As the cast changes throughout the classic Doctor Who series, the companions vary in character. What kind of companion does the Doctor need? He needs someone that can allow him to show off his knowledge, but not necessarily be completely helpless. Through the first few seasons, we can see the change in companions and the struggle the writers have to create a character that does this.
In the first episodes of Doctor Who, Doctor #1 has Susan. Susan appears to be a teenager and refers to the Doctor as “grandfather”. This diversity among age allows Susan to show off the Doctor’s intelligence. We look to him as the “more experienced elder”, who has seen more and understands the culture and history of wherever they are traveling. Although Susan is also a time lord and often knows just as much as the Doctor, the age gap and difference in maturity makes up for this. I have only seen “The Aztecs” episodes, but I felt his strong and smart personality is well established in this series.
The first time I see a change in the relationship between the Doctor and his companion, occurred when Liz entered the show. Liz Shaw’s position as a scientist who is helping UNIT seemed to change the way I saw the Doctor’s companions. Instead of constantly looking to the doctor for the answers and assuming he knew everything, Liz enjoyed researching and discussing issues along with him. They often worked together to figure things out, such as determining what the meteors were made of in “Spearhead from Space”. Though I have not seen any other episodes with Liz Shaw, I am sad she was only around a short time. I felt this change made the show more interesting. Instead of watching the Doctor boast his intelligence and solve everything, we could watch them work together. For the first time, I could see the companion begin to have a real role in the series.
The companion following Liz was just about the exact opposite in character. Jo was clumsy, and always knocking stuff over or messing things up. The Doctor then had to fix whatever problem she had just caused. Jo also struggled to understand what the doctor was talking about sometimes, and this made the Doctor look “more intelligent”. Because of this, Jo’s character recreated the gap between the Doctor and his companions we had come to know before Liz.
Though some may have seen Liz Shaw as “too intelligent” to compliment the doctor, I am not sure I agree that creating a character like Jo, who appears ditsy, is the way to go either. I think the Doctor needs a companion who is a mixture of these two characters. He needs someone who can interact at his level more often, yet still require assistance from him. There needs to be a balance.