Classic Doctor Who on BritBox: The great series romances
Mark Harrison | On 14, Feb 2021
Offering 626 Doctor Who episodes broadcast between 1963 and 1996, BritBox is bigger on the inside. If you’ve watched all of the new series already, then why not join us as we turn on the TARDIS randomiser for a monthly primer on the adventures of the first eight Doctors…
This Valentine’s Day, we’re thinking about romance and Doctor Who. The show’s particular brand of romance hasn’t always been necessarily flirtatious or sexual, and more about the triumph of kindness over violence and cynicism. Well, usually, anyway.
Indeed, in the early 1980s, around the time the production team made the counter-intuitive choice to have most of the young, attractive travellers get on each other’s nerves, the edict of “no hanky-panky on the TARDIS” was officially handed down. This inadvertently led to popular queer readings of the Fifth Doctor era in particular, where same-sex characters are significantly easier to ship than the non-existent chemistry between male and female characters.
On the surface of Doctor Who, snogging very much looks to be a 21st-century addition, with partners from Rose Tyler to River Song interrupting the Doctor’s typically platonic existence. This has sometimes been to the consternation of older fans, but both Doctors and companions have had attractions and dalliances with others before Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat came along.
Get your BritBox and your chocolate box at the ready, because for this month’s column, we’re taking a look back at some of the classic series stories that put the “love” in the “Love & Monsters” mission statement that New Who is built upon…
The First Doctor and Cameca
“Yes, I made some cocoa and got engaged.”
As if to prove the point, William Hartnell’s Doctor was getting engaged long before Doctors 10, 11, and 12 got hitched or settled down. We’ve written about Season 1’s The Aztecs in this column before, but keeping things on theme, the Doctor’s friendship and speedy engagement to one of the locals, Cameca (Margot Van der Burgh). We won’t spoil how that one ends up, but just think, nowadays, he’d probably have whisked her off in his blue box for flirty adventures in time and space…
What to watch: The Aztecs (Season 1, 1964)
Susan Foreman and David Campbell
“Believe me, my dear, your future lies with David. And not with a silly old buffer like me.”
There’s a recurring trope of writing out female characters by having them pair off with randomers, often in fairly short order. The very first companion departure comes when the First Doctor’s granddaughter Susan fall in love with freedom fighter David during the Dalek occupation of Earth in the 22nd century. Compared to later versions of this same storyline, Carole Anne Ford’s exit is tastefully done, and it also gives us one of Hartnell’s most iconic moments at the end of the serial.
What to watch: The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (Season 2, 1964)
Jo Grant and Cliff Jones
“In a funny way, he reminds me of a sort of…younger you.”
Fans of The Sarah Jane Adventures will remember that this one stands the test of time. Katy Manning’s departure at the end of Jon Pertwee’s penultimate season is teed up throughout The Green Death, in which Jo has a blossoming romance with biologist and activist Professor Cliff Jones (Stewart Bevan). After the Third Doctor helps them battle the machinations of Global Chemicals in a small Welsh village, there’s an even more bittersweet parting of the ways. Also, if you like a bit of grue and grossness in your Who, this story is also known as “the one with the giant maggots”, so that’s all gravy.
What to watch: The Green Death (Season 10, 1973)
Count and Countess Scarlioni
“Why do you still worry, my dear?”
Fancy a trip to Paris? The Scarlionis (Julian Glover and Catherine Schell) may not jive with your own relationship goals, but when the Fourth Doctor and Romana meet them, they prove to be a formidable power couple. Considering she’s a beautiful woman (“probably”) and he’s an alien bent on subverting the course of human history for his own gain, they’re doing alright in the grand scheme of things. On another note, future real-life couple Tom Baker and Lalla Ward also seem to be having a lovely adventure on location in the cité de l’amour – or cité de la mort. City Of Death, geddit?
What to watch: City Of Death (Season 17, 1979)
Peri Brown and King Yrcanos
“What is that? Love?”
The second instalment of the Trial Of A Time Lord arc finds long-suffering companion Peri longing for home while tagging along with alien warrior king, Yrcanos, played by the mighty Brian Blessed. At one point, like Foreigner before him, the king wants to know what love is, and Peri sweetly defines it for him as “when you care for someone or something more than yourself… sometimes more than life.” Their unlikely pairing doesn’t end well in this story, but thanks to a bizarre last-minute retcon a couple of stories later, these two might just be alright after all.
What to watch: Mindwarp (Season 23, 1986)
The Eighth Doctor and Dr Grace Holloway
“How can you miss me? I’m easy to find. I’m the guy with two hearts, remember?”
By our reckoning, it took the Doctor seven regenerations to get over Cameca and start kissing everyone. Comfortably the sexiest of the pre-2005 Doctors, Paul McGann gets the Doctor’s love life off to a smashing start when he takes Californian cardiologist Dr Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) on an adventure to stop the Master from destroying Earth on New Year’s Eve 1999 and doesn’t even wait until midnight to snog her. Where the newly Americanised Master looks like the Terminator, McGann’s fit and dashing Doctor is styled after the romantic heroes of British period dramas, and he’s flirtier with it. Kissing in Doctor Who? Nah, it’ll never catch on…
What to watch: The TV Movie (1996)
Other Couples of Note
– Anyone with eyes can see the Doctor’s first human companions Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are made for each other, and newer fans ship them accordingly. Actor William Russell has said that he and the late, great Jacqueline Hill played it platonically, but was canonised by Russell T Davies in a Season 4 episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures co-starring Jo Grant. For peak chemistry between the two schoolteachers and best mates, check out their final appearance in The Chase (Season 2, 1965).
– RTD also made the Fifth Doctor’s companions Tegan and Nyssa an official couple in a short audio drama about Sarah Jane Smith, released during the 2020 lockdown. We learn that the characters share a twin bedroom on the TARDIS in Earthshock (Season 19, 1982) but the “no hanky-panky” rule wouldn’t be canonically shattered until we learn of Amy and Rory’s wedding night in 2011’s A Good Man Goes To War. Nevertheless, the Fifth Doctor’s era is arguably more open to queer readings and slash fiction than any other.
– The worst instance of a companion being married off? That would be Leela, who decides she’s fallen in love with a wet Time Lord guard called Andred during a trip to Gallifrey in The Invasion Of Time (Season 15, 1978). The departing Louise Jameson requested that her character died a heroic death, but this old trope comes back to bite her instead. There are clumsier examples, but at least you can probably have a laugh with Brian Blessed…
Classic Doctor Who is available on BritBox as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.