Who are the best would-be companions in Doctor Who history? Traveling through time and space, Doctor Who‘s lead character meets a variety of folks on her adventures, from narrow-minded war chiefs and money-grabbing aliens to kind rural folk and super-intelligent teens. With new guest stars in each episode, there was a time when you’d be hard-pressed to find a reputable British actor who hadn’t appeared in the iconic science fiction series.
The Doctor will occasionally take companions into the TARDIS on a full-time basis, and while the Time Lord definitely has a type (young, human, female), Doctor Who has included a great many regulars from across the cosmos. But spare a thought for those who, for one reason or another, don’t get an invitation into the TARDIS; those who meet The Doctor once and are never heard from again. In many cases, these one-off characters are swiftly forgotten come next week’s installment but, now and again, fans are left wondering what could’ve been when a fascinating personality makes but a single appearance.
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From William Hartnell’s reign as the First Doctor, right up to the modern incarnation of Doctor Who, here are the single-use characters that should’ve been recycled into genuine companions for their respective Doctors.
Sara Kingdom (First Doctor)
Although Doctor Who‘s original companion trio of Susan, Ian and Barbara perhaps lack the depth of today’s TARDIS occupants, they don’t adhere to the stereotypical companion mold that would later become prominent. Even so, none hold a candle to Jean Marsh’s Sara Kingdom. Appearing in “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” Kingdom is considered an official companion by some, but Marsh herself denies that status, appearing only briefly alongside Hartnell and then-companion Steven. A space security officer from the year 4000, Sara began as an enemy before turning on her employers to join The Doctor – a fascinating redemptive arc that was rare among early Doctor Who companions. Sara was the muscle of the TARDIS and a progressive character for her time, arguably the most exciting companion until that point. Unfortunately, Sara died in the process of defeating the Daleks, and while the SSS officer has returned in audiobooks, comics and the like since, there remains a sense of missed opportunity. Sara Kingdom had much more to give on TV beyond her multi-part Dalek escapade.
Sam Briggs (Second Doctor)
Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor tenure is unusual in that Jamie McCrimmon accompanies him for virtually the entire regeneration. But while The Doctor and Jamie undoubtedly make a great team, it was some time before Doctor Who found a worthy third member of the main cast. “The Faceless Ones” introduces Sam Briggs, played by Pauline Collins. When The Doctor arrives in modern day England (never!) to investigate the shady Chameleon Tours, he finds Sam already on the case, looking for clues about her missing brother. Sam shows the kind of proactive curiosity that would later make Sarah Jane Smith a fan favorite, while also possessing the 1960s style that would be missed after Polly’s departure. Sam would’ve made the perfect compliment to The Doctor and Jamie (the latter of whom she had a romantic connection with), and was offered the companion gig full time, but Collins turned the job down. Since “The Faceless Ones” was one of the Second Doctor’s many missing stories, Sam perhaps isn’t remembered as much as she should be.
Anne Travers (Second Doctor)
After missing out on Sam Briggs, Doctor Who turned to Victoria, one of the earliest “scream and run” companions that would be trotted out periodically for years to come. But when The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrived in modern-day London (did they ever leave?) to face the Yeti and the Great Intelligence in “The Web of Fear,” Doctor Who hinted at a more interesting female companion that never came to pass. Tina Packer’s Anne is the daughter of a professor whom the Second Doctor met during a past adventure, so has pre-existing knowledge of the Time Lord and his friends. Nevertheless, she remains deadly suspicious of the recorder-playing clown for much of the episode, before learning to trust The Doctor, and using her scientific expertise to help the day. Anne would’ve provided the ideal partner to the more straightforward Jamie, and showed more mettle than Victoria, who decided the TARDIS was too dangerous and quit not long after.
Jago & Litefoot (Fourth Doctor)
From Sarah Jane Smith to Romana, Tom Baker enjoyed some of Doctor Who‘s best ever companions, but even his era missed a golden opportunity. In the classic (albeit outdated) “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” The Doctor meets charismatic theater owner Jago (Christopher Benjamin) and the learned Professor Litefoot (Trevor Baxter). Despite appearing to have little in common, Jago and Litefoot develop a formidable Holmes & Watson-esque partnership, and their comedic back and forth plays brilliantly into Baker’s madcap Fourth Doctor performance. Balancing foolishness, resourcefulness and courage, Jago and Litefoot stand out among the best guest stars in Doctor Who history, and wholly deserved their own series of audio adventures in 2010. There’s plenty of Jago and Litefoot hi-jinks out there for Doctor Who fans but, in hindsight, the duo might’ve hung around the TARDIS a little longer, offering their unique worldview to The Doctor and Leela on TV.
Dr. Todd (Fifth Doctor)
One of Doctor Who‘s most divisive episodes, “Kinda” is notable for being a companion light, with the recently-added Nyssa not confirmed before the script was handed in. While Nyssa is consigned to the TARDIS for almost the entire episode, The Doctor, Tegan and Adric team up with Dr. Todd – a scientist that even “Kinda” critics took a liking to. Played by Nerys Hughes, Todd follows a fairly typical Doctor Who arc of colonial scientist who opposes their superiors to support the native population. With Nyssa joining an already packed TARDIS not long before, Todd was never likely to become a proper Doctor Who companion, and scientific types rarely do well as main cast members since they’re too intelligent to require exposition. But Todd possessed a grit and maturity that was sorely missing in Peter Davison’s increasingly pubescent TARDIS crew.
