April 08, 2015

The Companion Departures - #19 Mickey Smith

Perhaps surprisingly, it is Mickey Smith who ranks as the most effective companion departure of the RTD era. This is on the basis of his departure in Rise of the Cybermen, and even his (first) return appearance in Army of Ghosts does not detract from his exit. Rise of the Cybermen works for Mickey on every level - his motivation for leaving rings true (staying in a parallel universe to get a second chance to look after his grandmother, rather than staying to play second fiddle to both Rose and the Doctor in the TARDIS) and the character shows true signs of development. Mickey leaves the TARDIS on a high - no longer an “idiot”, providing himself able to take on the Cybermen on his own and demonstrating the bravery and courage that he lacked in his first appearance in Rose. The development can also seen gradually throughout the course of the first two seasons of the new series, rather than a sudden overnight transformation from coward to brave hero. When Mickey returns a handful of episodes later to close out the season, it is a genuine surprise because his story felt so “complete” at the end of Rise of the Cybermen - in Army of Ghosts, Mickey’s confidence has increased (naturally, given what he’s been up to on the parallel world since he left the TARDIS) but he is still the same recognizable character that we last saw in Rise of the Cybermen. For a change, a return appearance by a companion in the RTD era doesn’t feel like the departure has been undermined in any way (it helps that Mickey returns back to where he came from at the end of Doomsday so that it doesn’t feel as though his grandmother isn’t suddenly forgotten).

It’s unfortunately in some ways that this saga in Doctor Who simply didn’t end there. His character is almost unrecognizable in his final two appearances - a macho “tough guy” who is suddenly married to Martha. This isn’t so much character development as character transformation. Had this transformation occurred in his departure story or even his first return appearance a few episodes later (so that it felt more closely connected to his departure), rather than two and a bit years later, then this departure would have been ranked lower. And as bizarre transformation it is, it still doesn’t feel like it undercuts anything that had been established as the reason for leaving the TARDIS, unlike some of the other RTD-era companions - there is a nice reference to the fact that his grandmother has now passed away peacefully, so it makes sense for him to want to come back to his home universe at this point. As such, I’ve ranked Mickey’s the highest amongst all the RTD companions (and remember, Adam doesn’t count!).

April 05, 2015

The Companion Departures - #20 - Rose Tyler

The army of Rose Tyler fans reading this can relax - her character does make the Top 20 best companion departures. Ok, just barely, but she still made it!

No doubt people may be asking why this one isn’t higher up the list. Doomsday had many people in tears after all and it was effective as a tear-jerker back in 2006. Truth be told, Rose’s farewell would have been higher up the list had she not returned just over a season later. Bringing her back so quickly (in the grand scheme of things) diminishes the impact of her “final” goodbye to the Doctor, because it turns out not to be a final goodbye. In fact she ends up spending the rest of her life with an incarnation of the Doctor that will grow old with her, which gives a weirdly happy not-quite-so tragic ending. The result has made subsequent viewings of the end of Doomsday to be less satisfying than it initially was since it isn’t as much of a tear-jerker anymore. It is meant to be such a sentimental, heart-breaking scene but knowing what ultimately happens with Rose (and that it isn’t the final goodbye), it now feels overly sentimental and goes on for too long. If you can’t appreciate why, just imagine how much less effective Adric’s (far more) tragic departure from the TARDIS would have felt for his fans in subsequent viewings of Earthshock had they decided to bring him back just over a year later.

The actual departure itself, while mostly done well, has one thing going against it that is worth mentioning - it is the first of the “false prophesies”  in the RTD era, where in the narrative itself indicates that a companion (or major character) will die, but then it turns out that this is only true from a certain point of view and not meant literally - the end result making the “prophesy” feeling a bit like a manipulative cheat. The fact that RTD did this another two times during his era also makes it less enjoyable to watch Doomsday in subsequent viewings. This, combined with the final goodbye in Doomsday not being final after all, is why Rose’s departure comes in at the bottom of the Top 20, instead of much further up.

