This article contains spoilers for Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who: Cold Blood (reviewed here). We’ve been careful with the title and main image, but scrolling even a bit is not recommended unless you’ve seen the episode.
Doctor Who is a show that has always been curiously fixated on death. The lead actor changes every now and then, but in order to do so, our hero must die and be renewed as the next bloke.
Don’t forget how the characters the Doctor meets on his travels in each place frequently die nasty deaths in the fight against encroaching monsters, sometimes in order to save the day themselves.
What’s comparatively rare is the death of one of the Doctor’s companions, but as we saw on Saturday, it can and did happen to Rory Williams. Amy Pond’s erstwhile fiancé stepped in front of a Silurian weapon blast meant for the Doctor and died. On top of that, he was absorbed by one of those ever more prolific cracks in time, meaning he was never even born and Amy forgets him completely.
A heavy weight on the Doctor’s conscience, but Rory’s death is not without precedent. The first two companion deaths happened in the very same story, the epic 12-part William Hartnell story The Daleks’ Master Plan.
They were Katarina, a handmaiden of Troy who ejected herself and a vicious convict out of an airlock, and Sara Kingdom, security agent turned Dalek-buster, who was aged to dust before her friends’ eyes when she was caught in the field of the Daleks’ malfunctioning Time Destructor.
The one everyone remembers, of course, is Adric’s death at the end of Earthshock, which rocked a nation of fans to its core as he rode a crashing freighter full of Cybermen down to pre-historic Earth, causing the explosion that wiped out the dinosaurs.
In retrospect? I don’t think it has as much impact. Adric is a two-faced lily-livered twerp for much of his tenure in the TARDIS, and only gets stuck on the freighter because he’s too thick to just let it crash and escape, trying to prove his mathematical skill by righting its course. “I’ll never know if I was right,” are his last words. Well, I reckon you were wrong!
By that token, I was secretly disappointed that the Tenth Doctor’s victory lap in The End Of Time didn’t make time for a forlorn visit to pre-historic times with a machine gun, to kill off all the dinosaurs and render his death pointless. Even if you like Adric, who wouldn’t want to see the Tenth Doctor killing dinosaurs with a machine gun to sad Murray Gold music?
Still, there’s hope for Rory fans on account of all the near misses the show has produced too. The companion has to be in peril every now and then, but as those who saw The Trial Of A Time Lord will be aware, they’re sometimes really nearly dead.
Take Peri, for instance, the buxom companion to the Sixth Doctor. As mandated by producer John Nathan Turner, she was killed off early on in the season by way of having an alien consciousness transferred into her shaven head and then getting shot to death by Brian Blessed. No, really.
They copped out of these happenings later in the season, allegedly due to fan backlash, and installed a throwaway line that gave her a happier ending. Instead the Valeyard (remember him?) had meddled with the evidence that showed Peri’s death, and she’d survived to marry King Yrcanos. That’s Brian Blessed’s character. No, really.
In the new series, though, there’s been a telling reticence from Russell T. Davies to actually kill off companions. The closest we’ve actually got to this was The Parting Of The Ways, in which fan favourite Captain Jack Harkness goes down in a blaze of glory against the Daleks, giving his life to buy more time for the Doctor. And Davies brought him back and made him immortal before the end of the episode, to become a fatality punchbag of Captain Scarlet proportions from there on.
Around other companions, there have been red herrings, and audiences can easily take ‘death’ in these characters to mean ‘not really death’. Rose Tyler proclaimed that Army Of Ghosts and Doomsday were “the story of how I died”, but she just ended up trapped in a parallel universe, alive and with her reunited family.
Similarly, Donna Noble ‘died’ in that she lost all memory of the Doctor in Journey’s End, and became the Scrappy-like character she was before she met him. This was much more sad before The End Of Time, wherein we saw her getting on just fine with a new fiancé. It’s still tragic, as Donna was easily the best of the Tenth Doctor’s companions, and you grow to love her completely over the course of the series she starred in.
It’s apparently fine to properly kill off would-be companions, going by certain episodes. Before Captain Jack defies the Daleks, they find time to eject plucky Lynda with a Y into space by de-pressurising her hiding place. And, of course, Astrid Peth beautifully executed a forklift truck kamikaze on the villain in Voyage Of The Damned as she fell to her death. That Kylie becomes stardust doesn’t change the fact that the Doctor cannot properly save her.
And goodness knows he tries. He’s watched friends die in parallel worlds and lost so many, often to death or war, in his 900 years. In ten regenerations thus far, we know at least three of those have been caused while saving just one of his friends.
Peri. Rose. Wilf. This is a man who died to save those people, and so often, his close friends cannot die unless the Doctor absolutely cannot stop it. That’s just in the character’s nature.
So, where does that leave Rory? Might he be back? We have already seen him die once in a dream, two weeks back in Amy’s Choice, but being consumed by a crack in time and erased from existence seems pretty final. Even the early appearance of his future self to the TARDIS crew disappeared once Amy had forgotten about him.
Nevertheless, we were also shown that there are things on the other side of the crack. A bit of TARDIS signage may be amongst them, but maybe, just maybe, so is Rory Williams…
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