In the world of Doctor Who, there’s plenty to be amazed by: time travel; faraway planets; killer alien-robots with kitchen utensils for arms; and of course, the eponymous Doctor Who him/herself, master of time and space and sonic hardware. But for all of the show’s marvels, Doctor Who and its main star are nothing without the Doctor’s loyal companions, who help save the day while also keeping the Doctor company in their travels across the universe.
But thanks to the vagaries of writing, characterization, performance, and chemistry, not all companions are created equal; some favorites go on to rival even the Doctor in terms of popularity, while others can range from blandly likable to actively annoying. So, starting with Rose Tyler in the series’s 2005 relaunch, all the way through to the Thirteenth Doctor’s three current travel buddies, Yasmin Khan, Graham O’Brien, and Ryan Sinclair, we’ve ranked the Doctor’s companions from worst to best. For the purposes of this list, we’re excluding travel companions who have only traveled with the Doctor inconsistently (e.g., the incomparable River Song, who would have otherwise made a run for the top spot) and who have only tagged along for one-off adventures (sorry, Kylie Minogue).
10. Clara Oswald
Actress: Jenna Coleman
Companion to: 11, 12
We’ve had a lifetime of Clara Oswald — several, in fact — as Clara is the longest-serving companion the series has had since its 2005 revival. First introduced as a human turned Dalek in “Asylum of the Daleks,” then introduced again in “The Snowmen” as a spunky Victorian barmaid, Clara had a few false starts before becoming a companion in earnest in “The Bells of Saint John.” From her beginning as the “impossible girl,” popping up again and again at various points in the Doctor’s timeline, to her confusing end forever trapped in the moment before her death, Clara was the unfortunate victim of some of writer and showrunner Steven Moffat’s most poorly executed story arcs. But even if she had not been, Clara’s character was like candy, sweet and enjoyable in small doses but unbearable in mass.
Moffat famously cast Coleman for the role of Clara because she could speak faster than Matt Smith (Eleven), and it’s true; Clara’s energy and curiosity rivals the Doctor’s, but watching the pair’s unrelenting spitfire back-and-forth is as exhausting as a Gilmore Girls marathon. Clara exhibits a kind of exceptionalism in her personality that really has no explanation; she’s the cute, clever, fast-talking girl, but for so much of the series she is simply that, not much more than a variation on the manic-pixie-dream-girl cliché. Clara became most interesting when she was allowed some depth beyond “clever impossible girl”: When she became reckless in her grief and overconfident in her own abilities — but even that couldn’t balance out her generally annoying presence during the rest of her tenure.
Actor: Matt Lucas
Companion to: 12
Like Clara, Nardole had a bit of a preview introduction into the series; originally a comic-relief character in the 2015 Christmas special “The Husbands of River Song,” Nardole then came back as a series regular. However, it never felt like the writers truly committed to the idea of Nardole as a companion as much as they did to him as a season-long source of comic relief. Nardole says it himself: He’s there on a mission, to make sure that the Doctor keeps his word and guards the vault beneath the university where he lectures. He’s hesitant to hop into the TARDIS and go on dangerous adventures, and is all too comfortable being snappy with the Doctor when he gets on his nerves. Though Nardole doesn’t get much to do in the series, Lucas manages to add a few laughs, but doesn’t make the most lasting impression.
8. Yasmin Khan
Actress: Mandip Gill
Companion to: 13
Introduced as a young police officer who wants to take on larger assignments but is stuck responding to petty calls, Yaz is caring and responsible and committed to justice. Beyond that, unfortunately, we don’t get much else. Her time in the TARDIS, shared with co-companions Ryan and Graham, is more about the companions as a trio (or “fam,” as the Doctor likes to say) than as individual characters. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the writers simply didn’t have the space necessary to allow each companion to develop and grow. Yaz draws the short end of the stick and doesn’t get as many identifying characteristics. We do meet her family, past and present, and her most revealing episode is about her grandmother’s wedding during the time of Partition in “Demons of the Punjab,” but even then she doesn’t figure as strongly in the action as her family does. Ultimately, with her smarts and her bravery and her sense of justice and compassion, Yaz most recalls Martha, but has a lot less to do.
