The Doctor Who companions have been just as important as The Doctor to the success of the long running British sci-fi series. They act as a foil to The Doctor, and offer audiences a way into the Time Lord’s adventures through the furthest reaches of time and space. Of course, there are episodes (like Midnight) in which the companion is sidelined, but more often than not they are the main character just as much as The Doctor is.
In the upcoming Doctor Who season 14, Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th Doctor will be joined by a new companion. The 15th Doctor’s companion will be called Ruby Sunday, and will join the Gallifreyan in the TARDIS. But what about the Doctor Who companions of the past? How do they compare to each other, and who is the best?
Doctor Who companions of the revival era ranked from worst to best
- Bill Potts
- Amy Pond
- Rose Tyler
- Martha Jones
- Donna Noble
The problems with Dan as a Doctor Who companion are in line with the rest of companions that accompanied the 13th Doctor: a lack of personality, depth, consistency, and motivation. With poor old Dan, the issue is that he gets dealt the worst hand of all. He is a character who is only memorable by quite how forgettable he is.
Even The Doctor couldn’t seem to care less about him. She drops Dan off in Liverpool with his house having been destroyed, and never thinks about him ever again.
The worst thing about Ryan is that he had potential: a story about a young man grieving the recent loss of his grandmother and struggling to build a relationship with his step-grandfather should be a strong foundation for an emotive storyline which is simple to invest in.
However, this was hamstrung by bad dialogue, coupled with thread-bare characterisation, an iffy performance, and a half-hearted arc. With that nasty cocktail, Ryan was always doomed to be one of the worst companions. The character simply has nothing going for him.
In theory, Yaz isn’t a bad companion. Mandip Gill puts in the best performance of the era and regularly elevates her less-than-inspiring dialogue. While she does lack the personality and sense of depth that, for example, Martha often displays, she’s passable as a Doctor Who companion.
What’s more, she even gets the whiff of an arc which centres on her growing romantic feelings towards the un-reciprocating Doctor. But the conclusion to that is so ill-conceived and poorly executed that it’s a genuine insult to audiences. Queer-baiting is a term that’s often misused, but when it comes to their relationship, there is just no other term that so aptly applies.
Graham ranks higher than the other Chibnall-era companions solely thanks to Bradley Walsh. While Graham himself is just as bland, wooden, and unremarkable as Ryan or Dan, Walsh’s performance means that the character still always conveys a warmth and wisdom.
This is, I think, thanks to the actors’ eyes which genuinely sparkle with emotion. Even when he’s being forced to recite the worst form of Chibnall dialogue (in which a companion simply says what’s just happened, as if the audience didn’t see or hear it), he manages to make it sound like it’s something that an actual human might actually say.
So, despite having almost nothing to work with, it’s hard not to feel a sense of connection to Graham. In a period in which it was so difficult to connect to Doctor Who characters, that can’t be taken for granted and was always a huge relief.
It’s always fun to have a character in the TARDIS crew who isn’t a human, so Nardole brings a fun and fresh sense of novelty to the events of the 12th Doctor’s final season. He balances well with The Doctor’s seriousness, and Matt Lucas is an entertaining-enough watch. And yet, he’s a character that feels like a character.
He’s two-dimensional and lacks depth. If he were a guest star in one episode, or two, that would be overlooked. But, because he takes on the status of a certified Doctor Who companion, that flaw is hard to get past.
Amy Pond and her husband Rory often come as a joint package, so it is difficult to rank Rory on his own. Rory is funny and grounded, often acting as the audience’s eyes into the wild adventures of The Doctor. He’s also likeable, and it’s easy to root for a more simple character who is overshadowed by the brilliance of The Doctor and recognises that fact.
Despite that, Rory is often an afterthought within the writing, and while that is sometimes intentional within the stories, it can leave the character feeling like a spare part and one that could be ditched without too much of an issue. Still, the gap between him and the companions above is immense.
Bill Potts is the archetypal companion. She has her own personal challenges, she looks up to the Doctor with a combination of adoration, curiosity, and fear, and she yearns for something more. You can imagine her with any Doctor, and she wouldn’t be much different.
That’s a good thing because it allows us to focus on the development of The Doctor. However, it does leave her feeling a tad unremarkable, like she could be substituted in or out for any other companion at any given time.
Still, she’s a lot of fun to be around and was a breath of fresh air after the saga of Clara. She’s a good companion, and it would have been nice to see more of her.
Karren Gillian gives one of the best performances in modern Doctor Who, and it’s no surprise that she would go on to leave the sci-fi series and become one of the most important MCU characters in the Marvel superhero movie series.
Beyond that, Amy Pond is a compelling character who shares a complex (and relatable) relationship with The Doctor, who is often at his most charming in her presence.
Clara’s dynamic with the 11th Doctor is nothing new, and often she comes across like a fictional character rather than a real human being (especially compared to Rose, Martha, and Donna, who do all feel real). For that, you can thank Stephen Moffat and his insistence on the ‘impossible girl’. Impossibly annoying, more like.
Then, Clara pivots. Her relationship with the 12th Doctor is a total shift, and suddenly feels original and unique. The friction between the pair as they try to navigate a new way forward is compelling, as is the fact that – very often – they just don’t like each other.
Above all, though, the best thing Clara Oswald brought to the table was the idea that the Doctor and their companion can make each other worse. So, despite faltering at the beginning, Clara ended up being one of the more memorable and worthy Doctor Who companions.
Rose Tyler almost has to take up two slots on this ranking because she’s so different between her two seasons. In season one, paired alongside the damaged 9th Doctor, she’s pitch-perfect. The pair dovetail in emotional and satisfying ways and genuinely grow together too. She truly feels like his companion rather than someone who just enjoys hopping into the TARDIS every now and then.
But, she does shift in her second season with the 10th Doctor. Rose loses a lot of what made her fun there, and her conclusion comes at the right time. Thankfully, that conclusion is an excellent one.
That, alongside her outstanding contribution to the first season, means that she’s pretty much established the template of what a companion should be in the revival era.
Martha Jones has one of the most well-established and satisfying story arcs in Doctor Who. Her love for The Doctor was never reciprocated, but instead of continuing to tag along, she stuck up for herself and her own sense of self-worth.
She made it perfectly clear that she valued her own dignity over adventures with an alien who would never give her the love and attention she deserved. Sorry, Yaz.
Her decision to leave was her own choice – something rare – and she left with her head held high. Martha Jones’s exit still stands as one of the greatest Doctor Who companion moments in the history of the series.
Donna gives as good as she gets, and that’s the main reason why she’s here. She’s one of the few companions who stands up for herself against the often-arrogant, often-bullish 10th Doctor, and she manages to shine just as brightly as he does in all moments.
Donna also gets the most emotional moments of any companion, and they come both as big crescendos and in more normal moments too. She’s funny, kind, smart, and she’s the perfect foil to the 10th Doctor. Their dynamic will never be beaten, and their reunion is one of the most exciting things about the upcoming Doctor Who 60th anniversary.
For more on Doctor Who, check out our guide to the scariest Doctor Who episodes. Or, in preparation for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary, take a look at our explainer on Beep the Meep.