Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who


That’s right. We’re pretty excited about this week’s companion topic. Join Deb, Erika, Lynne, and Tansy as we talk about the most educated companions–the academics, the doctors, the scientists, and more. What is it about them that makes them appealing? Is there anything that can be off-putting to audiences? Does Romana count? The answer to that last one is debated hotly (but laughingly)!

What do you think of the brainier companions? Do you see yourself in them? Or do you seem them being too full of their own capabilities? Let us know in the comments!


Also covered:

Bonus links:
Galactic Suburbia is five years old!
Wendy the Weeping-Angel Barbie!
Erasing Sherlock (book by Kelly Hale)
Bernice Summerfield
Love and War (novel by Paul Cornell)
The Marian Conspiracy (Big Finish audio)
Peel and Steed
Mulder and Scully

Download or listen now (runtime 1:27:24) 

Comments on: "Ep 70 – Intellectual Squee-quals" (20)

  1. Wendy is thrilled by all the attention. 🙂

  2. Richard S. said:

    Great episode, possibly the best title ever (“Squee-quals”!) and a relief after seeing this lunchtime’s actual proper main national & international headlines on the BBC News at One: Clarkson suspended from Top Gear, name-calling on both sides at Prime Minister’s Questions and, oh yes, Blurred Lines: The Verdict.

    I’ve always been a huge fan of the academic, science, learning-y side of DW. It was the aspect of school I found most enjoyable, because easiest for me to process, and Saturday teatimes provided me with, yay!, extra homework. (Well, not exactly, you know what I mean.)

    Sometime around 19981-82, I finally got to choose the subjects I wanted to study at O-Level, and I was in classes with other kids who (mostly) also wanted to learn… which coincided with the DW era of two really intelligent young companions in the TARDIS. Plus the whiny one. I’ve been watching Peter Davison’s The Visitation on DVD, first time since the 1983 BBC repeat. Surprised how much the Doctor trusts Nyssa to go off & do her own techie thing. Bewildered at how little stuff Adric gets to do except run, wave, fret. Bemused at how Tegan’s eruditely philosophical recap of the previous tale is like no words any person would actually say out of their mouth. And yet, the story is one of my very favourites from Classic Who, thanks to the historical, rural setting, and the wisdom of the villain & the guest star.

    I don’t know if a brainy companion would work so well right now. Put a scientifically literate companion in the middle of Kill The Moon, and either they’ll look dumb for not commenting on the daft science, or the writer will have to insert a whole lot of expository excuses for the daftness.

    In one way, it’s like the Smartest Guy in the TARDIS can only be Moffat, or more precisely the Moffaty solution to the current arc or dilemma. Take that scene inside the Dalek, when Journey is about to set the explosives, people outside are getting exterminated left, right & centre, and Clara wastes valuable seconds, getting her schoolmarm on, trying to guide the Doctor (the viewer) to realise what we’ve learned today about one good dalek. What have we learned today? (Exterminate! Aaarggh!) Come on, what have we really learned? (Aaarggh! Aarrggh! ZZAPPP!) The dialogue places the emphasis on Clara figuring out a really smart thing, but wouldn’t it be smarter just to say it straight away?

    I must stop rewatching Into The Dalek, keep getting very cross about Journey being left behind. FYI, Zawe Ashton is on BBC3 tonight, investigating FGM for a Comic Relief special.

    As a lifelong supporter of Cambridge in the university boat race, I’d like to point Lynne in the direction of the completely genuine & utterly canonical YouTube clip “Doctor Who – Liz Shaw on Oxford.”

  3. Richard S. said:

    Should be 1981, not 19981! Darned pesky number things.

  4. I loved Martha, especially when she was allowed to use her training and intelligence. I thought it was an interesting dynamic when Martha’s loyalty to the Hippocratic oath trumped her loyalty to the Doctor. Your conversation today made me wonder if Martha wouldn’t have been much more successful traveling with a different version of the doctor. Wouldn’t she have been lovely with Troughton? I think she could even do well with Capaldi once she gained his respect.

  5. Sounds like what Lynne wants is Hermione Granger on the TARDIS – this could work

  6. terminuspodcast said:

    Pausing listening to this to comment.

