Current Doctor Who companion Clara Oswald’s time on the popular British television series has finally come to an end. Actress Jenna Coleman announced her departure back in September, admitting in an interview that she had filmed her final scenes. The news didn’t come as a surprise, especially because Coleman first joined Doctor Who back in 2012 — making her character the show’s longest-serving companion since the 2005 reboot first began.
A month after Coleman’s announcement, showrunner Steven Moffat said they were in the “very, very early stages” of finding a replacement. At the time, he stressed there was “nothing really to report,” and that they would “make a noise when we’ve got something to say.” Considering the show’s traditional formula for providing the Doctor with at least one human traveling companion, this also came as no surprise.
The search is ongoing, and if Moffat and actor Peter Capaldi have anything to say about it, the next companion will most likely be a woman. But what if the 12th Doctor went on for a bit without one? What if next year’s Doctor Who was, for not the first time in the program’s storied history, all about the Time Lord and no one else?
With review headlines like “The Doctor Who Finale Had Such a Great Ending, I Forgive Everything” and “Doctor Who Season Nine Made the Show Good Again,” Capaldi has certainly overcome criticisms launched his way since taking over in 2013. The current series was a tour de force for the Scottish actor, especially the penultimate episode “Heaven Sent.” Except for a single bit of dialogue, Capaldi speaks every line and performs all the action throughout the first half of the two-part finale.
He did good with a whole hour, so why not give him 12 episodes to let him make the character really great? A previous instance from classic Doctor Who demonstrates just how great the Doctor can be when the actors playing him aren’t beholden to sidekicks. It’s also a good example of how awful the character can be, too, though not in the this-actor-really-sucks kind of way. More of the holy-sh*t-he-really-just-did-that type of “awful.”
Tom Baker In The Deadly Assassin
Defining the Doctor’s companion-less periods is often a subjective exercise. Some consider “Rose,” the first episode of the reboot, to be an example. Yes, she accepts the Time Lord’s invitation to accompany him after they save London from the Nestene Consciousness, though he goes it alone for most of the story. Yet he ends up with a companion in the end, so it doesn’t really qualify.
For the purpose of this article, if the Doctor begins and ends the episode without a companion, and spends the majority of it without assistants or sidekicks, then he is companion-less. Hence The Deadly Assassin, a serial from the original’s 14th series in which the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) travels back to Gallifrey after being summoned. He leaves Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) behind in the previous serial, The Hand of Fear, and doesn’t pick up another companion until Leela (Louise Jameson) forces her way onto the TARDIS in a subsequent serial, The Face of Evil.
The four-part story provides fans with a detailed look at Gallifreyan life. It also reintroduces the Master, whose plot involves assassinating president, framing the Doctor and trying to destroy the planet in order to obtain a new regeneration cycle. This all sounds like a lot, and it is, but as classic Doctor Who episodes were grouped around single story arcs via serials, Deadly Assassin fit everything in without issue.
When it aired in October and November 1976, each episode garnered 11.8, 12.1, 13 and 11.8 million total viewers respectively for the BBC — making it one of the most-watched serials in the show’s 52-year history. Sure, Baker’s Fourth Doctor was quite popular at the time, but fans were excited to see Gallifrey in the flesh and tuned in accordingly. Initial reactions weren’t as positive as they are today, but as Stephen James Walker and David J. Howe put it in Doctor Who: The Television Companion, “many fans took the view that it contradicted the minimal details that had previously been revealed about the Doctor’s race,” but “the story has been re-evaluated” in the years since.
Much of what last Sunday’s series finale, “Hell Bent,” provided in terms of Gallifrey owes its existence to Deadly Assassin. This is why the Baker serial is still so important to Doctor Who. Plus, the Fourth Doctor does it all — saves as many as he can and defeats the villain — without a companion.
A decades-old rumor suggests Baker, who wanted a solo episode because he felt the character shouldn’t always have a partner, really didn’t want a co-star. While two fellow Gallifreyans occupy the sidekick role in the story to some extent, Baker got his wish. And that’s completely fine, for as modern reviewers point out, he “seizes his moment” and maintains “fine form” throughout.
Is he over the top? Of course he is — he’s Tom Baker. Yet that’s precisely what a character like the Doctor needs, and being that the current iteration hasn’t really had a chance to flaunt his chops in such a manner, perhaps it’s time Capaldi was given a similar chance to shine.
So, Peter Capaldi In Series 10? Guys?
Most of the ninth series has been about other people. Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams turned out stellar back-to-back performances as the Viking Ashildr and the immortal Me. Fan-favorite Ingrid Oliver returned as resident U.N.I.T. nerd Osgood and her Zygon counterpart. Both are great showings by amazing actresses bringing phenomenal characters to life, characters that fans wouldn’t mind seeing again. But what about the Doctor himself?
Capaldi received peppered praise throughout, but most of the attention was paid to the show’s improvement over the past year. In terms of critical acclaim, nothing too loud or noticeable targeted the 12th Doctor before “Hell Bent” and “Heaven Sent” brought the ninth series to a close. The first (and arguably the last) great moment of this year was Capaldi’s entrance in the premiere, “The Magician’s Apprentice.” His Doctor embodied Doctor Who in those moments, but was drowned out by others soon after. Capaldi deserves more than just a single episode to give his characterization the proper attention.
The obvious fear is that a solo Doctor Who series won’t offer fans and lay viewers enough of a draw to watch. As Moffat complains in a Radio Times interview, “This year is not a new Doctor year, it’s not an anniversary, or a new companion year… it’s dangerous when you don’t have that special extra bit to launch a show with.” In other words, what if the lack of a new companion poses a threat to maintaining respectable (and commercially viable) ratings? That’s bad for business, and therefore bad for Doctor Who.
Moffat’s concern is valid, especially because this year’s show proved to be rather lackluster in terms of viewership. The highest-rated episode was Williams’ first, “The Girl Who Died,” which garnered 6.56 million total viewers. By contrast, the lowest-rated episode in the previous series was “Flatline,” which 6.71 million people watched during the latter half of the year. Per Moffat’s suggestion, 2014 was a “new Doctor year,” so of course the ratings were a bit higher — even at their lowest numbers. On the other hand, 2015 hasn’t given audiences anything new, so the ratings faltered.
So, what if the next series was billed as the year the Doctor flies solo? As it hasn’t really happened since The Deadly Assassin in 1976, the Doctor’s return to traveling alone 40 years later would make for quite the event. One that would be significant enough to placate BBC bosses, entice decent ratings and give Capaldi the space he needs to show fans everything he’s got — and more.