The Could-Have-Been Companion

Even Time Lords take selfies.

Even Time Lords take selfies.

I’ve been thinking recently about “Planet of the Dead”. It’s not a very highly-regarded episode of Doctor Who, and in my mind, it’s easily the weakest of the four specials after series 4. It was a good-enough adventure, but nothing remarkable. It’s probably best known for featuring Michelle Ryan as the companion-of-the-day, Lady Christina de Souza.

The thing that’s interesting to me about “Planet of the Dead” is that I didn’t like Lady Christina. In case you don’t remember the episode, it starts with her breaking into a museum to steal an artifact, a golden goblet that once belonged to an ancient British king (I don’t remember which one, and I’m too lazy to go look it up). During her escape, she boards a bus and in few moments, the Doctor sits next to her, offering her a chocolate orange. The bus then travels through a wormhole and lands on a desert planet, and she and the Doctor work together to get the bus back to Earth.

I remember very clearly that she immediately rubbed me the wrong way, and it upset me when the Doctor considered taking her on as a companion. At the time, the two reasons why were because she was clearly amoral, selfish, and greedy and because her interest in traveling with the Doctor stemmed from her boredom with her life – it wasn’t that she wanted to see the universe or do good things or wanted to become a better person. I couldn’t see why the Doctor found her interesting at all, except that she intrigued him because she was capable, used to taking charge, and carried with her all kinds of useful implements. I was very happy when he turned her down. (I didn’t pick up on the reason why he turned her down until my second viewing of the episode. I have to admit that I didn’t really get the overarching theme of the four specials until I saw them again, despite the fact that it’s what made them good; sometimes I can be really dense.)

Now I wonder whether or not my initial judgment of her was too harsh. She might have been interested in joining the Doctor because she was bored with her life, but she wasn’t the first prospective companion to join the Doctor for that reason: the most prominent was Rose. Of course, Rose stayed with the Doctor for very different reasons, but her initial reason was because her life was stagnant, and I didn’t dislike her for that. (I will note that I don’t like Rose, but for very different reasons.) Another is Peri, who found herself on the TARDIS by accident and chose to stay there because she didn’t have much of a life she wanted to go back to. But again, I didn’t dislike Peri when she first appeared, and she developed into a great friend for the Doctor.

Lady Christina’s amorality, selfishness, and greed is probably the greater reason for my not liking her, but again, there are other companions who have these traits. Turlough joins the TARDIS crew initially with the express purpose of assassinating the Doctor, and later is put into situations in which he’s tempted and has to overcome his desire for certain things, both physical and emotional, and again, I don’t dislike him. In fact, I find him to be a fascinating character, because of the things he goes through and how he grows from his experiences.

And because of all of this, I wonder if I dislike Lady Christina simply because we only got to see a very small, unflattering glimpse of her, and that she might have been a wonderful companion if the Doctor had taken her along and brought out her good characteristics, like he’d done for his previous companions? Or, perhaps, I would have enjoyed her story more if she’d turned out like Adam, the only time we’ve ever seen a failed companion. Adam wasn’t a sympathetic character, but his story was great. I guess we’ll never know, but it does make me yearn to see how things would have turned out if she’d been given a chance.

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4 responses to “The Could-Have-Been Companion

  1. I had the same reaction to her, but I think my negative impulse was guided also by the James-Bond-like setup they gave her. Bond just didn’t gel with how I associated the Doctor. But I almost think the Doctor himself was going for a “one-trip companion” from the start. Not really thinking about it or planning their partnership to go far, because of the vow he took, “never again.” He let her go because she was getting attached plus I think because she wasn’t really reaching for the moral heights he needed in a companion. As much as it could have been exciting and tempting, her way of life (and he was attracted to her devil-may-care sense of adventure as a motive for her actions, rather than pure greed) would just make him a worse, less caring person than what he was already, and the best thing he could do for her is to allow her to have adventures outside of burglary. That’s what’s so great about the Doctor. He’s always doing what is best for the other person even when he himself is not always on top of his emotional game (but really, when is he?).

    So, Lady Christina, to me, is What the Doctor Could Have Been. In his post-Journey’s End state of grief and aloofness. Adventures without heart, without soul. That shared moment, “you look Time Lord” gave the thematic game away, as well as the slight loss of sensitivity the Doctor had when he realized the sands were actually the dust of human beings. All indications that the Doctor is fully capable of falling into a sense of amorality.

    Anyway, great to see your blog still going. 🙂

    • Oh, I like that analysis. “Planet of the Dead” always seemed so out of line with the rest of the 2009 specials because it didn’t have a heart. The idea of Lady Christina showing us what the Doctor would be like if he lost his morality and compassion – now that makes it make a lot more sense. I don’t think they brought that theme out very well (which is why it didn’t make a very good episode – normally RTD is very good at making his point without shoving it in your face), but that makes the episode fit into that arc very well.

      Thanks! I’m happy to see people still checking it out, too! Life has been too busy, either to write or to watch much DW, so I haven’t had much to say. It’s still my obsession, though.

  2. Oh, goodness, I couldn’t stand her either! I don’t know … someone who just goes around stealing stuff and has a completely flippant attitude (an attitude which isn’t there to hide hurt or anger, it’s just that character’s personality) about everything just drives me nuts. I do enjoy the episode, simply because it’s a fun ‘fluff’ adventure, but I do not like Christina at all and I was so glad when he turned her down (I actually wish she had been arrested; would have served her right, lol).

    • I wish they had given more screen time to the fly aliens. I love it when they have really different aliens, especially non-evil ones, and they explore their different cultures and the difficulties in communication and understanding.

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