During the first episode of Season 7 of the “New” Dr. Who, Asylum of the Daleks, one of the Daleks intones “records show that the Doctor needs companions.” I found this statement very interesting. Ontologically speaking, the Doctor does need companions, at least, we rarely see him acting without one or more humans in tow, even if they might be separated for plot reasons. An affection for humans is a big part of what makes the Doctor who he is — it is an essential element of his identity, in contrast to other Time Lords. In the same way, one might note that Gandalf ‘needs’ hobbits.
From a metanarrative standpoint, the Doctor’s human companions serve many functions. They provide a partner for exposition and dialogue, allow us to experience the strange worlds and times the Doctor visits through a familiar eye, and frequently aid in providing plot points. Many an adventure revolves around the rescue of a companion, or is triggered by something a companion does. In a functional sense, however, the Doctor doesn’t really need companions at all. This very episode is a signal example: Amy and Rory contribute absolutely nothing to the task at hand, and only serve to hinder the Doctor in accomplishing the main goal of the episode. It is interesting that the Daleks of all races would confuse ontological and functional reasons for the companions’ presence.
In any case, the relative uselessness of Amy and Rory in this episode is happily not characteristic of the Doctor’s companions in every episode. Quite commonly, they provide critical assistance at one point or another. This inspired me to create the Companion Usefulness Scale in order to provide a qualitative measurement of a companion’s contributions to a particular serial or episode. With this handy tool, one can measure exactly how useful any particular companion is. A companion’s rating on the C.U.S. is a number from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most useful. To generate a companion’s C.U.S. rating, find the spot on the chart that parallels the single most useful act or service that a companion provides in the course of a serial. Thus a companion who stupidly gets the Doctor into trouble, but nevertheless is responsible for getting the group rescued, will rate highly despite any foolish activity he or she may have done previously. With that said, here is the Companion Usefulness Scale:
1: Companion causes the senseless death of himself or another companion. (Note: in exception to the above, a companion who manages to get someone killed rates a “1″ regardless of any redeeming acts performed later in the serial).
2: Companion causes himself, another companion or the Doctor to become captured or otherwise in need of rescue through a palpably stupid or shortsighted act. Examples: Pushing a button that says “do not push”, going against the Doctor’s express orders, etc.
3: Companion causes himself, another companion or the Doctor to become captured or otherwise in need of rescue through miscommunication or an act that a normal person could not clearly foresee would lead to such a consequence (despite the fact that anyone traveling with the Doctor ought to be more sensitive to such possibilities). Example: Assuming that one’s own cultural mores apply everywhere, such as offering one’s hand to an alien and finding out that that is a deadly insult on their world.
4: Companion causes himself, another companion or the Doctor to become captured or otherwise in need of rescue in a manner that could not reasonably be anticipated or avoided. Example: Arriving in what turns out to be a war zone and immediately being captured by a patrol.
5: Companion provides minor assistance to the Doctor. Examples: bringing tools to the Doctor from the TARDIS, monitoring a dial, guarding a prisoner, etc.
6: Companion rescues another companion.
7: Companion provides assistance that is critical to moving the plot forward. Examples: breaking the Doctor out of a cell, opening a safe that contains a needed key, procuring disguises that are needed to infiltrate an enemy base.
8: Companion provides the key insight or makes the key discovery that solves the major puzzle or problem facing the explorers.
9: Companion saves the Doctor’s life.
10: Companion rescues or saves the life of the Doctor and also solves the major puzzle or problem facing the explorers. In other words, the companion fills the role normally played by the Doctor.
With the Companion Usefulness Scale, it will now be possible to objectively rate the contribution of each companion in upcoming episode reviews!