May 23, 2015

The Companion Departures - #12 Steven Taylor

Steven’s departure often gets overlooked because it is one of the few examples where there are no surviving episodes currently in the BBC archives for the story in which a companion departs (Vicki & Victoria being the other two). There are audio soundtracks of course and telesnaps for The Savages and also off-air 8mm footage of Steven’s departure scene, so we do get a pretty good sense of his final scenes. His final story is a great one - both as an adventure in its own right but also a great story for Steven. He is very much the hero in this story and his toughness (both physical and mental) that we saw come to the fore early on in his era (in such stories as The Time Meddler, The Daleks Master Plan and The Massacre returns, letting the character leave on a high note. I won’t “spoil” (for a 49 year old story) the details of Steven’s heroism in this story for those of you who haven’t heard it or read the novelization yet, but suffice it to say it is Steven who turns the tide in the good guy’s favour, particularly when the Doctor is incapacitated for a long stretch in this story. Particularly good are the scenes where Steven taunts his opponent (repeatedly calling him “Soldier Boy”) in a duel which occurs Episode 3.

The previous companion departures in the series to date had seen companions leave because they fell in love or simply wanted to return home (or in the case of Sara Kingdom and Katarina, because they were killed). Steven’s departure is the first one to happen for purely altruistic reasons as he stays behind to help lead the people on an alien planet who needed an impartial leader between two separate factions on the planet. It was not an obvious reason at the time for a companion to leave, but works very well and satisfactorily for Steven’s character. It probably takes a touch of confidence and mental toughness to leave the security of the TARDIS to stay behind on an alien planet for benevolent reasons. It is a somewhat brash move as well given that he’s staying behind to become a leader - but it suits Steven’s character because he was brash, confident and mentally tough - at least, as originally conceived and played in the aforementioned stories - less so in something like The Gunfighters but that’s a criticism that could be reserved for that story rather than The Savages which returns the character to its roots in a satisfying and original way for his departure. Simple, but effective.

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May 20, 2015

The Companion Departures - #13 Amy Pond and Rory Williams

First thing to do is acknowledge that this should actually be #13 & #12 given that it is two separate companions (albeit who leave in the same story, if not at the same time). But having horribly realized that I miscounted and should have started at #33 rather than #32, “the Ponds” (as the Doctor called them) get to have a combined entry, perhaps befitting the fact that they are the only married couple to be companions (okay, Mickey and Martha allegedly get married but after their run as companions are over). The Ponds departure is the highest ranked for all of the new series to date (not counting Clara, who is still the current companion at the time of writing - obviously it is not known where she will eventually place in this list). This is partially because, to date, there has been no return appearance undoing or undermining what had already been established at the time the departure (arguably this is the case for every other major companion in the new series - see the entries for Rose, Martha and Donna). The departure of the character in The Angels Take Manhattan also remains tragic and yet heart-warming at the same time and also scores highly in the “uniqueness” category - there’s certainly nothing else like it.

A lot of fans have not really bought the explanation that the Doctor can’t ever see Amy & Rory again. Perhaps they could figure out a way by, say,  taking a bus to Toronto (to get away from New York) and meeting up with the Doctor there. Perhaps someone will write a Big Finish audio one day where that does happen but I feel it would be beside the point. The Doctor might be able to visit them but not take them out of time and space or risk messing up the timeline once again, particularly once they see Rory’s name is listed on the gravestone in New York indicating that he’s lived his life there. Maybe it is an overstatement for the Doctor to say “I will never see you again” to Amy but the key point is really that if Amy chooses to live her life with Rory in the past and establish roots there in New York, then she can’t travel in the TARDIS with him. As a plot device to prevent Amy continuing to travel with the Doctor, it works. And thus far, they story has been true to its word because, Amy flashback aside, the characters have not returned and, given that we are now well past both the 50th Anniversary and Matt Smith’s era, it seems increasingly unlikely they will anytime soon.

It’s a shame they never filmed the scene where Rory’s Dad reads the letter that Rory sent him though…..

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May 16, 2015

The Companion Departures - #14 Tegan Jovanka

Here’s an interesting thing - Resurrection of the Daleks was intended originally for the end of Season 20 and didn’t feature a departure for Tegan. The script was re-written slighly for the following season to write out Kamelion’s scenes (having joined in The King’s Demons, he would have featured in the next story) as by Season 21 they realized that the robot didn’t work well from a technological basis. And the script was also re-written for Season 21 to write out Tegan. Thus, one could make the argument quite successfully that her departure scene is “tacked on”.

