What does it take to be a Doctor Who companion?

Travelling all of time and space requires a special combination of qualities. Do you have what it takes to join the Doctor? 

The Doctor has had many travelling companions over their millennia-long journeys across the cosmos. But be warned – they only take the very best! And the Doctor’s friends have often risen to the occasion, proving themselves worthy of their place in the TARDIS. Whether absorbing the energy of the Time Vortex to destroy the entire Dalek Empire or becoming the most important person in the universe, the companions of the Doctor are a tough act to follow. But what truly makes a good companion? 

Curiosity and an adventurous spirit

Travelling with the Doctor is not for the faint of heart. To fully experience everything time and space has to offer, you first have to throw away your fear and embrace curiosity and a spirit of adventure.

As the Doctor said, time travel is like visiting a foreign city: “You can't just read the guidebook, you've got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers!” A great companion never tires of the people, planets and cultures the TARDIS offers them. And a few monsters along the way isn’t enough to shake them!

Yaz, Ryan and Graham showed their curiosity and adventurous spirit when they agreed to travel with the Thirteenth Doctor. Despite a recent run-in with giant spiders, Team TARDIS were able to put their fears aside and remain hungry for adventure. The Doctor warned them they would not come back as the same people who left, but they understood. Graham thought adventure would help him to deal with his grief, Yaz was looking for something a bit more than her life back home and Ryan was just happy to escape the monotony of his job. More than anything, they were ready to journey into the unknown.

Later, Dan Lewis too displayed curiosity and an adventurous spirit when he was whisked onboard the TARDIS during the events of the Flux. Separated from the Doctor, he and Yaz spent three years in the 1900s searching for clues pertaining to the end of the world. While he was certainly lacking in spelunking skills, Dan’s spirit of adventure made him an integral member of the TARDIS team, and when he eventually left the Doctor, he did so with a renewed appreciation for life and newfound motivation to tackle his problems.

Courage and resilience

Travelling with the Doctor is rarely safe, quiet or calm. The Doctor’s companions often find themselves in situations that require enormous amounts of courage and resilience to overcome. As Yaz’s Nani once said, courage is knowing that something will hurt but still doing it anyway, and there have been numerous instances where the Doctor’s companions have had to make difficult choices. 

The Tenth Doctor’s companion Martha exhibited immense courage and resilience when she spent a year on the run from the Master and his evil legions; during this time she told the story of the Doctor to all she met. The Eleventh Doctor’s companion Rory spent 2,000 years protecting his wife Amy, while she was safely kept inside the Pandorica, a futuristic jail cell meant for the Doctor.

However, one of the most notable displays of courage and resilience from a companion technically never happened. When a soothsayer created a universe where Donna Noble made a wrong turn and never met the Doctor, she also created a whole version of reality where the Doctor was never around to protect the Earth from alien invasions. With only four minutes left to convince her past self to make this crucial turn, Donna realised she would have to sacrifice herself to correct the course of events. Thankfully she was successful, but Donna's sacrifice came at the cost of her existence and her heroic act was destined to be forgotten. Poor Donna! This wasn't the last time her memory would be lost...

Intelligence and resourcefulness

The Doctor’s companions are among some of the most intelligent and resourceful people in the universe. You’d have to be if you were defending the stars from unimaginable threats on a daily basis! But intelligence doesn’t have to mean doctorates and degrees. Sure, Professor River Song has both –  but they’re just proof of her skills. Intelligence and resourcefulness are the core skills many of the Doctor’s friends have displayed, regardless of whether they started their journey serving chips or training to be a doctor!

Clara Oswald showed huge amounts of intelligence and resourcefulness when she had to take on the mantle of ‘the Doctor’. After landing in the exotic distant land of Bristol, England, the TARDIS’s exterior dimensions inexplicably shrunk, trapping the Twelfth Doctor inside. With just enough room to get his hand through the doors, he was able to pass Clara his sonic screwdriver and psychic paper, so she could take the lead on investigating the strange occurrences that had led them there in the first place. With her sharp wit and intellect – plus a little help from the Doctor and Rigsy – Clara was able to survive the Boneless’s onslaught and return the TARDIS to its full size.

Compassion and empathy

 “Always try to nice but never fail to be kind” is a key part of the Doctor’s ethos, so it’s imperative that their friends share that sentiment. The Doctor’s companions are exposed to the best – and worst –  of the universe, meeting legends of time and space as well as some of its most treacherous and morally bankrupt monsters. It’s essential that any companion of the Doctor treat the people they meet on their journey with the respect and dignity that they deserve, regardless of how different they may be.

When the Doctor and Donna arrived on the Ood Sphere, Donna was disgusted by the future humans’ treatment of the Ood as "servants of humanity". On his previous encounter with the Ood, the Tenth Doctor never questioned it, which surprised Donna. This gave him the call to action he needed to help them. Despite her initial reticence around these odd aliens, Donna showed them immense compassion when she discovered they had been lobotomised by Ood Operations and their hind-brains replaced with their characteristic translator balls. Together, she and the Doctor freed the Ood, enabling their song to resonate throughout the galaxies.

