This week, in honour of the on-screen deaths of Amy and Rory in the mid-season finale episode 'The
Angels Take Manhattan', we take a special look back at the companions of the Doctor who have been
killed, directly or indirectly as a result of traveling with the Timelord.
The role of the companion has, of course, changed over the almost-five decades the series has been in existence. In its basic form, the companion characters are the 'anchors' of reality that ground
'Doctor Who' in some semblance of the 'real world'. In a Whoniverse full of impossible things, from
Yeti in the Underground to a race of near-immortal beings who shed every vestige of themselves
periodically in order to be renewed, it was and is important that the viewing audience be served by
presenting individuals that mirror themselves.
To that end, the companion is a cipher, there to ask the questions that the viewing audience may be
wishing they could ask, whenever the Doctor was about to fire up the TARDIS and venture off to
another far-flung world. They served the writers of the stories by providing convenient reasons for
the Doctor to explain important plot points.
The companion characters were often female, to 'keep the dads watching' as many producers of the
series explained, often portrayed in extremely sexist manners by the male writers, producers, and
actors that populated the series. Many a companion actress complained that their roles essentially
required nothing more strenuous in their acting than to convincingly portray twisted ankles, screaming hysterically and running in fear from the various monsters present, or else, like Tegan chafed at in 'The Five Doctors', fetching the tea.
Conversely, the male companions often provided little more than 'muscle', in the form of lifting polystyrene rocks, wrestling monsters, or destroying futuristic-looking prop equipment.
As the series progressed, and began to be scrutinized more and more by critics and audiences who
either expressed outrage or else mocked it's dated presentations of stereotypical companions, 'Doctor
Who' slowly and begrudgingly embraced change, and began a process of introducing modern companions.
The Tegan character was a headstrong, modern woman fully capable of speaking up for herself and her friends, and often butted heads with the Doctor himself, in addition to most of the antagonists in
episodes featuring her. Dorothy McShane, better known as 'Ace', was perhaps the first fully-formed
companion character, with story lines centered around her past and her growth as a person ; while not
receiving on-screen co-star status, anyone who has watched an episode of the Seventh Doctor's era
featuring Ace certainly would agree she is, in fact, equal to the Doctor himself in terms of screen
time and depth of character. The embryonic character development begun with Sarah Jane Smith, which stalled with Peri, regained traction with Ace, for the betterment of the series.
For all their worth as characters essential to the plot of the series, to their value as marketing
tools, perhaps the one arena in which 'Doctor Who' companions serve to their utmost is an arena that
has been cautiously and tentatively explored only rarely in the history of the series: killing them.
As noted, companions, in their most basic form, are meant to provide the 'bridge' by which viewers
can relate to the alien main character, fantasize themselves into his adventures each week, and
vicariously travel along with him in his TARDIS as he explores time and space. As perverse as it
sounds, killing a companion in effect amputates the identifying character from the audience.
It is at best risky, at worst catastrophic, and can cause concern, fear, doubt, and that cardinal sin of any long-running series; audiences turning it off.
So, why proceed with it? After all, in a fantasy-based action adventure series such as 'Doctor Who',
when even the main character never actually 'dies' in the human sense and companions can always
simply leave or be left behind by the Doctor, what is the motivation to actually sever that link
between audience and series? To understand it, we must delve into the history of the chosen
companions who have been seen to be killed on-screen.
First, there are ground rules, of course. We are focusing, for reasons of time and clarity, only upon
those companions that have been featured in the series itself, and those that have been seen to be
killed on-screen. And by this we mean, the companion is killed and is not resurrected, cloned,
copied, their deaths are not written off as dream sequences or later retconned by 'timey whimey'
means so that they didn't die, but are instead alive in some alternate universe...no, we mean, they
are dead, no coming back. For in a fantasy series such as 'Doctor Who', featuring such a whimsical
and at times sentimental Whoniverse, the harsh reality of death has been explored in a variety of
ways, and many a character has found a way to 'cheat death'. To quote the 10th Doctor, we mean dead
as in 'no second chances'.
Second, the expanded Whoniverse has frequently touched on and all-out featured multiple companions that have died while traveling with the Doctor. Many a writer of expanded Whoniverse work has saddled the Doctor with the added burden of partial or full responsibility for the deaths of
companions of their own devising, in order to layer on the tension and drama for their stories. Not
only are we not focusing on these stories in this blog, we also gently scold the writers of such
stories for choosing to do so, as it not only cheapens the rare but momentous events of companion
deaths within the series itself by overplaying them, it serves no purpose other than to torture the
noble Doctor character. Too many writers have taken the joy out of the Doctor character in this way.
