Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityEpisode67Ok, it’s finally time to talk about “proper” companions (whatever that means). Join Deb, Erika, Katrina, and Liz as we talk about the companions that started (and re-started) it all. We’re focusing on Susan, Grace, and Rose–the ladies who ushered in each “era” of Doctor Who. We find more parallels than you might expect (certainly more than some of us expected!).

What do you think of these “first” companions? Let us know in the comments!


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Download or listen now (runtime 1:19:39)

Comments on: "Ep 67 – The First Ladies of Doctor Who" (19)

  1. Chris! said:

    RTD did a great job of drawing me into the Doctor Who universe back in 2005. Say what you will, the man knows how to exploit TV tropes get us hooked. Rose was definitely part of that: a calculated “in” through whose eyes the viewer could discover — and, apparently, eventually fall in love with — the Doctor.

    Now, in hindsight, the seams are much more apparent: Rose feels generic. Nothing against talented Billie, or the likeable character she portrayed; but, these days, she feels relatively bland, somehow.

    For me, Donna was the only RTD companion with any real bite: tellingly, she only flourished once the show was on a surer ratings footing.

  2. Scott Heustis said:

    I’m a fan of Rose…. Here’s why:

    Yes, I think the Rose character was underwritten, but Billie Piper turned out to be a fantastic actress and perfect casting for a Doctor Who companion. Just watch Piper’s acting in “Father’s Day”….. She’s amazing in that. ** Though the monsters from that story are dumb looking CGI creations that thankfully never reappeared in DW.

    Another big plus for Billie Piper is that she’s a good runner. VERY important for any DW companion is the ability to run, and look good doing it. Piper can really move. FYI – I think RTD was aiming Rose, demographically, at teenaged girls….. So she’s written for them. Not a super smart genius, because that would alienate most of the young girls/women. Rose was an average shopgirl with a single parent with an average boyfriend. A lot of teens and 20 somethings are right in there.

    Everybody seems to love the Donna Noble companion…. But I’m not a fan of her, for a few reasons. Buckle your seatbelts.
    Number one: I find her difficult to understand sometimes. Her accent is a problem for me. I watch a lot of British shows and rarely have a problem….. But there are many moments where I’m turning to my wife and asking, “Did you understand what Donna just said?” And my wife just frowns and shrugs.
    Number two: She’s a terrible runner. It’s even painful to watch her. The episode “Turn Left” has Catherine Tate at the end, running to change her past self from making the wrong decision, and I’m wincing every time I see her awkward run. It’s laughable that she ended up being paired with David Tennant.
    Number three: I don’t think she’s a good actress. Catherine Tate can obviously do comedy, and she does a great job with the insult humor, bashing David Tennant…… But could you imagine her in Father’s Day? Anger?…. Yes. Crying in anguish? No…. Not convincingly. Billie Piper has gone on to more roles and won awards on the stage, but where is Catherine Tate right now? I looked at her IMDB and she’s doing things but I don’t recognize anything on her CV. The Donna character is written to connect to a different demographic than the Rose character. Who’s going to identify with Donna? Feisty, older women that don’t take any crap from men. It’s so weird at the end of her run that Tennant’s Doctor is strenuously propping up Donna’s ego and telling her how amazing and important she is…… When most of what comes out of Donna’s mouth sounds cocky and she’s frequently putting the Doctor down.

    • Chris! said:

      Maybe Donna is beloved by many fans precisely because she was so unconventional?

      Perhaps she made those viewers who may not have identified with Rose or Martha feel like there was a place in the TARDIS for people like them, too?

      • Scott Heustis said:

        I’m not seeing Donna as unconventional. She worked in an office. Engaged to be married, at least in the beginning, to a man…. Who also worked in an office. Middle class parents. Or parent and grandfather. What’s unconventional about her? I see unconventional people all around me in real life here in the big city. I recognize unconventional when I see it. Alternative lifestyles abound where I live. If the Doctor chose someone who was tattooed, pierced, homeless, lesbian, handicapped……. Now you’re talking.

        Compare Donna to Barbara…… Similar ages….. Not teenaged girls. If I were the Doctor I would choose Barbara over Donna any day of the week. Barbara’s smart, independent, not submissive to the Doctor at all….. And she didn’t need her ego propped up by DW. Plus I can understand every word she says.

