Who Travels with the Doctor?: Essays on the Companions of Doctor Who by Gillian I. Leitch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Since Doctor Who took to the air over 50 years ago, his companions have been the audiences view into his adventures. In the 10 essay collection Who Travels with the Doctor? the role of the companion is examined from various viewpoints as a character, as a mirror on the Doctor, as a reflection on the audience, gender roles, and many more ways.
In the introduction the book’s editors by Gillian I. Leitch and Sherry Ginn, who also contributed, conceded that the most studied companions in the volume were from the “New Who” era than “Classic Who” but many of the more famous or infamous were included as well. The essays early in the book look at companions as a group before really focusing on individual companions. While getting an overall sense of the makeup of companions and their collective reactions to the Doctor is an important facet of examining them, the early essays came off as dry and laborious without really engaging the reader. Studies on gender roles—in which one acknowledges the debate surrounding Steven Moffatt’s alleged misogyny—are then the focus and only really click when making case studies of characters. It’s when the essays turn to studying companions themselves that the writing and arguments seems to make an impression. Essays about Sarah Jane Smith & Jo Grant, Rory Williams, and River Song are three of the strongest in the book. The last two essays of the book about “the companions who weren’t” and “companions in print” finish off the book on a strong note.
With the admitted focus on “New Who” companions as well as current showrunner Steven Moffatt as a result, the essays in which these factored heavily did not fully address the current state—as of 2014—of the show itself. As a fan and watcher of Doctor Who, one of things I found increasingly irritating and impacting my experience in viewing is the lack of a coherent narrative over the course of a season (series in UK). While this complaint would be an essay itself, to me the biggest factor in how current companions are viewed is not only how they are written but the quality of stories they are in. To me this was a missing dimension in the early essays in the book when they discussed the Moffatt era in particular and why I found early essays laborious, they weren’t address a key issue.
However my thoughts about the issues in the first third of the book; the latter two-thirds is where this book of essays takes off and makes the reader think. Yet even without a good fundamental grounding when look at companions on a whole, the study of them individually is undermined.
I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.
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