A Companion To The Doctor’s Companions: Tegan

Janet Fielding as Tegan and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa

For a while, in the handover from the Fourth to the Fifth Doctors, it was traditional for the companions to be known by their first name only: Leela, Romana, Nyssa, Adric, Turlough and so on. So it’s fitting that talkative Tegan Jovanka – who started her time aboard the TARDIS by attempting to actually use the phone to help a roadside emergency – should have a surname that was originally an alternative first name for her character. She always had a bit more to say than any of the other companions.

As we mentioned with regard to Leela, the role of the companion changed a lot during the 1970s; Tegan, as played by Janet Fielding, arrived in 1981, and she’s every inch the powerful ’80s woman who takes no nonsense from her slightly hippy-ish Time Lord friend. Rather than expanding her consciousness by travelling, Tegan works as an airhostess, and is simply biding her time in the TARDIS until she can be returned to her day job. That is why she spends so much of her time in that purple uniform, because she is supposed to be on her way to work.

With the Fifth Doctor displaying a less confident, frailer countenance than his bullish predecessor, he needs a companion who is unafraid to wade in with a strong opinion, even if it’s not always diplomatic to do so. And being Australian helps too. Nothing pleases a scriptwriter more than having a character whose job it is to keep the action ticking along because they have little patience for introspection. Or indeed people telling her what to do. Especially not when that person is Adric, who, let’s be frank, is just a bumptious 14-year-old, still in his pyjamas.

And she didn’t always wear the stewardess uniform either. Once it became clear that her time aboard the TARDIS would stretch out a bit (Tegan served aboard the TARDIS for three years and a month, a longer continuous run than any other companion, even though Jamie and Rose appeared in more individual stories), she started appearing in more conventional clothing. Or, as in this clip, unconventional clothing, especially with the Doctor still dressed for a few overs on the village green.

What she did always do was act as representative of anyone who watches science fiction on TV and wonders why they do what they do. Surely all of this running around and screaming could be better organised? There may be a narrative and it may need to unfold a certain way, but could it not at least try to make sense? Or as she puts it here, “I don’t like running into chambers that have ‘Radiation: Keep Out’ on the door”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL1DNPEz-xE

In this respect Tegan is the precursor to Donna Noble. She’s the sceptic that the Doctor has to win round – “brave heart, Tegan!” – and the moral compass, forceful enough to remind her Time Lord friend that he’s not above making a few mistakes. Oh, and she also shares with Donna the habit of coming a cropper with fortune tellers:

She’s not as journalistically inquisitive as Sarah Jane, nor as empathic as Rose, but she can see the Doctor needs the help of someone with a bit of common sense. And, as you can see from her final scene, he clearly feels the same way.

Here’s her final moment, and another stinging goodbye for the Doctor:

And as always, Tegan gets the last word.

Next: Turlough the traitor

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

See more posts by Fraser McAlpine