Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Things I Hate About Who. Part Eight: Unlikeable Companions and Cliched Characters With Silly Names

I have made no effort to disguise my growing disdain for NuWho.  I was concerned I was speaking to an empty theater so to speak, but to quote the Face of Boe, "You are not alone".  On one of the Facebook pages I belong to (Classic Doctor Who Fans Who Dislike New Who), I have come across a series of thoughts by Mr. Paul Berry.  We in the group were so genuinely impressed by his series that I urged him to publish them. 

Ethan White of Sixstanger00 has requested permission to upload them on his YouTube page.  I don't know if Mr. Berry has but hope he does.  I for my part asked for permission to reprint them on this site. 

Mr. Berry has graciously allowed me to republish them as he posts them, and here is the eight of a ten-essay series.  It is reprinted as written with the content exactly as it appears. The only alterations made are for any grammatical/spelling errors, spacing for paragraphs, and perhaps a few afterthoughts which will be noted after the photos.

For this essay, I also added all the photos save for the last three, which was part of the original essay.

 I hope readers enjoy and share them.  I also hope readers will debate these matters, for I believe in a healthy debate.  However, I find Mr. Berry's comments and thoughts quite well-thought out and worthy of a greater audience. 

With that, I present Part Eight of this series: 10 Things I Hate About New Who



One of the things that has struck me about this latest season of Doctor Who is how unlikeable the Companion has become. Clara frequently came across as petulant, snivelling and up herself. I am not sure if it's Steven Moffat's writing or Jenna Coleman's performance, probably a bit of both but if I were still watching the programme her exit from the show couldn't come soon enough. The problem is that the next Companion isn't likely to be much better because Steven Moffat cant seem to create genuine believable characters.

In all honesty I have only liked two Companions in new Doctor Who, Rose and Martha. I haven't revisited these episodes in a long time and I found it easier to forgive the show its sins back then so it may be well that these two characters havent weathered as well as I thought, but at the time they genuinely seemed to gel as likeable charismatic characters.

Billie Piper in fact deserved much of the acclaim for the series comeback in 2005. I think the strength of her performance helped carry Christopher Eccleston's rather weak and uneven one. Hers was the greater loss to the show when she bowed out at the end of Season 2. Rose seemed to be a character in touch with the time without being overdone or nauseating; that said the writing of her character in the second season was not nearly as good as the first and too much time was spent trying to make her look smart or witty.

Martha was probably not as well a realised character and was saddled with the god awful storyline of her having a crush on the Doctor, but Freema Agyeman's performance was endearing enough to overcome the shortcomings. I think given longer Martha would be a much better remembered character than she is. Sadly she was dumped from the show with the pathetic reason that she had to get over her infatuation with the Doctor.

The real reason seemed to be that they had got wind that Catherine Tate would be up for a full season as the Companion after her brief stint in the previous year's Christmas special. I could never take to Donna as a Companion. It was Doctor Who hooking up with low brow culture and a stereotyped one at that. She did admittedly get a bit better as the series went on and the caterwauling fish wife persona was vastly toned down.

The fourth series was the nadir of Russell T Davies' period on the show when any of the positive aspects of the first three series were thrown to the wall as the series became a full fledged sci fi light entertainment show with Tennant and Tate as a comedy double act.

Matt Smith's debut brought us Amy Pond, a character who for me never gelled at all. I just never got what Amy was all about; she just seemed to have no personality at all. Admittedly she was lumbered with some poor Steven Moffat material but Karen Gillan's delivery always seemed so flat and uninteresting. Even worse though was the decision to make her boyfriend Rory a permanent Companion, a character so uncharismatic that he barely registered when he appeared in Matt Smith's first episode.

Rory has been the butt of many of my jokes over the years, but I honestly think he is the worst Companion to ever grace the series; he was just so damn dull. Perhaps Moffat thought he was championing the fan underdog with his tale of the boring geek who gets the hot girl, but it was as stimulating as watching paint dry.

