Monday, April 22, 2013

Doctor Who: 1971

Episode 293: Colony in Space, episode 1
First broadcast: 6.10 pm, Saturday, 10 April 1971
<< back to 1970
Jo unimpressed by all of time and space.
Colony in Space, episode 1
There now seems to be a format for introducing new companions into Doctor Who. First, there's an adventure set in the present day - where the proto-companion lives and works. The Doctor stumbles in and they glimpse a strange, madder, better universe of wonders than they'd ever dreamt of. How can they resist when the Doctor offers to show them more?

The next stop is an especially mad future followed by a trip to somewhere in Earth history (or the other way round and they visit Earth history first). In doing so, the Doctor sets out his stall for Clara, Amy, Donna, Martha and Rose - and reminds the viewer at home of the scope and scale of the series. We are likely to be just as wowed by the new girl at all the show can do.

But it was not always like that. In the Doctor Who of the last millennia, companions weren't always from Earth, let alone the present day. Some didn't even seem bothered about travelling in time and space.

On screen, Liz Shaw never got to leave contemporary Earth (though a 2010 episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures says she now works on the Moon). Jo Grant didn't take a trip in the TARDIS until her 15th episode in the show. And her response to her first sight of an alien world is quite striking:

That's an alien world out there, Jo. Think of it.

I don't want to think of it. I want to go back to Earth.
It's the same a year later in The Curse of Peladon - Jo would much rather go on a date with dashing Mike Yates than visit another world. I'll talk another time about Jo's reasons for leaving the Doctor but I think it's important to see how early it's established that all of time and space is simply not her thing.

Why would a production team make a companion not want to travel with the Doctor? In the case of Jo, I think it's an important cue to the audience. The Third Doctor is stranded on Earth, unable (mostly) to go anywhere or when else. He's really quite cross about it - sulking and muttering and behaving in a way that even he admits is "childish". He resents his exile. In some stories that's used to great effect because we're not sure if he'll betray Earth and his friends just to get the TARDIS working.

But isn't there a danger, then, that we in the audience will also resent his exile - and the smaller scale and scope of the stories? He is, after all, the character we take our cues from. Well, not if the new companion can embrace the new format. If she says, "I don't want to travel in time and space anyway", then neither do we.

Next episode: 1972.

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