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A Companion To The Doctor’s Companions: Polly And Ben
Polly and Ben both arrived in the TARDIS at the same time, having been thrown together by conflict (and a new friend who needed taking out for a drink). By the time they left the Doctor, a year later, they had become inseparable. And the Doctor was no longer the man he had been a year beforehand.
They came from very different circumstances. Polly – played by Anneke Wills – was the middle class secretary to an inventor called Professor Brett, the inventor of an artificial intelligence called WOTAN. At the time, the Doctor has only one traveling companion, a young girl called Dodo, and when the pair turn up to investigate Professor Brett’s invention, Polly offers to take Dodo out for a night on the town. It is here that she meets Ben – played by Michael Craze – a sailor from the working class East End of London.
Here is their very first meeting, in which Ben bemoans a his confinement to barracks and Polly gets on his nerves, and then, when she gets aggressively chatted up by a chancer, Ben duffs him up.
Somehow, this Neanderthal charm works on Polly, and Ben seems equally keen. He thinks she’s elevated and posh and quickly takes to calling her Duchess, and he sets about protecting her. For her part, she seems to like his honesty and can-do attitude, although she can take care of herself too. They never talk about becoming a couple in the series, but it’s fairly clear once they accidentally make their way aboard the TARDIS (they went to return Dodo’s key after she leaves, the defeat of WOTAN being her last adventure) they share the same goal, to get back home again and start life afresh, together.
That is, unless the Doctor needs any help in the meantime. I mean, she’s used to serving a scientist, and he is a man of duty: traveling on board the TARDIS feels very natural to these two.
Here they are, doing battle with some startling new foes, the Cybermen:
Ben and Polly are also the first companions to witness the plot device that has ensured Doctor Who’s continuation and success over the past 50-odd years: regeneration. And it came out of necessity. William Hartnell had become unwell, and too frail to keep filming, and this meant the show, which was a huge hit, faced an uncertain future. It’s one thing to replace fellow travelers on the TARDIS, but surely you can’t get away with replacing the lead actor, in the title role?
Well, as we all now know, you can, especially if you deliberately choose actors who are entirely different to one another. But no one was sure how the first regeneration would sit with the audience. Ben and Polly’s role, as is the primary role of all Who companions, is simply to sell the unbelievable events to an easily confused audience and make them seem acceptable.
Sadly the episode in which the Second Doctor has regenerated is one of the many which were deleted, but the soundtrack exists. Here’s an oddly Monty Pythonish recreation of that episode, in which Ben and Polly (and the audience) experience the first regeneration for the first time:
In terms of keeping the audience from wandering off, it probably helped that their first adventure together was called Power Of The Daleks too, of course.
Ben and Polly may not be remembered quite as fondly as iconic companions like Jamie or Zoe, and they may not ever turn up in a future adventure (although let’s not rule anything out, especially with the 50th anniversary looming), but they were the first humans to witness the regeneration of a Time Lord, and that ain’t nuffink, as Ben might say.
Here is what remains of their last goodbye.
Next: Jamie McCrimmon, a warrior from the past