Furthermore the same story had already been done with the whole Rose Tyler/Mickey Smith thing. The attempts to create tragedy and drama with the whole Rory being wiped from history thing and then becoming a Roman Auton Centurion, or whatever the hell he was, was just ridiculous and laughable and the attempts to toughen the character up just fell flat.

Arthur Darvill couldn't play hard to save his life.

Any producer with any sense would have realised the Amy/Rory pairing just wasn't working and swiftly dropped them from the show or at least dropped Rory and tried to get a better dynamic going between the Doctor & Amy. Unfortunately in his Ivory Tower Steven Moffat seemed uneffected by issues that would have troubled his predecessors, such as when characters like Katarina or Dodo were quickly dropped when they were felt not to be working. So it was Amy and Rory endured hanging around like a bad smell for long after their sell by date.

Admittedly I didn't see their last year's worth of adventures or their exit, so forgive me if they got better but I doubt it.

There have also been those characters which can't fully be classed as Companions but more as recurring supporting characters. We never really had these in the classic series unless you count the Brigadier and the UNIT team.

First off was Rose's family. We had Mum Jackie and boyfriend Mickey. Jackie was Doctor Who's first brush with low brow chav culture. It was Doctor Who meets a particularly bad day time soap opera, and Camille Caduri was never able to give any nuance to the character above the stereotype Russell T Davies had created. Mickey initially didn't make much of an impression, but as the series went on Noel Clarke seemed to get better and the writers noticed this and upped their game.

Captain Jack, I thought at the time seemed to be almost forced on the show. I also found John Barrowman's performance to be stereotypical American guy. I remember being astounded that he was getting his own spin off show after only 5 episodes. In the end I came to like Torchwood much more than I did new Doctor Who and Barrowman was a lot better in that, even if they did give him a lot of the Doctor's traits.

Martha's family was just a complete non entity and was barely worth including. Bernard Cribbins endearing performance as Wilf just about made the inclusion of Donna's family bearable, her mother Sylvia came across as pretty unlikeable: Doctor Who's clichéd attempt at doing someone with heirs and graces.

Then we had River Song, a character who was initially okay in her debut story before she spiraled out of control into an overblown cliché with Alex Kingston camping it up for all she was worth. We then had the so called Paternoster Gang, a group of three random characters chucked together from nowhere as if Moffat had decided he wanted to make a spin off but couldn't be bothered to go the usual route of waiting for a character to make an impression first. These cringe inducing characters again seemed to be shoehorned in at every opportunity, even though to my mind they don't really work.

Finally this year saw yet another Companion's boyfriend: Mr. Danny Pink. I initially tried to give the character the benefit of the doubt figuring he couldn't be as bad as Rory, but have to concede as his story came to an end this season (if it is the end) the character was overall pretty pointless and hadn't really helped the series in any way.

And what's with all these silly names? Can anybody take a character seriously with the name Danny Pink (even more ridiculous was when we heard that his real name is Rupert Pink)? Its like Moffatt's trying to go out his way to destroy a character's credibility before we've even seen them. Why do Moffat and RTD seem to keep giving  Companions these old fashioned names? Martha and Clara sound like two refugees from Last of the Summer Wine. Amy Pond and Rory Williams hardly seem naturalistic.

Ian Chesterton. Victoria Waterfield. Sarah Jane Smith. There's an unpretentiousness about these names which work; they just trip off the tongue.

The silliness with names and cliched characters spills over into the smaller supporting characters. We've had Margaret Slitheen, Chip, the Van Hoffs, Bannakaffalatta, Lorna Bucket, just to name but a few off the top of my head. There have occasionally been some good guest performances, particularly in the first series. Simon Callow and Shaun Dingwell immediately spring to mind as giving good honest performances where the characters are played for real , but more often than not the supporting characters in the new series have not been very memorable and have often veered close to cliché.

