By Felicity Fletcher
At a video day some time ago we tried to hold a debate along the lines of 'Is Ace the best companion?' But there was no argument; the answer from everyone present was 'Yes!' However this does not mean that all other companions are no longer appreciated. I was curious to find out which other companions people did still enjoy watching. I also wondered if there was any relationship between individuals' ages and their appreciation of particular characters.
To answer these questions I went through the NZDWFC membership file to see who had been nominated as favourite companions. Some people had just written down one name (and it was NOT always Ace) while some had cited six or seven. A few people did not fill in this section of the form. This left about 150 whose forms I looked at. Their ages ranged from 8 to 38 years.
Number of Times a Character was Nominated as 'Favourite Companion':
Predictably Ace is most often nominated as favourite companion. She is very realistic and takes initiative in difficult situations rather than relying totally on the Doctor. These things help to make her a character one can respect and identify with. I think it is no coincidence that Tegan and Leela - probably the most independent and assertive female characters after Ace - are also fairly popular. Sarah Jane too, although she still screams and had a tendency to get herself captured, has noticeably more independence than her predecessors. She was the first companion with whom producer Barry Letts tried to break the stereotypical helpless female image. Whether he succeeded is a matter of opinion, but I think her appeal to the viewer reflects this attempt.
Jamie is chronologically the first companion to stand out in terms of popularity. This may be because he is a fairly active, adventurous character, because he is strongly associated with the Second Doctor, or perhaps his appearance in The Two Doctors brought him into public consciousness again.
I was surprised to find that K9 was so well liked. Having something as ridiculous as a robot shaped like a dog always forcibly reminds me that in New Zealand Doctor Who is classified as a children's programme. And with something like K9 trundling around can TVNZ really be blamed? I think K9's one saving grace is his intelligent ability to rationalise. For example in Warriors' Gate he is able to explain to the Doctor what is causing the collapse of E-space, despite his malfunctioning.
Characters who were not much nominated as 'favourite companion' tended to be those who were only in the series for a short while (Sara Kingdom appeared in just one twelve episode story) and/or featured early in the programme's history. But there are exceptions. The Brigadier was not often put down, but this may be because people do not thing of him as a companion as he does not travel regularly with the Doctor and has a noticeably independent life from him. Nyssa also does not rate well. I think this is due to the inevitable comparison with Tegan; Nyssa does not contrast well as she tends towards the helpless female type.
Mel stands out as being a singularly unpopular recent companion. She shows a definite return to the dependant companion who is not really able to think for herself. She dresses in a prissy little girl style which is very different from Peri's adult clothing and Ace's tomboyishness. Her association with the not well liked Sixth Doctor may also be a contributing factor. Lastly it is hard to imagine the down to Earth (or Gallifrey) Seventh Doctor genuinely enjoying her company. In Paradise Towers her behaviour seems particularly inane when she stops to have a cup of tea in the middle of her frantic search for the Doctor. However perhaps she would be viewed differently if she had come at another time, with the Third Doctor for instance.
To answer my second question I averaged the aged of individuals liking each companion where that companion was nominated ten or more times. The average age for people citing Adric was 16, for Jo, Ace and K9 it was 17, for Jamie, Romana II, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough and Peri it was 18, for Sarah Jane it was 19 and for Leela it was 20. I do not feel that there is much real difference in average ages shown here except perhaps in the comparison of Adric and Leela. Adric has a younger appeal and was himself the youngest male companion. He is the closest we get to a 'typical' Doctor Who fan - which is what Matthew Waterhouse himself was. Leela's stories have not aired recently and it is possible that a number of the younger viewers have seen few or none of her appearances. It is quite common for people to refer to a particular Doctor as 'their Doctor' meaning the Doctor they grew up watching, who to them is the Doctor and who remains their favourite (Mark Strickson's Doctor, he said at WhoCon, is Patrick Troughton). However the same does not appear to be true of companions.
I conclude that people do like companions other than Ace, but they tend to be the ones that most resemble Ace with her tough assertiveness. There is no real relationship between people's ages and the companions they prefer.
This item appeared in TSV 26 (December 1991).