There have been more companions leaving Doctor Who than I’ve had hot breakfasts, and I eat a lot. Throughout the show’s history, companions have died, fallen in love and departed, got cranky and walked out or finally returned home after being kinda…err, picked up by the Doctor. Some have been more memorable than others. This my friends, is the Top 5 departures of companions across the entire series of Doctor Who – buckle in and read who pushed the ejection button!
1. SHOT DOWN, IN A BLAZE OF GLORY: ADRIC DIES
The return of the Cybermen after a six-year absence from British television screens was a cause for much fan excitement. ‘Earthshock’ became the highlight of Season 19, a taut action thriller, with the Doctor and his companions attempting to stop the Cybermen commandeering a space freighter and crashing it into the Earth. What it also did, daringly, was present the first death of a companion since Katarina was thrust out of an airlock in 1965.
Matthew Waterhouse didn’t have the best of times while working on Doctor Who. A young actor in his first major role, he had always loved watching the show. He really shined while working with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, but tended to suffer with a new Doctor and the bolshie Tegan Jovanka. So his decision to leave the series presented new producer John Nathan Turner with an opportunity to do something dramatic with the character.
Adric was a mathematical genius, a prodigy from an alternative universe known as E-Space. With his brother killed during the events of ‘Full Circle’ he joined the Doctor and Romana as a sort of surrogate son. Wilful, arrogant when it came to science and maths, he found a kindred spirit in the similarly orphaned Nyssa, herself a specialist in the sciences. This nascent relationship saw its fullest expression when Nyssa despairing calls Adric’s name at the moment of his death.
Lots of fans claim Doctor Who is a kid’s show. It sort of is, but mostly isn’t. There’s way too much death and drama for it to be wholly a children’s show, even though kids are smarter and more sensitive than most give them credit for. Death in Doctor Who is a staple, a means of advancing the plot, or underscoring the villainy of the enemy. In the Davison era, Adric’s death became emblematic of this Doctor’s inability to win a convincing victory.
With the Cybermen’s plans to destroy the Earth, and the galactic alliance meeting that would herald a new push to defeat the Cybermen, seemingly on track, it is only Adric’s impulsiveness that threatens to stop them. Refusing to leave the crashing freighter via an escape pod, he is convinced he can remove the Cyberman programming from the ship’s computer and divert a catastrophe. What he doesn’t realise is that the freighter is spiralling backwards in time, in a conscious parallel to the dinosaur fossils found by the Doctor and his companions in a cave system on a future Earth. It becomes rapidly clear that the freighter crashing into the Earth is the disaster that wiped out the dinosaurs. For all of Adric’s bravery and belief in his mathematical genius, he couldn’t overcome predestination. The dinosaurs were always wiped out by the freighter Adric found himself on, and there was nothing he could do about it. So, as he watched the Earth’s rapid approach, while holding his brother Varsh’s belt, we watched Adric die. Tegan’s furious denunciation of the Doctor’s refusal to go back and save Adric demonstrated the depths of the tragedy that has befallen their little group. And the silent roll of the credits, over the crushed remains of Adric’s badge for mathematical excellence, told a generation of viewers that what they had just witnessed, was, and does, remain very, very special.
2. IAN CHESTERTON AND BARBARA WRIGHT RETURN TO LONDON 1965!
A curious history and science teacher once walked into a junkyard in search of a strange student and stumbled across a seemingly abandoned London Police Box…stop me if you’ve heard this before. When Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, teachers at Coal Hill School, started investigating their slightly odd mutual student, Susan, little did they know that they would soon find themselves careening around all of time and space.
There can be little doubt that much of the early success of Doctor Who can be laid at the feet of actors Willian Russell and Jacqueline Hill. Both came into the series with extensive experience in acting, particularly Russell who had been the lead in ‘The Adventures of Sir Lancelot’. Cast to play the square-jawed hero alongside Hartnell’s more doddery Doctor, Russell formed a formidable partnership with Hill. Jacqueline Hill had made her debut on stage and was primarily a television actress. Their partnership provided a strong core for the viewers to latch on. The very first episode is told through their eyes, as they discuss their unearthly student, Susan, and follow her to that fabled junkyard and the TARDIS.
As science and history teachers, both characters were perfectly placed to fill the original remit of the show, to provide an educational platform for the kids, alongside exciting and terrifying them. Hill always said she preferred the historical stories, such as ‘The Aztecs’ and ‘The Reign of Terror’, and it isn’t hard to see why, as the meaty dilemmas thrown up by the real world conflicts in each story provided great fodder for actors. Russell and Hill are excellent together, at times siding against the Doctor as they take the more practical path, but always embracing the potential for time travel, even amidst some harrowing moments.
