A Companion To The Doctor’s Companions: Steven Taylor and Vicki
It’s always tough to be the first replacement in a winning team. The staggering success of Doctor Who’s first series, way back in 1964, created a certain mythology around the key four characters, the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara. And when you consider this was a time before the idea of interchangeable companions (and interchangeable Doctors) the arrival of a new face among the team was a big deal.
In fact, when Carole Ann Ford elected to leave the TARDIS in 1964, the production team of the time sought to find a replacement for the young, headstrong Susan, to keep the chemistry going. Enter Vicki (a girl whose surname was never made clear), a teenage orphan from the 25th Century, who ably filled the gap left in the Doctor’s life by the departure of his granddaughter.
Of course, Susan was more used to the ways of the traveling Timelord than Vicki – played by Maureen O’Brian – and so for the first few adventures, she took a passive role, hiding behind Ian and Barbara and generally bringing the screams. But the Doctor soon took her under his wing:
By the end of the second series, in a story called The Chase, it’s Vicki that persuades the Doctor to allow Ian and Barbara to use a Dalek time machine to return to 1963. And of course, they’ve all met Steven Taylor by then.
Steven, played by Peter Purves, was a space pilot who’d been marooned on the planet Mechanus for two years by the time the Doctor gets there. After Ian and Barbara make their way home, he stows away on the TARDIS in order to get off the planet, and becomes the Doctor’s latest traveling companion. But Steven isn’t just a replacement for the unimpressable Ian. His chiselled jawline and action man antics place him closer to Captain Jack in attitude, albeit a Captain Jack with a firmer grasp of right and wrong, and less of an overactive libido.
Of course, the departure of Ian and Barbara cut all ties with the then current era, which means that everyone traveling aboard the TARDIS comes from a different place and time to the people watching the show. The idea that anyone was needed to relay the intensely alien nature of the situations the travelers encountered was quietly dropped for the time being. So the arrival of Steven marks the point at which Doctor Who becomes confident enough to take risks with its own formula.
And with Vicki leaving at the end of The Myth Makers in order to start a new life as the actual Cressida opposite the original Troilus, the idea that the show had to be about an old man, a young girl and a couple from nowadays had been entirely flushed away, like so much Dalek eyewash.
In fact, the next couple of years would see an intense changeover of companions. Steven’s morality, played against the Doctor’s whimsical cantankerousness, sees him leave the TARDIS on the very next trip, when the Doctor fails to prevent the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 16th Century Paris, even though he knows it will happen. He eventually comes back, to travel with the Doctor and their new friend Dodo for a few more adventures, here they are at the mercy of The Celestial Toymaker:
In the end, the traveling life is not for him, and he chooses to settle on a planet ruled by Elders and Savages, and use his do-goodery to try and forge a new, cooperative society. But he and Vicki will always be the ones who help break the formula. Over the next few years, there would be two companions, one male and one female, and eventually, just the one.
Peter’s services to Doctor Who did not end there. In the course of his duties as the presenter of the BBC Children’s show Blue Peter (no relation) he interviewed many of the cast over the years. Here he is talking to Jon Pertwee about the Whomobile, in 1973, the year of the show’s 10th anniversary.
By which time, even the Doctor had been replaced. Twice!
Next: Dodo Chaplet, the Rose Tyler of her day (sort of).