Companions (with a captial C) have been part of Doctor Who since literally the first episode. While you can debate Susan’s place in that title given that she started traveling with her grandfather at the start and is probably more than just a Companion, you still have Ian and Barbara right at the first episode, unwilling as they were at the time. Companions come and go but thanks to regeneration only the Doctor and the TARDIS are constant, and there were a few times the Doctor unwillingly traveled without the TARDIS too.
In New Who not every Companion joins up immediately. They may be connected to the main Companion, usually romantically involved, though this being new Who it’s after the Companion tries to lock up with the Time Lord. I think Donna and Yaz are the only New Who women outside of comics, novels, and Big Finish not to try, and that’s because I’ve only caught old Who versions of the others outside of a few comics that kept the show’s Companions and the IDW run. The video below refers to these later travelers as “Secondary Companions”, but the episode “School Reunion” could slap another name on them: the Tin Dog, a reference to K-9. They only show up to help now and then, but two managed to become regular crew: Mickey Smith and Rory Williams. While Rory went on to be amazing on-screen, poor Mickey’s greatest adventures seems to happen off-screen.
In the following video by Harblo Wholmes we get an exploration of these two Secondary Companions and their path to rising above their status.
Poor Mickey had two things working against him. One is that he was in the way of the Doctor/Rose romance that Davies claimed was always in his plans…which just makes me wonder why Mickey was created in the first place. Rose loves the Doctor so much that she leaves her loving boyfriend? Doesn’t exactly endure her to those of us who already don’t like her, and I didn’t even mind the Doctor’s budding romance with Grace in the TV movie. The other is kind of a New Who curse that follows to different show runners and even the spin-offs: interspecies relationships are fine but when it comes to interracial ones the black person is going to die. Just by surviving Mickey wins…and then marries the black character who also once had the hots for the Doctor. I guess Martha got off lucky by the Doctor not going for it because a stalled interracial romance (or would this count as interspecies) seems to have saved her from the curse. It’s like the show is subconsciously telling black kids that dating white people will only lead to their doom, and that’s a terrible message to send.
Sadly, Mickey’s moments of greatness in the show were rare, with his strongest character change taking over for his Cybex universe duplicate “Ricky” in battling the alternate universe Cybermen. Since we don’t get to see those parts (hint, hint Big Finish Productions) we don’t get to see when Mickey becomes a badass but we know he does become one upon his return where he ends up joining UNIT, or is at least working freelance alongside his wife.
Contrarily, Rory succeeds where Mickey failed, maybe because both he and Amy are white and no I’m not letting that go. Mickey loses Rose (hardly a loss and if you ask me he traded up), gets his best years happen where we don’t see them, and is memorable for his mistreatment more than his stepping up. Frankly, Davies mistreated every Companion who wasn’t Rose, who he really wanted to get with the Doctor until Billie Piper decided to move on to other roles, Jack Harkness, who he was trying to spin-off into his other sci-fi show set in the Whoniverse, and Sarah Jane Smith, who he had a childhood love for and wouldn’t dare hurt because she’s still one of the most beloved Companions.
Rory gets to show his growth a bit more on-screen as we hear about his times as the Lone Centurion, which Big Finish is expanding on so I do hope they pick up my hint from earlier. He travels with the Doctor almost immediately when offered for the same reason some fans thinks Mickey should have, though Holmes does actually make a good case here why it actually benefited Mickey. I used to be one of those people until watching this video. Rory also ends up winning Amy from the Doctor and while Donna Noble fans may argue with me (speaking of Companions Davies did dirty) has probably the most awesome Companion moment in Who history.
When punching Adolph Hitler ISN’T your best moment, you are the embodiment of badass!
You could even make the case that K-9 himself no longer qualifies as the “Tin Dog”, or at least the Mark 1 doesn’t. In children’s books the Time Lords had K-9 use his own ship (K-Nel, which of course is a dog house spaceship Snoopy would be jealous of) to go on missions for them, while in the Australian K-9 series basically takes on the Doctor’s role of saving everybody. He even does that to a lesser extent in the other attempt to give K-9 his own show, but K-9 And Company is a bit of a disaster overall. So that’s a Companion who broke his own role and became awesome on his own.
While you can make the case that both Mickey and Rory are both simps for their respective love interests both manage to rise above it, with Mickey doing better in the long run but only after losing his longtime love while Rory…”tames” isn’t the right word but his character growth and show of devotion does make Amy better in the long run to where she “sacrifices” herself and her time with the Doctor to be with him, something Mickey only wishes would have happened. He had to find someone who got over the Doctor based on her own year of self-growth while Rose has almost no growth as a character, and I may just be trying to be generous because I can’t think of any proof of her growth outside of becoming the “bad wolf” to save the Doctor, and even that was in part about her.
While I’m not sure the timeline would allow for it (not that this series in either time didn’t forget its own continuity before) I would love to see Mickey and Rory team-up at the height of their awesomeness. Maybe Mickey is on a UNIT mission or has to rescue Martha. (Yes, this can still be done while not making her look weak. Have her attempt to escape at one point only to get caught at the last moment or something.) He comes across the Lone Centurion and needs Rory’s help. Rory is reluctant to leave Amy since she’s still in the Panorica but when he hears Mickey wants to save his wife and due to his own experiences he agrees. Or even have the bad guys get the Panorica as well and that leads to them teaming up. Have them bond over their shared experiences with the Doctor and explore their own paths growing out of being the Tin Dog. (Part of me wants to bring K-9 in for reasons explained earlier but that might take away from Rory and Mickey’s story. Maybe in a sequel.) The finale is a badass moment as Mickey and Rory rescue their wives and Mickey and Martha agree to keep Rory’s secret for Amy’s sake and their connection as Companions. Done right this could be awesome.
Someone call Big Finish. They need to be doing this.