I’ve actually surprised myself by how much I’ve enjoyed writing about the Eighties Doctor Who companions. Perhaps it’s because I’m on quite an Eighties trip at the moment, perhaps it’s just because I remember these ladies from the first time around, but those early Eighties gals are really doing it for me right now.
Starting with the lovely, lovely Nyssa (Sarah Sutton, 1981-83). Nyssa is a criminally underrated companion of the old school variety. Perhaps it’s because she’s an alien, perhaps because she’s clearly the sweetest person ever to have graced the Tardis or perhaps it’s because she was so very much overshadowed by her fellow companions. Indeed, for the first time in a long time, the Doctor could barely get a word in edgeways between three different personalities.
Nyssa was a noblewoman from a planet called Traken, whose father’s body was stolen by the Doctor’s fellow Timelord, The Master. Brought back to the Doctor by his future self (long story) she saw her planet destroyed and, unlike so many other companions, really had no choice but to stay with the Doctor and her new friends. Ok, well Tegan. The less said about Adric, the better. Besides, he carks it soon enough. Hurrah! Ahem…..no, it’s very tragic and weepy and…..yes…….well.
Nyssa was adorable but highly intelligent and with that slightly alien quality, subtly played by Sarah Sutton, which separates her from the usual riff-raff humans who have tramped through the Tardis over the years. She also bore the brunt of the new decision for the companions to have set ‘costumes’ in a similar way to the Doctor. So for an entire season, Nyssa was tramping around in very subtle variations on her velvet flower fairy-esque ensemble from her first story. Gradually she lost bits and pieces, gained some more practical trousers and generally adapted a lot better than her fellow Tardis residents. But still, must have been a bit whiffy in there after a while?
Who do we think was the stinkiest of the three? I’m going to say….the teenage boy.
Eventually they saw sense though. After all, they did have two gorgeous young women on the books and what are gorgeous young women good for in Doctor Who? Yes, that’s right, dodgy fashion statements and gratuitous flesh-baring. Which Nyssa did to perfection. Her first foray into fashion is a slightly bonkers striped skirt, sailor shirt and gigantic pussy bow in Snakedance. Which I sneakingly love at the moment. You can see the crestfallen look on her face as the Doctor fails to notice her loveliness in her new get-up. Boo hiss Doctor. You’ll [probably] bonk the living daylights out of some guttersnipe like Rose Tyler but gorgeous Nyssa you ignore? Crazy fool.
Eventually she goes the way of all good companions. She randomly strips off to her underwear on Terminus and decides to stay behind to tend to the sick. To her credit, she hasn’t just fallen in love with some man she’s only just met (see Leela and…most of the others) but it’s still an abrupt end for such a good character.
The same cannot be said of Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding, 1981-84). Who the Doctor couldn’t bloody get rid of. Now I must confess that Tegan was my ‘first’ companion (alongside the ginger god that was Turlough….remind me to do a blog about the tasty men in Who over the years!) and therefore holds a little place in my heart. And I used to love her I’m sure. However, she doesn’t stand up to repeated viewing with the hindsight of much better companions before and since.
Tegan was an Australian air stewardess who accidentally wandered into the Tardis (Logopolis) thinking it was a real police box. The murder of her Auntie Vanessa, courtesy of The Master, and a few wrong turns on board the Tardis left Tegan unable to get back home. And didn’t she let us know it! Frankly I’m surprised he didn’t boot her out on some deserted planet, as she was clearly not the type to leave him after falling in love with a man she’s only just met [I’m not sure anyone could put up with her!].
She was also a fatality of the costume concept, and lumbered with the worst of the three. A ‘charming’ and wholly impractical purple air stewardess costume which probably never saw a spritz of febreze in its life! Eventually she got back to Heathrow to catch her flight, but realised (too late) that she really wanted to be in the Tardis instead. And that, it would seem, was that.
But oh no. The Doctor wasn’t so lucky, and she managed to find him again the very next season. Just when Nyssa had got him all to herself!! She returned without the uniform and with possibly the funkiest Eighties fashions of the entire era, which means she is rather forgiven for the whining and the pouting. It was all abstract print mini dresses, leather mini skirts, stiletto heels and big brassy fur coats, which are now starting to look a lot more charming than they did when I first started to rewatch the episodes back in the 90s. To her credit, she also makes a great statement by leaving. By this point there has grown a grudging respect between Tegan, Turlough and The Doctor. But the death and destruction becomes too much and she simply has to walk away. Brave heart Tegan!
I wanted her wardrobe as a five year old, and now I’m old enough to wear it – I think I want it again! Life is kinda good like that, isn’t it?
Next up was poor Peri (Perpugilliam Brown. Played by Nicola Bryant, 1984-86). Poor in threefold ways. Firstly she had about five minutes to enjoy the gorgeousness that was Peter Davison before he regenerated into cranky old Colin Baker. Secondly she spent most of her tenure wearing leotards and formal shorts and was first seen wearing an itty bitty pink bikini. The greatest victim of the one-for-the-dads mentality. Thirdly she had her head shaved, nearly carked it in a body swap storyline [which I still, to this day, cannot watch because it freaked me out so much when I was 7] and instead ended up married to Brian Blessed. Which is possibly a fate worse than death, I couldn’t possibly comment.
