Earlier this year, classic ‘Doctor Who‘ began making its way to Blu-ray with the release of Tom Baker’s first season. Those releases are continuing this month, with the release of the nineteenth season, the first to feature Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor. Now, like any good Blu-ray, this one is packed with bonus features including a number of interviews and documentaries that were produced specifically for this release.
Davison’s first season featured an unusually crowded TARDIS, pairing his Doctor with the trio of Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric (played by Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, and Matthew Waterhouse, respectively). In one of the new featurettes, Davison reflected on this time and the specifically the merits of a crowded TARDIS (he’s not a fan):
“I think that three companions is too many. One of them had to go. I think that John [Nathan-Turner, showrunner] knew this, but he wanted to get rid of Sarah, which I really was against, because Nyssa was the only one being supportive of the Doctor. She was the one who really wanted to be there. Janet wanted to get back to Heathrow, Adric wanted to get back to E-Space. And so Sarah was my only assly on board.”
The situation was eventually resolved with the shocking death of Adric at the conclusion of ‘Earthshock’ late that season (notably, only the second time a companion had been killed, depending on how one counts the supporting characters who came and went in the course of the 1965 epic ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’). Nyssa left midway through the following season and Tegan stayed for nearly a year after that, leaving just before Davison himself.
As far as three companions being too many? Well, let’s just say it’s the exception to the rule for a reason. For the most part, it worked well in the early days of the show (as in the original lineup of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan), but in those days the stories tended to be longer, favoring six-part serials (as opposed to the four-parters that came into favor by the end of the sixties), with the extended episode counts making it easier to give each character something to do. But for a sense of how that can go wrong, look at Patrick Troughton’s first season as the Doctor, during which he was accompanied by Ben, Polly, and Jamie. It’s easy to forget because Jamie stayed on for nearly all of the Troughton era (all save ‘The Power of the Daleks’, actually), and, frankly, because most of his earliest appearances are among the episodes that remain lost, but during that first season, the writers had two problems. First, they didn’t know how to balance a trio of companions, and second, they clearly had no idea what they were doing with Jamie in particular. The situation in Davison’s first season wasn’t that dire, but it did lean more toward that end of the spectrum, with Nyssa often getting the short end of the stick. Matters were also not helped by Adric, who was quite frankly, the literal worst. But thankfully, there was ‘Earthshock’.
What do you think is the ideal number of companions for ‘Doctor Who’? How has Jodie Whittaker’s first season handled its more crowded TARDIS? Let us know what you think in the comments and be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on ‘Doctor Who’!