For those of us who’ve been avoiding Doctor Who spoilers this series, the ending of Saturday’s episode, The God Complex, may have come as a surprise. To others, perhaps not, as last week’s The Girl Who Waited dropped some pretty big hints that the Ponds may have been outgrowing the TARDIS.
Writer Toby Whithouse pulled off an unusual feat for Doctor Who. He showed Amy’s faith in the Doctor being truly and comprehensively destroyed – because if any vestige of it remained, the minotaur wouldn’t have been defeated – and yet still she departed as the Doctor’s friend. “What’s the alternative?” the Doctor asked as he dropped Amy and Rory off at a shiny new home. “Me standing over your grave?”
With a few exceptions, the tendency seems to be one or the other – the companion goes through a harrowing experience and decides to halt their travels with the Doctor, or their travels come to a natural end and they part ways. It’s a little premature to call those final scenes one of the greatest departures the series has offered, especially as we can almost be certain that Amy and Rory will be present in some way for the finale, but it was nicely written nonetheless.
From a completely subjective point of view, though, we present our top ten greatest farewell scenes. Sometimes they leave because they should, or because they find someone else. Sometimes, they forget him. And sometimes, they wind up married to Brian Blessed. Here are some of their best parting shots.
10. Adam Mitchell: The Long Game
You can make the case that any list of favourite Doctor Who moments that is long enough to include Adam is too long, but there’s an argument for its inclusion. As satisfying as Amy and Rory’s departure scene was, it’s great to get a glimpse of the Doctor outright booting someone out of the TARDIS for once.
In retrospect, The Long Game is an underrated and perfectly enjoyable mid-series episode that Russell T Davies penned during the first year the series was back on air. Adam joined the TARDIS crew at the end of the previous episode, and he struck out in spectacular fashion by trying to hijack some futuristic tech and endangering the lives of the Ninth Doctor and Rose in the process.
With no help from their dummy of a mate, the dynamic duo win the day, and don’t have much time for Adam thereafter. Rather than ejecting him from an airlock as he feared, the Doctor delivers some poetic justice by dropping him back on contemporary Earth with a fully functional portal to his brain, activated by a simple click of the fingers. Adam wanted to know it all, and now he has to lie low in order to avoid being dissected.
Adam was always designed as a “Companion who couldn’t”, and although he’s not the most memorable character, the pay-off to his sheer ineptitude is more than worthy of mention.
9. Adric: Earthshock
Adric’s only so low on the list because he doesn’t technically have a farewell scene at all. He doesn’t so much depart the series as drop out of it, crashing and burning, before extinguishing the dinosaurs in a mighty, prehistoric collision with the Earth. If we were to discuss his farewell scene, it would be a discussion of that scene where he shakes hands with the Doctor on the freighter.
At this point, neither of them know what’s going to happen, but in a list that includes Adam, his new series equivalent, it’s only fair to look back at one of the series’ most shocking exits. As I’ve discussed on the site before, actual companion deaths are rare in Doctor Who, but ask any fan worth their salt about the topic, and Adric’s name will be the first that comes to mind.
It almost seems like a result of the infrequency of deaths in the TARDIS that the Fifth Doctor reacts with stunned silence as Adric and a freighter full of Cybermen plummet towards Earth. The credits roll in silence over the image of his broken star for mathematical excellence, but that’s about as far as the grief for his demise extends.
It’s an exit that puts the shock in Earthshock, but the Doctor seems to move on even quicker than usual. I never liked Adric anyway.
8. Wilfred Mott: The End Of Time, Part Two
Although he only travels in the TARDIS for a very brief time, we’ve known him for far longer when the time comes for him to say goodbye to the Time Lord for good. Making his first appearance in Voyage Of The Damned, it was revealed through a cracking bit of pathos and flim-flam that the Tenth Doctor’s path was always destined to collide with Donna Noble’s granddad.
Helping the Doctor out in his final battle against the Master and, ultimately, the resurrected Time Lords, Wilf implores him to save himself. It has been prophesied that the Doctor will die, and Wilf so badly wants him to avoid this fate throughout the story. But when the battle is over, Wilf’s gotten himself into trouble, and it’s saving him that eventually fulfils the prophecy.
Dying, the Tenth Doctor leaves Wilf at home while he revisits many of his previous companions, some of whom appear on this list. Towards the end of his victory lap, he visits Donna on her wedding day, and gives her a wedding gift that should set her up for life. Although he and Wilf salute each other and say goodbye, there’s not much solace for Wilf.
Through the brilliance of Bernard Cribbins’ performance, you don’t have to imagine the guilt that Wilf feels. It’s heartbreaking, and in the midst of an episode whose main task is to kill off one of the most popular leading men the show has ever had, it’s a worthy farewell to an old soldier.
