Image Description: The 1980s TARDIS prop
By Adam Povey
Until recently, “I love Team TARDIS” was not a phrase that got me much respect among Whovians. The era of Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan wandering the universe with a celery-enthusiast is not highly rated. Though Season Nineteen isn’t as maligned as many of those that would follow, it is often overlooked. Memories seem to be dominated by squabbling and tetchy companions working through overwritten scripts on the cheapest sets the BBC could use. Why spend time with a team of companions so dull that one would often be written out of an episode entirely?
In part, this fondness comes from my love of all periods with a three-companion TARDIS. In capable hands, the three-companion format provides a canvas on which to draw a more engaging world than the typical Doc plus one arrangement. As you encounter up to four perspectives of an Aztec city, the wastelands of Skaro, or, uhm, Marinus, we see Ian, Barbara, and Susan exemplifying different ideals of humanity: they inspire the downtrodden, bridge ancient rivalries, and empathise with the unknown. By being examples of awesomeness, these three started the Doctor on his path from a suspicious but curious old man into a legendary hero; The Timeless Children notwithstanding. Though Chris Chibnall mostly focuses on the inter-relationships of Whitaker’s TARDIS, the episodes that split up the companions, like It Takes You Away and The Haunting of Villa Diodati, are among the best received and emotionally effective. Collectively, the Teams TARDIS have left me with some of the clearest memories of alien worlds and far-off cultures in the whole show.
The Davison crew both do and don’t do this. While a number of perspectives provide a more nuanced look into the planet of the week, it also means the writer has to find something for everyone to do. That’s hard. Can’t we just leave Adric in the TARDIS doing some sums? Could Tegan just have a nap? Once we’ve got the plot moving, they can head out on their own and encounter this week’s antagonist. Job’s done, and we’re down the pub early.
With their somewhat neglected scripts, however, many feel that Team TARDIS take travelling with the Doctor for granted. This is perhaps the greatest sin of a companion, as they no longer represent the viewer. More often than not, though, Team TARDIS react in the way I think I would. Travelling all of space and time would be amazing, but I too would insist on going home if that trip started after walking into a kiosk by the motorway. There might be a bright new world outside those doors but, after five planets of death, I can sympathise with Adric’s desire to stay inside with some familiar and unthreatening mathematics.
That’s the heart of what I love about Team TARDIS – they’re not well suited to being companions. Adric is eager to prove himself, and help those in need, but he never gets the chance to grow out of the selfishness of childhood. Tegan longs to see the beauty of the universe, but like a tourist so she can go home at the end of the day. The only life Nyssa ever knew was destroyed by the Master, and travelling with the Doctor avoids the terror of starting a new life. They’re young, inexperienced, and avoid facing adulthood by travelling – truly a TARDIS for millennials. It’s appropriate that this era is when we get one of the rare glimpses into a companion’s bedroom. Too mundane a setting for most stories, but a much needed safe haven for someone that travels in infinity. So, despite their stilted dialogue, I find Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa some of the most human companions.
Though hiding from “real life” is a common motivation in the show, Team TARDIS don’t do this through uplifting character moments over a soaring chorus. They fail and have to learn from their mistakes. They mourn the dead. None of them treat travelling with the Doctor as a calling. They simply try to make the universe, and themselves, a little bit better every day. I can relate to that.