With the Doctor Who series 12 finale just completed, we’ve got Time Lords and their friends on our minds. So, since everyone loves a good internet list, we thought we’d narrow down the top 5 best companions in the modern era of Doctor Who. This should be an uncontroversial list, because we all know that fandoms, especially Whovians, never overreact to anything.
To be clear, I am only covering the modern era, because my knowledge of classic Doctor Who is not as expansive. This means that every companion from the return of the series in 2005 is in the running. Because we have to limit this list to the top 5, that means some companions will be left by the wayside. Fan-favorites like Captain Jack, Yaz, or the gone-too-soon Bill Potts (played by Peral Mackie), and others just didn’t make the cut. The companions are meant to be the audience’s window on the TARDIS. They are the ‘regular Joes and Janes’ who help keep the Doctor honest and not too detached from humanity at-large.
Yet, what makes a truly good companion is when they start to become a bit like the Doctor themselves. They are able to be just as clever, determined, and (let’s face it) lucky as the Doctor is.
5: Graham O’Brien
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The first uncontroversial choice on this list of the best modern Doctor Who companions is Bradley Walsh’s Graham O’Brien. Introduced with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, he lost his wife, survived cancer, and desperately wants to connect with his step-grandson, Ryan. He’s the oldest companion in the modern era. One might think this would make him crotchety or overly-worried for the safety of his fellow companions. But it doesn’t. Instead, Graham is the most zealous of the new companions, and the one who trusts the Doctor the most. They frequently goof on the fact that he doesn’t grasp the “sciencey-wiencey” bits, but instead of being afraid of that he’s delighted.
Given that this is the first time the Doctor is played by a woman, this era of Doctor Who is, by definition, a landmark one. The show definitely wears its political values on its sleeve, which is what makes Graham so unique. Instead of making him an antagonist, he’s the Doctor and the young companions greatest champion. He’s a father figure without being patronizing. He’s supportive and brave based on faith alone. Graham is also the sort of guy people wouldn’t hesitate to call “Granddad,” given the chance. It’s why his conversation about cancer with the Doctor caused so much controversy. Fans wanted to see him get the kind of emotional support without judgment he gives to everyone else.
In this way, Graham is like the Doctor, in that he is able to keep everyone motivated and from being too scared when things get hopeless. Through his boundless enthusiasm, Graham buys his fellow companions and the Doctor the time they need to be brilliant.
4: Donna Noble
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Catherine Tate’s first appearance as Donna Noble seemed destined to be a one-off. Yet, when Freema Agyeman left the show, the Doctor again was doting around alone. Donna was a woman who life hadn’t treated well. She had no real prospects in love or with a career. She wasn’t terribly clever. Yet, even after the Doctor left her, she carried on trying to save the world anyway. The best Doctor Who companions are those who serve as a conscience, and the Doctor had no greater conscience in the modern era than Donna. She became a kind of human/Time Lord-hybrid, and it nearly killed her. So, despite being a hero in her own right, she did not get to retain the memories of her time with the Doctor. It’s the most tragic ending to a companion run since the series came back.
What made Donna great was that she was his first proper friend since the Time War. Rose, Martha, and especially Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman), all had the hots for the Doctor. (And vice versa most likely.) Donna didn’t want to shag the Doctor, she wanted to realize her potential. In “The Fires of Pompeii” Donna convinces the Doctor to save just one family, a handful of lives, and change history. This character, also played by Peter Capaldi, influenced the 13th Doctor’s story because he “chose this face” to remind himself that the Doctor saves people. The Doctor was a hardened character when we first meet him, prone to violence and, sometimes, cruelty. Donna was the one not afraid to challenge him and remind him of the responsibility that comes with being the Doctor. All her life people wrote her off, but Donna Noble was brilliant.
3: Amy & Rory Pond
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Okay, this one is a bit of cheat, if only because Karen Gillan and Arthur Davrill played two individual characters. Yet, Amy and Rory were always a package deal. Amy was infatuated with the Doctor, but he was never really infatuated with her. To her, she was always the Girl Who Waited, a little kid in a big house that was too empty. That Amy’s story ended with her choosing Rory over a life with the Doctor was the only way it could end. Also, the Doctor ended up marrying their time-traveling daughter. Still, Amy was a huge part of the legend of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. Rory, not so much. In fact, he was even erased from existence for a time. Still, he is one of the few men who’ve ever been “good enough” in the Doctor’s eyes for one of his companions.
What makes them two of the best companions in the modern Doctor Who era is the way they balanced real life and adventuring. The show got really weird with them. Rory was an Auton duplicate for a millennium. Also, time ceased to exist, and the TARDIS blew up. Amy becomes a famous model out of nowhere. Like I said, things got crazy. Yet, Amy and Rory were the perfect avatars for the audience. They were curious, brave, foolish, and all too human. What makes them unique, however, was that they became the Doctor’s family. They gave him a taste of normal life that he never had before and likely never will again.