Technically it is tacked on - but it doesn’t feel that way, particularly if you are watching the story without the behind-the-scenes knowledge. When Tegan says she has stopped having fun because there’s been so much killing, it is not as though the audience shouldn’t believe her. Resurrection of the Daleks has the highest number of on-screen deaths for any Doctor Who story (and by that I am referring to a body-count - ie. living beings who are seen to die on the screen, rather than the reported deaths from planets, galaxies or continents that occurred in stories like Logopolis or The Parting of the Ways).  Tegan is the only member of the TARDIS trio who doesn’t advocate murdering someone in this story. Seeing the Doctor get pushed over the edge (by the Daleks plan to invade Gallifrey) resulting in his attempt to try to kill Davros in cold blood (something that she probably assumes he succeeded in doing since she wasn’t there to see the Doctor fail to do it and only sees him afterwards completely un-harmed) likely affected her as much as the horrible death of the man she called for help (who was minding his own business with a metal detector and didn’t even hear her, but still gets brutally shot in the back) - not something which is her fault but at the same time you could see why she would feel awful about it almost wishing that she hadn’t tried to escape after all.

In the end it is an effective, unique departure which works well, even if arguably it is one of the more depressing and bleak reasons a companion chooses to leave. But the Doctor says he must mend his ways as a result of Tegan’s departure and the next time we see him in a very bleak situation surrounded by people firing guns left right and centre (two stories later in The Caves of Androzani), he doesn’t join in at all - he rises above it and just has one thing on his mind, which is to save Peri. He essentially sacrifices his 5th incarnation (and for all he knew, his own life) to save someone who he didn’t know that well yet, but was in his care. In that sense, Tegan’s departure is not just an effective departure on its own, but it also sets things up well for the 5th Doctor’s own departure. Not bad for a script that originally wasn’t aiming for this at all when it was first written.

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April 28, 2015

The Companion Departures - #15 - Sara Kingdom

So Katarina dies suddenly and later on in the same episode of the mammoth The Daleks’ Master Plan we are introduced to the next new companion, Sara Kingdom. At first a foe, she befriends the Doctor and Steven and travels with them through time and space in the TARDIS their epic battle against the Daleks (as well as a not-so-epic Christmas day adventure, The Feast of Steven in the midst of the story). And the audience is probably thinking, right, so here’s the new companion, she’ll survive this story and continue to travel with the Doctor and Steven because there’s no way they are going to kill another companion. And the audience is wrong once again, as Sara is tragically killed at the end of the 12 part story. And it is a smidgen more effective departure than Katarina’s (itself very effective) because the shock of having the guts to kill off another companion shortly after doing it the first time is still there - and we feel it a bit more because we get to know and invest in the character a lot more - as short as Sara’s run is, it is still twice as long as Katarina’s, with much more focus on the character in those 9 episodes versus the five that Katarina was in.

Some may quibble with Sara Kingdom’s inclusion as a companion on the list since she didn’t appear in more than one televised story - but fandom has long deemed her to be a companion because she traveled in the TARDIS as a companion for several weeks and arguably The Feast of Steven is a separate adventure (televised in the midst of The Daleks’ Master Plan, it has nothing to do with the plot of that story, which, when the BBC attempted to sell it abroad, did so as an 11-part story without The Feast of Steven). Sara’s photographic appearance in The Day of the Doctor (amongst a host of other companions) and the fact that she’s featured as a companion in several Big Finish audios I think cements her status as a companion, if it was ever in doubt. As such, she is included in this list and her departure squeaks into the top 15.

April 25, 2015

The Companion Departures - #16 - Katarina

The first companion to be killed, and in just her second story and after having appeared in just 5 episodes. A run so short that some don’t consider her to be a companion, although she traditionally has been considered as such and is included on this list. Her departure is not higher up the list because we don’t get a chance to truly know her character or invest our emotions in watching her as much as we would a long-running companion - but the shock value at the time must have been tremendous. Introduced in the final episode of the preceding story The Myth Makers (in very similar fashion to her fellow TARDIS traveler Steven Taylor, who was introduced in the final episode of The Chase), the audience sees her replace Vicki in the TARDIS and naturally assumes that she will be the new companion for quite some time. Four episodes into The Daleks’ Master Plan the audience is shockingly proved wrong. Doctor Who‘s unpredictability went up a notch, and while she was there a short time, her tragic but heroic exit means that her departure was a memorable one (or would be if most fans had seen the story - check out the audio though, it is fantastic).

