Doctor Who: Writing the Companions

This blogpost is taken from the blog of Dr Gregory Leadbetter, Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing and the MA in Writing at Birmingham City University. It was originally posted there on 6 September 2014.

Steven Moffat has come in for a lot of criticism since taking charge of Doctor Who – somewhat bafflingly, to my mind – but I’ve always admired his scriptwriting and I still do. Less given to sentimentality than Russell T. Davies, he has led the series with humour, verve and intelligence. The plots get a bit convoluted sometimes, but there are worse sins. Matt Smith did a fine job as the previous Doctor, but the excellent Peter Capaldi is – quite rightly – bringing a new edge to the role. Moffat’s priorities look good to me.
      But – since its re-launch in 2005, the writing for Doctor Who has regularly gone wrong in one significant way: its handling of the companions.
      After two episodes of Series 8, Danny Pink looks good, and I’m rather hoping that Journey Blue will not be abandoned by the Doctor after all. But Clara – ah, Clara…
      Leaving aside the deeply misguided storyline in which the Doctor supposedly fell in love with Rose Tyler, (Davies, no!) the companions have too often been drained of their wonder at the Doctor’s universe and installed with a whiny species of self-satisfied insolence, as if untouched by any sense of the mysteries they have been shown. They stay too much their same old selves, in the most extraordinary circumstances. To me, that’s also unrealistic, in a damaging sense (and before anyone says, ‘Realistic? This is sci-fi!’ I would say that sci-fi especially demands psychological authenticity if it is to achieve narrative authenticity).
      Dispiritingly, I suspect that this is because the writers intuitively perceive the offspring of contemporary society to be self-obsessed, lacking in humility and apparently incapable of having respect for anything they don’t or can’t be bothered to understand – and then write the characters accordingly. I have an awful feeling (oh say it ain’t so) that they are trying to write ‘normal’ characters, to which we, as members of that benighted society, can ‘relate’.
      Don’t do that. Neither children nor adults need it.
      Clara has been a lost opportunity in this respect, because she was far and away the most promising companion since the re-launch. In effect, when they picked which Clara Oswald to settle on, they picked the wrong one. Her first incarnations were much more interesting: she was intelligent, with a mystery of her own. Now, despite her charms, of which there are many for sure, this ‘teacher’-variant is too often just another human arrogant enough to hold on to her seemingly uninterested attitude – long after the Doctor, I reckon, would have lost patience with it.
      The Silurian Vastra, played by the wonderful Neve McIntosh, is a lively addition to the Whoniverse – as is/was the not-quite-human River Song: both Moffat creations.
      For the Doctor’s regular companion(s), can’t we have more interesting humans, too?

 

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