Doctor Who and His Changing Companions

There is so much being said about the 50th anniversary Dr Who, The Day of the Doctor that I doubt anything I have to say will make a huge impact.

It was a lot of fun, and also quite touching in places. The were some pacing issues (the end was somewhat rushed, perhaps, and could have benefited from an extra 15 mins), but Hurt and Tennant were, as always, brilliant. Yes, some of the monsters were a tad hammy, but then with DW that is rather traditional is it not? And yes, there were many in-jokes (probably many more than I spotted) but it was also pleasingly self-deprecating.

I wondered about the absence of some other earlier doctors, but on reflection, given the ravages of time on some of the previous incarnations it was probably a good call in leaving them until that final tableau. And The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot on the BBC site is more fun than there was time for in the 50th bash, so I shall say no more on that; other than to smile at Stephen Moffat’s head-in-hands despair over the truly amazing awfulness of One Direction at the after-party…

There have been many programmes aired during the pre-anniversary hype. New dramas, such as An Adventure in Space and Time which saw all of the politics and privations endured in the making of the first programmes through the eyes of its the Producer Verity and on to the end of the Hartnell era. Excellent drama.

And here comes the conundrum…

As the only girl in the family, with two older brothers, I would have had little choice in viewing when Dr Who was sandwiched neatly between the sport and news. I was nine years old when that first episode was shown, and vividly recall being enthralled by such a new style in TV when kids TV more usually peaked at The Singing Ringing Tree.

So what about those companions?

I noted with increasing irritation that they are almost universally designated that irksome (and to my ears patronising) epithet, ‘feisty females’.

Do people ‘know’ that word? Okay, yes according to the OED it is: Feisty: adjective – informal. Of a person, typically one who is relatively small lively, determined, and courageous: a love story with a feisty heroine who’s more than a pretty face… (but also says) touchy and aggressive – origin: late 19th century: from earlier feist, fist ‘small dog’, from fisting cur or hound, a derogatory term for a lapdog, from Middle English fist ‘break wind’. Gaaah!!

Strong, powerful, intelligent, warrior-like, or any of a few dozen other words would do, but please! No more with the feisty!

Now I am not one who thinks the Doctor should be female per se. There are female Time Lords, and the DW companions of the 21st century have all been strong women and this was reflected in those seen in The Day of the Doctor. Fine.

But oh… Those early companions…

I don’t believe I have watched that first Dr Who series in its entirety since that time, which is probably just as well. My, how times have changed! I can wave aside the cardboard props and theatrical presentation. It was of its time, and made on a shoe-string budget. Those of us ever watched an episode of Crossroads can attest that DW was not the only set with built in wobble!

I watched the first four episodes this week with increasing gloom as the lead females tripped and stumbled, screamed and swooned their way through. Yes my logic brain was still telling me it was ‘of its time’, and yes, I know the female companions in those early years were only there to alternately ask questions and be rescued. Knowing that didn’t stop me yelling at the TV for Susan and Barbara to stop screaming and do something useful! Given the ‘feisty’ female producer portrayed in An Adventure in Space and Time I am mystified as to why she didn’t let the girls have at least partial use of their spines – even if it was 1963!

Both product and reflection of its time – and thankfully times have changed. I wonder if the girls I heard recently in a pub discussing feminism as a waste of time should be tied to a chair with their eyelids taped open and made to watch it.

Long live the Who Companion – male and female – and more power to their every move!


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