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Ben and Dodo

PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Weston Thursday, 14 July 2011

Doctor Who Compandium

All the nice girls love a sailor apparently, but do all the nice boys love a long-extinct bird? This month two companions whose paths crossed briefly before both disappeared – one into time and space, the other to...who knows where?


Ben


Ben aka Able Seaman Ben Jackson. We first meet Ben in the Inferno Nightclub, one of the most ‘happening’ places in town (which doesn’t seem to have much happening, though the Doctor being likened to Jimmy Saville amuses). He’s not the happiest of fellows, being told he’s to be stuck ashore whilst his ship sails off to the Carribean. We do see immediately what type of person he is though when he steps in to assist Polly when she’s manhandled by another patron of the club. From here on in develops a rather sweet relationship between the two which continues as their time together progresses.


After becoming involved in the Doctor’s world and leaving (albeit unintentionally) to travel with him, Ben provides some much needed assistance to the older man. He appoints himself as Polly’s protector, a rather tender and romantic gesture, yet one which is never acted upon in any romantic way from either party. He gives Polly the affectionate nickname ‘Duchess’, and is always on hand to defend her should the occasion arise. In The Smugglers, for example, he launches himself at Spaniard without a second thought for his own safety, which is both heroic and gallant.


Ben is a man of action and ingenuity, rising to the challenge numerous times: witness his escape from the cell in The Smugglers by declaring the Doctor to be a wizard; the defence against the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet by rigging the projector and using the invaders’ own weapons against them; the defiance in the tearing of the documents in The Highlanders, and more besides.


What is interesting in Ben is that he’s the first contemporary male companion since Ian, yet is also a departure from the norm in that he’s not middle class. Here we have a ‘salt of the earth’ working class character with an accent to match. Ben is a regular guy, the kind you’d meet in a pub, the one who’s always looking out for his mates. He has an eye for a pretty girl, but is chivalrous towards them rather than condescending. His appeal is broad and we immediately like him.


His journey too is essentially that of the viewer, and if any new audience members had started watching with The War Machines, Ben’s reaction to his surroundings and events easily enable them to get up to speed on what the essence of the show is. Ben is thrust into the Doctor’s world fighting against computer-controlled machines, then accidentally ends up on board the TARDIS, the truth of which he – quite rightly – disbelieves. When finding himself in genuine historical danger, he has little choice but to believe the truth of what is happening.  Once he accepts this, the viewer does too, so cybernetic men from Earth’s twin planet are not too much of a stretch of belief either. Yet for his travelling companion to change his entire appearance...


Having someone onboard the TARDIS who sees and thinks like the viewer is a genuine masterstroke when it comes to the explanation of what has happened to the Doctor and the acceptance of said ‘fact’. At the end of The Tenth Planet, the viewer is as shocked as Ben and Polly when the Doctor states that, “It’s far from being all over,” and lies on the floor, his features changing into those of another man. Like the viewer, Ben is unconvinced that this person is the same one they’d been previously travelling with, and it takes a while before he’s able to accept the fresh-faced, ‘rejuvenated’ man as the Doctor. It would have been a huge shock to the audience, and harder still to accept this, yet Ben is on that journey with the viewer. Since he finds it hard to believe and accept, it’s perfectly fine for the viewer to do the same. He helps the viewer through the transition, and both he and those watching come out the other side far more assured than they went in.


Ben’s role does sadly diminish somewhat once Jamie arrives on the scene, as was inevitable with a large crew on board the TARDIS once again. Ben still has his moments (after all it is he who traps Zaroff in The Underwater Menace, preventing him from destroying the Earth!), yet the dynamic of the TARDIS crew has been irrevocably altered. He undoubtedly has a part to play in his last three stories, but each time his role is diminished further. He gets to do the male companion part almost solo in the first half of The Moonbase when Jamie is in the sickbay, though the second half sees him and Jamie sharing the role once again. In The Macra Terror, he’s ‘conditioned’ for part of the plot (so essentially not himself), and he disappears two episodes into The Faceless Ones, only to return at the end and leave the Doctor’s company.


It’s a rather ignominious end for the character after he possessed so many qualities to make him a truly memorable companion. Had Ben been given more time alone with Polly (no, not like that!) and the Doctor, then he’d most likely be better remembered and loved. Ben showed great promise, though wasn’t given room to develop fully, which is a sad fact.


