Monday, 6 July 2015

TGT Debate - Is It Time For A Non-Human Companion?

Last week we argued whether the Doctor travelling with multiple companions works better than just one companion at a time. 68% of you agreed that multiple companions were better, while 32% preferred single companions.

This week, we're sticking with the theme of companions. After 3 years as the companion, a lot of people are expecting Clara to leave soon, so we've been thinking about what sort of person the next companion should be. One idea we've discussed heavily is a non-human companion. A robot perhaps? Or even a Time Lord? 

"It's time for a non-human companion!" argues Andrew

Doctor Who, as always, needs to constantly challenge the audience in ever changing ways and in a manner that reflects the ever changing times we live in. Imagination knows no boundaries in a show that has all of time and space to play with, so there should be no excuses when it comes to responsibly and constructively addressing some of humanity’s weaknesses and the moral dilemmas we face (with some mindless entertainment thrown in) What I’m getting at is the importance of incorporating diversity into the storylines in the strongest possible ways so we as viewers have our eyes wide open to receiving new ideas and our minds kept clear so we can interpret them without any prejudice.

We all adore the Doctor. And the individuals the Doctor loves the most are inevitably those he invites to be with him on his travels in the TARDIS. This is where it can be more complicated for us, some of us may have detested Rose and loved Donna. One fell gushingly in love and the other was often less than impressed with the ‘Space Man’. The Doctor loved them equally and ideally we need to see that this type of acceptance should be good enough for us too. It doesn’t stop us from having our favourites and our least favourites but we kind of accept them all because the Doctor does.

Things become even more challenging when the Doctor chooses to travel with non-human beings. Whether they be some kind of stand out Alien such as Madame Vastra or come in the form of artificial intelligence as we’ve seen with K9 the robotic dog and more recently Handles the cyber like ‘head’ who chooses loyalty over comfort in his last few moments.

A robotic companion with a mind made up of electronic circuits can provide an element of infallibility which the Doctor lacks, the ability to search an internal database for facts or to solve some mathematical impossibility is easily covered by an artificial brain (no need for the chalk board!) whereas the Doctor’s own thinking tends to be a bit more ‘wibbly’. The TARDIS itself is another combination of a personality and machine, this of course is the one companion that will never change for the Doctor, but she’s not always quite infallible and needs the odd wallop in the right place to function properly such is her unpredictability.

Looking back at classic Who there are good examples of non-human companions that have worked, Adric the stowaway proved valuable to his dying day, Leela the knife wielding warrior was a constant challenge to the Doctor and Nyssa showed us a paternal instinct in the Doctor who felt a responsibility to her following the death of her Father. I can’t help feeling that some of these examples in Classic Who were more born out of novelty value when the key aim of the show was entertainment and maybe there was less expectation to mirror our society as we know it today.

This is where I would return back to Madame Vastra. Unlike her butler Strax the Sontaran (who I see mainly providing a comedy role in the show) Vastra actually challenges a lot of taboos. Vastra has a strikingly alien face which makes her feel she must wear a veil in victorian London, as well as this, Vastra’s sexuality has raised eyebrows internationally when a scene of her giving the kiss of life to wife Jenny wasn’t approved of in many places and there were calls for the scene to be edited out.

Although Vastra isn’t a companion of the Doctor on the TARDIS, a character such as hers would be an exciting way to subtly introduce challenges to the viewer. As there have been calls to make Doctor Who more diverse, to grow to know a companion who causes us to try and understand beyond what we might be used to or more comfortable with, could help teach us to enjoy and to accept somebody fundamentally different to ourselves, just as the Doctor does.

"Let's have another human!" argues Ben

A very well written argument by Andrew there, but I think he's missing the point of a companion. The role of companion is to basically act as us in the show, to travel with the Doctor and ask him the questions we are asking as viewers. In order to do this, we need to be able to relate to the character of the companion, which is much easier to do when we are the same species.

The majority of the Doctor's companions over his 50+ years of travel have been humans. There is, therefore, no doubt that the human companion works the best. Yes, it's nice to have a robot dog or a Time Lady on board for a while, but let's face it, K9 can't really keep up with the Doctor (especially if there's stairs involved) and we think less of the Doctor when Romana is outsmarting him all the time.

If the companion is not human, it means we then have to learn about the alien companion's culture and personality, so it can be hard to trust them at first. In the Sherlock Holmes short stories, for example, the foreigner is nearly always the villain. One non-human companion that was definitely treated with suspicion was Vislor Turlough of Trion. In his very first story, he attempts to kill the Doctor, albeit under orders from the Black Guardian. For some reason, the Doctor allows his assassin on board the TARDIS, but for the rest of his appearances, we cannot truly trust him. Although this is an exciting idea, we shouldn't have to worry about the Doctor's safety around his own companions.

Although the likes of K9 and Romana have become fan favourites, not all non-human companions have fared so well. Alzarian math genius Adric was disliked by a lot of fans and the shape-shifting robot Kamelion was poorly executed. Perhaps these companions were too ahead of their time, or maybe they just weren't a good idea in the first place.

For my final example, we must turn to the comic adventures in DWM. What could be more absurd than the Sixth Doctor's brightly coloured patchwork coat or Seventh's question mark jumper and umbrella? Why a penguin companion of course. I am of course talking about Frobisher, the shape-shifting Whifferdill who travelled with the Doctor for a while. What were they thinking when they came up with that idea?! It could be argued that Frobisher is more of a pet, since it is an animal, but this is just a form it takes instead of his original humanoid shape. Thank god he didn't make it onto the screen adventures.

In conclusion, I think that in these days of gender-swapping Time Lords and immortal Time Agents, the viewer needs something they can relate to, some sanity amidst the craziness. Let us stick to what we are familiar with and what we know works. Let's keep the humans in the TARDIS, because who knows, if we wish hard enough, one day that could be us.

You've heard what we think, so now it's time for you to vote. This week we're giving you three options; should the next companion be an alien, robot or human? Vote in the poll and let us know your comments below.