Millie Gibson has just been unveiled as the new Doctor Who companion in front of a live studio audience. But how have previous Doctor Who companions been announced to the public?
It could be argued that Millie Gibson’s casting as the new companion Ruby Sunday is one of the most high profile unveilings in the history of the programme. New Doctor Who companions aren’t normally given a special slot during world famous Friday night telethons, but on this occasion Millie Gibson took centre stage during the BBC’s Children in Need and emerged from the TARDIS before a live studio audience, similar to the way in which the Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi had been unmasked in 2013.
Historically, new Doctor Who companions have been announced in photoshoots; in the Classic era, new companion Tegan Jovanka (played by Janet Fielding) was pictured donning the Fourth Doctor’s iconic scarf (and brandishing his Sonic Screwdriver) in the grounds of TV Centre. And Sarah Jane Smith (alias Elisabeth Sladen, who went on to become one of the most memorable and beloved of the Doctor Who companions) was photographed during her first day of filming on the Season 11 story ‘The Time Warrior.’
This trend continued into the digital age, and when Doctor Who was officially re-commissioned in 2003, the casting of the new Doctor Who companion was announced on the news and over the internet, as was the case with Billie Piper who played the iconic Rose Tyler.
Of course, in some ways it makes sense to save the mega celebrations and exclusive TV spots for the castings of Doctors themselves, as none of the Doctor Who companions are ever going to over-shadow the Time Lords themselves – although titans like Captain Jack Harkness have come close, and in the end he was given his own TV series.
And so even at the start of a brand new era in 2008 when Steven Moffat was just settling in to the Doctor Who production office, there were no special television announcements for the unveiling of the new Doctor Who companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams – that honour went to the incoming Time Lord Matt Smith. In fact, Rory was never officially labelled as a companion until the start of the sixth series in 2011, despite having multiple trips in the TARDIS throughout Series Five.
And whilst the 2012 unveiling of Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald was similarly low-key, the Doctor Who production team followed this up by surprising everyone and bringing her into the programme some three months early (or at least, a version of her.) Doctor Who companions have never made pre-emptive appearances before, but in ‘Asylum of the Daleks,’ Jenna Coleman’s character unexpectedly turned up five episodes before her anticipated debut, and then mysteriously died.
This was followed-up by another appearance in the 2012 Christmas special ‘The Snowmen’ where, again, Coleman’s character perished. Audiences were left wondering who, exactly, this strange person was and when they would get to meet the “real” Clara Oswald. In short, the Doctor Who production team made an entire plot arc out of the arrival of this new Doctor Who companion, and this segued neatly into the programme’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2013.
It was after this point that the castings of new Doctor Who companions became somewhat more creative. In 2016, the arrival of Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts was afforded a specially-written scene, featuring herself and the Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi on the run from an army of Daleks. This minisode was transmitted during half time of the semi-final of the 2015-2016 FA Cup and was officially titled ‘Friend from the Future.’ And although it was shot as a standalone sequence, it was later incorporated into Bill Potts’ debut episode ‘The Pilot,’ which was broadcast the following spring.
And the unmasking of one of the latest Doctor Who companions took a similar approach. When John Bishop was unveiled as the new character Dan Lewis, he too was given a specially-scripted sequence, although this didn’t land in the midst of a sporting event; Dan Lewis made his first official appearance at the end of the 2021 special ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ in a post-credits scene which, unlike Bill Potts, was never incorporated into the TV episodes.
And then there are those Doctor Who companions who were never really given a formal introduction at all, and just seemed to find themselves joining the TARDIS team without ever being unveiled to the press as such. By far the most famous of these is the Doctor’s ever-faithful robot dog K9, who made his debut in the 1978 story ‘The Invisible Enemy.’ Originally conceived as a character for this adventure only, the production team fell in love with him (as did the viewers) and he went on to travel with the Doctor for another three years – or at least, other versions of him did (it will make sense when you watch ‘The Invasion of Time.’)
A similar situation occurred when Frazer Hines was cast as Jamie McCrimmon. Like K9, Jamie was originally written for one story only – ‘The Highlanders,’ in Hines’ case. But the production team felt that his character had more potential and rewrote the ending of this story so that Jamie could leave in the TARDIS at the end. Although, according to Hines, there was still some doubt as to what would happen even during the filming, and the team also shot an alternate ending where Jamie stayed behind in Culloden.
But as we know, Jamie McCrimmon remained with the TARDIS team throughout the rest of the Second Doctor’s era, and actually went on to become one of the longest-serving Doctor Who companions – even if he was never given as grand an unveiling as some of his counterparts. It wasn’t the easiest of starts, though, as many of the season’s subsequent scripts had to be hurriedly rewritten to incorporate Jamie. This meant that in stories like ‘The Moonbase,’ he spent most of his time in a hospital bed!
As for future Doctor Who companions, we can only speculate as to how they will make their grand entrances into the weird world of Who. But which companion announcement is your most memorable? Let us know in the comments below.
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