As I mentioned, we first meet the American botanist in Tenerife in a pink bikini. Of course! The only positive aspect to this for us ladies is that she needs rescuing, and Turlough does his thing in a wet t-shirt and skimpy speedos. Hurrah! We can immediately see the two big reasons why Peri remains such a popular companion in the face of being really rather whiney. I still can’t understand why writers and producers think that we want a companion who doesn’t seem to actually want to be travelling with the Doctor at all. Ungrateful hussies!
Saying that, she did have the most tetchy Doctor since Hartnell which makes her behaviour slightly more forgiveable. Although I must say that the sexual tension between the two is possibly the greatest I’ve ever seen on the show. Many may not agree with me, and perhaps it was more to do with Baker and Bryant’s natural off-screen chemistry but I find myself wanting them to end each big argument with a bit of ‘make up’ hanky panky.
“Hmmm, could have sworn the Tardis wardrobe contained more than skimpy leotards and formal shorts. Funny that. Can’t think where it’s all gone. You’ll just have to keep wearing them…..”
It had started off well enough in The Twin Dilemma, with a blousey tartan, err, blouse and a poufy mini skirt combined with black mid-calf boots. In fact, a very Autumn/Winter 2008 look which is possibly why I’m looking upon it so kindly.
Her only full season in 1985 showed us a dizzying array of leotards, stilettos and odd formal shorts. Fairly innocuous for the most part, but miserably impractical and not even that stylish for the time. I do remember wanting to wear my pink ballet leotard outside of ballet classes for the sole reason that Peri seemed to do the same thing. [Funnily enough, I do actually wear black leotards nowadays because they’re really rather awesome for wearing underneath skimpy Seventies tops and blouses].
There was one extraordinary costume in The Two Doctors which involved a tie front spangly top and headband, but the less said about that one the better. Anyone who says I secretly want to wear it is lying. Honest. *cough*
Apparently Bryant insisted that they cover her up a bit for the latter stories of the season, and they responded by insisting that she wear the same outfit two stories running (with the addition of an ‘interesting’ blue coat and beret for the snow scenes). It was a more tailored, burgundy jacket and black trousers, certainly a more stylish and sensible outfit for Miss Brown.
She returned for just two stories in the next season, and the covered up theme continued with a rather dapper looking striped jacket and blousey yellow top (plus newly permed hair and a gentler, more post-coital type of relationship with The Doctor). It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of this Peri because it certainly feels like a few years have passed and she’s grown up considerably from a girl to a woman. Buuuutttttt, aliens and Brian Blessed intervened and, as pleasure must always be balanced with pain, the next companion looked like this:
Now, now. Don’t get me wrong. I love Bonnie Langford (who played Mel from 1986-87), I really do. She seems lovely, hilarious and she’s looking pretty fab for her age now. But, she wasn’t suitable for Doctor Who. Lots of pantomime-style over-acting, nose-wrinkling and shouty delivery of her lines, not to mention feminism-obliterating thcweams, simply were not suited to the show. On the other hand, I think some of her stories are totally under-appreciated and she’s not unwatchable. She’s just…..well, Bonnie!
The character also had zilch backstory, appeared before she became his companion in some weird timey-wimey paradox and then left the Tardis to travel with a bit of rough called Sabalom Glitz. No hanky panky, just decided she wanted to reform him or something equally daft. Thus she really rather challenges Dodo for the most pointless companion with the most illogical departure.
She also had some truly, truly insane clothes. I’m not going to say they’re awful, they’re just very…..Eighties. Late Eighties. Not terribly good Eighties. But entertaining and cute in an odd sort of way. I’m not even sure where to begin and where to end. There were bows, lemon leisure suits, polka dots, studded denim and, my favourite, the biggest puffed sleeves known to the universe (left). I’ll admit it was precisely the kind of stuff I was ‘designing’ at the time, but then I was a child. And children do tend to think that polka dots and puffed sleeves are ceaselessly stylish. Which makes me wonder how old the costume designer was…..
“Kang outfits are well better than Mel outfits”
Eventually, Glitz waggled a studded shoulder pad in her direction and she left just as Ace (Sophie Aldred, 1987-89) arrived. Now this is where it gets really boring, because Ace marked a return to a stereotyped and costumed companion. Touted as a ‘streetwise’ teenager (example of streetwise-ness, she calls bad people ‘toerags’) and permanently kitted out in the biggest, blousiest black bomber jacket you’ll ever see in your life. She also had a ghettoblaster (didn’t think it could get funnier than toerags? Ha!!) and a wide range of shapeless t-shirts, tights and baseball boots.
To analyse it takes about 2 seconds, [t-shirts and leggings slowly gave way to slightly tighter off-the-shoulder tops and fitted jeans to show transition from girl to woman….that’s about it!] so unfortunately I must end my history of Doctor Who companion fashion with something quite lacklustre. Which I suppose is an appropriate metaphor for the way the show ended.
Ace’s fate is unknown, she was last seen walking off into the sunset with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in 1989…..still wearing that bloody bomber jacket!
So, that’s it for now. Only time will tell how history will view companion fashion in the Noughties, but I’m going to hazard a guess at…..badly. Not because they’re bad clothes, they’re just dull. Not representative of the era at all. Far too practical because, for all my comments about practicality, practicality is dull. We couldn’t have had bonkers Biba Jo Grant or the trip-tripping of Tegan’s stilettos running away from the Daleks without total impracticality. And I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having had those ladies in my life for inspiration as an impressionable child and teenager.