    • Korina said:

      Late to the party here, but… Everything coming out of Donna’s mouth *sounds* cocky, but you can see it covers a deep lack of self esteem (I know, I hate that term too). Everyone else praised her so much because deep in her heart she was convinced she was worthless, even though she wasn’t. As a fellow human, I can relate to that pretty hard.

  3. Because of your heads-up warning last week I watched for the first time The Unearthy Child and subsequent cave man episodes, and also the Doctor Who Movie. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t a big fan of Susan, and after hearing horrible things about the TV movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I quite enjoyed it on the whole. Thanks, Verities, for broadening my Who horizons yet again.

    I tried to get into Doctor Who with Rose, but something didn’t click with me and I gave up on it. On first viewing I just wasn’t a fan. I came into Who with The Eleventh Hour and have since gone back and gained a greater appreciation for Rose. Deb mentioned that she wasn’t a favorite companion of new Who, but in the world of fanfiction, even today, Rose is still the most popular companion.

    On one last note, I was pleasantly surprised and very much enjoyed Erika hosting Reality Bomb this last week. I’ve been binge listening to Doctor Who podcast for the last several months and since this is the Doctor Who fandom you’ll understand when I say that Erika has become my podcaster. So thank you!

    • James C said:

      +1 On Reality Bomb. Erika was great. Although I found it odd listening to what sounded like a different tonal quality from Verity. Is there are different editing/post-production process followed for Reality Bomb?

  4. Richard S. said:

    Great podcast, great to hear two of you had the same intro companion as me, Sarah Jane, though my own first time was a decade or more earlier, with the closing minutes of Pertwee’s last story, Planet of the Spiders, in the BBC1 Xmas 1974 repeat.

    By the way, Pertwee is being referenced on BBC Radio 4 Extra, right this minute as I type, in a repeat of The Navy Lark, no escaping that man they never call “The Perts.”

    Very interesting point you made about how each of the three companions had a lot of screen time before their Doctor was properly introduced. I can only remember it being an issue in the TV Movie, because the Grace lifestyle scenes & McGann hospital scenes reminded me so much of Star Trek The Motion Picture, in that it just didn’t seem to provide the same fannish viewing experience I was used to.

    I really have to stop thinking of DW The Movie as non-canonical, especially after the excellent anniversary prequel with Paul McGann. To be honest, whenever I hear Daphne Ashbrook’s name, I always think of her as a guest star in ST:DS9, not DW. It’s her birthday this Friday 30th. Grace would’ve made an excellent Master companion. Shall I move on?

    Carole Ann Ford is the only one of this ‘cast’s three actors that I’ve seen at a convention (DWASocial 5, alongside Jacqueline Hill and, I believe, Michael Craze). I can remember Carole Ann was a delightful & charming guest.

    Apart from the very occasional BBC repeat, I’m most familiar with Susan from the Target books of the mid-1970s, and even then, only from the novelisations of her first & last 1960s Dalek stories.

    (My earliest Hartnell novels, The Zarbi and The Crusaders were both VIcki stories, hence my boyhood reaction of: Who is this “Susan” person of whom you speak, Target Books?).

    Susan’s departure was very moving, and appropriate, on paper, in 1977, when I was a ten-year-old boy and it was my favourite Doctor Who book of all time til the next one was released. (Okay, the one after that, number 19, The Deadly Assassin.)

    I wouldn’t exactly compare Billie Piper with Britney, as Billie’s UK chart career consisted of 9 singles (including an ensemble ABBA tribute),three number 1 singles and two number 14 albums. And, oh, Britney was AWESOME, until she wasn’t anymore. Which is why, when her (Billie’s) identity was revealed as the new companion actor, I thought “Oh no, Really, oh no. Even worse than awful.”

    But I hadn’t seen Billie in the Chaucer thingy she’d done for TV, and I was put off Chris Eccleston when his retirement was announced before the show had properly started… and, basically, from her second episode onwards, the first season of New Who WAS Billie Piper all the way. And, try as I might, I just cannot think unkindly of Rose when I see how the show has grown and improved, thanks in large part to the foundations her character laid a decade ago.

