Everyone has has their own favourite Doctor Who companion, or assistant, or whatever it is we’re calling it this week. Whether it’s Rose, Donna, Ace, Tegan, Sarah Jane, Amy, Jack, Ian, Barbara, Grace, Bill, K9, Romana, Jamie, Victoria, Martha, Jo, Leela, Zoe, Clara, Frobisher, Lucie, Fitz, Susan, Movie Susan or those two funky Blaxploitation dudes that the Third Doctor did a Pirate Radio show with in the TV Action And Countdown comic strip, everyone will have their own particular regular supporting character who they identified with or latched on to or associate with their childhood or just plain fancied the red hair and bumblebee jumper off, and who then became what they thought of over above everything else whenever anyone mentioned Doctor Who. Well, aside from The Doctor, The TARDIS, The Daleks and probably even Bellal’s Mate in some cases but you get the general idea. Actually, some of you probably don’t as it’s more than likely that there are more than a few regular readers and Looks Unfamiliar listeners who reach straight for the ‘back’ button whenever the Doctor Who chat starts up, so if that’s you, why not have a read of this feature on Ferrero Rocher adverts instead; and yes, with alternative options like that I really am spoiling you. Anyway, the overall point here is that I also have my favourites – two of them – and, apparently, they don’t count.
It’s probably reasonably common knowledge that a large number of the episodes of Doctor Who made between 1963 and 1969 no longer exist in any form, and the fact that we cannot entirely say one hundred percent for certain what went on in any of them in the absence of any available visual material makes them a cause of great fascination for a great many Doctor Who enthusiasts. There are question marks almost as huge as the W3 Space Station hanging over Marco Polo, The Massacre, The Macra Terror and all of the rest of them – not to mention the perpetually troubling mystery of why Polly has The Doctor’s hat on at the end of The Underwater Menace – but from a personal perspective there is no one lost story more intriguing than The Daleks’ Master Plan.
Commissioned via a ‘suggestion’ from management in a bid to capitalise on the initial Beatle-rivalling rush of ‘Dalekmania’, the ridiculously over-ambitious The Daleks’ Master Plan ran for a whopping twelve episodes – thirteen, if you count the teaser episode Mission To The Unknown – on Saturday evenings between 13th November 1965 and 29th January 1966. Driven by what would now be described as a story arc and incorporating a Christmas Panto episode, a guest appearance from a returning antagonist and recurring political chicanery between The Daleks and an assortment of ridiculous-looking alien co-conspirators where nobody really knows for definite which one is which, it was an extremely unusual diversion for an ongoing sixties television drama and in many respects far closer to Doctor Who as we know it today. Well, apart from that stopover in Ancient Egypt. You’re probably getting the impression by now that I could continue going on about The Daleks’ Master Plan for about fifteen million more paragraphs, but fortunately for everyone I’ve already done that in a feature you can now find in Well At Least It’s Free, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. There is, however, one further atypical aspect of The Daleks’ Master Plan that hasn’t been mentioned yet – it also featured two new regular cast members, both of whom would come severely unstuck before the three month rampage across time and space was even over.
Hastily introduced in the similarly long-lost preceding story The Myth Makers, Ancient Greek handmaiden Katarina was earmarked as a replacement for the outgoing Vicki, possibly without anyone stopping to consider how difficult writing dialogue for a deeply historical character in a deeply futuristic series might be. Katarina made it four Temple reference-strewn weeks into The Daleks’ Master Plan before voluntarily ejecting herself into space to save everyone else from a crazed fugitive criminal demanding to be, erm, taken to an inhospitable jungle planet for no clear reason. Filling the literal vacuum left by Katarina, ruthlessly efficient Dalek-tailing far future Space Security Agent Sara Kingdom spent the following eight episodes thundering about in no way drawing any inspiration whatsoever from Diana Rigg in The Avengers, but even she couldn’t outrun the climactic activation of The Daleks’ Time Destructor, collapsing and ageing and eventually blowing away into dust right in front of a disbelieving family audience. Adding to their air of tantalising mystery, we only have two existing episodes featuring Sara, and for a long time literally all we had of Katarina was a couple of seconds of her struggling in an airlock with that deeply conflicted convict. Accounts differ wildly – as frankly they tend to about television of this vintage – as to when and why Sara and Katarina were created, how long they were or were not originally intended to appear for and why and when the decision was ultimately taken to write them out, but the fact remains that, no matter how briefly, they were both a part of the regular cast of Doctor Who. Except there are some people who really do not like you pointing that out.