April 03, 2015

The Companion Departures - #21 - Martha Jones

The last in our “middle of the pack” run of companion departures which are not especially gratifying but not terribly disappointing either because the character turns up again just a few episodes after he or she leaves. Even as Martha leaves in The Last of the Time Lords, she pretty much tells the Doctor and the audience that she’s coming back next season for a few episodes. So it was tough to feel too upset that he was leaving even if you really loved the character, because you knew this wasn’t the last we were going to see of her and on this occasion the series wasn’t pretending otherwise. Martha’s actual departure is fairly satisfying - logical from a character motivation point of view (to look after her psychologically-damaged family) and also from a character development point of view (the unrequited love story reached a natural ending point as many people do in fact move on when they are shown that amount of blatant disinterest from someone they are pining for, especially someone they are traveling with).

Subsequent episodes that Martha features in just a few episodes later do not undermine the impact of her decision to leave because she realized she wasn’t going to be loved in that way by the Doctor, but what they prevent the character from leaving the series on a high note from the point of view of her character. Had The Last of the Time Lords been her final episode, we would have seen her leaving after having saved the world (or at least being largely instrumental in the Doctor ultimately having done so), and working harder than anyone (on her own, for a full year) to do it. From the character’s perspective, she had a year off from traveling in the TARDIS, so the decision to leave is moreso a decision not to re-join. The idea to bring her back as a new regular member of UNIT even makes sense and seemed like a great idea at the time. Its unfortunate then that Martha is largely superfluous in the five episodes she features in the following season, except for the Sontarans to make an evil clone version of her - making it feel like she was in many of those episodes as a contractual obligation rather than because the narrative demanded it. (Its even more unfortunate when the character seemingly chucks away her career with UNIT, her relationship with Tom Milligan and looking after her family to go running off as a freelance monster fighter with her sudden new husband Mickey, but that’s sufficiently far enough away from her actual departure that we won’t hold that bit of writing insanity against her departure in The Last of the Time Lords). Because these episodes occur so soon after she leaves and her departure story makes the point of telling us these return appearances are coming, it’s difficult to disassociate these less-satisfying return appearances from her time as a regular companion. As such, while her departure ranks higher than many others of her ilk, it isn’t as high up as it could have been had they ended her story at The Last of the Time Lords.

April 02, 2015

The Companion Departures - #22 - Captain Jack Harkness

Another RTD-era companion departure that is tough to rank in the grand scheme of things, because the majority of his appearances in Doctor Who (and for that matter, Torchwood) occurs after his regular run as a companion, which is atypical for both the new and classic series. It is also tricky because Jack doesn’t choose to leave the TARDIS as a companion - he’s killed and brought back to life and initially appears that the Doctor takes off without him seemingly not necessarily knowing that Jack had been resurrected. Later, in Utopia, it is suggested that the Doctor did in fact know that he was abandoning Captain Jack. Finally in The Last of the Time Lords, Jack chooses to not to re-join the TARDIS crew, which is as close as it gets to him deciding to leave. But this occurs two years after he actually does leave and ceases to be a regular companion. And just a few seconds before the unfortunate and annoying suggestion that he turns out to be the Face of Boe.

In the end, Jack’s actual departure in The Parting of the Ways is one that I consider another in the category of “not especially enjoyable but not particularly disappointing”, mainly because it really occurs at the start of Jack’s long tenure as a character in Doctor Who and its spin-offs and there is so much more character development and incident which occurs long after he leaves the TARDIS. So into the middle of the pack it goes.