    I think one of the problems people have with Adric (or maybe its just me?) was not his intelligence in and of itself, but that he sort of had this I’m-smarter-than-you-see-my-Math(s)-badge attitude a lot of the time — even with, say, Nyssa (one of my fave companions of all time!) who was demonstrative very intelligent herself.

    I don’t mind the intelligence or being very competent, if fact that is something I usually prefer in a companion if I’m honest, but there just seemed to be this better-than-you attitude with Adric, coupled with a better-than-you-because-I’m-male attitude that just rubbed me wrong. It just seemed rather immature and off-putting for me.

    It’s interesting that you were contrasting him with Zoe. I mean, yes, Zoe was also a bit of a braggart (especially towards the Doctor, if memory serves), but it somehow didn’t rub me wrong with her. Maybe because she didn’t have the male privilege of Adric, where she sort of had to ‘prove’ herself more vocally than Adric did? I don’t know.

    It’s definitely interesting to think about, because I love Zoe with all my heart, but I’m pretty meh about Adric on the whole. Hmm.

  7. terminuspodcast said:

    I agree with Tansy that I love when its the smart companion working with the Doctor to fight the wrongs or whatever (instead of just being the one to pass them his test-ubes or whatever). Even if they are working together *separately*. For example, one thing I particularly loved with companions like Nyssa and Martha was that they could go off and make something to help things and sort of come back into the story and save (or very much help) things. Yes, for Nyssa she sort of made a…well, a giant vibrator that one time and Martha electrocuted some pig!people, but still, they worked autonomously to help the plot without having the Doctor holding their hand the whole time telling them what to do. That really, really, really delights me in a companion. 🙂

  8. The appreciation of Liz Shaw as a companion in this episode is much appreciated. She has always been one of my favorite companions for the Doctor. It is worth checking out the Big Finish Companion Chronicles which feature Liz Shaw; The Last Post serves as a fitting capstone for series seven.

  9. Gary Schaper said:

    I enthusiastically support Tansy’s suggestion about a companion’s arc in the TARDIS being about finding the place in time and space where they and their talents can be fulfilled. I really blame RTD for making Doomsday so powerful, such that it seems like journeys with the Doctor are always the high point of a life, and the arcs always want to work toward some awful separation that leaves us with a crying Doctor.

    Regarding Erika and Evelyn Smythe: I recommend Arrangements for War as a Big Finish story that shows off the character’s virtues magnificently. It does take some context from the previous stories in the character’s personal chronology, though that is largely recapped in the start of the story.

  10. This was a great episode-actually very helpful to me. Other than my initial crush on Rose, the only other companion who has truly captured me has been River. I felt a little left out of the clubhouse because I wasn’t completely I love with Amy or Donna. I actually felt greater affinity for Zoe and Romana. (Only R2 for some reason. I think R1 was a little too snooty for me).

    Now, I understand why-COMPETENCY PORN (brilliant, Lynn!). I am addicted to competency and when the TARDIS team has a highly competent (IQ and EQ) companion, I am about it. It really is too bad that New Who has so rarely written highly competent companions, when Classic Who proffered them so frequently. I understand now why it Is Zoe, not Sarah Jane, and River, not Amy, that inspire such a sense of excitement and happiness in me.

    Deb, up until now, when you talked about how much you didn’t like River…well…some shoutiness ensued between myself and the MP3 player. But now, I totally get it. River started as one of the most competent companions ever, (definitely the most competent in New Who) and lost it as her story progressed. While that didn’t really matter to me, I totally get why it matters to you. Makes perfect sense. No more shoutiness over River. 🙂

    I also am much clearer about both the problems and the progress with Clara. As she was written in 7b she was lovely, kind, funny, fun, loyal…who can argue with that? But, not compelling. However, in series 8, increasing her “Competency Quotient” (CQ- how’s that?) seems to have been a central component of her character development. And, the higher her CQ goes, the more I like her. And she sure has a high CQ now!

    Great, thoughtful, smart analysis Verities! I think I am now ready (finally) to write my own blog post about a River.

  11. Chris! said:

    My theory about Adric’s unpopularity is that his awkwardness as a character, exacerbated by Matthew Waterhouse’s unripe acting performance, may have reminded those Doctor Who viewers who may have felt like misfits in real life of their own vulnerabilities.

