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If you thought Amy and Rory were the Doctor’s first experience of love’s young dream, or the first companions to gang up on their Time Lord host and insist he behave with more human compassion, you could not be more wrong.
Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (played by William Russell and Jacqueline Hill) are two schoolteachers from London, who find themselves looking after a strange child who appears to know more about their respective specialities – science and history – than they do themselves. Her name is Susan Foreman, and when they choose to investigate her background, they discover that she’s the grand-daughter of a man with a strange blue box, which turns out to be a time-machine called the TARDIS.
(See A Companion To The Doctor’s Companions: Susan Foreman for more details and clips from the first ever Doctor Who story)
So, from the very start of the very first episode, we’ve a pair of close colleagues who are there to represent traditional human values in the adventures of these two aliens. Ian’s the dad and Barbara is the mum. When there are aliens to fight, ladders to climb, daleks to knock about and any other acts of strength and stamina to perform, Ian does them, because the Doctor can’t.
Similarly, when haughtiness, shouting and generally looking down your nose at everyone fails to get you what you want (the First Doctor can be astonishingly charmless), Barbara has the people skills and warmth to win the TARDIS crew new friends. Frankly, I’m amazed the Doctor and Susan, who is a little young, loud and impulsive, lasted as long as they did without them.
Here’s Ian acting the dutiful son-in-law:
Ian and Barbara are also there for the show’s first golden age, when the nation was hit by dalek fever. They’re the people the Doctor explains everything to, so that the audience understands as well. But that’s not all. Being science and history buffs, their debates with the Doctor are a bit informed, a bit lively, as their assumptions are overturned with regards to space and time respectively.
Which means, if it’s not too pretentious a statement, Ian and Barbara are not only humans experiencing the Doctor’s world for the audience, they’re also figurative representations of the two dimensions in which the TARDIS travels. They’re the magnetic north of the show’s early days, a fixed point in time and space which corresponds to that of the people watching, so you can see how far they’ve all travelled together, and fantasise about what you’d do in similar circumstances.
And if that seems a bit far-fetched, consider this, when they made the first Doctor Who movie Doctor Who and the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor and dispensing with all sorts of elements of back story, they still had Ian and Barbara (and Susan) as companions. In Daleks Invasion Earth – 2150, there was no Ian, but they recruited Bernard Cribbins (years before he played Wilfred Mott, Donna Noble’s grandfather) to play a policeman called Tom Campbell, and fulfil the same basic role. Although the Barbara role had turned into another relative for the Doctor, a niece called Louise.
Here, have a look, and marvel at how cheesy it all seems compared to the dark tone of the TV show:
And here’s their goodbye moment. One they don’t seem to find remotely sad, although their leaving seems to hit the Doctor quite hard, for all that he calls them “silly old fusspots.” Presumably he is well aware that their company has changed him as much as he has changed them.
In a recent episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, it was revealed that Ian and Barbara eventually got married, and that they never appeared to grow old. Which seems ample reward for teaching a grumpy old Time Lord the value of humanity.
Doctor Who fans in select cities can watch the series’ first time-traveling couple in action in September 29’s official classic screenings of 1964’s Doctor Who: Planet of Giants, which features Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Foreman returning to Earth. However, due to an accident with the TARDIS, the three companions discover they’ve shrunk in size and stand only an inch tall. And these miniature travelers now find dangers lurk at every turn, including a toxic insecticide that may imperil more than just bugs.
Fans can attend screenings on Saturday, September 29 in the following cities:
Indianapolis (in partnership with Who North America)
Los Angeles (in partnership with Nerdist Industries)
Next: Steven Taylor and Vicki.