    Note to Scott: Catherine Tate seems to have done a lot of theatre work in the UK recently, and she has “garnered high praise” for the most part. I’m not the greatest fan of Donna at her most gobby and bolshie (!), and was astonished when she came second in the DWM 50 poll, but her arc brought us the rebirth of the great Bernard Cribbins, an icon of my 1970s childhood, for which we must all be thankful. Oh yes.

  5. I came into DW with ‘Rose,’ as an adult, as an American, as someone with only the slightest sense of the show’s past. She captivated me. The Doctor did too, of course; I found Eccleston’s characterization fascinating, but without Rose I’m not sure I would have stuck. I identified with her wholeheartedly, mostly due to her flaws and her mistakes. She was the first TV character I had encountered who was so unashamedly human.

    Susan may have been the Doctor’s first on-screen companion, but I feel that Ian and Barbara better served the role. The episode began with their story more than it did hers, and I found them much easier to identify with. It may be because I watched ‘An Unearthly Child’ after watching all of Davies’ run, or maybe because I saw it as an adult and not as a child, but I found Susan more like the Doctor than like a companion, and not that comfortable to be around. I also found her end terrifying: she may have been falling in love, but she was in no way prepared to stay behind, and begged the Doctor not to leave her. Rose, by contrast, was left on a world that had been her home for years, with a man she had actively chosen, AND her own family. She might not have wanted to give up on life in the TARDIS – in Davies’ headcanon, btw, she didn’t have to – but she wasn’t left alone among strangers, and she wasn’t left with zero say in the matter.

    As much as I love Rose, I do enjoy a companion with a life. I found Grace to be more like Liz Shaw than Martha, or any New Who companion for that matter: she was established in her career, knew what she wanted and what she was capable of, and didn’t need the Doctor to show her what was what. In fact I think he got more from their relationship than she did. I’m sure she would have enjoyed a quick trip in the TARDIS, given the opportunity, but she was well grounded in her life on Earth and wasn’t looking for anything more. It was fairly refreshing in a companion. I’m not sure that would have worked as intended, should the movie have spawned the series that was hoped for. Would the Doctor have had a new companion every episode? Would he have picked someone up in E2 to stay with him for a run? The movie made an okay standalone, but I’m not sure it would have served as a pilot. I’m not sure Grace did the job that Rose or Ian and Barbara did, though I would have liked to see her get the chance.

    Thank you for another brilliant conversation!

  6. sostorm said:

    Now I feel the need to watch the Eleventh hour and see if it’s more about Amy than the Doctor. They are introduced at the same time after all.

    I’ve recently re-watched a lot of Rose episodes and I really like her at times. My biggest problem with her is how “catty” she can be with other women. I really can’t stand how defensive she gets about the doctor and how sour/mean she can be to other women who he takes somewhat of an interest in. I do however like how normal she feels and it’s easy to identify with her reactions. I think she was a good companion for those coming new to Doctor Who.

    I like Grace. She also feels very normal even if she’s a successful business woman. I did however find the movie frustrating since it focused so much on her and so little on the doctor. It’s fine if it’s an episode but this was all we got! Not enough Paul McGann, that’s what.

    I very much prefer Vicky over Susan. I think that the way Susan is written makes her feel almost too childlike at times. She does however have some really good moments was well.

  7. I am with many of the other commenters here-for me it was all about Rose. The Ninth Doctor intrigued me somewhat, but if it hadn’t been for Rose, I never would have stuck with it.

    I am very clear about why I love Rose so-it was her utter enthusiasm and fearlessness about having adventures with the Doctor. Billie Piper did such an amazing job of capturing a sense of joy and excitement every time those TARDIS doors opened. Frankly, I was inspired both to become aware of how often I wasn’t experiencing that sense of adventure in my own life, and how life is an adventure, whether you are traveling in a big blue box or not.

    Now that I am a more seasoned after watching of classic and new Who, I have a great appreciation for how this attitude of enthusiastic adventure serves as a foundational aspect of the entire show. It is a huge part of why I am such a big fan. But, in my Who world, Rose is the progenitor of all things. In the beginning…there was Rose. And it was good.


  8. James C said:

    It seems to me that these three companions are very different from each other, and have very different roles.

