You’re far from home, so far from home. Spacially, temporally, you name it. Your only hope is a man you’re travelling with. He calls himself The Doctor, but you don’t know why.
Tragedy looms over him. You do find out he is the last of his kind. He’s a guilt bearer, and to his worst enemies he is a plague. But for you, he’s just a friend.
Rose Tyler was an ordinary woman working in a shop, until one day mannequins started coming to life. Miss Martha Jones was working toward a change of honorific when she found that honorific’s very incarnation. Donna Noble lived a simple life before the Doctor split it open. They learned about him at the pace of the audience, sometimes slower, and their development was central to the show.
And then comes Amelia Pond. More properly, here comes Steven Moffat. Amy doesn’t meet the doctor; the Doctor meets Amy. Objectively the story is both, but it’s from his point of view we see the in-between, the method behind the madness.
When did Amy find out that the Doctor killed the Time Lords? She just one day knew. She’s not the viewpoint, she’s just a part of his life. The proxy is gone, and he is the forefront. Moffat’s first few seasons have the audience as the companion – that’s normal, but not for Doctor Who.
River Song is the ultimate embodiment of this era’s take on traditional companions. Even when she first truly meets the Doctor, she knows all about him.
There’s a sense of wish fulfillment to it. With the companion perspective gone, there’s no longer a reset in the show’s assumed knowledge base. With the companions as more static characters, more time is spent changing and exploring the world. Give the Tardis a body, put the Doctor into an electric chess match, and why doesn’t he tell people his real name?
This era was flashy and self-indulgent, a break from the air of mystery and tension the show built over the years.
Then they tried to go back. Clara Oswald was kind of a transition companion. She starts out fairly normal – it’s more the mystery around her that takes the stage.
Then the mystery ends, and her own decisions take more of the stage. In her last series, she’s a sidekick who calls herself a superhero.
From there came the short story of Bill Potts. She didn’t quite get the focus she deserved, sharing the stage with Nardole and Missy, but she was the viewpoint for a good deal of it. Going forward, I hope to see more progress in this direction, a return to normalcy.
But we’re not there yet. While this last season had a strong companion viewpoint, it was also very caught up in a Big Question like the ones from 5-7. On one hand, lending a whole series to the Doctor and Master’s conflict allows for better progression than shoehorning it into a finale. But, a spaced out finale can create just as much depth.
In the end, Moffat’s focus on Doctor-as-protagonist gave us a closer look at the Doctor than any series before. While it’s overstayed its welcome as a change, I think it was a fun change of pace. The problems with delivery, characterization, and overall quality on some parts are plenty, but I don’t think it’s so bad if not every companion is the protagonist of the story.