When Doctor Who made its triumphant re-materialisation onto our television screens in 2005 it did so with a confident swagger, an accent on more rounded characters and a whole litany of strong female characters.
While the classic series was forced to bat away regular cries of sexism, the likes of Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, River Song, Amy Pond and Clara Oswald have all been held up as positive female role models.
So what about the boys?
It’s harder to make a case for this being a strong area for the revived series. With the Doctor’s relationship with his female companions being seen increasingly in romantic terms, the role of the males has often been as a threat to the Doctor.
Mickey, Adam, Rory and Danny have all suffered to various degrees from the limits that brings. Even all-action Captain Jack was introduced in a similar fashion (with hints of jealousy from the Ninth Doctor) and, though he would ultimately become a more complex figure with a more interesting relationship with the Doctor, he was fortunate enough to have several seasons of the Doctor-less Torchwood to reach that point.
Somewhat cruelly derided as ‘Mickey the idiot’ for an entire season, Mickey Smith only really became a role model in his exit story (‘The Age of Steel’), although he did retain his stronger characterisation during later returns.
The Doctor barely even considered Adam to be a candidate for companion status, reluctantly bringing him along at Rose’s request and seemingly just to make a point that she was wrong (somewhat ruining Adam’s life in the process).
Although the introduction of his father in Season 7 fleshed out Rory Williams’ character rather late in the day, it’s hard to argue that Rory was ever really more than Amy’s Boyfriend/Husband to the casual viewer. After two and a half seasons, he didn’t even get a goodbye scene with the Doctor or his own daughter in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’.
Most recently, the weird passive-agressive vibe and control issues (from both sides) in the relationship between Danny Pink and Clara meant that he was never really presented in an aspirational light and it took detonating his own Cyberman-encased corpse in ‘Death in Heaven’ to earn some (unspoken) respect from the Doctor.
The ‘classic’ series treated its male companions very differently. While still substantially outnumbered by their female counterparts, when the boys did come along they were generally given an equal place in the Doctor’s affections.
While the change in emphasis to a more star-driven show when Patrick Troughton entered as the Doctor makes any comparisons to original male companion Ian a little unfair, it’s that very Doctor’s relationship with a Scottish highlander that perhaps gives the biggest indication of what the current series is missing out on.
Jamie McCrimmon’s friendship with the Doctor is one of the strongest that Doctor Who has ever known. They joke around, protect each other and just occasionally have a bit of a row, just like most friends do. Crucially with regards to the new series, all this occurred while the Doctor maintained interesting and happy relationships with first Victoria and then Zoe, demonstrating that the two are not mutually exclusive.
That’s not to say that the new series hasn’t created some much-loved male characters. Wilfred Mott and Brian Williams established themselves as two incredibly popular semi-regulars, but significantly as older members of companion’s family they were never in a position to play a threat to the Doctor’s relationships.
The lack of a human male as a role model isn’t the only problem here though. The Doctor’s possessiveness of his female companions and his refusal to even consider a male companion can at times make him seem like, well, a bit of a creep (especially given the centuries-old Time Lord’s fondness for attractive 20-somethings). His description of Clara as “A mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight” at the end of ‘Nightmare in Silver’ still makes us shudder.
It’s hard to see it as anything other than him treating people differently based on their gender, which seems inherently not a Doctor-like thing to do. If we’re honest, the Doctor probably only really welcomed Rory on board at the end of ‘The Big Bang’ in order to keep Amy around, although during Season 6 he did develop a genuine respect for Rory.
Of course, it could be argued that the Doctor himself is the show’s primary male role model already, and so any additonal male characters will always be secondary. This is perhaps one argument in favour of introducing a female Doctor, in order to shake up and refresh this dynamic.
Peter Capaldi’s first season offered further hope that a male companion could make a big impression in the modern iteration of the show. While the Doctor spent much of the season at crossed swords with Danny, along came a seemingly ideal companion in waiting played by Frank Skinner in ‘Mummy On The Orient Express’. Perkins was the ideal companion; funny, clever, but not afraid to challenge the Doctor if necessary, and there was a clear instant respect between the two. Then he wandered off into the distance.
With Jenna Coleman having a change of heart and committing to a second season with Capaldi’s Doctor and with no news of any additional regular companions any time soon it seems that our wait for another Ian or Jamie may well go on.
Here is hoping that we aren’t made to wait too long and another layer can be added to the wonder that is Doctor Who.
Do you think there’s room for improvement with the male companions in 21st century Doctor Who? Let us know below…