    Susan existed by definition in relation to the Doctor – her grandfather. This put her always in a subordinate role, subject to his paternal guidance. The only way she could grow up was to leave. She also didn’t work that well as an audience identification figure: that role was given to Ian and Barbara, who, like us, were investigating the mystery that had been put before them. We saw what the two teachers saw, and between them they captured many different human responses to the things they encountered: fear, confusion, resolve, denial, anger, wonder, courage. With all this, and with the Doctor such a strong personality, Susan was stuck. Alienated from the audience and dependent on her grandfather. She couldn’t demonstrate potential as a young Time Lord either – the Doctor occupied all of that space. So the only way up for Susan was to get out.

    Grace didn’t need any help. She was already a mature and confident person, and came to the Doctor as an equal. In one story she learned what she needed to – that there is much more going on in the universe than she knew – by seeing and dealing with several pieces of concrete evidence that overcame her skepticism. She did not need or want further adventures that inevitably would turn her into ‘woman running about with (and dependent on) a very clever man’ and not ‘highly capable professional with lots still to do (and new knowledge with which to do it).’ In production terms she may have been designed as a Scully to the Doctor’s Mulder – two adults enjoying adventures with added chemistry – but I suspect that she came off much better as a one-off than as a long term companion. Maybe she could have worked as an Earth based companion like Liz Shaw.

    Rose, on the other hand, was swept up in an adventure who only later became an equal with the Doctor. Or who thought she did. She was 100 percent an audience identification figure. From the moment her alarm went off we understood her life and her day, and when the Doctor held out his hand to her and asked her to run, he was reaching through the screen to us too. It’s really clear that Russell T Davies & co knew exactly what they wanted to do, and knew how to do it. I love watching ‘Rose’: it is familiar to Doctor Who fans (Autons! Technobabble! Whimsy! Adventure!) and to modern day viewers (Domestic stuff! Pop culture!) and to be new to both (Crazy farting bins! Zippy music and editing!), and yet manages to mash it all together into a perfect manifesto of new Who. “We will tell amazing stories with a human heart, and we are not afraid to have fun along the way.” And Rose herself was right in the middle of it.

    So to summarise: Susan was in the end little more than a question mark, a signpost to a larger mystery. Grace introduced viewers – and especially American ones – to a fantastic world through a familiar mashup of ER and X Files. And Rose is similar, although rather than using a familiar television type, she is plucked right from behind the sofa, like the audience itself. Well played, RTD!

  9. Just catching up with my listening.

    This jumped out (or rather creamed out). “Blake’s 7 podcast”? 3 times? Such a great idea. How about it? Not long ones and not forever but a “special limited series (or season)”? Not even every week….

    I’ve been watching Dr Who since the mid 1960s. I remember Sara Jane as my “first” companion. Never saw the TV movie so no idea about Grace. When the series resumed with Rose I watched with much hope and excitement. Rose as a character did the job. I found Rose initially OK and I get the reasons for the character and who is/was attracted to Dr Who as a result. No criticism of Billie Piper or anyone else. What doesn’t appeal to me appeals to others and vice versa. I think it was the love interest and I wanted modern companions to be modern – I probably mean more independent less swooning about the Doctor. I agree with what Chris has said. But Donna ….my favourite ‘new companion’.

    Did I mention the Blake’s 7 podcast……

  10. terminuspodcast said:

    Catching up on episodes, so I’m *way* late commenting.

    Anyway, as background, I’ve been watching Doctor Who since 1986 on PBS and at that time they were showing S14, so my first companion was Leela, though I might have caught the tail-end of Sarah-Jane too, but I barely remembered her at first.

    I saw Susan and Grace later and really, really loved Grace (I’m one of the few people on the planet to have a soft spot for the TVM, which I remember excitedly watching live). Susan is always hit or miss for me. I love the *idea* of her, especially as another Gallifreyan, but she generally wasn’t well written IMO and tended toward very childish at time (yes, I know she was supposed to be a teen, but sometimes she seemed downright infantile). Plus, she was up against someone like Barbara, who was amazing, but then I always tend to favor the smart companions (which is one reason I loved Grace).