If you have cause to mention Sara or Katarina in any context – which certain individuals not a million miles away from here may well do on a regular basis – you can pretty much guarantee that before too long, someone will be along to explain to you at great length and with great vehemence that they do not ‘count’ as ‘companions’, regardless of whether the original points under discussion had warranted any such explanation or not. In fact it even happens when the issue has been discreetly raised already in the hope of forestalling any such responses. After all, we do live in a world of lists of lists upon lists of lists of lists where if you haven’t ranked your top seventeen favourite episodes in which Peter Davison might have had the Walkers Bitza Pizza jingle stuck in his head immediately prior to a take during the second studio recording block only, you are apparently doing something wrong. Admittedly, as exasperatingly recurrent eye-roll occasioning pedantry that nobody especially needed goes, this is a fairly trivial and harmless example and it isn’t particularly difficult to go about your Sara and Katarina-endorsing business pretty much unimpeded. The problem is, however, that it’s a point that in all honesty needs neither raising nor making in the first instance, and – provided that you’re not already calling for me to be ‘banned’ on grounds of fan treachery (and if you are, there’s some chat about that Dalek pop record here that might help you to calm down a bit) – I would like to take this opportuinity to politely explain why I believe that anyone who gets quite so exercised about whether Sara and Katarina ‘count’ or not is looking at everything from entirely the wrong angle.
Up until the colour relaunch in 1970, Doctor Who as a television production had more in common with ongoing drama serials like Compact, The Newcomers and United! than it did with more rigidly structured series like Counterstrike or R.3. The only substantial difference was that it happened to be divided up into smaller self-contained stories, and even then in a couple of cases it’s debatable just how distinct from each other those stories actually are. Regular cast members were hired according to the requirements of the production team, worked for their contracted number of episodes – in the majority of cases they literally add up to the corresponding total – and if they weren’t being kept on were then written out in what more often than not tended to be the most casual, off-handed and hastily-slung together last-minute manner imaginable; notoriously, many of the female regulars including Vicki develop a sudden desire from nowhere to stay behind and marry men they have only just met, while Katarina and Sara’s eventual replacement Dodo more or less just wanders off into Swinging London and gets little more than a throwaway comment from her incoming replacement Polly to explain her absence. Even so, she still fared better than poor old Katarina, whose hapless whizzing off into space was simply denoted in Terry Nation’s original script with “SPEECH HERE TO COVER THE CHARACTER OF THE GIRL”. They were characters created on little more than a whim by successive production teams whose primary concern was how they were going to have twenty five minutes of transmittable material on tape by the end of the week, and even they probably weren’t sure of who had previously come and gone and in what order.