April 01, 2015

The Companion Departures - #23 - Harry Sullivan

Harry’s departure is a tougher one to rank in terms of classic series departures. There isn’t a story that is dedicated to him leaving the TARDIS but at the same time it might have been much to expect one since he’s only a travelling companion for such a short time. Just six stories and in terms of the narrative of the series, it is just one TARDIS trip (to Nerva and back) so there is never any great expectation that he would continue traveling in the TARDIS once it returned to present day earth. So while his departure certainly isn’t very exciting from a character development point of view, neither is it particularly unsatisfying. There’s a sort of “Yeah, that’s fair enough” feeling about him leaving when and why he does. There is also the sense at the end of Terror of the Zygons that it is not the last time we’re going to see him because he’s a member of UNIT, and indeed that is the case - he’s back on screen a few stories later, albeit not in a “companion” role. So his departure as a companion fits best in the middle of the pack - not one to get terribly excited about or moved by, but under the circumstances not really disappointing either.

One caveat to that - his final appearance in the series is somewhat disappointing - on the one hand it is nice to see him again in The Android Invasion, we only see the real Harry in the final episode so it feels somewhat like a cameo. And I’ve never liked the fact that we don’t see him say a final goodbye in the series to the Doctor and Sarah (although that is the same for all of the UNIT regulars, whom Harry has now been “demoted” to). However, his return appearance doesn’t adversely affect his departure as a companion either (unlike a few other companions that we could - and in some cases already have - mentioned).

March 30, 2015

The Companion Departures - #24 - Donna Noble

Before we start on Donna, we have to acknowledge that RTD-era companion departures overall are tougher to evaluate for the simple reason that all the companions come back not too long after they have departed. In the classic series days once they left, that was it - they were gone and we didn’t see them again unless they were a member of UNIT or unless it was many, many years later in a multi-Doctor story. With the RTD-era, every companion came back and not too long after they left. The longest gap was probably Captain Jack, who came back to the series two years after he departed it, mainly because he was busy starring in a spin-off series in the interim. This gives an added complication to consider as the known fate of the character in question changes shortly after their departure, which can change how we feel about the initial departure not very long after it originally happened.

In Donna’s case, we are treating her departure story as Journey’s End, but it is tough not to let the events regarding her re-appearance in The End of Time just a few stories later affect our judgment, particularly when there isn’t a regular companion in the 3 stories in between so the “Donna era” doesn’t really feel like it ends with Journey’s End but rather The End of Time. Either way, there are significant problems for her character development in both stories in question. In Journey’s End, her moment in the sun as the saviour of all universes comes about not because Donna chose to be special, chose to be heroic or brave, but because some magical force (or possibly the TARDIS) decides to bestow these special powers on her. (It doesn’t help that the practical result of her being bestowed such powers is to defeat the Daleks by pressing a bunch of buttons and spouting the most hideous technobabble imaginable at a mile a minute - even with the sub-titles on and watching my DVD in slow motion, I can’t make head nor tail of what it is that Donna does to defeat the Daleks).  Donna losing her memory of the Doctor and being forced to leave the TARDIS is truly heart-wrenching and extremely well-played by all the principle actors involved (David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins in particular) and “saves” the departure in some respects (which is why it is this high up in the list instead of being lower), but the character development leading up to this point is not satisfactory from a character point of view or from a plotting point of view.

Just a few stories later, The End of Time undercuts some of the tragedy of her departure, for a couple of reasons. First, it turns out that if she remembers the Doctor her mind won’t burn and she won’t die (as we had been told repeatedly up to this point) - she will instead just knock out a few people in her immediate vicinity and send her to sleep for a bit (a defense-mechanism which is so fool-proof that the Doctor can tell that this is exactly what has happened to Donna just by sounds that he can hear over the phone as he is tied up in a chair miles away). As well, it seems a shame that we are suddenly presented with the fiancee/husband rather than seeing this relationship develop.  After the torment that Donna went through in The Runaway Bride and Silence in the Library in trying to meet and marry the right guy (she has two marriages or attempted marriages that don’t work out in heartbreaking fashion), I wanted to see the story/journey of how Donna finally meets and successfully marries the right guy. We never get to really know who the guy is, what he’s like or how the relationship developed or whether he was truly right for her. Which can’t help leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied and certainly that an opportunity was missed. All we are really told about him is that he doesn’t have that much money, which fits uneasily with Wilf seeking out the Doctor in order to make her happy again, coming across as a little more materialistic than is usual in Doctor Who. Donna does get a happy ending (when we last see her she is absolutely ecstatic about finally tying the knot) which by its very nature of being happy can’t help but undercut the tragic departure the character had just a few stories ago. Where the departure really succeeds is for the characterization of the 10th Doctor and Wilf - that part is outstanding. But for Donna’s character itself, it doesn’t entirely work.