7. Nyssa: Terminus
As mentioned earlier, not all of the Doctor’s companions get such an emotional send-off. Dodo Chaplet falls asleep in the second episode of The War Machines, the same point as actress Jackie Lane’s contract on the show expired, leading to a supremely naff off-screen decision to leave the Doctor. But if Nyssa’s departure seems sudden or forced to some fans, then it’s certainly not borne from a bad excuse.
Season 20’s Black Guardian Trilogy would finish strongly with Enlightenment, but not before the slightly difficult middle story Terminus, which is one of those stories with an appalling reputation. But the central idea, of the TARDIS landing on the outer space equivalent of a leper colony, was sound, and it lends a suitable end to Nyssa of Traken’s time with the Fifth Doctor.
She was never going to be able to return to Traken after the events that brought her into the Doctor’s life, and so it behooves the character that she opts to stay behind and help treat sufferers of Lazar’s disease. The Doctor is simply leaving instructions and moving on his merry way, as is his fashion, but it’s Nyssa who selflessly decides to stay and work towards a long-term solution.
In a show of affection for her companions, she hugs Tegan and kisses the Doctor goodbye. They seem surprised, but they don’t protest. Simultaneously, Turlough may be sat in the TARDIS with the Black Guardian on his case, but it doesn’t quite ruin the moment.
6. Rose Tyler: Doomsday
The scene that made fans weep. Some of them wept even more when they brought her back. Twice. Still, the ongoing fixation on Rose Tyler, even after her extraordinary exit, doesn’t ruin the emotional punch of her original departure on Bad Wolf Bay.
It’s a completely tragic situation that leads up to those final scenes in Doomsday. With Daleks and Cybermen laying siege to the world as they go to war with each other outside, the Tenth Doctor figures out how to stop them inside Torchwood Tower. It seems to mean splitting up with Rose by leaving her safe with her reunited but unorthodox family in a parallel universe, but she’s having none of it.
Though he disapproves, he’s clearly happy that they can stay together, at least until she’s stranded on the parallel Pete’s World after all. The Doctor duly burns up a supernova to breach the barrier between worlds, and appears on the beach at Bad Wolf Bay for one (seemingly) final farewell.
Although I actually prefer the happy ending she gets in Journey’s End on a narrative level, it’s a belated footnote to this perfectly executed scene. But while David Tennant and Billie Piper are both great actors, their series together shows that their characters weren’t as good together as, say, the previous Doctor had been with Rose. It’s no less tragic, but tragic isn’t always better.
5. Martha Jones: Last Of The Time Lords
Yes, better than Rose’s exit. Does it really count, when it’s more of a shift to Freema Agyeman appearing semi-regularly rather than outright leaving the series? Yes. It’s our rules.
Like the scene at the end of The God Complex, this is an unusual instance of the Doctor and his companion parting as friends, even after the companion has gone through hell because of travelling with the Doctor.
Unacknowledged by a world that has happily forgotten Martha’s struggles in a year that never was, her trials at the hands of the Master seem to bring her to a tipping point, whereby she finally musters the gumption to say goodbye to the Doctor. At first, she suggests that she has to stay at home for her family, who are among the few people in the world who still remember the torment they suffered in the previous year.
What really elevates the scene, and Martha as a character, is how she comes back into the TARDIS, after giving that perfectly valid reason, to tell the truth instead. Having harboured an unrequited love for the Doctor all this time, it’s time for her to stop pining after him and get on with her life. You have to wonder, knowing the Doctor, would he have even have given her a second thought after that, if she didn’t come back?
There’s more mutual respect in their parting after she does that, than if she’d just went home. Martha Jones, and Agyeman’s portrayal, seem underappreciated, merely by the dint of her time being book-ended by Rose and Donna. And yet she proves the strongest of the Tenth Doctor’s companions when it’s time to go, and the only one who truly leaves with her head held high.
4. Susan: The Dalek Invasion Of Earth
One of two entries on the list where William Hartnell’s performance completely sells the scene, and the first companion departure we ever had in the show. Carole Ann Ford left the series after nine serials of twisting her ankle in the course of running and screaming, and so it was time for her character, Susan, to fall in love with freedom fighter David Campbell.
It might not be Susan’s own decision to leave the TARDIS, and indeed, she agonises over the fact that she has to leave David behind in order to look after the First Doctor. But Grandfather knows best, and he double-locks the doors of the spaceship and refuses to let her in.
In a way, he sets Susan free. Initially, she’s distraught, but the Doctor explains that she’s looked after him for long enough, and that she must put down the roots she’s always longed for, before it’s too late. He promises to come back and see her one day, and concludes that “Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”
The scene is a turning point in the series’ history, not merely in being the first departure scene, but being good enough that it set the high watermark for all the departures that followed. It’s brilliantly played, and Susan finally accepts the Doctor’s gift to her when she relinquishes her TARDIS key, and wanders off with David.