The Doctor isn’t really big on family, but Amy and Rory changed that for a time. Their love for each other is what fascinated the Doctor. Rory just wanted to go home with Amy. Amy wanted to go anywhere but home, so long as Rory tagged along. For their time in the TARDIS, that infinity-sized box really did become a home. Though perhaps the most unbelievable thing in this whole sci-fi epic is that someone could love their in-laws that much.
2: Martha Jones
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As the first “new” companion in the modern era, Freema Agyeman’s Dr. Martha Jones had a big job. We had already seen the show surviving the loss of a Doctor, but could it survive the loss of Rose? Thanks to Martha it did, and hers was a daring story for Russell T. Davies and company to tell. Because even though she ended up being one of the best Doctor Who companions in the modern era, she almost didn’t. At first, Martha is just another Rose. What I mean by that is that she was a woman who fancied the Doctor more and more with every new thing he showed her. Yet, unlike with Rose, the Doctor didn’t really fancy her back. Even more interesting, Martha’s family rejected the Doctor and never accepted him the way Rose’s did. Still, like Sarah Jane Smith, she was one of the companions who continued the fight, just without a TARDIS or the Doctor to help.
It began in her first series finale, when she traveled the world alone in order to free the Doctor from the Master’s clutches. Then, she ended up joining the Torchwood team on the adult spin-off series, fighting aliens alongside Captain Jack and that gang. Then, at the end of David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, she ended up married to Mickey, played by Noel Clarke, fighting aliens on their own. (And, Martha and Mickey had more real chemistry in their few scenes together than Rose and he ever had.)
1: Clara Oswald
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When it comes to the best modern Doctor Who companions, none can hold a candle to Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald. Of all the humans to travel in the TARDIS, she’s the one who came closest to being the Doctor. She even rides off into the sunset with a TARDIS of her own and Maisie Williams’ Lady Me as her companion.
Clara started off fancying the Doctor, and he likely fancied her, too. Remember, her arrival coincided with the time that most of his and River Song’s meetings ended. Given that he encountered Clara throughout space and time, at first, she likely reminded him of River. Yet, as their relationship evolved after his regeneration, things changed drastically. It was very much like a relationship between a parent and their adult child, both trading off caring for the other. She was the only one the Doctor would listen to, sometimes. She was the one human he couldn’t bear to lose.
Yet, the paternal relationship isn’t exactly correct. Clara was the one companion who was closest to being the Doctor’s equal. In her last season, Clara nearly negotiates a violence-free end to an alien invasion before it began. It was bluster, cleverness, and a belief that all creatures, deep down, don’t really want to fight. (Of course, Williams’ character went all Viking on them, and they had a bit of a war, anyway.) Still, she was just as capable as the Doctor, so much so that Earth’s alien-fighting squad UNIT called her before they called the Doctor.
Though her life was routinely threatened, Clara was the one companion you never worried about. (Even when she died a couple of times.) She knew the Doctor better than he knew himself. It’s why, both in the 50th anniversary special and her last series, she constantly reminded him to not be an avenging angel, a hero, or a warrior. Instead he needs to be the Doctor.
Honorable Mention: Rose
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It may seem like sacrilege to not include Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler in a list of the best Doctor Who companions of the modern age. In the first two seasons, when longevity was still very much in question, it was Piper not the Doctors who gave viewers consistency. After the first series Christopher Eccleston moved on, and David Tennant took his place. Thus, the heavy lifting was left to Rose (and her family) to carry the audience through the transition. Not only that, she’s the great unrequited love of this version of the Doctor, and the human being who survived staring into the Heart of the TARDIS. She also crossed dimensions to save the Doctor and her home plane from destruction. This is why she gets an honorable mention.
However, the downside to her stint as companion is that she was this unrequited love interest. What makes the best companions in Doctor Who are the temporary nature of their time with him. They live lives after their time in the TARDIS, and the Doctor goes on without them. Yet, Rose ended up with a human clone of the Doctor (science fiction!) in a parallel dimension. It’s just all too neat for Doctor Who. Rose is great, but she never got to grow beyond who she was with the Doctor. Though, according to Tennant and Piper, they probably lived happily-ever-after and had space-babies.
Okay, This Is Not the Definitive Top 5 List of Best Modern Doctor Who Companions
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When people try to rank things from “best” to “worst,” it inherently courts controversy. Especially when it’s in a franchise as beloved as Doctor Who. I truly do think these are the best companions who’ve ever tagged along in the TARDIS. Based on my completely made-up criteria, they are the ones who best emulate the Doctor or, at least, the best parts of that character. But, essentially, this just means they’re my favorites. And, while courting controversy in this article might be good for getting this article tweeted and shared on Facebook, that’s not my goal. I just like talking about Doctor Who. And, hopefully, you do, too.
So, that’s where you all come in. In the comments below, share your own list of favorite companions (from any era!) and tell us why you think they belong on the list. There are no wrong answers. (Unless you pick Mickey, of course.)
Featured image via BBC
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.