Friday, June 12, 2009

Doctor Who: Companions And Allies book review

Den of Geek

Anthony Harvison

Anthony checks out a comprehensive new book about the time-lord's compadres...

Published on Jun 12, 2009
Everybody needs somebody sometimes, as the song goes, and this is particularly the case in the world of Doctor Who. Without a constant stream of fresh companions to accompany him on his travels, the Doctor wouldn't only be lonely, he'd be dead.

From an unearthly child looking after her seemingly-fragile grandfather to a loud-mouthed temporary secretary from Chiswick saving the 10th Doctor from drowning underneath the Thames Barrier, the companions have time and again helped the Time Lord out of the stickiest of situations.

Companions And Allies is a celebration of these often unsung heroes, starting from the earliest - Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright - and leading right up to the latest, in the form of blue-blooded burglar Lady Christina De Souza (seen in Easter special Planet Of The Dead).

Running to just 96 pages, Companions And Allies has a lot to fit in between its covers but manages to cover all the regular companions of Doctors one through ten chronologically as well as occasional assistants, such as Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith, and one-off collaborators like the Menoptra (in insect-inspired First Doctor adventure The Web Planet).

For each companion there is a brief explanation of how and why the character came to be created for the series, followed by a personality/background profile and summary of their adventures in the TARDIS. It's light-reading and, with the exception of the Russell T Davies era, confined to one or two pages per figure, but surprisingly littered with geeky factoids along the way.

From the colourful, well-spaced lay-out, which follows the same design as other books in the series Monsters And Villains, Aliens And Enemies, Creatures And Demons and Starships And Spacestations, it's clear this is aimed with the younger reader in mind - refreshing their memoires of recent companions while at the same time informing them of those who went before.

RTD has been mindful to sprinkle episodes with subtle references to the original series and Companions And Allies will make a great reference for junior Who-fans to swot up and add an extra dimension to their enjoyment of a show older than their parents, but a million times cooler.

Adult fans, on the other hand, might gripe that the makers have decided to colourize black and white photos from the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton days to make them more appealing to today's youf, and that the story guide touted on the back cover blurb is nothing more than a list of title and transmission dates.

What they can't deny, however, is that Companions And Allies makes for a vibrant and energetic book that is not only eye-catchingly illustrated and easy to read, but fun to read as well.

What does emerge from dipping in to the book is that over the years the role of the companion has slowly moved from the sidelines to a central place at the heart(s) of the show. From Rose Tyler onwards, the companion's actions have often been as important, or occasionally more-so, than the Doctor's.

Gone are the days when a terrified assistant's screams were their only contribution to defeating the big bad of the week, as in the case of Victoria Waterfield in '60s Troughton adventure Fury From The Deep. Independent woman and high flying journalist Sarah Jane Smith is the series' template for today's type of companion - strong, self-reliant and more of a friend to the Doctor than a student to be guided.

Like Sarah Jane, I can imagine this book being the perfect companion to Who fans, both young and young-at-heart.


The Doctor...

"All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?"

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