I’ve been avoiding Series 8 spoilers like the plague, but it’s very difficult to not gain at least some information from headlines, not to mention the occasional discussions with friends. Luckily, I’ve managed to stay pretty clean about foreknowledge. A discussion that did come up this week was that it’s looking like they’re trying to draw parallels between the Capaldi Doctor and the Hartnell Doctor, specifically by filling out the TARDIS with a similar group of companions: a male teacher, a female teacher, and a female student.
If this really is intentional, I’m not really sure how I feel about this. First, there’s the obsessive fan in me that says that all parallels should be drawn to Troughton’s Doctor, since Capaldi’s Doctor is the second Doctor in the new regeneration sequence, not the first (Smith’s Doctor is the first). Ok, I just needed to write that and you can slap me for being way too silly now. Second, something just bugs me about drawing such obvious parallels, narrative-wise. Either there’s some big hand of fate causing events to repeat, which simply bugs me, or the Doctor is building his team the same way, which to me seems very un-Doctor-like. Ah well, either way, it really doesn’t matter what I think along those lines, does it?
On the other hand, it’s very exciting to have a completely new dynamic in the TARDIS, a full TARDIS, something we haven’t seen since Davison’s Doctor with Tegan, Turlough, and Kamelion (and really before that, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough, since due to technical difficulties, Kamelion didn’t get to appear very often). The Doctor started with a full TARDIS and more or less had three companions until Ben and Polly left and Victoria joined Jamie. From that point, there were one or two companions until Tegan and Nyssa joined Adric in Logopolis, and Davison’s Doctor always had three until Peri arrived.
A full TARDIS gives a lot more opportunity for developing companion relationships, something that was almost completely absent for Eccleston’s and Tennant’s Doctor’s runs. While their companions had fantastic stories, in all cases, the conflict was brought in from their families, and thus those stories had to be confined to Earth. Clara, of course, really doesn’t have a story other than how she’s tied to the Doctor’s timestream. We got to see what can be done with companions with Amy and Rory (and River), but what I’m really looking forward to are companions that don’t get along. One of the best companion pairings, in my opinion, was Tegan and Turlough. Turlough arrived with the intention of killing the Doctor (wow, for once, a companion who starts out not allied with the Doctor!), and Tegan was the only person who didn’t trust him outright. After he rejected the Black Guardian and really became a member of the crew, he and Tegan still were at odds. The relationship developed into more of a brother/sister dynamic, when they finally became friends but still sniped at each other. This is the kind of thing I’d like to see with the new crew, a group of people who have to work out their relationships with one another.
There is one problem that can be introduced with a full TARDIS: what do you do with all of the characters each episode? It’s a lot easier to write a tight story if you only have two characters (the Doctor and his sole companion) to work with. Add in another full-time character and it gets difficult to find something for him to do every week, resulting in a character that seems to be only a hanger-on much of time (hello, Rory!). Add in another one, and now you’ve got four characters to keep occupied. An example of how this can go really wrong is “Terminus,” a Davison Doctor episode with Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough. This was Nyssa’s final episode, so the story was focused on her, leaving Tegan and Turlough as more or less irrelevant. They spend the entirety of the second of the four episodes trapped in a crawlspace, and the show felt the need to cut back to them every few minutes to show them crawling five feet. They get out in the third episode, but for the rest of the story, they do very little other than Turlough getting yelled at by the Black Guardian every so often (probably to remind you that he’s supposed to be killing the Doctor). The writing and directing of Doctor Who has really changed over the last thirty years, so I doubt we’ll see Clara trapped in a crawlspace for forty minutes, but it’ll take very clever writers to keep all of the characters relevant in every episode.
(Ok, so a British friend of mine told me that they refer to the Doctors by their actors’ names. I’ve tried it here, and wow, that’s annoying. Back to ordinal numbers for me!)