Now that we have established the ground rules and have explored the traditional role of the companion character and how and why it has changed, let us now look at why have writers and producers chosen to kill certain ones. To do this, we must travel back in time to the heady days of William Hartnell's First Doctor, when the series was new and the future was bright even 'if' it was in black and white.
The year was 1965. 'Doctor Who' was beginning to establish the foot-hold into the British public
consciousness that would eventually see it grow to become a mainstay on BBC One. Now in its third
season, the series had already flexed its creative muscles, successfully alternating historical
stories with those set in the future, expanding to please audiences who preferred one or the other,
if not both. 'Dalekmania' had hit and the dreaded Daleks were set to make a triumphant return in an
epic storyline that would dominate this season and be a ratings hit. The ground work for this had
begun in the second episode, 'Mission To The Unknown', which would serve as a 'prequel story', the
plot elements of this flowing into 'The Daleks Masterplan'.
Sandwiched between these two episodes was another, an historical story that served several functions.
First, to reduce the set design budget of the season as a whole, in order to ensure proper allocation of funds went to the Dalek epic, as this story was set in ancient Greece and did not require
expensive costumes or futuristic props.
Second, to write-out the companion character Vikki, who many saw for what she was intended to be to begin with, a watered-down replacement for the departed Susan.
Third, to introduce a new companion character, once more a female, only this time, with an important
element attached; a companion from the far distant past who was created to visually remind the
audience of the vast scope of time and space to which the Doctor was able to traverse.
While modern and cynical fans and audiences alike could speak to the portend of doom it would be to
introduce such a character, to which even modern electricity would be akin to magic let alone a
TARDIS, the production staff at the time perhaps could be forgiven for not understanding the long term adverse implications that the character of Katarina, handmaiden to a Trojan prophetess, would be.
Nevertheless, 'The Myth Makers', itself a rather bland and nondescript episode in a season full of
the highest highs and the lowest lows, will always be recalled for introducing this little-known
Played by Adreinne Hill, Katarina found herself aboard the TARDIS when she assisted the grievously
wounded Steven, spiriting him away from the historical battle that waged around them. Immediately
attempting to quantify her experience inside the TARDIS and traveling through time and space in ways her primitive mindset could understand, she equated the Doctor to a god from the pantheon of Greek gods, and rationalized the TARDIS as his great cabinet, to which she was traveling through spirit worlds. Uneasy with the arrangement to begin with, the Doctor gently chided her for her belief
system, though eventually he decided against debating it, as to do so would open up a can of worms.
It is here, in Katarina's lack of understanding that the genesis of her ultimate undoing begins. As
noted, the pitfalls of introducing a character that simply cannot come to terms physically,
emotionally, and rationally with the very underpinnings of the series itself, that of individuals
traveling through time and space in a time machine, 'should' have been apparent to all involved, and
yet somehow were not. Objections 'should' have been raised at the scripting stage, long before
Katarina made her actual on-screen debut. They were not. Instead, blinded by the need to forge on
with a new female companion as the series had done for the previous two years, the production team
simply made a mistake. Fortunately for them, a loophole was just around the corner. A loophole from
Skaro, that would provide the most efficient jumping-off point for Katarina. A loophole called the
While not billed as a companion as such in the media of the day, Katarina 'was' intended to continue
as a companion, though for how long is a matter of debate. At the time, 'Doctor Who' operated very
much on a skin-of-the-teeth mentality, and this was reflected in the manner in which companions were selected and cast. Unlike the modern series it would become, with long-running story arcs, in-dept character exploration, and reoccurring themes, the series of the 1960's was still quite new and was never really assured of its place in the corporate BBC's hearts and minds. As such, it adopted an
unofficial 'wait and see' approach, and this bled into the way in which companions were casted beyond the first three.
The actor and actresses behind the characters of Susan, Ian, and Barbara, being the first companions
ever in series history, were each given contracts reflective of the time; again, though not billed as
such in the credits, this trio were more akin to 'co-stars' than companions, as the original series
formatting intentionally featured an ad hoc 'family' consisting of the Doctor, his granddaughter, and
her two former school teachers. This meant that they were given more money, more storylines devoted to their characters, and more behind-the-scenes consideration than most of those who came after them.