March 28, 2015

The Companion Departures - #25 - Sarah Jane Smith

No doubt this will be seen as a controversial choice to come in this low in this listing, as this departure is often lauded as the greatest Doctor/Companion scene of all time, usually by people who I’m assuming have only seen the last 10 minutes of The Hand of Fear part 4 and no other episode of Doctor Who. In my view this departure always felt too contrived to be wholly satisfactory. There are good points to it - Sarah discovering that the Doctor has dropped her off in the wrong place on Earth does bring a smile and the whole scene is nicely acted and beautifully played, and is moving in some respects when the Doctor does say goodbye to Sarah and we see Sarah’s reaction that he’s being serious. On the flip side is the abruptness of the departure for such an important, long running regular character - there certainly isn’t a build-up in the story to Sarah leaving. In contrast to many other companions (who are still to be featured in this list) Sarah doesn’t really have a departure story per se - she has a departure vignette. The Hand of Fear as a whole doesn’t set up her departure at all. Instead the adventure ends a few minutes early, and the departure scene occurs, pretty much unconnected to the adventure. Matters are not helped by the sudden tantrum that Sarah suddenly throws which causes her to pack her bags (conveniently for her departure from the TARDIS a couple of minutes later) and comes across as very contrived - both in terms of what sets it off (basically,the 4th Doctor acting typically like the 4th Doctor and absent-mindedly not listening to her for a few minutes) and how out-of-character it is for Sarah.

The feeling of contrivance doesn’t end there - while it may be understandable for the Doctor to believe that he can’t take her with him to Gallifrey,  he departs Gallifrey again at the end of the next story and it is quickly apparent he could go back for her and doesn’t bother to do so. If the Doctor is as fond of Sarah as this scene - and their friendship over the past three years - suggests, it doesn’t feel convincing or persuasive that he doesn’t go back to visit her. To put it this way, if you were to provide a quick one-line summary of the reasons why each of the companions depart the TARDIS, it would feature examples ‘“Susan falls in love with a human and stays with him in his own time on Earth”; “Ben and Polly decide to stay in their own time after the TARDIS returns there”; “Jamie and Zoe are returned to their own time by the Time Lords when they put the Doctor on trial and exile him to Earth”; “Jo falls in love with a scientist that reminds her of a younger version of the Doctor”. When you get to Sarah, the summary would be “Sarah leaves the TARDIS as the Doctor is called to Gallifrey and believes that he can’t take her with him, and then he doesn’t bother to come back for her once he’s done there”. It just feels like the makers of the show at this time couldn’t really think of a good reason for her to leave the show permanently and so they come up with a contrived reason that has nothing to do with the character, nor the character’s relationship with the Doctor, and a reason which isn’t built up at all in the story or in the stories leading up to her final story. For such a major and popular character, that seems a bit of a shame and a missed opportunity.

March 20, 2015

The Companion Departures - #27 & #26 - Ben and Polly

Previously we mentioned that Dodo’s departure was so unsatisfying that it was actually done as a passing reference by other characters at the end of a story that Dodo disappears from halfway through. Those other characters were Ben and Polly, who communicated the news to the Doctor (and the audience) at the end of The War Machines.

