Doctor Who News Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat

Published on April 21st, 2012 | by Andrew Reynolds

Moffat: The Companion is the Main Character

Everyone loves a hero but does that necessarily mean we identify most with those that go that extra mile rather than characters like Amy or Rose who are meant to be our counterpart?

This is just the debate Steven Moffat has opened with his comment to BBC America (via Digital Spy) that the companion is the ‘main character’ in Doctor Who.

“Its always their story. It was Rose Tyler’s story, its Amy Pond’s story – the story of the time they knew the Doctor and how it began, how it developed and how it ended.”

Steven Moffat, Doctor Who boss, pictured in New YorkThe old incarnation was a Trojan horse – a children’s programme that sneaked some real science in with monsters and mystery – and while that still holds true of the new series Moffat’s comments just reflect the fact that Doctor Who is now a big Saturday night primetime show.

A show that needs to cover as wide a demographic as possible – perhaps those who aren’t tuned in to sci-fi – who need that placeholder character to ask, query and provoke a response from the Doctor and his universe.

It’s like the difference between story and plot – the story is definitely the Doctor’s. The adventures he instigates and the worlds he shows us are part of his wider story and go together to make his personal history. No show could capture the madness of that story.

The plot – the events that go towards making the show what it is week in and week out are the companions – it’s that small section of the overall story that we spend all this time coveting.

It isn’t the companion’s story but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the main character just as it is the Doctor’s story but he doesn’t have to be the main character.

Or as Moffat himself says:

“The story begins again, not so much with a new Doctor, but with a new companion. The Doctor’s the hero, but they’re the main character.”

There’s no reason why you can’t identify with the Doctor in any of his incarnations – the success of the classic series which firmly placed the Doctor as the main focus of the show was based around just that – children and adults identifying with a 900 odd year old Time Traveller.

Moffat himself has a clear idea of who the Doctor is and what he can and can’t do such as spending time alone:

“I thought about the Doctor travelling on his own and it always faintly depresses me. I’m not sure what he does on his own but I don’t think it would be healthy. He’s far too old and he’s seen too much.”



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About the Author


Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.

8 Responses to Moffat: The Companion is the Main Character

  1. avatar Solonor says:

    He’s completely right. The very first story draws us in not by being written from the perspective of the Doctor or Susan, but by following two schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, into a mysterious warehouse. It’s almost always been about the companion’s journey–both physically and metaphorically. The Doctor is the spark for the adventures, but with almost every companion we’re following the arc of a simple “nobody” turning into something more. Lately, those story arcs have been a bit more grand (the transformations of Donna, Mickey and Rory being three of the best), but Ian and Barbara, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane, Adric…they all went through similar character development.

  2. avatar James McLean says:

    Not sure I agree. I think if one puts a definitive “rule” on the show, you become in danger of reducing its potential. I certainly agree that the companion at the forefront can create a strong mode of storytelling. I wouldn’t disagree with Ian and Barbara’s initial season, Ace’s last season, Benny in the books and Rose or even Donna. I don’t think it’s something that is quintessential, particularly when the show has found its feet – which is precisely what happened at the start of Doctor Who, Ian and Babrara were our bridge to this alien concept – as was Rose in the show’s restart, beyond that, once the show is established it doesn’t need to do that – and it didn’t. I don’t really think it was Sarah Jane’s story, or Jo Grant’s story, or Leela’s story. Certainly wasn’t Romana’s story – but they all complimented the travels of the Doctor.

    I’ve never liked Terrance Dick’s pigeon hole of the companion being a cypher for “what is it Doctor?” nor do I agree with Moffat (and I suspect RTDs) perspective that the companion is the driver of the drama. They can be both, but they don’t NEED to be either.

    • I’m more concerned with everyone overlooking the TARDIS, who is clearly the main character – she even appears in the opening titles ;)

      • avatar Solonor says:

        She’s the ultimate companion! :)

    • avatar Andrew says:

      For much of the first 26 years the Doctor was always the main focus, but the companion’s story has always been the reason for him continuing his travels, more so than the exploring. He’s always needed someone with him. Like ET he is an alien that wants to be more human. Doctor Who has always been more about relationships than the monsters. More so over the last 7 years the companion being the driver simply makes the show more accessible for the viewer. The great arcs of Rose, Donna and Amy have I’d say is the reason behind the increase in female fans since 2005. Whilst JNT did well to try to make the companions more interesting, he failed in giving most (bar perhaps Ace) an interesting and believable backstory. The companion is more mortal and easier to relate to than the Doctor. We’ve all wanted to travel in the TARDIS, whilst being the Doctor is difficult to get right but the companion is so much easier.

  3. avatar Doc Whom says:

    The ability to relate to the companion seems irrelevant to me. All my life I’ve watched Doctor Who because I like the Doctor and, if his companion is likeable, that’s a bonus, not the crux of me being able to understand the Doctor. Do fans of Doctor Who seriously put themselves in the shoes of the companion? Most of us leave boring lives of quiet desperation, the last thing I want to see is the Doctor travelling with someone with tedious Earth-bound concerns. Didn’t we get enough of that with Tegan forever whining about wanting to get back to Heathrow?

    This sort of thing sounds a little too much like a line from a textbook on writing – must include someone for the viewer to relate to. I like Rose because I like the character. Make the companions interesting but not if you define “interesting” as dragging the Doctor down to the mundane world of their own problems. I want the show to touch the stars not drag the stars down to Earth. Around 2005 I saw an interview on TV with a young girl being asked if she liked the show and wasn’t it Rose who was her favourite character. The interviewer had clearly read the BBC blurb about Rose being someone girls could identify with. The little girl rolled her eyes and said no, the Doctor was her favourite of course.

    I see no problem with the viewer identifying with the Doctor directly rather than vicariously through a third party. For all that he’s a 900 year old alien, it’s very rare that the Doctor’s reactions and motivations aren’t human ones. He flies around the universe fighting baddies and protecting goodies. That may be fantasy but it’s hardly beyond our terrestrial understanding.

  4. avatar Doc Whom says:

    P.S. Did the Romana I and II stories not work because the companion was just as (fictionally) remote from us as the Doctor himself?

  5. avatar Anne Onie Moss says:

    I think it should be focussed on the companion. The Doctor isn’t going anywhere, we have plenty of time to learn about him. The traits that separate each regeneration, yes, but what stays the same should be gradual, background, a little more at a time. Whereas we only have a few years tops with our companions, so we should focus on them.

    PS The Doctor is the TARDIS’s companion. *nods*

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