Monday, November 17, 2014

The TARDIS - No Room For Fans

(spoiler alert)

In the week or so since the finale of the recent series of Doctor Who, I've been giving a lot of thought to the Doctor's Companions — and to those who would be Companions, but aren't — and it occurs to me that the TARDIS is a "no fan" zone.

It's something that came to me when Osgood died: that no-one who's a fan (and by "fan" I don't mean a real-world person who loves the show, but rather an in-story person who follows the Doctor's exploits, and, since I'm now thinking of this kind of person as a specific character type, we should probably capitalize them into "Fan" the way we would with Companion) of the Doctor gets to graduate to become a full-fledged Companion aboard the TARDIS. In fact, they don't even get the consolation prize of tag-along status aboard the police call box for a one-off adventure. All they can ever hope for is to receive a pat on the head for their assistance, and to be left behind when it's time for the Doctor to head off on his merry way.

So how is a Fan different from a Companion, or, for that matter, a tag-along?

First, there's the educational and emotional difference: unlike the Companions, the fans already know all about the Doctor (or, at least as much as any human with adequate historical records and government security access can know) and his adventures, and, based on this, have developed a fannish love for, and loyalty to, him. Companions always start off as ignorant of the Doctor until they meet him in person and are dragged into one of his adventures (or, while they're playing a separate role in the same incident, meet him and combine efforts in a shared adventure). The Companions have to learn about his past in bits and pieces as the Doctor chooses to reveal it, and as such are on much more emotionally unstable ground when they're forming opinions about him. The Fans (like Osgood, or Malcolm from Planet of the Dead), on the other hand, having researched as much as they can about the Doctor, have had plenty of time to evaluate his words and actions, and have already formed an opinion of him by the time they actually get to meet him. A Companion like Rose or Captain Jack may eventually develop a fannish devotion to the Doctor over the course of their adventures, but with the Fans, it's already there. The same applies with tag-alongs: they may grow to respect and love the Doctor, like Wilf, or begrudgingly put up with him, like Jackie, but that's only after they meet him; the Fans already know who they're dealing with, and how they feel.

Second, there's the obvious, crucial difference: that a Fan ultimately gets left behind, where Companions (like Martha, Donna, Sarah Jane, Clara, Amy, Rose [eeesh!], or any of the others) take up residence — or at least frequent flyer status — aboard the TARDIS and become regular sidekicks of the Doctor on his adventures, providing support or entertainment to the Time Lord, and sometimes acting as his conscience or even saving his immortal behind from potential discomfort or extinction.

Then there are the tag-alongs, like Wilf, Jackie, Mickey Smith, or Captain Jack Harkness, who the Doctor encounters in the course of an adventure (or just day-to-day life when dealing with regular folks), and who come along in the TARDIS (voluntarily or accidentally) for the remainder of the adventure, and then, at the end, go back to their normal lives. Actually, there are two types of tag-along: a tag-along who might come back and join the Doctor for another adventure, and may — like Captain Jack — get promoted to Companion status and take a long-term berth aboard the TARDIS; or the type who may just go back to his or her regular life (like Wilf or Jackie) and avoid further stumblings through time and space. (And yes, I know, you're going to tell me that Jackie came back aboard the TARDIS a couple of times, but I don't think you can really count her as a bona fide Companion since she ultimately had no interest in bouncing around the universe unless Rose was in danger.)

The Fans, on the other hand, like Osgood and Malcolm, get left behind.

Malcolm busts his ass for the 10th Doctor (or is Tennant now the 11th, because of John Hurt's insertion into the roster?) crunching the numbers to help bring the double-decker bus full of Londoners home, and you just know he'd ditch UNIT like a stained pair of old underwear if the Doctor would just so much as nod in his direction. But the invite never comes. No, too bad for poor Malcolm, the Doctor's in his mopey, self-pitying, I-just-wanna-roam-the-universe-alone sulk — or maybe it's because Malcolm just isn't cool enough, or female enough — and the scientist is stuck working for an organization that uses his talents but doesn't really respect him. Exit Time Lord.

As for Osgood, the 11th Doctor (or do we call Matt Smith #12?) blows past her — and her super-awesome 4th Doctor scarf — in his usual whirlwind during the Zygon crisis of Day of the Doctor, makes some demands, leaves a compliment or two, then heads off about his business. The most she gets comes later, this past series, when the 12th Doctor (or is Capaldi lucky number 13?) offers to bring her along, but fate tragically (and conveniently, for the Fan denial pattern) intervenes and she's killed by the Master before she can take him up on it.

I've been wracking my brain to think of any other character in the Whoniverse who fits the description of a Fan, but no-one in the series' of the 9th through 12th Doctors comes to mind. In terms of the older series, the 4th Doctor was my first Doctor as a little kid, but I don't remember any characters who fit the bill back then, and didn't have a chance to watch the show in the years afterward until the 8th Doctor's appearance in the Fox special.

Can any of you remember someone from the various old series who was a passed-over Fan rather than a Companion, tag-along, or background character?

Ultimately, the in-show Fans are a lot luck us — the fans in the real world: we all watch the Doctor's exploits from afar as he goes from adventure to adventure, series to series, companion to companion, and face to face, usually enjoying, but occasionally condemning him, waiting impatiently to see more of him, and wishing we could join him, if only once, but never getting that chance.

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