Tegan Jovanka wasn’t sure she even wanted to travel in the TARDIS. But she became a new sort of companion, and the forerunner of those in the modern series.
Doctor Who has featured many companions across the decades. But there’s nobody quite like Tegan Jovanka. Loud, brash, and opinionated, she was different from the moment she was introduced in 1981’s ‘Logopolis.’ To modern viewers, the standard motifs of a new companion joining the Doctor on their travels are almost set in stone. And chief among them is the moment when the Doctor stands in the police box doors, or perhaps by the console, almost bashfully inviting their new friend to come on a journey with them – followed by an episode or two of joyful awe as they visit both the past and the future for the first time. But not Tegan.
Tegan Jovanka, a young Australian living in London, finally about to achieve her dream of becoming an air hostess, simply wanted to get to Heathrow airport for her first day at work. She first stepped aboard the TARDIS, not in search of adventure, but to call for help for a flat tyre when she mistook it for a real police box. Whisked away through time and space by a Doctor who didn’t realise she was there, she wasn’t the first companion to be introduced that way.
But while Dodo, Polly and Ben had also been ripped from their home times by accident after dashing through the doors of an ‘ordinary’ police box, they soon marvelled at the fantastic world they’d stumbled upon, relishing their new adventures. However, played by Janet Fielding with the a biting wit, Tegan took a dim view of the Doctor’s carelessness and that first impression stuck, with her often sceptical of both his skill at flying the TARDIS and his common sense.
In fairness, experience did seem to confirm her suspicions over and over again.
Tegan Jovanka was one of classic Doctor Who’s longest serving companions, combating many top tier monsters
Tegan Jovanka proved surprisingly determined to keep to her original mission of getting to Heathrow in time for her flight. In fact, almost the whole of Season 19 involves the Doctor’s repeated failures to get her to work on time, dragging fellow companions Adric and Nyssa with them. From landing in Heathrow centuries too early in ‘The Visitation’ to landing in the right time but on a spaceship en route to destroy the planet in ‘Four to Doomsday,’ to even landing in Heathrow centuries in the future and on a spaceship en route to destroy the planet in ‘Earthshock,’ the increasingly frustrated Doctor was hardly at this best.
It wasn’t until Season 19’s final story, ‘Time-Flight,’ that Tegan finally got back to 1980s Heathrow. After helping defeat one of the Master’s more inexplicable plans, and thwarting a time travelling hijack of Concorde, Tegan was left behind by the Doctor as carelessly as he had spirited her away. Simply assuming she was happy to finally be home, he left in the TARDIS without learning she’d since had second thoughts and wanted to stay.
Tegan got her second chance in ‘Arc of Infinity’ at the start of Season 20. In a remarkable coincidence, her search of Amsterdam for her missing cousin Colin revealed that he’d been kidnapped by the renegade Time Lord Omega as part of his plan copy the Doctor’s body and escape his anti-matter universe prison. Having lost her air stewardess job in the meantime, she re-joined the TARDIS more committed than before, cementing her role as one of the Doctor’s most loyal companions.
In all, Tegan Jovanka appeared in just under three seasons of Doctor Who, and all but two of the Fifth Doctor’s stories, and more stories than any classic companion except Jamie. Along the way she even met the first three Doctors in ‘The Five Doctors,’ making her and the Brigadier the only ones among the Doctor’s friends to encounter all five of his incarnations.
As well as the Master and Omega, she also battled Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians, Sea Devils and even the Black Guardian, making her the first ever companion to achieve the ‘triple crown’ of meeting the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master.
The foundation of the modern companion was laid with Tegan Jovanka – a companion with a life of her own, sometimes greatly effected by her experiences
In many ways, Tegan Jovanka represented the beginning of an evolution of the companion role, the start of a bridge to the companions of more recent years. Although a far cry from the family-focused Rose Tyler and Donna Noble, it was incredible that Tegan’s family featured at all. Over the course of her adventures, we meet her maternal grandfather – Andrew Verney – her Auntie Vanessa, and her cousin Colin. We also learn that, on her mother’s side, she’s a second generation Australian, with her grandfather and cousin both English.