April 12, 2015

The Companion Departures - #17 - Vicki

Vicki’s departure shouldn’t work so well.The audience has to swallow the notion that a sophisticated girl from the future is willing to live in times that are incredible primitive and uncivilized by comparison. And yet, The Myth Makers is able to sell this idea to the audience reasonably well.  I think this is because the love story which is introduced as a mechanism to remove the character from the show is actually quite sweet (and unlike with Leela, isn’t suddenly introduced into the story at the last minute). Vicki has the chance to leave in the TARDIS, abandoning her fellow teenager (or perhaps early 20’s - difficult to tell by the audio soundtrack alone) and lover in Troy as the Trojans have been brutally defeated by the Greeks - not in soccer game, but in a bloody war. And yet after the TARDIS departs Troilus, a survivor of the bloody defeat, searches seemingly in vain for his love who has apparently betrayed him, and discovers that she hasn’t - at least not personally. She has given up everything - her safety in the TARDIS, her sophisticated lifestyle, her de facto “adopted grandfather” (ie. the Doctor) and stayed behind for him.  And as Vicki finds Troilus on the fields of Troy, there is even a satisfying happy ending as Troilus’ cousin Aeneas arrives with Trojan reinforcements and helps the young lovers escape from the area and into safety. Vicki gambled big time - but because she went with her heart, and she won as a result. Not a bad message to go out with at all.

April 09, 2015

The Companion Departures - #18 - Vislor Turlough

Turlough’s departure is perhaps underrated. It is not one that is talked about in fandom all that much in comparison to many of the others. And it is true that the departure isn’t exactly an emotional tear-jerker, for either the audience or the Doctor. In fact the Doctor spends much of the story being annoyed with Turlough and seems quite content for him to leave.

But departures shouldn’t always be about making the audience weep. Turlough’s exit feels very satisfying with respect to his character, not only in terms of being a believable motivation for the character, but especially in the way it solves the mystery for the character. Fans tend to forget that Turlough’s character was set up to be mysterious - why was this alien stuck on Earth in a public school of all places? Who was he? Where did he come from? Why did he want to leave Earth so much?

Planet of Fire very satisfyingly answers all of those questions and provides for a very fitting reason for Turlough to leave the Doctor and the TARDIS. He’s one of the surprisingly few companions who actually has (or at one point in the series had) siblings (if memory serves correctly, Martha and Adric are the only other two). It’s a shame that the Companions of Doctor Who Novel, Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma, set after Turlough departs the TARDIS makes no mention of Malkon whatsoever even though that is the main motivation for Turlough leaving the Doctor (and the fact that he’s now allowed to go home with his exiled lifted). However, that’s a problem for that particular, largely long-forgotten book and not something that affects the on-screen canon. Planet of Fire is the last we see of Turlough (and for that matter, Kamelion, who I have not counted as a companion for the purposes of this countdown). Turlough’s departure is by no means spectacular, but still a fairly satisfying one, particularly with respect to answering all of the previously un-answered questions that had been posed in his first story. When Turlough leaves, his personal story feels complete.

(He’s the one on the right by the way.)

April 08, 2015

The Companion Departures - #19 Mickey Smith

Perhaps surprisingly, it is Mickey Smith who ranks as the most effective companion departure of the RTD era. This is on the basis of his departure in Rise of the Cybermen, and even his (first) return appearance in Army of Ghosts does not detract from his exit. Rise of the Cybermen works for Mickey on every level - his motivation for leaving rings true (staying in a parallel universe to get a second chance to look after his grandmother, rather than staying to play second fiddle to both Rose and the Doctor in the TARDIS) and the character shows true signs of development. Mickey leaves the TARDIS on a high - no longer an “idiot”, providing himself able to take on the Cybermen on his own and demonstrating the bravery and courage that he lacked in his first appearance in Rose. The development can also seen gradually throughout the course of the first two seasons of the new series, rather than a sudden overnight transformation from coward to brave hero. When Mickey returns a handful of episodes later to close out the season, it is a genuine surprise because his story felt so “complete” at the end of Rise of the Cybermen - in Army of Ghosts, Mickey’s confidence has increased (naturally, given what he’s been up to on the parallel world since he left the TARDIS) but he is still the same recognizable character that we last saw in Rise of the Cybermen. For a change, a return appearance by a companion in the RTD era doesn’t feel like the departure has been undermined in any way (it helps that Mickey returns back to where he came from at the end of Doomsday so that it doesn’t feel as though his grandmother isn’t suddenly forgotten).

