It’s been a long hiatus for Doctor Who fans, but the series is back with a new 60th anniversary special called Doctor Who: The Star Beast. This is the first of three specials that will feature the Tenth Doctor performer David Tennant appearing as a new Fourteenth Doctor. Tennant’s Doctor is also joined by Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble, his former companion from the fourth season.
The Doctor has had numerous companions for his time travel adventures over the last six decades. But when compiling this list of the seven best Doctor Who companions, we decided to stick with the companions from the modern revival series that started in 2005. There is only one exception to that rule, and that’s because the character in question had the unique chance to play a major role in both classic Doctor Who and in the modern era. But if you want to know who landed the top spot, you’ll have to keep on reading.
Most of the male Doctor Who companions don’t get the same attention that the women do. There is, of course, one major exception in the modern era: Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). When the Doctor and Rose Tyler first met Captain Jack, he was just a renegade Time Agent turned con man from the 51st century. But Jack showed enough redeemable qualities that the Doctor and Rose gave him a second chance and they saved his life before letting him travel with them on the TARDIS.
Through his experience on the TARDIS, Jack turned over a new leaf as a hero and he sacrificed his life to save innocent people from the Daleks. When Rose briefly had god-like powers, she resurrected Jack and unknowingly turned him into an immortal. When Jack eventually settled down in the present day, he headlined the Torchwood spinoff series and remained one of the Doctor’s closest friends.
Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones was the second modern companion of the Doctor who fell in love with him. But Martha was more than just some lovelorn woman, she was an accomplished medical student whose knowledge proved to be critical on more than one occasion. In the third season finale, Martha even spent a year alone after the Master (John Simm) captured the Doctor and dominated the world. It was only through Martha’s efforts that the Master was deposed and the Doctor was restored. Martha subsequently told the Doctor how she felt, and why she was leaving him because she knew he didn’t return her feelings.
After parting ways with the Doctor, Martha further proved her mettle as a member of Torchwood and UNIT. She was last seen in The End of Time Part 2 fighting a Sontaran alongside her husband, Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), who was also a previous companion of the Doctor’s.
Not everyone gets a second chance to travel with the Doctor. But after initially turning down the Doctor’s offer to go with him in space and time, Donna Noble instantly regretted it and made it her mission to find him again. In the fourth season, Donna succeeded and finally got her wish. Because she had no romantic interest in the Doctor, they were truly friends without any hint of potentially becoming lovers. Donna just wanted to keep having adventures with the Doctor for the rest of her life.
However, no one gets to stay with the Doctor forever. After Donna saved the universe and received Time Lord knowledge that made her the Doctor’s equal, the Doctor was forced to wipe Donna’s memory of their time together or else she would have perished. The new Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials will reveal whether it will ever be safe for Donna to fully remember her time as the Doctor’s best friend.
While most of the Doctor’s modern companions fall for him, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) apparently wanted to be him. “The Impossible Girl” became fast friends with the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), who had met Clara two times previously in other lives that she had no idea existed. It was eventually revealed that Clara saved the Doctor’s life across multiple eras by jumping into his timeline and allowing herself to be scattered into multiple incarnations. That’s a level of dedication that few could ever match.
Clara’s friendship with the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) was initially strained, but she eventually started molding herself after him. Clara’s fearlessness ended up getting her killed, but the Doctor refused to let her story end that way. Because of that, Clara got a chance to become her own kind of hero, with a TARDIS and a companion of her own. Perhaps we’ll even see her again one day.
The first two seasons were all about Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, as the show largely used her as the audience surrogate as she entered the world of the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston). Rose also stayed with the Tenth Doctor through the end of season 2. She quickly embraced the Doctor’s self-appointed task to save everyone they could on their travels, and Rose fell in love with him along the way.
It’s also clear that the Doctor reciprocated Rose’s feelings for him, but they were separated by a barrier between alternate worlds which left both of them heartbroken. Rose returned in the fourth season to help the Doctor save the universe once again, and he gave her the chance for a happily ever after with his exact duplicate.
If this list was based on the entirety of Doctor Who, then Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith would be the clear winner at no. 1. Sladen made her first appearance in the franchise in 1973 as the companion for the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), and she remained with the series when Tom Baker’s wildly popular Fourth Doctor was at the center of the show.
Sarah Jane was the first companion from the classic era to return for the Doctor Who revival series for a guest appearance in season 2. Sladen also reprised her role in the two-part fourth season finale alongside all of the modern series’ companions up to that point. But the reason why Sarah Jane lands at number 2 without considering her time with the classic series is that she was the only full-time companion to get her own series: The Sarah Jane Adventures. It took a long time for Sarah Jane to be recognized for her heroism, but she earned that spotlight. Unfortunately, The Sarah Jane Adventures came to an abrupt end in season five when Sladen passed away. But the legacy of her character endures.
In the modern era, Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond is the best companion that the Doctor has had. Almost all of the companions have saved the Doctor at one point or another. But how many can say that they literally willed the Doctor back into existence? Amy did that, and a whole lot a lot more.
Because the Doctor crashed outside her house when she was a child, Amy was the first person to meet and bond with the Eleventh Doctor. Unfortunately for Amy, she had to wait seven years to see the Doctor again, and then another two years before she ran away with him to go exploring in time and space… on the eve of her marriage to Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill).
Although Rory eventually joined Amy on the TARDIS and proved his worth as a companion, it was Amy who brought out the best of the Doctor and in herself as well. Gillan made such an impression in the role that she has since gone on to even greater stardom as Nebula in all three of the Guardians of the Galaxy films and the last two Avengers movies. Maybe someday she’ll come back to Doctor Who for something more than a cameo.
Watch Doctor Who seasons 1-13 on Max. New episodes will stream on Disney+ starting with Doctor Who: The Star Beast on November 25.
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