The concept of Doctor Who having ‘companions’ only really began with the very first stirrings of an organised fan following, and in their defence they were simply looking for useful frames of reference with which to organise what little information about the programme’s history they had to hand, most of it derived from their own hazy memories and the odd stray newspaper clipping about how The Voord were the new Emile Ford And The Checkmates or something. As such frames of reference tend to, it eventually filtered out into general usage before being adopted as official terminology by a producer who it’s fair to say sometimes may have paid a little too much attention to what the fans thought. There is an enormous difference between the idea of regular characters and ‘companions’, and it’s worth noting that the latter precludes the inclusion of Liz Shaw and U.N.I.T. – collectively about as close to a definitive example of a producer reshaping the regular line-up to suit their requirements as you are liable to find – as well as widely accepted ‘companions’ by proxy such as Astrid Peth, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina de Souza and River Song, while at the same time as wedging open the TARDIS door for the likes of Adam – introduced purely so he could be shown that door again in the following episode for not acting like a ‘companion’ was supposed to (and whom I had plenty more to say about here) – Rory’s Dad and, almost as if this was a deliberate attempt to stretch the definition to ridiculous extremes to prove a point, The Malus. Meanwhile, quite where this would leave Wilfred Mott, a character who in no way qualifies for ‘companion’ status but had more impact on a handful of episodes than certain other individuals do across entire series-straddling runs is anyone’s guess. It’s also worth pointing out that you never seem to get, say, Cathy Gale, Jeannie Hopkirk, Sam Loover, Rhapsody Angel or Georgie Jones and Simms described as ‘companions’ despite fulfilling similar roles in similar series of a similar vintage.
Some observers will no doubt be arguing – albeit to themselves – that while this probably makes a good deal of sense when you look at it from that perspective, there still isn’t any particular reason why we should regard either Sara or Katarina with any more degree of seriousness than Carol Richmond, The Man From Lop, Polly’s mate Kitty from The Inferno Club or any other supporting character that played a significant role in one single black and white story. Well, actually, there is – and it’s to do with the manner in which they are identified by the actual programme itself. While it is admittedly difficult to make this case for the inconveniently if historically accurately unsurnamed Katarina, Sara – as in just ‘Sara’ – was identified in the credits using the same convention as any other defined regular cast members in Doctor Who or indeed any other similar show of the time. Meanwhile, in her lone surviving episode, Katarina appears in the credits below Doctor Who, primary antagonist Mavic Chen and ‘STOP THE CREATURE!’-screeching seaweed-headed Dalek associate miscreant Zephon, but – crucially – above the unarguably a ‘companion’ Steven. If you want one more item of entirely arbitrary yet also somehow entirely fitting evidence, then you only need to look in the direction of a certain long-running children’s programme that has always enjoyed a close association with Doctor Who – and, incidentally, was the sole reason that that once lone clip of Katarina survived. Up and coming actor Anita West joined the roster of Blue Peter presenters in May 1962 only to leave the show sixteen editions later; although her departure was kept quiet at the time, she actually left voluntarily due to the pressures of an impending divorce. Entirely forgotten about for years, Anita was only officially added to the Blue Peter production team’s own list of presenters in the late nineties, and while her tenure might have been abrupt even by Katarina’s standards, nobody in their right mind would try to argue that Anita West wasn’t, however briefly, a presenter. Or a series regular. Or, if you prefer, a ‘companion’. In short, if someone who enjoyed an almost equally brief tenure on another weekly turnaround show made in an adjacent studio in BBC Television Centre ‘counts’, then so do Sara and Katarina. At the risk of sounding condescending, refusing to accept such contextual factual detail as at the very least a valid argument smacks at best of a wilful refusal to understand how television worked while those missing early episodes of Doctor Who that you appear to be so deeply invested in were being made. Honestly, if that’s how you feel, why don’t you just go and shout ‘A-GREED’ with Trantis and Celation and be done with it?
Having said that, if you would prefer an argument that at least considers the wider context of Doctor Who‘s long and scarcely coherent history, then how about this. While it’s easy to dismiss the deliberate reworking of the two-part novelisation of The Daleks’ Master Plan to allow for the possibility that Sara could have had further unseen adventures, or the incredible work that Big Finish’s audio plays have done in somehow logically establishing a precedent for Katarina to have done likewise, on the basis that they are spin-off media and therefore not ‘canon’, we are supposed to take more or less everything seen on screen in Doctor Who – no matter how wildly self-contradictory, historically inaccurate or just plain The Rings Of Akhaten – as ‘canonical’. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but if it means that I have to just wearily accept that absolute claptrap about how everyone who ever thought they were The Doctor was The Doctor or whatever it was exactly, then you have to accept that pin-board of known associates of The Doctor – or if you will ‘companions’ – that Clara looks at in The Day Of The Doctor, and who’s up there, complete with clear suggestions that they were both also involved in unseen off-screen escapades? I think you know the answer to that one already.