Tegan’s family are largely used as ways to insert her and the TARDIS team into the plot, with it being the hunt for the missing Colin that brings her to Amsterdam in ‘Arc of Infinity,’ and a desire to visit her grandfather leading them to Little Hodcombe in ‘The Awakening.’ But up until then, mentions of companions’ families had been fleeting, or had seen them quickly killed off as part of the companions’ motivation to travel, such as with Victoria or Leela. Along with her oft-mentioned job, it was one of the ways Tegan Jovanka was shown to have a life beyond the Doctor, prefiguring part-time travellers like Clara or Bill.
She can also lay claim to being the honorary godmother of present day companions by having her own ongoing storylines and even her own recurring nemesis. Not only does her quest to get to Heathrow form the arc of Season 19, but her distrust of fellow companion Turlough moves through several Season 20 stories. Tegan is also put through the wringer more than many of her predecessors, with the impact of the adventures clearly acknowledged.
Her Auntie Vanessa is murdered by the Master in ‘Logopolis,’ and she has to watch helplessly as her fellow companion Adric dies in a space freighter collision in ‘Earthshock,’ although curiously she doesn’t dwell much on either death beyond the end of the respective stories.
“It’s stopped being fun, Doctor”
Most significantly ‘Kinda’ introduces the Mara, a creature of the ‘dark places of the inside,’ which first traps and then possesses Tegan. It twists her mind and uses her body as part of its evil scheme to bring darkness and chaos to the planet of Deva Loka. But while it is defeated at the end of that story, it returns the next year in ‘Snakedance,’ a fragment of its being surviving in Tegan’s mind. Not just a rerun of the first story, ‘Snakedance’ places Tegan’s fear and trauma centre stage as she can no longer be sure even of her own mind in a distinctly modern approach to the characters.
Tegan Jovanka’s ultimate departure also reflects the beginnings of this modern approach. ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ remains one of Doctor Who’s most violent and grim outings. The Daleks‘ plan is convoluted and bizarre, involving a jail break of their creator Davros from his cryogenic prison. But what stands out is the relentless death count, as the Daleks and their replicants exterminate everything in their path. While the Doctor obviously saves the day in the end, for Tegan the cost is too high. Every single person she met has died horribly. And she leaves the TARDIS behind, holding back tears as she tells the Doctor “it’s stopped being fun.”
Thanks to audios, books, and even minisodes, Tegan Jovanka’s ultimate fate is multiple choice
What happens next for Tegan Jovanka is a matter of some debate. It’s not uncommon for the wider world of Doctor Who books and audios to not entirely line up with each other. But even by those standards Tegan’s fate is distinctly ‘multiple choice,’ though mostly reflecting the tradition of traumatising Tegan as much as possible. In the Big Finish audio drama ‘The Gathering,’ she’s CEO of a company that supplies animal feed, but has an inoperable brain tumour caused by her travels in space and time, and has less than a year to live.
The short story ‘Good Companions,’ meanwhile, claims that she settled down in Cambridge with her husband William, battling mental health issues that were caused by post traumatic stress from her travels, and various therapists force her to write off her time with the Doctor as “delusions.” Although, in both possible futures, she meets up with the Doctor to save the world one last time.
That being said, Eric Saward’s novelisation of his own script for ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ implies that Tegan doesn’t even really make it out of that story alive, and that the Tegan Jovanka that leaves the Doctor is a Dalek duplicate that doesn’t even know it’s a fake!
But perhaps the final word should go to Russell T Davies. In The Sarah Jane Adventures episode ‘The Death of the Doctor,’ he reveals that Tegan is alive and well in Australia, where she’s a tireless campaigner for Aboriginal rights. And then in Davies’ Doctor Who Lockdown minisode ‘Farewell, Sarah Jane,’ she attends Sarah Jane’s memorial service, uniting with other former companions to defeat the Jackals of the Backwards Clock. More than that, she and Nyssa have found each other again, and are a couple.
All in all, perhaps letting Tegan Jovanka have her happy ending is the best choice. She went through a lot during her time with the Doctor but, in doing so, she laid the foundation stone for a new type of companion.
Which is your favourite Tegan Jovanka story? And which of her multiple endings do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.
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