For me, Ben will be remembered as a bold move away from the standard companions of the past, and his relationship with Polly was a rather wonderful move in a new direction for the show that wouldn’t be touched upon for some time. He was identifiable to the viewers and a great aid in the biggest transition the show had seen up to that point.


Calling sailor Ben, your time is up.




Dodo


Dodo aka Dorothea Chaplet. Another contemporary companion, this time brought in to accompany space pilot of the future Steven Taylor. Dodo also stumbled upon the TARDIS by accident and again, thinking it to be a real police box, she enters the ship and ends up leaving with the Doctor. She’s also responsible – at least in part, for Steven staying onboard the TARDIS – which is certainly no bad thing.  When at the end of Bell of Doom it is
revealed that she is most likely a descendant of the maidservant befriended by Steven  in 16th century France, it’s almost a healing point in the Doctor and Steven’s relationship, and this young girl is to be thanked for that. However, from then on out, Dodo doesn’t ever truly fit.


The trouble with Dodo is that we know so little about her. Whereas we do get an introductory story of sorts for Ben, all of Dodo’s explanatory dialogue is crammed into the back end of Bell of Doom. We learn where she’s from and who she is in the space of a couple of minutes, and we learn little more from then on. Indeed in her first adventure onboard The Ark, the crew step out and are immediately exploring their new surroundings. While it is interesting to see Dodo’s reactions (initially she thinks they’ve landed in Whipsnade Zoo), we learn little more about her background. Indeed it’s hard to discern exactly where she’s meant to be from, her accent veering so wildly back and forth along the M1 and beyond.


While Ben was always clearly a ‘working class’ lad, Dodo’s background seems to change from story to story (and often in the same one). The fact that there seems to be no clear definition of where she’s from may be a small niggle, but it’s an undeniably distracting flaw that doesn’t aid in the believability of the character. Whether an in-joke or irony, in The Gunfighters, Dodo appropriates an American accent (of sorts) which doesn’t last the whole story, and the character is back to her usual (or what appears to be at least the most used overall) accent, talking in RP once more. It’s quite amusing since it’s almost a mirror of what happens with the character’s accent throughout her – short – time aboard the TARDIS.


Quibbles about Dodo’s geographical origins aside, she is not a dislikeable person. She’s certainly inquisitive and is immediately exploring the world outside the TARDIS in The Ark without a thought as to what could be lurking outside. It’s either impetuousness or bravery, though the latter seems more likely, not least due to her actions in The Gunfighters. Holding Doc Holliday at gunpoint with his own weapon, she demands he take her back to Tombstone. The good Doc is more impressed by her pluck than anything and agrees to her demand despite the fact that he could have shot her at any time. It’s nice to see her try and ultimately succeed in such a venture, despite the foolishness of said action.


In personality terms, Dodo seems to be almost a surrogate granddaughter for the Doctor in the way that Vicki was previously. Yet, in doing this, it shows the limitations in repeating the formula once more. Susan was obviously introduced to be an identifiable character to the younger viewers, and Vicki was created to be the same. What was interesting about Vicki was that she was more successfully executed and well-rounded as a character than Susan. In Dodo all the good done with Vicki is lost and we have a poor copy of Susan, lacking the elements that made Vicki a success. It’s unfortunate that this is the case as it does Dodo no favours, and shows why her time with the Doctor was so short-lived.


Dodo was ill-served by her time on the TARDIS, and while the stories she appears in are fairly diverse in their content, sadly Dodo’s role is not. She and Steven make a fairly agreeable pairing, but again the comparison with Vicki is an unflattering one, with the new companion again coming off worst. It may not help that she nearly destroys the human race in her first story, but it’s more the lack of any originality in the devising of her character that means she isn’t as well remembered or liked as other early companions are.


The true sadness of Dodo though is her unceremonious exit. While she wasn’t the most original of companions, she didn’t deserve the indignity of not even being written out properly. When Dodo disappears to ‘recover’ off-screen in episode two of The War Machines, there’s absolutely no indication that we’ll never see her again. Yet, that’s precisely what happens and it’s left to new companions Ben and Polly to explain away Dodo’s disappearance. It’s unfair and unfitting – Dodo wasn’t perfect, but to dismiss her offhand was far from deserved.


She may have only lasted for four and a half stories and will never be remembered as one of the greats, but Dodo has left her own rather unique mark on the history of Doctor Who: Adric may have wiped out the dinosaurs, but it’s Dodo who nearly destroys all of humanity.

Gone the way of the...


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