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Why Does The Doctor Take Human Companions?
By Doctor Who Online

You’re a shape changing, near-immortal Time Lord. You’re well over two thousand years old. You have a machine that can take you anywhere in space and time, and you possess categorical knowledge of almost every major species in the universe. Why, then, do you frequently choose to take companions from Earth with you on your travels? Are we really so special or significant as a species? What makes us the Doctor’s go-to choice when they’re looking for someone to share their adventures with?

We’ll ignore the non-storyline reasons here. Obviously, from a practical point of view, it’s easier to shoot a human companion than spend hours before every episode putting makeup and prosthetics on an actor to make them appear alien. We’ll also ignore the fact that being a Doctor Who companion is a fantastic launching pad for the actors who play them, many of whom have gone from being unknown to becoming stars in their own right. Let’s try to get into the Doctor’s mind here. Maybe there is a lot to be said about humans as a species. But we also come with flaws. Unlike many of the show’s other races, we’re a little bit emotional. We get scared easily. We can be violent, unpredictable and immoral (remember Adam Mitchell)? Also, because we’re far less advanced than many of the Whoniverse’s races, there’s also the chance that a human will be totally overwhelmed by the sheer scale of space and time. Surely picking a human to tag along is something of a gamble than Rose Tyler?

Is it because he’s lonely?

Well, that’s a distinct possibility. That seems to change with each incarnation, though. We saw on screen how much David Tennant’s Doctor pined away without someone to share his travels with, even though he would very much be an enchanted prince to pretty much any girl in history with his mystical and magical powers. The 11th Doctor even frankly admitted to Amy Pond that he was asking her to come along because he was tired of being on his own. This may have been an issue that’s developed as the Doctor has grown older. The Fourth Doctor seemed to positively revel in being on his own, and when he did have traveling companions, he seemed to lean towards his own race (hence the Romanas), or his robotic friend K9. He may have spent many years with Sarah Jane and Leela (who’s at least loosely human), but he never explicitly invited either of them into the TARDIS. Back then, of course, he had the option of nipping home if he felt like some company. Maybe that’s what made the difference. All those years not knowing where Gallifrey is left him feeling lonely and isolated, and he grew to dislike it.

The theme of the Doctor’s loneliness has been visited several times in “New Who” (both the Face of Boe and Madame de Pompadour referred to them as “The Lonely God”), so we can probably accept as a fact that their loneliness is part of what makes them keep opening the TARDIS door for company. It wouldn’t explain why it’s so frequently for human beings, though.

Is it because he needs our humanity?

We sometimes forget, when watching the show, that “The Doctor” is more than just our hero’s pseudonym. It’s a promise, and an aspiration. As was explicitly stated in the 50th Anniversary Special, to be the Doctor means that one must “never be cruel nor cowardly. Never give up. Never give in”. The Doctor is what the Time Lord does, not who they actually are. Sometimes, the Doctor needs a dose of humanity to keep them true to that promise. 

We’ve seen what happens when the Doctor spends too much time alone. The 10th Doctor would have lost his own life battling the Racnoss had Donna not jumped in to tell him when to stop. The 11th Doctor would have cast Kahler-Jex out to his death in “A Town Called Mercy” had Amy not appealed to his better nature. Even way back in “An Unearthly Child”, the first Doctor was ready to smash a rock over someone’s head and kill them because they were slowing the group down and jeopardizing everyone else’s survival chances. And the less said about how far he went in “The Waters of Mars” the better. It seems to take human compassion and perspective to keep the Doctor on the straight and narrow when it comes to morality. Perhaps humans contain more of those traits than any other race in the universe. As the 10th Doctor finally acknowledged to Donna in “The Fires Of Pompeii”, “sometimes, I need someone”.

Do humans have a higher purpose?

Is there a grander plot arc coming in the future? The Doctor has always been very, very keen to keep Earth safe. As the 12th Doctor snarled at the half-face robot in “Deep Breath”, “Don’t make assumptions about how far I will go to protect them, because I’ve already come a very long way”. The 6th Doctor’s discovery about the true nature of the Ravalox project saw him on trial with the Time Lords for his life, and he faced it with relish. The Doctor would gladly sacrifice their life to defend humanity. In fact, they have, several times over. The first, third, ninth and tenth Doctors all met their end explicitly protecting the human race. But why? Could it be related to something humans are destined to become in the future? 

We know that Time Lords evolved on Gallifrey. We also know that they weren’t always Time Lords, and that it was Omega and Rassilon who elevated them above the point of mere mortals. Plus, despite being alien, they do look very human in appearance. What if, thousands of years in the future, the human race are destined to become the Time Lords? We know that in the Whoniverse, humans eventually develop interstellar travel. We know that there are human Time Agents in the far future, too. So is it really so great a leap? What if, in protecting us, the Doctor is actually safeguarding the future creation of their own race? 

Wouldn’t that be the greatest story of all?

© Copyright Doctor Who Online, 2018.
Page Updated: 22/10/2018

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