By the time they all departed, the companion character grew closer to what it would be as the series
progressed; an easily replaceable, short-term friend for the Doctor and the person or persons he
simply explained things to for the benefit of the audience. No longer would companions be related to
the Doctor by blood as Susan was, and no longer would any companions be casted in order to fulfill the requirements set out in various series 'bibles'. By 1965, companions were de-emphasized and the
Doctor himself gained center stage, a creative tweak that many a production team was pleased to
enforce for the perceived benefit of the series.
With all of that in mind, the myriad of storyline problems that Katarina's existence as a companion
generated almost immediately upon arrival slapped the production team in the face just as quickly.
Frantic meetings were held, and groans of exasperation were heard, as writers and producers
envisioned being forced to continually re-visit the issue of how the Doctor could co-exist with
someone from several thousand years ago in Earth's history, who would not understand even
rudimentary science and would shrink away from a light bulb being turned on. In this era, in which
the series was attempting to shed its fantastical nature in general and become more 'hard SF' in
tone, even within the historical stories, Katarina simply could not continue as a companion.
Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks and writer of the following story, 'The Daleks Masterplan', was
asked to add additional scenes to his epic, which would serve to write the Katarina character out, as
this story was the first and best opportunity presented that would allow for the character to be
dumped. Nation, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, quickly realized that not only would
killing Katarina within a Dalek story contribute greatly to the Dalek's street cred, it would allow
him to twist her unfamiliarity with technology to his advantage for dramatic purposes.
Protective of the Doctor, a man she considers as some form of 'god', Katarina not only kills herself
when he is threatened along with herself and Steven by the villainous Kirksen aboard a ship bound for a Dalek-occupied world, she does so in spectacular fashion, activating an airlock that blows herself and Kirksen into space. There, she dies what must be a painful and horrific death. Nation added ambiguity to her motivations, inserting an exchange of dialog between the Doctor and Steven to the effect that while Steven calls it an accident based on her lack of knowledge of modern tech, the
Doctor considers she sacrificed herself for their safety and somehow knew all along her breaking the
airlock seal would result in keeping them safe. An unusually grim and violent end to a companion
character, the first of its kind in series history.
After dispensing with Katarina, and learning the lesson of never introducing characters from a time
period so far removed from the age of science that they would never be able to catch on, the
production team of the day received little in the way of negative feedback from BBC brass or
audiences. Then again, as much as modern fans consider the series to have 'grown up' in the past five
decades and to have grown away from its roots as a funny little kid's show, the fact is early
'Doctor Who' often presented violent segments; including implying a character was raped in 'The Time Meddler' and the time-destructor sequences in which characters are forcibly aged to death in the very story Katarina is herself killed, 'The Daleks Masterplan'. To its fans in the 1960's, Katarina's
death barely registered as noteworthy, or anything more sinister than providing a powerful moment in
an episode full of them.
After the misstep of Katarina was purged from the series, it would not be for another sixteen years
before the issue of killing a companion was revisited, and this time it was milked for all it was
worth. The character of Adric, introduced during the dying days of Tom Baker's era, was a young
mathematician who had stowed away on board the TARDIS in the episode 'Full Circle'. Held over to the Fifth Doctor's era, Adric proved to be one of the most unpopular companions in series history, no
small feat given the number of companions that had preceded him. Nevertheless, the actor who played him, Matthew Waterhouse, did not endear himself to fellow cast mates or production staff alike.
As an actor with very little experience, Waterhouse was not skilled enough in his craft to
convincingly give life to the character. To be fair, Adric was beset with annoying personality
traits, a fault to which blame lay with the various writers, including the character's creator Andrew
Smith, himself a nineteen year old fan of 'Doctor Who' who had somehow managed to convince producer John Nathan-Turner to green-light his one and only contribution to the series with 'Full Circle'.
Due to the stunted character development, coupled with Waterhouse's limited acting range, and
ultimately affected by the actor's often acrimonious relationship with Peter Davison, Janet Fielding,
and Sarah Sutton, the character of Adric quickly raised the ire of fandom. So much so that, unlike
Katarina's death, which was a production-team decision handled 'in-house' and not with an eye to
pleasing and/or shocking the audience, the death of Adric was the complete opposite; it was planned
and executed by individuals who expressed pleasure that Waterhouse would be removed from 'Doctor
Who', and it was actually celebrated by fans who had gained advance knowledge and literally held
'Adric's death' parties on the night the episode in which the character dies, 'Earthshock', was
The one and only champion of Adric was John Nathan-Turner, the producer. As was the case with the
vast majority of the creative decisions made during this time, JN-T was the man to which 'the buck
stops here'; he pulled the trigger on every detail that needed attending to when it came to 'Doctor
Who', from set design to directors, casting to costumes. As the first producer to not only bend the
collective ears of Whovians in order to seek out their opinions on the series, but to actually
institute changes in order to appease them, JN-T had heard rumblings of discontent regarding Adric
from day one of the character's introduction. For whatever reason, whether feeling proprietorial
regarding the character given that he had approved 'Full Circle' and had a major role in casting
Waterhouse, or else as he was loath to be forced to 'start from scratch' with yet another male
companion character, JN-T had held out hope that Adric would somehow become a fan favourite given enough time.
