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It always makes me laugh when Whovians debate whether someone counts as a true companion or not, as if there’s a badge of service you get, after more than three trips in the TARDIS. Clearly the Doctor is a very friendly fellow, and so you can’t really say that everyone he meets counts, even though he treats pretty much everyone as a bosom buddy within seconds of first saying hello.
But whichever yardstick you may choose to measure these things by, you can’t deny there is something a little bit special about Craig Owens (played with endearing bewilderment by James Corden). Over the course of the last 50-odd years we’ve had companions who blundered into the Doctor’s life, companions who deliberately stowed away, companions whose delight in their new friend was so infectious he invited them for a trip and companions who were sent aboard to try and kill him.
What we’d not had before Craig was a companion who invited the Doctor to move in. A companion who was not interested by the idea of international travel, let alone intergalaxy. Craig isn’t really there to have his own horizons broadened, if anything he’s there to narrow the Doctor’s for a while.
Of course it all gets caught up in their first adventure together, the usual escalating panic that the Doctor is very familiar with. There’s a point at which it all comes to a head, quite literally: Craig, having had enough of his eccentric flatmate, needs a little catching up, and short of showing him around the TARDIS, the only option is to nut some sense into him:
Really, it’s from here that you can start to consider him a companion. He’s got more background information on the Doctor than many of the people who spent much longer travelling with him – even though they both know that he won’t be invited aboard, and nor would he want to go, especially as he has finally, thanks to the Doctor and the intervention of an alien spaceship, got the girl of his dreams – but they’re properly friends now.
And if you need your companions to exist across more than one story, well he does. Having found out his death is a fixed point in time, and realising his days are numbered, the Doctor once again indulges his sentimental side, and decides to spend some time with the people who have made a particularly strong impression on him, the people he feels closest to.
So he goes back to Craig for a visit (or so he says). Only this time, Craig has a companion of his own:
Of course, events once again conspire to muddy the reason he’s there in the first place and there’s another adventure, this time with some really old Cybermen, but even in the heat of battle, there’s still time for a little affectionate horseplay:
Remember, the primary role of a companion in this show, from Ian and Barbara through Jamie and Sarah Jane and up to Rose, Donna and beyond, is to stand next to the Doctor, the man who has seen everything, and look astonished. And this is because, from the perspective of the people sitting on the sofa watching everything unfold, what is happening is astonishing. It has to be, or there’d be no viewers.
Craig does this better than most, because he’s not the sparky, pretty girl rescued from a life of drudgery by a mysterious stranger, he’s US, the sofa-bound sci-fi fans with busy lives. If he wasn’t appearing in Doctor Who, he’d be watching it himself, assuming the baby wasn’t crying and there weren’t bottles to sterilise. And that’s why people saying he doesn’t count as a true companion are funny. If he’s not, then neither are we.
Next: Clara Oswin Oswald, the impossible girl (or girls).
See more posts by 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