7. Bill Potts
Actress: Pearl Mackie
Companion to: 12
Stylish, hip, likable, earnest, and eager to learn everything she can about the world, Bill Potts was an exciting companion to Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. As a working-class black, gay woman, Bill felt like a fresh change of pace, and her student-teacher dynamic with the Doctor gave their adventures a flavor of fresh-faced naïveté.
It’s unfortunate, then, that Bill was subject to some of the weaker writing of the show, and beats out Clara as having the most ridiculous exit on this list. Not only is Bill shot through the torso like a cartoon character, but she’s also turned into a sad, self-aware Cyberman before ultimately transforming into sentient space-liquid like her alien girlfriend from earlier in the season. With an arc like that, no wonder Bill would rather be a space puddle than continue on in the series.
6. Ryan Sinclair
Actor: Tosin Cole
Companion to: 13
It seems as though season 11 has positioned Ryan as the companion to watch. The first episode opens with him and shows us his struggles with dyspraxia. We also find out about his absentee father and his close relationship with his grandmother, whose death he and Graham have to face by the end of the episode. And we do get a reasonable sense of Ryan as a character — he’s blunt and a bit cynical and closed off due to his daddy issues and his grief. But he’s also got a good sense of humor, though we don’t always see a fair share of it.
5. Graham O’Brien
Actor: Bradley Walsh
Companion to: 13
In a show that has always had a preference for female companions alongside its 12 male Doctors, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see an older male companion step into the TARDIS, and Bradley Walsh’s Graham O’Brien is the perfect fit for the job. Even though he’s Ryan’s step-grandfather, Graham comes across as that quirky lovable uncle. After all, he’s able to keep up with all the running from dangerous aliens and contribute to the investigating that comes along with every trip with the Doctor (even if he does need to keep an emergency sandwich in his pocket in case his blood sugar drops). Of Thirteen’s three companions, Graham gets the best lines, whether they’re a bit of good-hearted sarcasm or grandfatherly wisdom. Of his time-traveling peers, Graham is also given the most room to grow in terms of character development. While the death of Grace, Ryan’s grandmother and Graham’s wife, obviously affects both Ryan and Graham, the last episodes of the season focus more on Graham’s way of processing the grief than Ryan’s. Because the show’s move to three companions doesn’t allow any one companion to shine much brighter than the others, Graham isn’t any more memorable than Ryan and Yaz in times of action, but he is the most pleasant to watch and still manages to be the star of the season (after Jodie Whittaker, of course).
4. Martha Jones
Actress: Freema Agyeman
Companion to: 10
Of all the companions on this list, Martha Jones has proved herself to be the most competent. Sure, plenty of others have saved the universe, but how many have done so with the same degree of maturity and practicality as Ms. Jones?
When we first meet Martha, in the midst of a fugitive hunt (conducted by a “platoon of Judoon on the moon,” as the Doctor observes), she’s in medical school and is quickly identified as a student with smarts enough to keep up with the Doctor. Unlike some of the other companions, Martha didn’t travel with the Doctor as a way to escape her life; she aimed to become a doctor herself and fully intended to stay on target for her career path. Martha also exhibited an impressive ability to keep cool and stick to the plan even under the most frustrating and disastrous circumstances, like the Doctor losing his memories (“Human Nature,” “The Family of Blood”) and the Master taking over the world (“Last of the Time Lords”). She spent a year traveling a dystopian version of Earth, leading a resistance to help the Doctor and defeat the Master.
