daughter, plus Journey’s End

AMY AND RIVER
While River’s travels in the TARDIS are rarely chronological, she does manage to pop in quite often when Amy is there – and as we realise in Season 6, it’s not all about the Doctor’s charisma. Even before we learned that Amy and River were mother and daughter, we saw them as friends. The lack of jealousy (so crucial) between them was evident from the start, and Amy is delighted at the weird possibility that River might be the Doctor’s future wife. We also see River work to save Amy by her own methods, proving the Doctor wrong and showing her own capability. The two of them come into their own as a team many times over, across several adventures, often overriding or challenging the Doctor.
From The Time of Angels on and off until The Wedding of River Song.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

MEL AND ACE: In the story Dragonfire, we get a rare overlap/handover from old companion to new, but most of the story actually has Mel and Ace working together as a team while the Doctor does his own thing. At the end, it’s Mel who nudges the Doctor to take Ace along on his adventures.

ROSE AND SARAH-JANE: In the episode School Reunion, New and Old Who collided, and Rose discovered she wasn’t the first young woman to be important to the Doctor. Sadly, jealousy was a big issue in this story, though Rose and Sarah-Jane did work through their issues and boy, wasn’t the Doctor worried when they started laughing at him together?

ROSE AND JACKIE: Obviously this mother-daughter team had been hanging out for a long time, but it wasn’t until Army of Ghosts and Doomsday that Jackie actually hopped aboard the TARDIS and came for a ride. Only across the city, but still… it was very cute to see the Doctor claim Jackie as an aged Rose, and while the mother-daughter team were mostly separated (as they were also in Journey’s End) it was enough evidence for me to claim Jackie as a companion.

DONNA AND ROSE: In Turn Left, Rose became the Mysterious Enabler of Donna’s adventures – with the Doctor nowhere in sight! Lovely to have two companions get a story entirely to themselves. Donna was always a bit of a Doctor/Rose shipper, and while they didn’t get to recreate their Turn Left relationship in Journey’s End, we do get to see the two of them (and Jackie and Martha and Sarah-Jane) all jammed into the TARDIS together. Five women in the TARDIS!

ACE AND BENNY: While Bernice Summerfield was introduced in the Virgin New Adventures novel that wrote Ace out, the two of them didn’t stay strangers. Ace returned several times, the two of them wrangling over all kinds of issues (including I think some rivalry over Jason Kane – boo for jealousy but yay for it not being the Doctor in the pointy end of the triangle for once). Big Finish recreated the Seven-Ace-Benny team a few times, and will be bringing them back together again for the anniversary of that first story, Love and War, later in 2012.

EVELYN AND MEL: in the Big Finish audio Thicker Than Water, the Sixth Doctor brings Mel back to meet Evelyn, the companion who has had the most effect on how he lives his life. And the two of them get into all kinds of trouble together!

LUCIE AND SUSAN: Rose wasn’t the first companion to be faced with the Doctor’s distant past – in Big Finish audio Relative Dimensions, she cooked Christmas Doctor for the Eighth Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and great-grandson Alex! Together, Lucie and Susan discussed what it meant to travel at the Doctor’s side… and whether it was something either of them wanted to do now.

SARAH-JANE AND JO: In the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor, these two iconic 70’s companions met and were delighted to do so, even if it was at the funeral of the man they both thought of as their best friend. There was a hint of jealousy here and there, but not of the romantic kind – plenty of wistfulness too, especially when Jo discovered that the Doctor’s current companion got to bring her hubby along on the adventures. But mostly it was two awesome women who had fabulous lives, with fond memories of that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. And I would have watched whole seasons of them together!

LEELA & ROMANA II: in another spin off series, Big Finish’s Gallifrey, two of the Fourth Doctor’s companions work together in war, death and politics, and barely even mention that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. Luckily for us, there are whole seasons of them together!


HARDLY WORTH MENTIONING:

But for completion’s sake…

VICKI AND KATARINA – a hand-maiden introduced late into the Trojan story The Myth-Makers was sent on her way to the TARDIS by Vicki, who had a better offer.
DODO AND POLLY – They got along quite well in the opening episodes of The War Machines but Dodo was sent “to the country” halfway through, leaving Polly to carry on with Ben instead.
ROMANA I AND PRINCESS ASTRA – liked each other so much in The Armageddon Factor that Romana stole her body – well, the intellectual property surrounding her body, anyway. She wore it better, too.
ROMANA II and CHARLEY – Disapproved of each other mightily in Big Finish’s Neverland mostly because Romana II had a problem with Charley’s status as a time paradox. How awesome that they didn’t conflict over their feelings for the Doctor, though!

6 comments

  1. Kmasca says:

    Nice summary! I’m rewatching the Fifth Doctor episodes at the moment. Tegan and Nyssa’s interactions feel very refreshing when you’ve grown used to lone women companions.

    • Yes, it’s also fun to see so many interactions inside the TARDIS, something I do think would add a lot to the new series.

      Apparently when asked recently if it was true that they had built a new room for the TARDIS this year, Steven Moffat said something along the lines of “we built a wall!”

      My favourite Nyssa and Tegan episode is still Castrovalva where the Doctor is in a box for most of it and they literally carry him up a cliff. Teamwork!

  2. Jennie says:

    I LOVED that episode of SJA with Jo in it. Jo was still Jo, all ditzy and hippyish, but she was made of awesome, and it was so cool to see her and Sarah Jane adventuring together.

    • Such a joyous episode! I loved how RTD extrapolated Jo’s happy life from her ending in the 70′s. And the way that Sarah and Jo knew about each other but had never met until then.

      So glad they did it. And so sad they missed out on the chance to do one with Ace, which had been planned for the next series.

  3. Brass Cupcake says:

    Thanks for the write-up. Too often I see female characters pitted against each other, as if women are bound to the Highlander rule (there can be only one). So it’s nice to see examples of positive and entertaining interactions between women. And a nice reminder that we can have 2 female companions without throwing off the balance or dynamic of the show.

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