3. Jo Grant: The Green Death
Like Susan, Jo falls in love with a bloke she meets on her travels with the Doctor, Professor Clifford Jones. And it leads to one of the more emotional endings in the original run of Doctor Who, and certainly the most emotional in Jon Pertwee’s era.
Unlike certain other “she’s fallen in love with someone and she’s going to stay here with him” departures that followed, such as Leela’s in The Invasion Of Time, this romance is seeded all the way through the story. And it takes on an extra significance when you get to the end of the story and recall Jo’s line to the Doctor, about Clifford, in the first episode: “In a funny way, he reminds me of a sort of younger you.”
After the menace at Global Chemicals has been defeated, Clifford proposes to Jo, and she accepts. Jubilant, the Brigadier and the rest of Jo’s UNIT colleagues throw a small party to celebrate the happy couple. The Doctor wishes them the very best and bids farewell to his friend, but his actions speak louder than his words. He slips out of the room during the toast, and drives away alone.
Although the relationship between the Doctor and Jo was never romantic, the situation is still the same – he’s been left behind in favour of a younger man, who will be better for Jo in the long run. Pertwee’s stoic performance makes it all the better, and it’s a bittersweet exit for one of the most popular companions.
2. Sarah Jane Smith: The Hand Of Fear
Having followed in Jo Grant’s footsteps, Sarah Jane eventually became the most popular companion in her own right. She’s almost certainly the best, even to this day, and she’s travelled with more of the Doctors than any of her peers.
The Hand Of Fear is the story that BBC Four chose to repeat to commemorate Elisabeth Sladen after her untimely death earlier this year. It may be one of those departures which seems to sneak up on the story as much as the audience, and the reason behind it seems flimsy; apparently, humans aren’t allowed to go to Gallifrey, even though they frequently went thereafter.
But it’s the nature of the scene itself that makes this one so good. The good-hearted banter between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane leads to a crucial misunderstanding between the two. Sarah Jane bemoans the hectic lifestyle they have in the TARDIS, and tries to get the Doctor’s attention by flouncing away to pack her bags and leave.
While she’s gone, he gets a summons from Gallifrey, meaning he’ll have to send Sarah Jane home. He seems to be thinking about how to break it to her, when she returns, bags packed. He thinks she really wants to go. She thinks he really wants her to go. And so they each promise not to forget one another, and she leaves.
The story continued, of course, years later, but her original departure remains just as moving as it was before School Reunion, and her very own spin-off, and all those extra adventures we got with Sarah Jane Smith. How could we ever forget her?
1. Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright: The Chase
If Susan’s departure made you wipe away a tear, the one that got me actually came in the following Dalek story, which ends with an unoccupied time machine being left at Ian and Barbara’s disposal. All this time, the Doctor has told them that the TARDIS cannot land in the same time and place more than once, and the availability of another vehicle would seem to solve that problem.
Not knowing if they’ll ever get another chance to go home, the pair ask the Doctor if they should risk it. Immediately, he puts his foot down and scolds them for being so stupid as to want to meddle with a Dalek time machine. They’re the Daleks, for crying out loud, and he refuses to help them, equating the idea to suicide.
Behind all this, and perhaps behind his rule about the TARDIS, too, is an incredible fondness for those schoolteachers. When we met the Doctor, he was avuncular and somewhat anti-social. All the series up to this point has been his process of softening towards his human friends, and welcoming another companion, Vicki, aboard. He even bade farewell to his granddaughter, while he still had Ian and Barbara to keep him company.
For my money, William Hartnell is never better as the Doctor than he is in those scenes. In the same way as the later scene between the Third Doctor and Jo, the things that aren’t said are more powerful. But while Pertwee played it silent, Hartnell has a full-on tantrum while still not saying what he’s really feeling. It’s incredibly well written and impeccably acted, and perhaps it’s only less remembered because the story it’s attached to isn’t so hot.
Persuaded by Vicki, the Doctor helps Ian and Barbara to get home at last. Their relationship was never consummated on-screen, even at the end, but there was always a flirtation between the two of them, and their joyous romp through a London they recognise is a fitting coda to their time in the series. And then a great scene just continues to get better when we see that the Doctor is watching them, just the same as we are, from the TARDIS.
“I shall miss them,” he says sadly. “Yes, I shall miss them.” This, before regaining his composure and calling them “silly old fusspots.” While more recent Doctors seem emotionally incontinent by comparison, Hartnell makes it all the more sad by his performance of determinedly not grieving. Even while away from work, those fusspots were teaching him how to open up to the universe. Their farewell is right up there amongst the most moving moments that Doctor Who has ever produced.
I hate to say goodbye, so your comments on this list and the scenes mentioned are very welcome. Do you have a favourite companion whose departure hasn’t been included? Or are we all in for a bit of Martha-bashing? Join in the discussion below. I can’t say if I’ll respond, but one day, I shall come back…