My favorite memory of their time together is in ‘The Romans.’ The TARDIS team have taken temporary possession of an empty villa outside Rome, and are living the patrician life like there is no tomorrow. If you squint, you can just about see Ian and Barbara are in a relationship – the playfulness of the actors is evident, and they are having a very enjoyable time.
But all good things must end, as they did at the end of ‘The Chase’. After escaping the temporal shenanigans of the Daleks, Ian and Barbara are presented with a chance to return home, aboard a Dalek time machine ironically more reliable than the TARDIS.
Their decision infuriates the Doctor, to him, after all they have been through, it is a kind of betrayal. Ian and the Doctor exchange harsh words, with the Doctor accusing Ian and Barbara of thrusting themselves on him. It is Barbara, with her calm demeanour and kinder words, who defuses the situation, but the Doctor won’t relent and show them how to pilot the craft. It is Vicki who realises that the Doctor is anguished at losing them both. She convinces him that it is their choice to make the risky journey and he relents. The entire scene is played straight, and is all the more affecting for it. This viewer had a genuine lump in their throat, as the last of the original team returned home.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom at the end. Barbara and Ian emerge from the shed they’ve landed in, exhilarated that they have returned home. ‘London, 1965!’ Ian exclaims, and a thousand memes are born. Thereafter follows a montage sequence showing Ian and Barbara revelling in their return to London, home, and the potential for domestic bliss.
A truly magical sequence, and a fitting farewell to two wonderful characters and actors.
3. JO GRANT: THE FLEDGLING FLIES THE NEST
Daffy. Short sighted. Sparkling. Companion Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning, was all of this and more. After the relative dourness of Caroline John’s dry academic, Liz Shaw, Jo was like a breath of fresh air. A product of the Swinging Sixties, and a devotee of some of the more hippier aspects of life (the Age of Aquarius, for instance), Jo Grant was a willing, earnest, young operative within UNIT when she was assigned to work with the Doctor.
Despite her relative naivety, Jo was always willing to pitch in. Never overwhelmed by everything she encountered (the Master, Sea Devils, even the Daleks), she was an excellent counterpoint to the patrician (and slightly sexist) Third Doctor. Indeed, the made a fabulous couple, and those who grew up during that era will have stronger memories of Jo and the Doctor than the companions who travelled with him either side of Jo.
Initially overwhelmed by the Doctor, Jo is resilient enough to give as good as she gets. Whereas some companions openly confront the Doctor, Jo was more willing to get her own way by a less frontal assault. In most cases, she would wear the Doctor down, her enthusiasm more than making up for any particular flaw in her plans. Always, though, her devotion to the Doctor spoke of her loyalty and their deep friendship.
So it would have to be someone special that would cause this partnership to break up. The events of ‘The Green Death’ would prove that Jo, far from being reliant on the Doctor, could stand on her own two feet and make her own decisions. This story, which centered on the malice of an insane computer, and environmental damage in and around a mine works, brings Jo into the presence of Nobel Laureate and environmental professor, Clifford Jones. As is the tradition in Doctor Who (possibly brought on by an intense period of constant danger and near death) Jo and Clifford formed an instant attraction, an attraction that turned into a marriage proposal, and a decision by Jo to leave UNIT, and the Doctor.
The farewell given to Jo and Clifford takes place at the end of the final episode of ‘The Green Death’. The Brigadier tells Clifford the UN will be funding his research facility (thanks to Jo pulling strings with her civil servant uncle) and an impromptu party breaks out when Clifford announces that he and Jo are to marry. The poignancy of the scene is the obvious joy and unhappiness that Jo is experiencing, as she embraces her future and farewells the Doctor. For his part, there is a definite melancholy about the Doctor, as he silently toasts the happy couple, then slips away from the party and begins the long drive back to London. Classic era Doctor Who generally doesn’t do emotion, especially of the wry and romantic kind, but here, all the participants play the scene pitch perfect.
4. ROSE TYLER: TAPPING A SUPERNOVA TO SAY GOODBYE
In many ways, the success of the relaunched new series is down to the overwhelmingly positive reception the character of Rose, as played by Billie Piper, received. The collective memory of the general populace regarding the Doctor’s companions was of a bunch of ankle hurting, ‘what’s that Doctor?’ asking, pretty young things in short skirts. But the brave and bold Rose Tyler was an utter blast of fresh air, an undeniable triumph, and a pointer to how the revived series would treat not only the female companion, but female character, in general.
Russell T Davies’ decision to broaden the scope and appeal of the series as wide as possible is one reason for why it was such a smash hit. Casting serious actor Christopher Eccleston shook off any notions that the series would be a camp exercise in nostalgia. Casting Piper, an established popular singer and budding actress, signalled to the audience that the series would be a fusty retread either, but would boldly embrace the notion of a strong female lead, capable of giving as good as she got from the Doctor.