    As for Rose, she’s one of my least favorite companions throughout the run of the show, honestly (admittedly some of that is fandom’s fault). I dragged my feet on watching the new series at first as remakes/reboots/reimaginings/etc don’t always appeal to me and I thought it might ruin the happy memories of the classic series I had from when I was young. Still, a friend of mine had started throwing viewing parties, so I stepped in during ‘The Impossible Planet’/’The Satan Pit’, when Rose had been on nearly two years. She failed to make much of an impression on me and I was pretty bored by her, though I did like Tennant pretty immediately (even if I have many issues with his Doctor in retrospect). In fact, I went back and caught up and found by the end of S2 I was pretty meh about the show. Thankfully Martha (see: smart companion love!) came along and I became a huge fan of the show again. And I’ve loved all the companions since then. ❤

    Still, I think that if I had started the show with Rose, having never seen Doctor Who before that, I doubt I would've even made it past a few episodes at best. Plus, I realize now that RTD's writing and arc of the show didn't appeal to me overall and that was making the show less exciting for me back then too. It was my love for the old show and hope that a more interesting companion was on the horizon that kept me watching back then, so without that…yeah, I don't know if I would have stuck around.

    In fact, because of that, I'm always wary of encouraging people to start with Rose, as she was such a total turn-off for me, but apparently a lot of people seemed to get really on board with her, so its hard to say (I still usually use 'The Eleventh Hour' as a recommended start off point for people, though). *shrug*

  11. Hi Verities! I just discovered your podcast a few weeks, ago so forgive the lateness, but I decided to comment and give Grace some more love.

    A few things how I accessed Doctor Who fandom: in 2008, I started with “Rose” and I have been hooked since then. Number two: I am a Paul McGann *ahem* enthusiast. So, like James, I have a soft spot for the TV movie. Being a “New Who” fan, I don’t find it as wildly off-base as some people did.

    I feel compelled to point out that as of today ALL of the modern doctors have kissed someone on-screen; Nine through Eleven all kissed someone on-screen, P Cap even snogs Missy. And if one considers the Big Finish audios/Web of Time continuity to be canon, then the Eighth Doctor and Benny Summerfield definitely had sexual relations (the actual act takes place in one of the Target novelizations, but he refers back to it The Company of Friends). So, unfortunately, for those who don’t like romantic entanglements, the Doctor snogging his companions is probably a trend that’s here to stay.

    Anywho, having seen a few modern companions before I watched the TV movie, I love love love Dr. Grace Halloway. Like other comments pointed out, she’s a professional with her own life. While the script may have been a bit clumsy in illustrating it, I love that she does surgery in a ball gown (which would never ever happen IRL). When her boyfriend moves out, she is much more upset about him taking the furniture than losing him (which also makes no sense, how did he get a mover overnight?). Watching Rose and Martha, I found it really refreshing that the Doctor absolutely needs her more than she needs him.

    As an added bonus, Daphne Ashbrook is a credit to fandom. While you never can quite tell with people you know from television, at cons and events she seems dash nice. She gave a lovely interview to the guys at Podshock, and it’s adorable to see her and Paul together.

    Thanks for letting me ramble!

    • We’re always happy to hear more insight–even if it is from a while back. We talk about a time-travel show, so really, it’s perfect! Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂

  12. Seems absurd to be commenting on this episode four years after it aired, but I was interested in a point that was discussed. When you talked about “first companions”, I had to consider my own experience, which would be closer to Tansey’s (who unfortunately wasn’t on this episode) than the rest of you, if perhaps a bit earlier.

    Here in Australia throughout the seventies and eighties, our public broadcaster (the ABC) played Doctor Who repeats (from Season 7 onwards) pretty much continually, showing four episodes a week. So our viewing of Doctor who tended to jump about quite a bit, with new serials being shown for a time, then back to repeats of some other time period.

    My parents watched the ABC, and the Doctor Who timeslot we basically had the TV on every night, so I grew up with Doctor Who before I was even really aware that TV shows were separate things. So for me, it’s all quite a jumble. The earliest episode I can clearly remember watching in my childhood was Spearhead from Space, but I am certain that I already knew who the Doctor was at that point, and Tom Baker is definitely The Doctor of my childhood. I certainly don’t remember the first airing of Terror of the Autons; I was too young to form permanent memories back then.

    I may have some dim memories of some Troughton episodes. When I see Frazer Hines in recent VAM, I recognize him as Jamie, which is odd, given that I don’t remember seeing any episode with Jamie in it.

    If I was going to pick a companion that came first into my awareness, it would be Sarah Jane Smith.

    • LOL. We love it when people discover and engage with episodes from long ago! And it’s always fascinating to hear about people’s first memories of the show, so thank you for sharing!

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