TV Discussion

5 Doctor Who Companions Who Stayed Too Long (& 5 Who Left Too Soon)

Doctor Who tells the tale of the Doctor and his companions as they traverse space and time, but – simply put – some companions are far strongly missed than others

Since 1963, our intrepid, face-changing Time Lord has entertained audiences worldwide with their adventures in time and space. A mainstay of the programme has been the Doctor’s faithful companion. While the companions have always played a vital role as audience surrogate, the 2005 revival saw the companion become arguably the main character of the show as we met and explored the character of the Doctor through them.

The changing roster of companions throughout the series’ long history is as much a part of the programme as the different regenerations of the Doctor have been, and often generate just as much excitement. However, often some companions overstay their welcome, becoming a bit of a drag and leaving audiences itching to have somebody else, while other companions could have been welcome on the TARDIS forever, and departed far too soon.

Here’s a list of which companions had audiences sobbing at the screen at their goodbye, while others had us muttering “good riddance”.

10. Stayed Too Long: Nardole

Nardole (Matt Lucas)

Yes, alright, this is a bit of an odd one to start with. Claiming that a companion who was only on screen for one season stuck around too long is, frankly, rude. But honestly, I never really “got” Nardole. Matt Lucas is a wonderful comedian (he was also almost my lover once, but that’s a whole other story that I hope to sell to the tabloids at the appropriate time), but it was odd tonally.

The show was, admittedly, trying to come back after two rather heavy years introducing the grumpy Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi, but seemed to overcorrect in an entirely different direction. Having bumbling, quipping Nardole around while the Twelfth Doctor was being all broody almost made him look ridiculous, and it definitely overshadowed Bill – a breath of fresh hair – by having to deal with Nardole’s “humour” throughout the tenth series.

9. Left Too Soon: Mel Bush

Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford)

Mel Bush is perhaps one of the more interesting classic series companions. Firstly, she is notable for the fact that she meets the Doctor before he actually meets her – something that has cropped up to great effect in the revived series (looking at you, River Song). This means that her “introductory” story doesn’t actually feature all of the classic parts of a character coming to travel on board the TARDIS. Instead, as part of a look into the future for the Doctor’s massive trial that formed Season 23’s “Trial of a Timelord” saga, Mel was merely part of the furniture.

Mel often gets quite a bad rep from the Doctor Who fandom. It probably doesn’t help that she’s played by Bonnie Langford, who many people found irritating at the time. Noel Coward was once quoted, after seeing a horse defecate on stage during a production of Gone With the Wind featuring a seven-year old Langford, “If they had shoved the child’s head up the horse’s arse they would have solved two problems at once.”

She was the epitome of a child star, but that doesn’t make her great. Sure, she’s acting for the back rows through most of her time in Doctor Who, but it honestly injected such a life and energy into those stories. Mel was inquisitive, intelligent and, most importantly, happy. Doctor Who went through quite a phrase of having grumpy, unwilling companions on board the TARDIS, and Mel was a welcome departure. Moreover, she left after only 6 stories, never earning herself an introductory story, and never even getting to show off her computer programming skills! A travesty.

8. Stayed Too Long: Tegan Jovanka

Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding)

Tegan Jovanka was created by producer John Nathan-Turner to usher out Tom Baker’s immensely popular Fourth Doctor when both Elisabeth Sladen and Louise Jameson had declined to reprise their roles as Sarah Jane Smith and Leela, respectively. Tegan was an Australian air stewardess, who ended up accidentally stumbling on board the TARDIS when breaking down on the motorway. With this, she was swept away into the Doctor’s conflict with the Master, witnessing his regeneration into the Fifth Doctor, and remaining with him for all but his final two stories.

Tegan is considered to be one of the longest running companions, and is the only companion other than Sarah Jane Smith to have appeared in four seasons. She’s also the longest serving companion in terms of time, clocking in at just a week shy of 3 years in the role, only narrowly beating Jenna Coleman as Clara.

For some, this extended period of time has made her adored, a character full to the brim of nostalgia, or, more likely, Stockholm Syndrome. Tegan, bizarrely, survived John Nathan-Turner’s cull of the so-called “Crowded TARDIS”, probably only because Adric, a casualty to the Cyberman, was even less bearable than she. Nyssa (an absolute gem, I will have no bad words said against her) was written out the following year, in the middle of The Black Guardian Trilogy, in the story of Enlightenment, while the weasley, devious prat that was Turlough (sorry Mark Strickson) came on board.