It was not to be, and along with pre-planning for stories to celebrate the twentieth anniversary,
JN-T began to consider the landscape of 'Doctor Who' during its eighteenth and nineteenth seasons.
The great experiment of returning the series to a three-companion format, as it had been in William
Hartnell's first season, was beginning to wear on JN-T and script editor Eric Saward. Saward had
convinced JN-T that more companions meant 'farming out lines' to more people, it meant creating more on-going sub-plots within each episode, and it meant less screen time went to Peter Davison, the Doctor that JN-T had himself casted. Aware of the need to 'pair down' the companions, coupled with the savings to the show in real money by removing one of its cast members, and with a strange
compulsion to appease fandom, JN-T relented on whether to keep Adric. He would slowly phase out the other two companions and, over time and with the Colin Baker era, return to the 'one Doctor, one
companion' format that had worked so well with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. But, ever the showman, he decided, if Adric was to leave, then he would leave in spectacular, memorable fashion.
Several stories were placed in consideration for the event, but it was Eric Saward's own 'Sentinel'
that won out. Re-named 'Earthshock', and featuring the return of the Cybermen in newly redesigned-
for-the-1980's costumes, JN-T went to great lengths to ensure maximum shock value. He ordered the
gallery that overlooked the studio closed for the duration of filming. He turned down numerous fan
magazine interview requests during the making of the episode, and even went so far as to turn down
the cover of 'Radio Times', the BBC's listing magazine carried throughout England. Ostensibly,
these measures were put in place in order to preserve the shock value of a Cybermen appearance, as
they had not been seen in 'Doctor Who' at that point in seven long years. But equally as shocking to
JN-T's mind was that the Cybermen would draw first blood on the Fifth Doctor, and kill his companion.
And it all would have worked, too...if not for those darn BBC pages, young volunteers who worked for the Corporation itself in clerical work, who had access to copies of the script and accompanying
inter-office memos, and leaked word of the pending death of Adric. Whovians rejoiced.
Regardless of this, Adric's death did indeed come as a huge shock to millions of casual viewers.
Given that there is virtually no indication within the story itself that he is to be killed, and in hindsight there appears to be a ratcheting-up of the annoying, nasal tone and the whining that typified the character every moment he is on screen, the event caught many off-guard. Beyond the fact that he dies somewhat of a hero, preventing a giant ship from crash landing into Earth during a populated era in the future and instead causing it to plunge back through time in order to facilitate the 'Doctor Who'
explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs, Adric is not particularly interesting as a character
even up to the last.
In fact, his motivation to save the entire planet and a peace conference being held there seems less to do with making the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the day than it does with a childish need to be 'proven right' about a mathematical calculation regarding trajectory. Regardless of the sloppy writing that went into the character's final scenes and the equally sloppy acting on display during it, the death of Adric caused thousands of letters of protest from parents of small children who claimed it adversely affected their children, once again illustrating the dangers of severing the connection to the fans when the decision to kill a companion is made.
Conversely, and perhaps cynically, at least several hundred letters of gratitude over the decision
were also collected, as older fans proclaimed it was 'the best decision' that JN-T had ever made as
producer up to that point! JN-T had once again turned a negative into a positive, and in this case,
the rumblings of discontent from his actors and actresses, not to mention Whovians in general, had
tipped his hand when it came to doing what should be considered distasteful and counter-productive,
actually killing off a companion rather than simply having them written out. JN-T had swung for the
fences, and connected with a home run.
The third death of a companion combined elements of Katarina 'and' Adric, insomuch as it involved
quickly sweeping a character under the carpet for the good of the series, and JN-T capitulating to
outside pressure and agreeing it was a necessity. Still seeking to eventually pair down the companion
count to one, JN-T in his capacity as producer of a fantasy action adventure series was constantly
being pitched on everything from product placements to convention appearance dates to specially built props.