    I’m not sure I agree with Erika that Adric was all that whiny, though: that seemed more like Tegan’s job 🙂

  12. I’m totally on Team Erika about Evelyn Smythe–then again, that may be because I’ve only listened to her in Apocalypse Element too. I didn’t look up Evelyn’s character bio until after I finished listening and was pretty shocked to see she had academic credentials a professor. While listening, I really keyed in on this tiny part where she referred to Stockholm Syndrome as Stockbridge Syndrome. Not that I expect a professor of history to know everything about anything, but Stockholm Syndrome is such a mainstream condition that it seemed odd that an academic of any kind wouldn’t be aware of it.

    And yes, I know, from the Doylist perspective, her not remembering the name allowed Evelyn to fulfill the companion role and provide the listener with a description of the syndrome, but that is beside the point.

    And, I also know that I’m irrationally focused on a minor point. Still, I regret nothing.

    • Batmanofni said:

      Stockbridge is a fictional village in Audios and Comics. There’s a great trilogy with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. She gets to show how clever and resourceful she is. Which fits into what we’re talking about.

  13. So nice to here some Benny Summerfield love. I would love to see an episode dedicated to the Virgin and BBC 7th and 8th Doctor books during the Wilderness years. I know not everyone in the podcast is familiar with them but I think between you a good discussion could occur.

    Also, related to smart women in Who and Benny – How about a Kate Orman interview?

    • James C said:

      Yes! Kate Orman’s is a voice I would love to hear. Get Tansy and Kate in a room together immediately!

  14. Ashford said:

    Liz Shaw was wonderful. I had the pleasure of watching her run for the first time back in August of last year. It is a shame we only had the character for one series.

    And you guys can definitely borrow my Gallifrey audio CDs.

  15. I would make an argument for Rory and Clara being included here. As far as I’m aware, in current times both nursing and teaching requires at the very least a Bachelors degree. They are both clearly very competent at their jobs (Rory is flat out told the hospital loves him in The Power of Three). They both are also quite happy to go toe to toe with the Doctor if they need to. In particular, Rory has clearly done his research on the scientific theory relating to time travel and dimensions and such between The Eleventh Hour and stepping into the TARDIS in Vampires of Venice (at least as much as modern day science has theories about what is not currently possible).

    I also flailed a little when you went of on the ‘competency kink OMG Leverage references Doctor Who’ tangent. I have just finished marathon-ing 9 seasons of Criminal Minds (and hell yeah for the incredible smarts those characters have). At the end of season 7 there is an episode that has Penelope Garcia and Spencer Reid going to a convention cosplaying femme Eleven and Four on their day off only to bump into the character Kevin (played by Nicholas Brendon aka Xander Harris – my fandoms are colliding) also dressed as Eleven. Then at the end of season 9 when Spencer ends up in Hospital, Penelope sets up Dalek and Eleven & Ten action figures on his tray table so he can see them when he wakes up. I may have made some of Lynne’s high pitched noises.

    Also, I’m heading straight to the ABC Shop in my lunch break because David Tennant as Tom Bertram OMG! (It’s listed on their website but I want to check the physical store before I order).

    • I would disagree with including Rory and Clara–not because they’re not smart. I think they both are. But so are plenty of the Doctor’s other companions. It’s more to do with the nature of the schooling they need for their professions and the professions themselves. When I think of “an academic”, I think of someone who had to go through a lot more than what’s required (at least in the US) to become a schoolteacher or a nurse. Depending on the kind of nursing you’re doing (and this varies from state to state in the US), you may need as little as a couple of years of training–less than even the easiest philosophy degree at a university. I personally know quite a few nurses, and let’s just say that “academic” is not a word I would use to describe most of them. (No insult intended here. Being capable at one’s job and being “academically” smart are two vastly different things.) Similarly, the amount and type of schooling necessary to become a teacher (again, in the States–or some of them anyway) is nothing compared to what you need to become a librarian or an astrophysicist or a librarian-astrophysicist or MD.

      I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I think school-teaching and nursing are two of the most important professions out there, and I think both groups get the short end of the stick when it comes to respect and monetary compensation, so again–no offense intended.

  16. […] And I’ve been so neglectful of blogging this week, there’s also last week’s Verity! where they’re discussing the more intellectual companions. I haven’t listened yet, but […]

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