I digress. The point is that, despite John Nathan-Turner’s evident love for the character, Tegan as a character is wholly intolerable. Literally described as a “mouth on legs”, Tegan seems to have an opinion about absolutely everything that happens. She never seems to have a good word to say about the Doctor, constantly getting at him for something or other that he’s done, while continuing to make stupid mistakes and observations, and whining to get returned to Heathrow and go back to her normal life. When there are far more independent, assertive and intelligent companions in existence, the long tenure of Tegan, who is by all accounts prickly, brash and argumentative, is entirely baffling.

7. Left Too Soon: Captain Jack Harkness

Yes, I knew exactly what I was doing when I chose this as my picture. It was a highly significant moment in my sexual awakening, as was Kovu in The Lion King 2. Rumour has it that there was even a small cut section that featured the…hind parts…but I digress.

Captain Jack Harkness was introduced in the first series of Doctor Who’s revival and formed a wonderful team along with the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper). Now, I must confess that I am entirely over Captain Jack as a character. Why then is he on this list?! Let me speak, please. He’s on this list because, as he appears in Series 1, he is a brilliant character. I think where Captain Jack went wrong is that he was then plonked onto Torchwood and essentially just became John Barrowman, whom famously gets on my wick (I also have a whole other tabloid story concerning John Barrowman but, again, payment first).

The dynamic between the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack was that of a beautiful, well-oiled machine, and it’s a shame that that was torn apart so quickly. If that had continued for another season, I doubt anybody would have been complaining. Except maybe Christopher Eccleston.

6. Stayed Too Long: Yaz, Ryan and Graham (AKA The Fam)

Let me get this off my chest: I have limited beef with Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Bradley Walsh – I mean Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh). Massive amounts of criticism gets thrown their way online and I’m not about to add to that with mine.

Having said that, this has been the TARDIS team – or Fam as it’s now called – for two whole series, but I find myself constantly questioning how much we actually know any of them. With the move towards more standalone adventures, it’s meant that few plot points have actually been followed through upon. Though we have met their families, which worked massively with humanising Rose, Martha and Donna, I still feel like we learned more about those companions in their first couple of episodes compared to these three.

Part of that is probably because those series invested far more heavily in developing the companions as the main character. Rose, Martha and Donna’s introductions were all told from their points of view, and Russell T Davies definitely seemed to understand the need to create fully realised, three-dimensional characters. In contrast, I feel like anybody could fill Ryan, Yaz and Graham’s role within an episode. When you’re in a show like Doctor Who, known for its constant reinvention, there needs to be a certain amount of change to keep the audience interested. Since we haven’t even seen any meaningful character development from these three, it’s time for a shakeup. Whether that means all of them or only some of them go, I mind not, but something’s got to give! (Yaz to stay. We like Yaz.)

5. Left Too Soon: Martha Jones

Oh Martha Jones, Martha Jones, Martha Jones. What a bad card you were dealt.

Martha was always going to be a tricky character. She had the unfortunate task of following in Rose Tyler / Billie Piper’s footsteps and, not only was this felt by some portions of the audience, but also by the Doctor himself. The Doctor never really saw Martha. He took her to the same places he took Rose, he complained about how she’d have figured all the answers out by now, and took much longer to properly commit to Martha being a companion, instead taking her on “one-off” trips.

Martha was also lumped with a terribly demeaning unrequited love story, which, while it didn’t bother me in the slightest, made her come across as lovesick and annoying to some audience members.

However, Martha was one of the most resilient and interesting companions that we have had on Doctor Who. Even in the first five minutes of her introduction, you can see the way that she juggles her chaotic family and appeases all of them. On top of this, she is massively intelligent and a dedicated medical student when we meet her. Her spirit of adventure is keen, and she successfully holds her own against the Doctor. The Doctor even trusts her to look after him in 1913 when he erases his own memories, leaving Martha alone to fight the aliens without the Doctor for any help and, finally, she has to roam the world on her own for an entire year as part of the Doctor’s plot to destroy the Master. Not to mention the fact that she also had to endure horrendous amounts of racism and work in a humiliating and demeaning position as a maid, which the Doctor barely even considered. Speaking of which, is Gallifrey racist too?

Ultimately, Martha decides to leave the TARDIS as a result of the Doctor not appreciating her enough for how brilliant she is. Her ending is, actually, quite fitting. It makes sense, and it does tie up her story quite neatly to have her finally asserting her self worth in the face of the Doctor. She went on to crop up in Torchwood and, again, in Doctor Who Series 4, where she was shown to be over her previous feelings, and able to support the Doctor in his reunion with Rose.

