SPOILERS for Doctor Who: “Face the Raven” and others.
Doctor Who said goodbye to another companion last week, and while many of us cheered the long overdue departure of Jenna Coleman’s Clara, the means by which she left the show continued one of the revived show’s more annoying trends: burning the companion’s bridges before dispatching them with a needlessly sad departure.
In the 26 years of the original series, only two companions were killed off: Katarina (who was written in specifically to die in the next adventure) and Adric (who was generally hated as a character and mourned by few). One companion (Peri) was killed off but then retconned a few episodes later to have survived. Of course, she was revealed to have gone on to marry Brian Blessed instead, so maybe death would have been preferable.
So out of 28 companions of the first seven Doctors, we have a mortality rate of 7%. Not the safest job in the Universe, surely.
If we add in companions who left the Doctor on bad terms, at best we add four more. Jamie and Zoe had their memories wiped and were sent back to their own times in The War Games. Sarah Jane Smith was abandoned in the wrong town (in the wrong country, too) with little warning by the Fourth Doctor in The Hand of Fear. And Tegan pulled a Tegan and went storming off before trying unsuccessfully to change her mind in Resurrection of the Daleks. So six out of 28, or 21%, could be described as not having a happy ending.
Fast forward to the new series.
Rose? Stranded in another Universe with a fake Doctor.
Captain Jack? Dead, eventually, although we didn’t know it at the time. But his situation is unique so I won’t count him in these figures.
Donna? Memory wiped.
Amy and Rory? Stranded back in the past with no hope of return. And let’s not even try to count the number of times Rory “died” before that.
Of the new series’ companions, only one could be seen as having anything other than a miserable end to her travels: Martha. And that was only because they contrived to sign her up with Torchwood and have her patch things up with the Doctor after her misery. If you count Mickey as a companion (I really don’t) you could add him as one who had a neutral ending. (But he ended up with Martha, so this could be a Peri-like situation).
So a possible two out of eight. That’s a 75% chance of things ending badly. And if you add Danny in as a companion (like with Mickey, I really don’t) then the mortality/misery rate jumps to 78%. Add in Adam Mitchell and it’s 80%.
Who the hell would want to step into the TARDIS if they knew those odds?
It could be said that this tendency to kill, maim, fold, spindle, and mutilate companions is just the way modern television works. Producers feel the need to work characters over just to elicit “the feels” from squeeing little fangirls. But, really, is that necessary? This isn’t just any television show, this is Doctor Who. From the beginning, this was intended to be one of the best shows on the air, and while its history (even its modern history) is checkered, overall it has a damn good track record. Even at its worst, like pizza and oral sex, it’s pretty damn terrific. So it shouldn’t feel the need to sink to these levels.
And this is not an attack on showrunner Steven Moffat. The Vast Toffee Man has come under barrage after barrage of fan criticism since before he took the job, but the tendency to grind companions into fine powder didn’t start with him; Rose and Donna’s fates were sealed by Russell T. Davies. This is a problem with the show itself, not the people running it.
And it needs to end.
We’ll have a new companion coming along next year, if not at the end of this one (the producers are being tight-lipped), so we’ll once again have a chance to set things right. Here’s hoping that the next companion actually travels with the Doctor instead of being picked up from time to time like Clara (and toward the end Amy and Rory), and when the time comes to end their story it ends with a happy ending. Let the next companion end his or her story by ending his exile like Turlough. Or becoming a warrior king like Steven. Or going back home happy like Ian, Barbara, Ben, and Polly. Or falling in love like almost everyone else.
Traveling with the Doctor is supposed to change the companion for the better. Let their stories end well.