Roses’ devastation at losing her ‘first’ Doctor, at the end of the new series was an indication of how positively her travels had affected her. At first thinking the Doctor was dead, she soon latched on to this younger version, with his quiff of hair and cheeky smile. They soon formed a strong bond. With his renewed body, the Doctor began a new phase of his life, and the stories broadened to encompass not only Tennant’s broader interpretation of the character, but allowed a new element to develop – romance.
I’m not a big fan of romance in Doctor Who – small doses, please. I’m absolutely against any notion of the Doctor falling for his companion. In fictional terms, it’s a worrying power dynamic. Still, Davies’ more soap opera approach, coupled with the audience’s expectation, demanded that the series tilt in that direction. But Davies was canny enough to understand that for all their happy frolicking through time and space, there would have to be a price to pay. And what a price!
After the devastation of the Dalek versus Cybermen confrontation in the Docklands region of London, and the opening up of a portal to another universe, the Doctor emerges triumphant. But Rose, along with her mother, are flung into this other universe, trapped on the other side of a dimensional wall even the Doctor cannot breach. Those scenes as the Doctor and Rose attempt to escape the clutches of the breach are amongst the most tense and shocking of that particular series.
But Davies had more in store for the audience. Now settled in her new home, with her mother happily reunited with that universe’s version of her dead husband, Rose dreams of the Doctor. The dreams are so insistent that Rose, Pete and Jackie travel to, ironically enough, Bad Wolf Bay, in Norway, where a hologram of the Doctor appears. The Doctor says that he is tapping into the power of a supernova to generate enough energy to allow just this small breach in the walls of existence. It is a testimony to his (dare I say it?) affection for Rose. The music rises as a choked up Rose announces her love for the Doctor. The Doctor hesitates, begins to answer, then flickers out and disappears.
There would be more appearances later for Rose, first as a universe jumping fighter intent on thwarting Davros’s war on existence, then as the incarnation of the Moment, the device the War Doctor thought to use to end the Time War. But that would be for later…instead, there would always be a declaration of love whispering across the universe…
5. TEGAN CRACKS IT AND TELLS THE DOCTOR EXACTLY WHAT FOR
As an Australian, Tegan Jovanka makes my teeth hurt. She’s loud, she’s bossy, she’s cranky, and she just wants to get back to Heathrow and catch her flight. She’s not backward in coming forward, much to the Fifth Doctor’s chagrin. More importantly, she’s memorable, as was her departure from the show.
Tegan is one of those rare companions who start with one incarnation of the Doctor and finish with another. While she barely knew the Fourth Doctor, Tegan spent an extraordinary amount of time with his replacement. Together, they shared many, many adventures. Some were fun, like the cod-Agatha Christie shenanigans of ‘Black Orchard’. Otherwise, her adventures with the Doctor left a deeper mark on Tegan, such as the violation of her mind committed by the Mara in ‘Kinda’ and ‘Snakedance’. Along the way, she watched with horror as Adric died trying to save humanity and lost her best friend and confidant Nyssa when the young Traken decided to stay on Terminus to help find a cure for the lazars. Throughout, Tegan put up an immensely brave front. But everyone has a breaking point.
But the breaking point came with ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. Scripted by Eric Saward, Resurrection floridly displays all his interest in the military. It is also incredibly, by Doctor Who standards, violent, and full of violent imagery. Taking its cue from the destruction of the Dalek in ‘The Five Doctors’ the Daleks in this story die in a barrage of jetting foam and flailing tentacles. A biological agent kills humans by eating at their flesh. Mercenaries about, shooting at anything that moves. A human clone sacrifices himself to cause a huge explosion. And we are witness to the Doctor holding a gun on Davros, inches away from blowing the Kaled scientist away.
It’s all too much. Way too much. At the end of the story, amidst the grimy ruins of a warehouse, surrounded by dead bodies and destroyed Daleks, Tegan finally cracks.
‘A lot of good people have died today,’ a clearly shell shocked Tegan says. The Doctor is remorseful and tries to convince Tegan to stay. ‘It’s stopped being fun,’ Tegan says, and runs away. And then we have something unusual – the Doctor chases after Tegan, almost begging her to stay, to ‘not leave like this.’ But Tegan, apologetic, refuses, and vanishes, leaving the Doctor to ponder mending his ways. As the TARDIS leaves, a tearful Tegan comes back. ‘I will miss you,’ are her last words, before the credits rush in.
Classic Doctor Who really doesn’t do emotion that much, but when it does, it can be very affecting. You get the sense that here are two very good actors digging deep into the emotional core of their characters – Tegan, bold and brazen, too exposed to an exceptionally dangerous lifestyle, and a blithe Doctor, flitting from place to place, finally recognising that his lifestyle, his penchant for danger and excitement, comes at a cost for those closest to him. A bleak, powerful, but depressing ending, to a bleak and powerful story. Vale, Tegan.