Despite the fact that Martha clearly grew away from the TARDIS, she had a disappointing lack of impact upon the Doctor’s actions. He treated her unkindly and callously, and, instead of owning up to that and growing, the Doctor’s conclusion from their adventures was the way that he turned her into a soldier. He was more focussed upon the way that he altered and moulded her, instead of the way that he had hurt her repeatedly. Moreover, Martha made herself a soldier, not the Doctor. She was horrendously capable, what’s more, and yet again the Doctor didn’t show her the respect that she deserved.

Martha has redeeming qualities abounding, and that alone should’ve been reason enough for her to stick around in the show that much longer.

4. Stayed Too Long: Amy, Rory and River

It’s somewhat of a feature of Steven Moffat’s tenure as show runner that his (female) characters were introduced as part of a mystery – because what’s compelling about an ordinary woman, eh? For these characters who were introduced as part of a mystery are then horrendously overused. Firstly, let’s take on River Song.

River Song (played wonderfully by Alex Kingston) has one of the best character introductions in the history of Doctor Who, not to mention one of the more heartbreaking. She meets the Doctor at the end of her life, before he has even met her – and it’s surprising that it took the show this long for this kind of thing to happen. The idea of a history between the two characters, and what role River might play, was definitely compelling. Unfortunately, River Song kept on coming back time after time after time and was part of twist after twist after twist. Not only was she the Doctor’s wife, she was also Amy and Rory’s daughter, and she was also raised to kill the Doctor, and she did kill the Doctor, and she’s in jail, etc, etc. It’s a whole thing to get your head around,, and it’s a shame for Alex Kingston who does play the role well. Sometimes, a little mystery is a good thing.

Then there’s Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), the girl who waited. Similarly, the audience waited for her to leave. There wasn’t anything in particular wrong about Amy, apart from the fact that she sort of lost direction over her two-and-a-half series as companion. The viewer got the sense that Karen Gillan didn’t especially want to leave – which is fair enough – and Steven Moffat wasn’t assertive enough to write them out in a conclusive way, resulting in Amy and Rory being continually written out and written back in. While their story had high points, and low points, it might have been much better if they’d left at the end of “The God Complex” in Series 6, instead of carrying on to a final confrontation with the Weeping Angels in “The Angels Take Manhattan”. By the time they left for real, it was more of a relief than a sad note. Their entire final season on the show, Amy and Rory had been living at home while hopping on board the TARDIS whenever it appeared, becoming only casual travellers as opposed to live-in companions, and the audience had to face the mundanity of them wondering what they were going to tell their friends about why they were ageing quicker than them.

What’s more, the Ponds’ first departure was so much more powerful than their eventual one. Having shattered Amy’s faith in him, they mutually agreed to part ways. It seemed like a nice evolution from a girl who was introduced as being absorbed in fairy tales. However, she appeared in the following episode, albeit in a cameo, and played a large part in the finale – though in an alternate universe – and then cropped up throughout the seventh series too. Any companion with multiple exits is pushing their luck. Once you’ve said goodbye once, the final departure is never as impactful.

3. Left Too Soon: Victorian Clara

Sure, Clara eventually ended up being a mainstay of the programme, but what of Clara’s echo that we met in Victorian London? Compared to the Clara we eventually ended up with, who was decidedly less remarkable than both Clara Oswin Oswald and Oswin Oswald before her, Victorian Clara was street-smart, plucky and practically epitomised the essence of what a Doctor Who companion should be.

Victorian Clara was fiercely intelligent. She managed to deduce so many things in her short time with the Doctor, including finding his TARDIS hiding in the clouds. She was drastically more independent and composed compared to Contemporary Clara, able to summarise the Doctor’s need to help her with just one word, which seems practically impossible for overly talkative, slightly over confident Contemporary Clara. She also had a much better dynamic with Matt Smith’s Doctor. His passion and energy for her, and the way they sparked together, was enough to get him over the loss of the Ponds, and his relationship with Clara Prime never really matched up to it.

Additionally, she just seemed to have much more of an adventurous spirit than our Clara, who was comparatively more timid and ordinary. Victorian Clara actively pursued the Doctor, and involved herself in his adventures, while modern Clara was only involved because the Doctor sought her out and she got herself into danger. It’s no secret that regular Clara was defined more by the mystery surrounding her than her actual personality, and having Victorian Clara involved would have meant a companion who the audience were actually passionate about, and given the latter half of Series 7 far more energy and impetus.

Victorian Clara was definitely more of a captivating presence on screen and, indeed, it was the intention that Victorian Clara would have been the Clara to travel with the Doctor, even having most of the following Series 7 episodes written with her in mind, until Moffat decided that the need to explain contemporary inventions to the companion would be alienating to the viewers. Having Victorian Clara as the true companion was a tremendous missed opportunity, considering the massive impact she has upon the watchability of “The Snowmen”.

