These past few weeks, we’ve been hit with a lot of exciting Doctor Who news. Not only is fan-favourite 10th Doctor (David Tennant) returning for the 60th Anniversary special, so are (at least) several companions. Confirmed so far are Donna Noble (played by Catherine Tate) and Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins), two titans of the later 10th Doctor’s era. Despite the overwhelmingly positive response by fans, perhaps it’s time to look back on previous times companions have come back, and whether the stories have lived up to the hype.
The new series of Doctor Who (A.K.A. 2005-present) has many more examples of companions coming back than the classic era (1963-1989, 1996), and to much success.
The first cameo by a ‘classic Who’ companion was Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elizabeth Sladen) in the second series, in “School Reunion”, arguably a great story which used the bickering between the 10th Doctor’s current companion (Rose, played by Billie Piper) and Sarah Jane as a metaphor for the friction between the different eras of the show and, perhaps, the fans of the two eras.
In this episode, both actors shine in their performances.
But performances alone, of course, can’t carry a story. The next notable time the new series brought back a companion, it was a bombastic outing.
The end of the 10th Doctor’s 4th series saw all and sundry (all of the new series previous companions) return, as showrunner Russell T Davies decided to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the audience, in a Hollywood-style blockbuster featuring end-of-the-universe (yes, not just Earth) stakes, the return of the iconic Dalek creator Davros and a tying-together of the showrunner’s companion shows of Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures.
Truly, the two-parter comprising of “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End” was an incredibly good example of bringing back companions for a bit of fanservice.
Not all stories have been gold, though. There’s no better example than the Classic series flop, “the Two Doctors”. Where to start? Perhaps 1985 was cursed for Doctor Who (maybe brought on by the Doctor’s hideous attire?). It’s a travesty of a Doctor Who story, and the two greatest victims are the two in the title.
Poor, poor costumes and poor, poor writing savage any chance of the actors’ performances saving the day. The story sees previous companion Jamie McCrimmon (played by Frazier Hines) and the 2nd Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) meet the 6th incarnation (played by Colin Baker) and his companion Peri Brown (played by Nicola Bryant). It’s a strange story, with strangely uninventive villains (even by “classic Who” standards) and it just goes to show that more companions isn’t always better. More alarming is the out-of-character moments for the 6th Doctor, such as when he dispatches one of the story’s villains, Shockeye (played by John Stratton).
There is much to look forward to from the return of past companions and, let’s be honest, most die-hard fans who want to see companions come back will watch regardless of quality. Let’s just make sure that we temper our expectations for the 60th Anniversary special, because there’s always a chance for the Two Doctors Part Two.