But despite all of Martha’s saving-the-world chops, her companionship with the Doctor was unfortunately overshadowed by her unrequited feelings for him. Martha had the misfortune of being the first rebound companion after Rose, so the relationship was marked by the one-sided romantic tension. Still, Martha recognized when it was time to leave the TARDIS behind and voluntarily returned to her old life, eventually joining UNIT and Torchwood to continue being the badass she was.
3. Donna Noble
Actress: Catherine Tate
Companion to: 10
Few people can deliver an “oi!” as deliberate and firm as Donna Noble — which is no surprise, because Donna Noble is one of a kind. Her sudden, mysterious appearance as the loudmouthed bride in TARDIS at the end of “Doomsday” gave the Doctor a much-appreciated comical jolt from the rest of the notoriously somber season finale. Donna needed a whole season break before starting her tenure as a companion in earnest, but Tate’s Donna and David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor had an easy, immediate chemistry that was totally platonic, in a nice change from the previous companions.
Rough, loud, and impatient, Donna is perhaps the most abrasive companion on this list, and yet she also has remarkable depth. For all her boisterousness, Donna is also vulnerable and sensitive, capable of a level of empathy best shown in episodes like “The Fires of Pompeii” and “Planet of the Ood.” Perhaps more than any other companion on the list, Donna understands how much the Doctor needs a traveling companion to make sure he doesn’t lose sight of himself.
2. Rose Tyler
Actress: Billie Piper
Companion to: 9, 10
For many dedicated Whovians, Rose is the companion to beat. It’s true, as the very first companion in the revival, she presents some stiff competition. An average teenage shopgirl with the potential to save the universe, Rose was meant to be the surrogate for the audience, the way to usher new and old fans alike into the newly resurrected Whoniverse.
In Rose, the Doctor found a person he relied on for her help in adventures, sure, but also someone he connected with romantically, emotionally. Rose has the instincts and the moxie to take charge even in the Doctor’s absence, saving him plenty of times along the way. She gets massive points for taking a dip into the time vortex, nearly killing herself in the process, and for managing the Doctor in his transition from Nine to Ten. But for all that, Rose is ultimately still an average girl made extraordinary by chance, but in that sense she’s not much different than the other companions. (And lest we forget, poor boyfriend Mickey! Left in the dust by a dashing time-traveling alien.)
1. Amy Pond/Rory Williams
Actors: Karen Gillan/Arthur Darvill
Companion to: 11
Yes, this may be a bit of a cheat answer, but my pick for the top companion of the series is actually a two-headed companion in the form of engaged (then later married, then almost divorced) couple Amy Pond and Rory Williams.
Amy’s introduction to the Doctor is a special one; she meets him as a child, right as he’s still reeling from his regeneration, and he promises to take her with him in his TARDIS. When he gets his timetable mixed up and shows up over a decade late, he meets a different Amy, an older, more cynical Amy who was told her magical raggedy man was only imaginary.
Amy’s hard in a way many of the other companions aren’t; she’s bossy and aggressive, like Donna, but with an extra bit of edge. She has a mean streak born out of her defensiveness and occasional insecurity. And Amy’s hardness isn’t just for show; she proves that she has what it takes to survive in “The Girl Who Waited” and “The Wedding of River Song.”
But Amy and Rory, as a duo, make up the perfect companion — and a totally unique one at that. There aren’t many companion-couples to speak of. In fact, the begrudging boyfriend is its own trope in the show, best represented by Mickey Smith and Danny Pink. But when Rory joins the adventure, he does so out of love and concern for Amy first and foremost, but then comes into his own as a hero. Practical and calm and completely dedicated to Amy, Rory provides the perfect counterpoint to Amy, and their relationship somehow survives Rory’s multiple deaths and Steven Moffat’s multiple plot holes. Their departure from the TARDIS remains one of the saddest — and undoubtedly the best-written — exits of any companion on this list, and if that isn’t enough praise for the Ponds, there’s the fact that their relationship produced the best almost-companion in the show, Dr. River Song.