I am not saying the old series was above this as there were some classic examples of actors hamming it up and going over the top. But the new series has truly produced some awful tacky characters who just dont seem as if they should even belong in Doctor Who. I literally cringe at the thought of the Van Hoffs from Voyage of the Damned, looking like two refugees from a Dolly Parton concert. Or the shrieking girlfriend they invented for Martha's dad in one episode. Or the crowd of pensioners which graced David Tennant's final story and seemed like they had wondered in from Coronation Street.

I also often notice a style of acting in new Doctor Who which I can only describe as children's series acting; it is not all pervasive but is prevalent enough to be noticable and robs the series of any credibility as proper sci fi. Classic Who's Shakespearean theatrics may hardly be naturalistic, but at least they didn't feel dumbed down, the actors were mostly playing at the same level you would have got in I, Claudius or other costume fare of the period.

Nowadays many of the performances seem pitched down to the sort of thing you'd expect of a Disney kids film or something on the CBBC channel.

The truth is supporting characters and Companions don't necessarily need to be multifaceted or have huge backstories or family connections; they just need to be honest, well written characters played by actors who believe in their roles and aren't dumbing down their performances.

Over its original 26 year run Doctor Who had so many memorable characters it is hard to know where to start. New Doctor Who has on the other hand produced very few memorable or enduring characters. If Doctor Who can't give us characters we like or believe in there isn't a lot of hope for the rest of the programme.


Paul Berry's photo.

Paul Berry's photo.  
Paul Berry's photo.

Again, a lot of ground to cover.

In terms of NuWho Companions I'm at a slight disadvantage in that both all the Martha, Donna, and Wilf eras (nearly the sum of the Tennant Era) went by me since I boycotted Doctor Who after the horror of Love & Monsters.   However, after reading and rereading Mr. Berry's thoughts I agree that most NuWho Companions are pretty weak.

They are weak in so many ways.  They are weak emotionally.  With the exception of Donna (at least I'm led to believe) every one of his main Companions has had a fixation on The Doctor, usually romantic or erotic.   Their whole lives revolve around the Doctor.  I can't imagine Zoe or Jamie or Liz Shaw ever being obsessed with the Doctor.  Ian and Barbara wanted to go home, and while they eventually enjoyed travelling with The Doctor they were thrilled to return to their own time. 

Come to think of it, did any Classic Companions cry when they left?  They might have been sad, but full-on tears?  

They are also weak intellectually.  The majority of NuWho Companions don't have high levels of education.  Martha is a doctor, River a professor (though I would argue she's not an actual educator but an adventuress), and Rory a nurse.  Apart from that the NuWho Companions have at most a high school education.  Yes, Clara is a teacher, but until she magically popped up as one in The Day of The Doctor there was never any indication that she was certified to be one.   We have a whole slew of Companions who in short have almost no life and few prospects until they meet The Doctor.  

Now, having a basic level of education is not a hindrance to being a great Companion.  Jamie McCrimmon was not highly educated.  However, I do wonder why most NuWho Companions can't be of various backgrounds.  You had educators as the first Companions (Ian and Barbara) and professionals (journalists, scientists, military...despite the Doctor's lifelong 'hatred' for soldiers).  A lot of the NuWho Companions appear to be cut from the same cloth, and that is their third weakness.

They are weak thematically.  Take a look at the main NuWho Companions:

Rose: 21st Century London girl. 
Martha: 21st Century London girl. 
Donna: 21st Century London woman (the idea of Catherine Tate being a 'girl' is a stretch). 
Amy: 21st Century Scottish girl. 
Clara: 21st Century London girl.