This is how I see it, anyway, and while I am more than confident that my reasoning stands up to rigorous qualitative and quantitative analysis under strict laboratory conditions, there will almost certainly be some that politely disagree for their own perfectly valid reasons, and that is more than fair enough. There will also be those who less politely disagree, either because they are furious that I have dared to evaluate Doctor Who against ‘other’ television programmes when everyone knows it is an exception and is special and has ‘timeless magic’ and is also made of gold, or are instinctively hostile to any thought or opinion that might conceivably pose a potential threat to their self-appointed status as best at being an expert on everything to do with Doctor Who ever, or are keen to point out that I’m wrong about a twelve week story in 1965 being in any way like present day Doctor Who because the episodes were shorter, or were too busy scoffing at the offhanded comment about missing episodes not existing ‘in any form’ while pointing to the audio recordings, the camera scripts, the on-set photographs, the ‘Telesnaps’, the coffee mugs, the dinner jackets and the submarine and laughing derisively while not actively considering for one second that it might actually have been a generalism deployed for the benefit of any non-Doctor Who enthusiasts reading in the hope that they might actually keep reading instead of heading straight for that other feature about trying to woo European women with some gift-wrapped Ferrero Pocket Coffee or something but of course it’s their fault for not being clever and interesting enough to want to read your dreadful fan fiction about the twelfth segment of time or whatever it is you’re on about now. Mind you, they are more than likely all the exact same people who would ordinarily just have sent me a curt comment on why Sara and Katarina don’t ‘count’, so they really ought to have saved themselves all that bother.
All of this may well seem like an unnecessarily lengthy and overinvolved way of arguing that I should be allowed to like some characters that nobody is actually trying to prevent me from liking, but it is also true on a more profound level that the insistence that far too may Doctor Who fans – and fans of many other things too in fairness – have in treating the object of their obsession as something that happened in isolation rather than as part of and in reaction to the wider culture around it is quite sad really, as they are not just depriving themselves of context and the thrilling unexplored cultural avenues it can take you down, but also of a good deal of fun. In any case, if you can’t be unnecessarily lengthy and overinvolved about a thirteen part Dalek story with a baddie that looks like a giant demonic chess piece, a scientific explanation involving ‘some kind of ray’, the line “I am now about to hand the Tarranium Core to Mavic Chen”, and the title character toasting the viewers at home and wishing them a Merry Christmas, then the Desperus Screamers have won, frankly. Mind you, when I say that Katarina and Sara are my ‘favourite’ companions, they’re only really my favourites in the same way that the 1967 Casino Royale is my favourite James Bond film or my favourite David Bowie album is the Deram one. They’re the ones I find the most interesting. My favourite companion is Amy. Never you mind why.
Buy A Book!
You can find plenty more of my thoughts about Doctor Who in the sixties – and believe me, they’re all this extensive and detailed – in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. No you’re not about to hand it to Mavic Chen.
If you’re interested in black and white Doctor Who in particular, you can follow my attempts to get to the conclusion of the notoriously dull The Sensorites in There’s Not An Ounce Of Curiosity In Me! here, and a quest to discover whether there is anything worth getting excited over in the other three episodes of The Space Museum in All We Do Is Stand Around here.
You can listen to me chatting to Paul Abbott about I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek on (Music For) The Head Ballet here, trying to explain The Daleks’ Master Plan‘s Christmas Panto episode The Feast Of Steven to Grace Dent on Looks Unfamiliar here, and debating the role of politics in early Doctor Who with Emma Burnell and Steve Fielding on The Zeitgeist Tapes here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.