One day, he was approached by a man who up-sold him what JNT-T then convinced himself could be
the ultimate companion; a mostly immobile, mannequin-sized prop figure that came to be named
Kamelion. It was built outside the purview of 'Doctor Who' by an amateur prop builder who dreamed up unique props and then sold them to television and film projects. In Kamelion's case, it was built to
be able to mimic human voice, and could be programmed to do so..at a rate of a line at a time,
allowing it's basic on-board processor time to operate the figure's 'lips' and form the words
convincingly for later playback.
Aside from this, it had basic motor skills, could slowly raise its arms and tilt it's head.
Mostly, though, it was best suited to being propped against a wall, or sat in a chair, and just...do nothing. Yet, this expensive, bulky, useless excuse for a paper weight somehow captured JN-T's heart, and he temporarily abandoned his desire to pare down the companions in order to introduce Kamelion into the series, feeling that eventually it would be the only companion the Doctor would have and, perhaps, the only one he would ever need. The best laid plans of mice, men, and 'Doctor Who' producers often go awry..
The dull and lifeless Kamelion, voiced by actor Gerald Flood, made it's 'debut' in the dull and
lifeless episode 'The King's Demons', in which it had a major part. A convoluted scheme of the Master saw Kamelion, which the Master picked up on the planet Xeraphin, the central figure in a plot to undermine democracy itself. Kamelion's hologram generating power gave the Master the ability to
impersonate King John, the monarch who signed the Magna Carta agreement that limited sovereign power in England and heralded the birth of self-government and the rise of elected governments. Other than an ill-advised return to an historical type-story that 'Doctor Who' had done much better decades beforehand, 'The King's Demons' puts JN-T's folly out there for all to see, in all its limited
Having apparently not learned his lesson with K-9, that immobile props do not make good companions, JN-T quickly came to regret his decision. Like a car owner sold a lemon by a fast-talking used car salesman, JN-T finally checked under the hood and realized his mistake. Kamelion could not move properly, meaning all camera shots taken of it needed to be static shocks. Kamelion could not express any discernible range of moods, as it's face was permanently etched in a blank, stoic stare. Kamelion required weeks of programming in order to maintain a ten second conversation with an actor. Worse, Kamelion's creator, the one person who could actually be relied on to fix the bugs and assist the production team with the numerous problems they faced with the thing, died in a boating accident shortly after Kamelion was introduced into the series...and he didn't write an instruction manual to consult. In short, Kamelion had to go.
This one is all on JN-T. No Whovians were lobbying for another computerized character after K-9.
After K-9, no production staff wanted to deal with the daily headaches such a character could cause.
The fact that K-9, which had itself cost thousands of dollars to build, modify, and utilize, could
run circles around Kamelion yet JN-T himself had dictated it be written out of the series regardless
of the time and money spent on it, was a 'my bad' moment for JN-T. Rather than subject himself to
fresh rounds of 'why are we bothering'-type memos from staff, JN-T simply opted to write Kamelion out as soon as a story had a few spare minutes somewhere in it to do so.
Rather than place references to its abrupt disappearance from the TARDIS crew it just joined in the
following stories, as JN-T had done with K-9 given that character's continuing in the series was a
late decision which forced the inclusion of cover stories in episodes in which it was not originally
meant to appear, it would not be until 'Planet Of Fire', another dud of a story, that Kamelion is
'killed'. A wishy-washy, easily manipulated being to begin with, Kamelion once again comes under the Master's influence, and actually begs the Doctor to put it, and the viewers, out of their misery and
kill it. Despite the Doctor's reverence for life in all its forms, he acts completely out
of character and kills it using the Master's TCE weapon. Even given the chance to provide the
viewers with something akin to a companion's heroic death scene, JN-T clumsily bungles it, and instead violates the internal continuity of the Doctor character simply to wipe Kamelion clean from the Whoniverse.
Kamelion is the final companion to have been killed within the confines of the original series,
though he is not the last companion to die. In addition K-9 Mark Three killed within the new series,
in the episode 'School Reunion', heroically sacrificing itself to save the Doctor and it's other
friends from the Krillitane, there is, of course, Amy and Rory Williams in 'The Angels Take
Manhattan'. As odd and disconcerting a prospect it is to actively seek the death of a companion
character for publicity and storyline reasons, the fact that it has been done so rarely, as detailed
here, is a testament to the power of restraint. The chosen companions detailed in this blog that have
been killed have all left their mark, large or small, on the Whoniverse in general, and serve to
remind fans that, for all the light-hearted space romping that is often on display, there is a dark
underbelly of realism in the form of death than can creep in. To quote the Doctor, 'Some left me.
Some got left behind. And some... not many, but... some died.'