Is it me or is there a theme?  Just in the Hartnell and Troughton Era, we had a wide variety of Companions:

Two 20th Century adults: Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright
A 25th Century girl: Vicki
A 23rd Century astronaut: Steven Taylor
A 1st Century BC handmaiden: Katarina
A 40th Century Security Agent: Sara Kingdom
Two 20th Century girls: Dodo Chaplet and Polly
A 20th Century boy: Able Seaman Ben Jackson (strange since the Doctor has always hated soldiers)
An 18th Century Scotsman: Jamie McCrimmon
A Victorian girl: Victoria Waterfield
A 21st Century math prodigy: Zoe Hariot
Then we've got a wide variety of Companions in the show's long history: investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, "savage" Leela and sophisticated Romana, American student Peri Brown, Australian air hostess Tegan Jovanka, Royal Navy medical officer Harry Sullivan, and exiled alien Turlough. 
In short, all sorts of Companions from the past, present, and future, as well as those who were both human and humanoid served alongside The Doctor.  Now, we get the same thing over and over, and not just with the female Companions.  Anyone who didn't think Rory was just another Mickey is extremely gullible.  Why do the male Companions, who are there basically as the female Companions' love interest, tend to be idiots?
My own theory is that Doctor Who 2.0 is Companion-centered, not Doctor-centered.  That is why we can have epic storylines around Rose, around Donna, around Amy, around River, around the Paternoster Unholy Trilogy, with the Doctor just being the excuse to tie things together (and most of the time, tie them in badly if not unbelievably).   This is why we have to have all these stories about Rose's family, about Donna's family, about Clara's family and Amy's family.   It really is all about them.  It's a shame really, given that this gives us nothing more than soap-opera/Twilight-type stories rather than good solid science-fiction.  Imagine if we had to stop something like Inferno to check up on the Brigadier's maiden aunt or Liz Shaw's boyfriend.    
As for the silly names, I don't know why we have to have them apart from bad stabs at comedy.  When the Doctor travelled through the Key to Time story arc, take a look at the names of the worlds he went to: Ribos, Zanak, Earth, Tara, the Third Moon of Delta Magna, and Atrios.  They sound rational, with their own civilizations that are familiar and yet otherworldly.
NuWho, conversely, has The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe from The Long Game.  It was such a horrifying tongue-twister that guest star Simon Pegg found it almost unpronounceable and at one point sound effects had to be used to cover up his inability to say something so complex.  It's a pity writers like Davies and Moffat can't understand that while these things sound amusing TO THEM, they aren't thinking of the poor actor/actress who has to SPEAK such things.   
Need I remind people of the planet Raxacoricofallapatorious from Aliens of London Parts 1 & 2? No wonder Eccleston quit in disgust! 
Compare that planet's name to Ribos, Zanak, Tara, and Atrios.  The most they had was two syllables.  The other one has eleven. 
All these names I think are done because the writers think they're funny, but they simply serve to draw attention to themselves and show how goofy everything is.  One of the reasons I thought The Long Game was awful was precisely because I couldn't take something with such an overtly idiotic name seriously. It's like having a Bond villain named Gretel. 
One last thing.  As for the Companions being unlikable, well, eventually their neediness soon overwhelms any sense of adventures in space and time.  Rose's weepy love for The Doctor, Martha's unrequited love for The Doctor, River's erotic fixation for The Doctor, Amy's perpetual anger towards The Doctor, Clara's big-eyed anger towards The Doctor. 
I detest River Song (and that's considering I haven't seen her debut).  Just one episode was enough to think her a smug little...  And worse, if one looks at her story, like so much in Doctor Who, it's both irrelevant to the show AND it doesn't make any sense!
Of course, this is what happens when the Companion becomes the de facto star of Doctor Who, with now TWO showrunners forgetting the show isn't about the Companion.  Would that they remember the name of the show and take things from there...


  1. i can't stand any of the new companions, all that weeping and wailing and emotionalism, and unlike some people i thought Donna was awful, always shotuing and carrying on. All of them are ghastly.

  2. I cannot say anything about whether Donna was good or bad, having seen her in only one episode (Runaway Bride). However, I never understood why all the NuWho Companions had to be so...needy and fixated on The Doctor. It be nice to have a Companion who DIDN'T fall in love w/the Doctor.

  3. Sorry, but Rory Williams was the one who saved the series for me. It was more humane and had much more character development than Amy Pond.

  4. Sorry, but Rory Williams was the one who saved the series for me. It was more humane and had much more character development than Amy Pond.


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