It is somewhat ironic then that the same thing nearly happens to Ben and Polly. They disappear in the middle of (or rather, a third of the way through) The Faceless Ones, which is their final story. However, they fare better than Dodo in the departure sweepstakes because they do return at the end of the story to get a proper farewell scene. The farewell scene itself is actually fantastic - Ben and Polly realize that they have returned to Earth in the same day and in the same city that they accidentally stowed away in the TARDIS. Ben has a chance to catch ship to set sail (and one wonders if he’d try to see if he could stow Polly away on that ship as well!).

The only shame is that this scene is tacked on to the end of a story where the characters had disappeared for the previous four episodes (five in Polly’s case since Anneke Wills plays a doppleganger in episode 2). It is certainly not a story that is about their departure or their characters in any way. Their re-appearance at the end of the story which provides the wonderful final scene for the character feels like a cameo appearance by the time we get to it. As such, while it is a vast improvement over the likes of what happened to Dodo, it still isn’t one of the most satisfying companion departures.

March 19, 2015

The Companion Departures - #28 - Liz Shaw

Liz inevitably must come in towards the bottom of the list because she also didn’t get a proper depature scene. Unlike Ace, however, we at least know the fate of the character, having returned to Cambridge University to resume her research programme. And this is a very logical and understandable departure for her character, given that she never asked to join UNIT in the first place and given that when she was virtually conscripted into UNIT, it was because, initially, they needed a scientific advisor because they didn’t know that the Doctor was going to show up on their doorstep exiled to Earth. Once the Doctor arrived, Liz’s role with unit changed from Scientific Advisor to Assistant to the Scientific Advisor, which wasn’t even what she was drafted in for. It also made her position in UNIT to be somewhat redundant since the Doctor could also handle everything (and more) that Liz could scientifically-speaking. The fact that the Doctor didn’t need a scientist to be his assistant at UNIT is commented upon in Terror of the Autons episode one, the first story following Liz’s depature from the series, as the Brigadier repeats to the Doctor what Liz apparently remarked upon a number of times. It would make sense that after a year, Liz would be allowed to return to Cambridge to resume the career she actually wanted.

The only disappointment, and the reason this comes in so low, is the aforementioned lack of a farewell scene. Some have argued that there is one in Inferno part seven because the Doctor says “Goodbye Liz - I shall miss you” before going on to insult the Brigadier. But given that the Doctor’s back about 35 seconds later and he’s the one who stays (it’s him saying goodbye to her, not the other way round) it’s tough to take that as a proper farewell scene. The fact is the audience only discovers that Liz has left when Jo shows up in the next story and tells the Doctor “I’m your new assistant”. Liz’s departure works for her character and we do get a final image of her laughing, but her depature being announced by Jo the following year means that her departure can only be so high on this list.

March 18, 2015

The Companion Departures - #29 - Leela

While Mel’s departure may have been the most nonsensical and unmotivated departure in the series history, Leela’s must go down as the most out-of-character. The character never showed a hint of being interested in romance or showing any romantic feelings - not just throughout her one and a half seasons, but even during her final story, The Invasion of Time. They had 6 episodes in that story to build up a rapport between Leela and the character of Andred but failed to do so - mainly because producer Graham Williams (also the co-writer of this story) was so convinced that Louise Jameson would stay that he didn’t bother to properly write her out until the last minute when he realized that Jameson wasn’t bluffing and/or wasn’t going to changer her mind about leaving. After the two characters barely shared any screen time during the first five epsiodes, there are one or two scenes of Leela and Andred showing concern for each other in episode 6 during the course of the action and the next thing you know Leela is suddenly in love with Andred and has decided to leave the TARDIS.

Louise Jameson claims at the time asked for her character to be killed off rather than married off in such an unconvincing fashion. But even if marrying her off was the way to go (for the sake of a happier ending), they could at least have her fall in love with one of the Shebogans, as that might not have been so bad. The Shebogans, moreso than the Time Lord Guards in the Citadel, were clearly more Leela’s “type” of people and Leela sharing a romantic bond with one of them would have been more plausible. What we were left with was, sadly, not remotely convincing to anyone and a poor out-of-character departure for such a great character.

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