Ray (Seventh Doctor)
With all due respect to Bonnie Langford, Mel was never written to be the greatest Doctor Who companion. Introduced off-screen during the Sixth Doctor’s final season, Mel was another screamer with little in the way of unique traits aside from a love of carrot juice and a sporadic affinity for machines. “Delta & The Bannermen” chose to team Sylvester McCoy up with Sara Griffiths’ Ray instead – a Welsh motorcycle enthusiast with a broken heart. The Doctor and Ray shared a far more watchable dynamic than the Time Lord and Mel, and the newcomer’s mechanical knowledge proves more useful than the current companion’s love for fitness. With Langford heading for the exit, Doctor Who producers considered casting Ray as the next companion, using “Delta & The Bannermen” as a trial run, but the job eventually went to an actress who auditioned unsuccessfully for the Welsh character – Sophie Aldred. Borrowing elements of Ray, Aldred became Ace and all was well with the world.
Mags (Seventh Doctor)
The Doctor and Ace were a great partnership in the dying days of Doctor Who, and though a third member of the TARDIS never materialized, Jessica Martin’s Mags could’ve been a fascinating choice. Making her debut in “The Greatest Show In The Galaxy,” Mags hails from the planet Vulpana and can transform into a deadly werewolf. Desperately trying to control her condition, Mags aids The Doctor in shutting down a perilous circus troupe and makes a suitably rebellious pairing alongside Ace. Although Mags heads off on her own adventures, she could’ve easily been added to Doctor Who‘s main cast, and many fans felt the same after the episode aired. Mags has since returned in audio books and comics, making up for her short-lived stint. The Doctor doesn’t invite enough aliens into his inner circle, and the tension of having a werewolf on board could’ve spiced up Doctor Who‘s final episodes.
Lynda Moss (Ninth Doctor)
It’s testament to Russell T. Davies’ writing that “Bad Wolf” can introduce and kill off a character in the same two-part episode, yet still make her final moments emotionally devastating. Encountering Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor during their time together on reality TV, Lynda is one of few space station occupants the Time Lord can relate to, and she becomes enamored with the idea of traveling through space and time. Lynda’s bravery and trust in The Doctor immediately highlights her as prime companion material, but the character is merely a red herring, ruthlessly murdered by the Daleks. In terms of establishing the resurrected Daleks as a genuine threat, Lynda performs her function perfectly. But Doctor Who teases further adventures for Lynda and The Doctor, only to snatch the prospect away in the cruelest possible fashion.
Astrid Peth (Tenth Doctor)
Doctor Who Christmas specials have a habit of casting big names as one-off companions, and it doesn’t get much bigger than Australian music sensation Kylie Minogue. While some fans anticipated the “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” singer wouldn’t fit into Doctor Who‘s science fiction bubble, Astrid Peth effortlessly proves the doubters wrong. A waitress aboard the futuristic space-faring Titanic, Astrid is lured by the idea of traveling with the Tenth Doctor and readily accepts the invitation to join him, filling the vacancy left by Rose Tyler. The Doctor is impressed by Astrid’s capacity for kindness, but it’s this very quality that leads Minogue’s character to sacrifice herself heroically, saving her crew and the people of Earth. Whether the Tenth Doctor needed another romantic companion after Rose is debatable, but Astrid certainly had potential beyond a single festive adventure, and Kylie has spoken positively about her Doctor Who experience.
Sally Sparrow (Tenth Doctor)
Arguably the biggest missed opportunity in Doctor Who history, a young Carey Mulligan enjoys a breakout performance in “Blink.” A Doctor-lite offering, Sally Sparrow occupies a starring berth in the Weeping Angels’ debut, and her performances is a major factor in the villains’ enduring popularity. Communicating with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor via DVD Easter eggs, the chemistry between Time Lord and would-be companion is obvious as soon as their eventual meeting comes. Sally is the perfect lost soul type to go traveling with The Doctor and, according to Steven Moffatt, Mulligan was approached about possibly joining the TARDIS as a permanent fixture. By that point, however, the actress had her sights set firmly in Hollywood, and a lengthy gig on Doctor Who was out of the question. Had events played out differently, Sally Sparrow could’ve become one of The Doctor’s greatest ever companions.
Canton Everett Delaware III (Eleventh Doctor)
Like Tom Baker before him, Matt Smith was blessed with a series of strong companions in Amy, Rory and Clara. If there is one character who deserved better, however, it’s Mark Sheppard’s Canton Everett Delaware III. Otherwise known as Lucifer in Supernatural, Delaware is a former FBI agent serving under President Nixon. Initially surly towards the Eleventh Doctor as he waltzes into the Oval Office, Delaware soon becomes a trusted ally of the TARDIS team and prove instrumental in defeating The Silence, before reuniting with The Doctor as an old man (played by Sheppard’s real life father, incidentally). The Eleventh Doctor era could’ve used Delaware’s cynical edge, and Sheppard expressed a willingness to return to Doctor Who, but nothing has materialized for the smart-mouthed agent since.
Petronella Osgood (Twelfth Doctor)
A member of UNIT and a massive fan of The Doctor from decades past, Osgood’s Doctor Who bow came in the 50th anniversary “The Day of the Doctor” special, but Ingrid Oliver’s quirky scientist makes a bigger impact during Peter Capaldi’s reign, resurfacing when Missy is revealed as the next regeneration of The Master. With a keen intellect and unlikely courage in the face of alien cataclysms, Osgood has all the makings of a classic Doctor Who companion, and her moral compass is arguably even sharper than The Doctor’s. Fans might’ve been hoping Osgood would enjoy a more frequent presence, but with UNIT currently defunct in Jodie Whittaker’s era, a return seems unlikely. Fortunately, Osgood has been ever-present in audio books and video games, but were she to ever appear as a future companion of the Thirteenth Doctor, Doctor Who fans would surely have no complaints.
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