|Cover art by Terry Cooper, Copyright Candy Jar Publishing|
A Non-fan's Review
Not being a fan of Doctor Who¸ I was not keen when asked to read and review Andy Frankham-Allen’s Companions: Fifty years of Doctor Who Assistants. However, having an interest in trying new things and having read Andy’s novel, Seeker, I agreed to give it a go.
Companions is an unofficial detailed guide about every Doctor Who companion’s adventures throughout the first twenty six years on TV, running from 1963 – 1989, the 1996 television movie and the seven series of Doctor Who from 2005 to present day, as well as including the journeys of these companions in novels, comics and radio (otherwise known as the Expanded Universe). Andy has structured Companions in a way that makes it easy for the reader to distinguish between each companion and not get lost and confused between which companion travelled with which Doctor, having two chapters per Doctor, one for the TV show and the other looking at their Expanded Universe adventures.
He immediately grabs your attention when discussing Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter and very first companion. From Susan to Ben & Polly, the last of the first Doctor’s companions, I was already curious about the TV show and even tempted to watch an episode. Andy gives a very detailed account of each of these companion’s journeys and relationships with the Doctor, allowing me to understand what sort of characters they were and how they reacted in tough situations and adjusted to life travelling with a Time Lord.
I feel that Andy really comes into his element when he reaches the companions of the Third Doctor, particularly when looking at Sarah Jane Smith and Jo Grant/Jones, their sections taking up multiple pages where Andy goes into tremendous detail and insight about their adventures and close friendships with the Doctor. This continues through to the seventh Doctor, increasing my interest in the show and the feeling that I need to try watching it, as his descriptions of the characters help me picture and understand what they go through. Andy does not, however, reveal everything that happens with these companions, leaving any reader curious and wanting to find out what particularly happened in certain adventures and how they responded to the Doctor’s reactions. Andy gives enough information to help a reader develop an interest for the many companions, and leaves enough room for them to create opinions for themselves, especially about the more interesting companions (my favourites being Leela, Romana, Nyssa, Tegan, Peri and Ace).
Up to the end of the Seventh Doctor, the end of the original twenty-six-year run, the Expanded Universe entries have not been as gripping as the chapters on the TV show, until he gets to Ace. Andy explains how Ace is one of the most storied companions ever, living at least three different lives and he goes into great detail about each of these stories. He looks at Ace’s journeys in The New Adventures, Big Finish, and the story Ground Zero. It is Andy’s description in these particular stories that first made me consider looking at the Expanded Universe as well as the TV show, curious to see how other writers perceive and adapt the many companions of Doctor Who. My curiosity for the Expanded Universe grew further when Andy came to talk about the adventures of the Eighth Doctor, who, apart from the 1996 TV movie, was only featured in the Expanded Universe, which helped to keep the story alive from 1997 – 2005 before it’s return on TV. Andy divides this chapter into three key sections, In Prose, On Audio, and In Comics. In this chapter we meet new companions that never appear on screen and, considering this, I am thinking of looking for the stories that feature these companions after watching the TV show, just to fully understand those that helped the story of Doctor Who stay alive in the eight years off air.
This brings us to 2005 and the Nu Who. I remember watching the first episode as it aired on TV and thinking that this show was an interesting idea. However, as the episodes continued I slowly lost interest, only watching an episode every now and then, before stopping completely when David Tennant became the Tenth Doctor. Andy’s entries on the companions of the three Doctors of Nu Who have filled me in on what I missed and I must say I am sorry that I did. His entry of Rose with the Ninth Doctor reminded me of the episodes I had watched and revealed the ones I missed, sparking my interest in Doctor Who all over again.
The chapter for the Tenth Doctor is the longest in the book looking at five different companions in huge detail, revealing more about the families of the companions than those of the first eight Doctors. The show seems to have become more about the companions and their lives rather than the Doctor’s, giving Andy much more to write about and he engages the readers through his simple structure following the companions in the order they appear in the show, some companions, such as Donna and Captain Jack have more than one entry having left the show and returning later. By the time I reached the chapters on the Eleventh Doctor, I have to say I felt sad that I was coming to the end of Andy’s guide having been fully caught up in Doctor Who. As Gary Russell says in the Foreword the viewers identify with the companions of the show and aspire to be them so they can help the Doctor, I feel that Andy brings this across and any reader can easily relate to the companions he talks about. He leaves the Expanded Universe of the last three Doctor’s till the last chapter, merging all three, and even writes an extract about the Brigadier who helps the Doctor in some of his adventures working for UNIT. Any reader can tell that Andy has thoroughly researched Doctor Who, watching every episode and exploring the Expanded Universe so he can write a truthful, detailed guide to every companion. He even writes about spin-off shows that focus on particular companions, such as The Sarah Jane Adventures, K9 & Company and Torchwood (the last looks at the story of Captain Jack).
|Waterstone's Signing - Image Copyright Steve Upham|
Andy has worked extremely hard and I can say it has been a success, because he has made at least one reader want to watch Doctor Who and look at the Expanded Universe characters as well, so well done Andy.
I would recommend the book to anyone, be they fans or, like me, willing to be convinced. It is worth it.
Companions: Fifty Years of Doctor Who Assistants is available from all good book stockists or directly from Candy Jar Publishing for only £8.99 + p&p.