Rose Tyler was also deeply empathetic, going so far as to display compassion towards one of the Doctor’s deadliest enemies, a Dalek. And luckily, it was that compassion that even saved her from it. With scars still fresh from the Time War, the Ninth Doctor was overwrought with vengeance when he discovered that just one mutant pepper pot had survived damnation. However, this Dalek had become something new. Having restored itself from Rose’s DNA, the Dalek was quickly evolving into something a lot more… human. It spared Rose’s life and she returned the favour by talking the Doctor down from killing it. She showed a broken Doctor that even a Dalek is capable of change and so her compassion saved him too.

A strong moral compass

After watching the evil Mr Halpen transform into an Ood before her very eyes, Donna remarked that it’s hard to tell what’s right and wrong with the Doctor. And she’s right! The TARDIS can lead to some bizarre places, and when you’ve only got the experience you’ve had on Earth to draw upon, it can be difficult to know how to react to the weird and wonderful. One of the most important characteristics that all companions share is a strong moral compass. Even when things are weird, there’s a right way and a wrong way to deal with them. And the right way usually involves love, empathy and respect.

It can be especially hard to follow the right path when you’ve got a personal stake in what’s going on. That’s exactly what happened to Graham when he found himself face to face with Tzim-Sha, the Stenza warrior who was responsible for the death of his wife, Grace. Graham had sworn he’d kill Tzim-Sha if he ever saw him again and there he was, pointing a gun at the alien. Thankfully, he was able to heed his grandson’s advice to be "the better man" and put the gun down, avoiding a pointless cycle of vengeance. He did shoot him in the foot though, just to shut him up. Don’t tell the Doctor!

A desire to learn

The universe is so vast and unquantifiable, even the Doctor hasn’t seen everything. They have seen a lot of it though, so they usually enjoy having someone around who still gets surprised at things. Great companions are driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge. There’s a level of humility there; an acceptance that there is more to know than can ever be known and that one can only hope to understand just a fraction of the universe’s secrets. The Doctor’s companions revel in the things they don’t understand, with the hope that perhaps they soon will.

Bill Potts is one such example. Noted by the Doctor to smile when she doesn’t understand something, whereas most would frown, Bill was constantly looking to know more about the universe around her. Asking questions at a mile-a-minute in a constant effort to understand, Bill provided the perfect foil to the Twelfth Doctor’s timeless insights. Sneaking into lectures between her shifts serving chips at St Luke’s University, Bill’s diligence impressed the Doctor so much that he offered to become her personal tutor. Somewhere along the way that turned into the two of them travelling time and space. Classic.

An open mind

Anyone travelling with the Doctor is going to see all sorts of things. Before you even get to the magnificent sights and strange monsters, there’s still the person with two hearts and their blue box that’s bigger on the- inside. It’s imperative to keep an open mind, lest you lose your head completely! 

Clara had already been travelling with the Doctor for a while when she faced the ultimate test. Having been up and down the Doctor’s timestream, she was familiar with the concept of regeneration; however, nothing could prepare her for what would happen when her Doctor changed his face. The new Doctor was rude and abrupt, and grappling with an identity crisis. Sure, Clara’s best friend had now changed forever, but it was the Doctor himself who needed the most reassurance: that she would stay with him regardless. It took a timey-wimey phone call from his previous incarnation, who had predicted that things might be a little rough, to assure her that this new Doctor was indeed the same man. He wasn’t on the phone, he was standing right in front of her – and he just wanted to be seen. With an open mind, Clara was able to look at this new man and see her old friend for the first time, and together, they had the absolute best of days!

A sense of wonder

To be able to journey through all of time and space is a privilege, and the Doctor understands that more than anyone else. They’ve seen so much that they delight in experiencing things through the eyes of their companions, as if they’re reliving how it felt the very first time. That sense of wonder is one of the most important traits of all – it’s the force that dispels fear, sparks curiosity and makes a person realise that they are capable of things beyond their imagination. It’s the key component of every first step on a new world, every first bigger-on-the-inside moment. The sheer wonder of everything that ever happened or ever will just waiting beyond those blue doors…

Martha Jones expressed this sense of wonder before she even knew who the Doctor was. Trapped in a hospital that had been scooped up on to the Moon and knowing full well that she could die any minute, she still couldn't help but gaze back at the Earth and marvel at its beauty. The Doctor should have known that she was companion material there and then!

Now we look to the future, and the return of one of the Doctor’s friends in the 60th anniversary specials! Donna Noble’s traits make her a fantastic companion and one of the Doctor’s very best friends. But with her memory of him erased, is there any hope for a return of the Donna that we know and love?

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