There was a time in Doctor Who when companions came in two general ages: young to middle-aged adults and adolescents. The young adults were homogenous, defined by their jobs (teacher, scientist, astronaut), while the adolescents were variations on the motif of what might be called the ‘space orphan’. Adults were monogamous or celibate, the children pre-adolescent in emotional development and maturity. There was no hanky panky in the TARDIS, and when the opportunity threatened to appear, their landlord would ask for his key back.
Time passed, and things changed. The landlord acquired a new, younger body, no longer needing other grown men to carry out the work he couldn’t manage. His attitude towards his young companions was less grandfatherly and more along the lines of a mischievous uncle. The children grew up, but weren’t yet adults, because adults as they had been were quietly vanishing from the show. Instead these new older adolescents were caught in the twilight world of teen-to-‘tween late maturity. Just as youth culture in the outside world had emerged, blossomed and found expression in such movements as free love and pop music, and just as the new Doctor arrived sporting a culture-addressing mop top, so too the role of the companion evolved. The age of the Doctor Who beauty was born.
Early publicity photographs tell the story in themselves. The Doctor stands grim-faced, or pensive, mysterious, authoritarian. With his companions beside him, the group stare off into the distance, regarding some alien wonder or peril. Solo shots of companions are often static, less dramatic, and more self-conscious. Smiling, perhaps staring straight down the lens toward the reader, maybe (in the case of female companions) exposing an arm or leg. The exception to this is the ‘story teaser’ photograph, where a (usually female) solo companion is menaced by that week’s monster. Taking its cue from the first classic cliff-hanger to The Daleks are such variations as Vicki and Koquillion in The Rescue, Dodo and something unseen in The Savages, Victoria and an Ice Warrior in their debut, and Zoe and a Cyberman in The Wheel in Space. In each example the companion is young, female, alone and in danger. Iconic, arresting, perhaps titillating, the image is a slice of action permanently captured, voyeuristic with the helpless young woman on the brink of calamity. The last example of Wendy Padbury as Zoe is notable for not actually depicting a scene from her story. Instead it is deliberately contrived, indicating what would be in store for viewers in the immediate future: some familiar monsters, a new young companion in shapely form.
Zoe is a watershed companion, as unlikely as this may seem. While Polly’s ‘miniskirt and legs’ publicity shot is evocative of the times she is from and its icons (Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton), her on-screen costume is a fair summation of her career uniform and, like Tegan’s air stewardess outfit, is a reasonable approximation of real life attire as much as it fits a common male erotic fantasy (the secretary and the air hostess). She is a desirable modern woman, pure and simple. Zoe on the other hand comes from an imagined future – an unobtainable and sterile scientific one, with vitamin pills and electronic newspapers; it is itself a sort of fantasy fulfilment. Perhaps befitting a science fiction staple, her figure-hugging outfit is something of a wish fulfilment too – the costume designers would have had carte blanche in providing the much-vaunted ‘silhouette’ of her character. What they created was something that promised the future, but spoke very much visually of the present day. While her predecessor Victoria would have few changes of costume, and most of these of the sensible, practical kind – short skirts are seen rarely, Zoe’s outfits are invariably PVC skirts, a glittery full-body catsuit, a frilly miniskirt. Her petite frame, large eyes and (then fashionable) bob hairstyle provide visually an uneasy merging of the space orphan and the sexual woman. The companion matured into an object of desire. Returning to the initial costume, it reappears in another image, presumably from the same session – the actor shot from front on and above, looked down on but looking up smiling, coquettish, and dwarfed by the vinyl sofa she sits on. There are full length shots too, where Padbury’s character is shown closely grouped with her male co-stars; conventionally shorter than both of them, but again, never dressed so as to appear totally childlike – if not for the body suit and mini-skirts, the cut of some garments appear intended to show off the body in a very different way to Susan’s schoolgirl attire, or Vicki’s quasi-mediaeval garb. To some male fans the most memorable shot from The Mind Robber is not greatly plot related, but nevertheless finds itself replicated with some frequency in the series’ ‘clip shows’: the TARDIS fragmented, its console spinning in space, offering generous views of the new female companion’s curves as it slowly moves around.
In the series Zoe is paired with the ‘mischievous uncle’ of the Second Doctor, and also with the brave but unsophisticated Jamie – one is an intellectual match for her, the other about her age, but neither is appropriate in a romantic or sexual sense. Paired with Isobel Watkins in The Invasion, both girls enjoy an extended scene of ‘dress up’, taking photographs of each other (potentially another male fantasy, realised in the 1966 film Blow Up) before resuming the espionage action of the story. Times indeed were changing as the series responded to audience feedback and its audience itself was reaching young adulthood. Dalekmania had overturned Sydney Newman’s ‘no BEMs’ policy to deliver more monsters, more science fiction and fewer historical stories. A younger Doctor meant more action, more drama, more physical comedy, and more flash. Did more flash lead to more flesh? By the next Doctor’s era this seemed certainly the case, as even Liz Shaw’s hem lines rose within her tenure, and the crescendo was surely reached in Jo Grant, a virtual ‘Bond-babe’ by then in popular culture the required accessory dolly bid for the man of action. By the end of the Pertwee era, Women’s Lib apparently confounded things, and while it didn’t directly make its mark on the series, the choice of costume for Sarah Jane Smith, headstrong female reporter, did. Perhaps as a consequence of this bold new direction and reinvention, there are few publicity shots of Sarah Jane befitting the ‘TARDIS sexpot’ type.
In the world outside the TARDIS and the series, the female companions and their actor counterparts would eventually have to make their own mark as the latter sought to pursue roles distancing themselves from the double-edged sword that is being a Doctor Who girl. This world would be far different than anything imagined in the young years of the series – one instead where mature adult sexual relationships are the norm, if not the story of the day. It would be some time before aspects of this world would make their way into contemporary Doctor Who; for the mean-time then it remained by large a children’s series. With something extra for the Dads.