2. Stayed Too Long: Clara Oswald

And here is the lady herself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually really like Jenna Coleman, and warmed quite a lot to Clara while she was on board the TARDIS. Initially, the contemporary Clara we were introduced to was notable more for being “The Impossible Girl” than she was for actually being particularly well-developed. Nobody was really sure what she would be like in the scripts, and I think that resulted in her being quite a generic companion unless she was being written by Steven Moffat.

The problem with Clara was how many times she departed the programme. Firstly, she never committed to living on board the TARDIS and travelling with the Doctor full time, unlike the likes of Rose, Martha and Donna. Though she sacrificed herself to save the Doctor, living a million lives and deaths just to save him from the Great Intelligence, this plot point eventually went nowhere and, if Clara’s sacrifice had resulted in her death, it might have meant quite a cohesive arc for the character. Instead, this major event was not really spoken of again afterwards.

Clara then left the programme multiple times. She left the TARDIS after a massive argument with the Doctor mid-way through Series 8 in “Kill the Moon”, only to rejoin in the following episode “Mummy on the Orient Express”. She then parted ways with the Doctor in “Death in Heaven”, pretending that Danny had been brought back to life, while the Doctor pretended that he had found Gallifrey and was going to return to his home. Clara was reintroduced in “Last Christmas”, where she seemingly died, only to then elect to travel with the Doctor again through Series 9.

Then we come to her departure in Series 9. Clara’s entire storyline throughout Series 9 was about her becoming increasingly like the Doctor and becoming more and more reckless about her own life, which ultimately ended in her own death in “Face the Raven”. Except it didn’t. Two episodes later, “Hell Bent” saw Clara extracted before her last heartbeat by a grieving Doctor, where she then erased the Doctor’s memories of her and went off to travel the universe in her own TARDIS.

Exhausted? So were we. Part of this wasn’t the fault of the writers, but also apparently the changing commitments of Jenna Coleman, who elected to leave on multiple occasions, only to then change her mind and commit. Apparently, the script for “Last Christmas” contained Clara’s ultimate departure in the death scene that we saw here, causing Coleman to retract leaving the series and continue on for Series 9. Personally, if that was the last goodbye to my companion, I would be annoyed as well. Annoyed enough to stop it from happening, which was maybe Moffat’s intention all along.

Clara had some meaty and interesting story arcs while on the show. Not only did the Impossible Girl have a brilliant conclusion that really made a big deal out of Clara’s sacrifice, but Series 8 saw her struggle with the ideals of the new incarnation of the Doctor, while Series 9 saw her on a path of self destruction. It’s interesting stuff, but Clara never really reached the heights that the Impossible Girl resolution gave her. She saved the Doctor millions of times over – more than any other companion had done, and it was never mentioned again after that, and she just reverted to an ordinary companion once more. Jenna Coleman is an undeniable talent, but the constant flip flopping and inconsistency in the way that the character was written and realised was highly frustrating, and it was a huge relief when she was finally written out of the show.

1. Left Too Soon: Donna Noble

To many, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is the New Who companion. Though initially introduced as the anti-companion in “The Runaway Bride”, Donna has perhaps the most development out of any companion through her interactions with the Doctor. Between “The Runaway Bride” and her introduction in “Partners in Crime”, Donna has remarkably grown. She has become inquisitive and independent, with a keen eye for justice, aided by her natural resourcefulness. Just like the Doctor infiltrates Adipose Industries, so too does Donna, and Donna’s ability to stand toe-to-toe with him is emphasised throughout the episode.

Donna and the Doctor as equals was a dynamic that remained throughout this series. Their relationship was a massive part of the appeal of this series. Not only was Donna a force to be reckoned with, combining her intellect with a steely defiance, but she also had a massive heart and stood her own against the Doctor’s opinions. For example, in just her second episode, “The Fires of Pompeii”, Donna begged the Doctor to save anybody from the eruption of Pompeii, even though it went against the rules. In “Planet of the Ood”, her compassion towards the Ood was palpable. Donna was deeply motivated to help those around her, and that continued throughout her run.

What’s more, Donna genuinely loved adventure. She adored her trips with the Doctor, and didn’t want to leave. If given the choice, she would have stayed with him forever. Indeed, Catherine Tate also wanted to stay on the series, but Russell T Davies, unaware of this, wrote her a beautiful one-series arc. As amazing as that series was, imagine how incredible it would have been for this sublime companion to have stuck around? Any more time with Donna Noble is gratefully received.

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