It’s unfortunately in some ways that this saga in Doctor Who simply didn’t end there. His character is almost unrecognizable in his final two appearances - a macho “tough guy” who is suddenly married to Martha. This isn’t so much character development as character transformation. Had this transformation occurred in his departure story or even his first return appearance a few episodes later (so that it felt more closely connected to his departure), rather than two and a bit years later, then this departure would have been ranked lower. And as bizarre transformation it is, it still doesn’t feel like it undercuts anything that had been established as the reason for leaving the TARDIS, unlike some of the other RTD-era companions - there is a nice reference to the fact that his grandmother has now passed away peacefully, so it makes sense for him to want to come back to his home universe at this point. As such, I’ve ranked Mickey’s the highest amongst all the RTD companions (and remember, Adam doesn’t count!).

April 05, 2015

The Companion Departures - #20 - Rose Tyler

The army of Rose Tyler fans reading this can relax - her character does make the Top 20 best companion departures. Ok, just barely, but she still made it!

No doubt people may be asking why this one isn’t higher up the list. Doomsday had many people in tears after all and it was effective as a tear-jerker back in 2006. Truth be told, Rose’s farewell would have been higher up the list had she not returned just over a season later. Bringing her back so quickly (in the grand scheme of things) diminishes the impact of her “final” goodbye to the Doctor, because it turns out not to be a final goodbye. In fact she ends up spending the rest of her life with an incarnation of the Doctor that will grow old with her, which gives a weirdly happy not-quite-so tragic ending. The result has made subsequent viewings of the end of Doomsday to be less satisfying than it initially was since it isn’t as much of a tear-jerker anymore. It is meant to be such a sentimental, heart-breaking scene but knowing what ultimately happens with Rose (and that it isn’t the final goodbye), it now feels overly sentimental and goes on for too long. If you can’t appreciate why, just imagine how much less effective Adric’s (far more) tragic departure from the TARDIS would have felt for his fans in subsequent viewings of Earthshock had they decided to bring him back just over a year later.

The actual departure itself, while mostly done well, has one thing going against it that is worth mentioning - it is the first of the “false prophesies”  in the RTD era, where in the narrative itself indicates that a companion (or major character) will die, but then it turns out that this is only true from a certain point of view and not meant literally - the end result making the “prophesy” feeling a bit like a manipulative cheat. The fact that RTD did this another two times during his era also makes it less enjoyable to watch Doomsday in subsequent viewings. This, combined with the final goodbye in Doomsday not being final after all, is why Rose’s departure comes in at the bottom of the Top 20, instead of much further up.

April 03, 2015

The Companion Departures - #21 - Martha Jones

The last in our “middle of the pack” run of companion departures which are not especially gratifying but not terribly disappointing either because the character turns up again just a few episodes after he or she leaves. Even as Martha leaves in The Last of the Time Lords, she pretty much tells the Doctor and the audience that she’s coming back next season for a few episodes. So it was tough to feel too upset that he was leaving even if you really loved the character, because you knew this wasn’t the last we were going to see of her and on this occasion the series wasn’t pretending otherwise. Martha’s actual departure is fairly satisfying - logical from a character motivation point of view (to look after her psychologically-damaged family) and also from a character development point of view (the unrequited love story reached a natural ending point as many people do in fact move on when they are shown that amount of blatant disinterest from someone they are pining for, especially someone they are traveling with).

Subsequent episodes that Martha features in just a few episodes later do not undermine the impact of her decision to leave because she realized she wasn’t going to be loved in that way by the Doctor, but what they prevent the character from leaving the series on a high note from the point of view of her character. Had The Last of the Time Lords been her final episode, we would have seen her leaving after having saved the world (or at least being largely instrumental in the Doctor ultimately having done so), and working harder than anyone (on her own, for a full year) to do it. From the character’s perspective, she had a year off from traveling in the TARDIS, so the decision to leave is moreso a decision not to re-join. The idea to bring her back as a new regular member of UNIT even makes sense and seemed like a great idea at the time. Its unfortunate then that Martha is largely superfluous in the five episodes she features in the following season, except for the Sontarans to make an evil clone version of her - making it feel like she was in many of those episodes as a contractual obligation rather than because the narrative demanded it. (Its even more unfortunate when the character seemingly chucks away her career with UNIT, her relationship with Tom Milligan and looking after her family to go running off as a freelance monster fighter with her sudden new husband Mickey, but that’s sufficiently far enough away from her actual departure that we won’t hold that bit of writing insanity against her departure in The Last of the Time Lords). Because these episodes occur so soon after she leaves and her departure story makes the point of telling us these return appearances are coming, it’s difficult to disassociate these less-satisfying return appearances from her time as a regular companion. As such, while her departure ranks higher than many others of her ilk, it isn’t as high up as it could have been had they ended her story at The Last of the Time Lords.

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