Saturday, 23 November 2013

Genius Needs Company

With the Dr Who 50th Anniversary being celebrated this weekend, I thought that it would be a good time to draw attention to perhaps the single most important factor of the show - the companion. It is easy to overlook the significance of the Doctor's sidekick, but the show would simply not work without them. Without this human aspect we would be left with a super intelligent, 1000 year old alien who has control of all of space and time. Seriously, who can actually relate to such a character?

The main problem comes down to perspective. How can we mere mortals possibly be able to understand the inner workings of such an advanced mind? How can a writer (also a mere human being) be able to convey the thoughts and feelings of such a mind to their audience? The short answer is that they cannot, without inadvertently humanizing the character and bringing them down to our level.

To get around this problem there needs to be somebody in the story to ask the questions that the audience need answering. There needs to be empathy. The audience needs to be able to put themselves into shoes of a character and to do this they have to relate directly with that character. Above all, we need fallibility. Genius is not something that a non genius can easily relate to. It cannot be understood, it can only be appreciated. Genius therefore, is best viewed from afar. 

Essentially, the audience needs a filter. The writer must provide an anchor to ground the genius character in a way that does not compromise said character's incomprehensible brilliance, but instead allows it to shine. They do this through the sidekick. Sherlock Holmes has Dr Watson, Poirot had Captain Hastings, the Jedi have their droids and Dr Who has his companion.

(Above) A Dalek and the TARDIS at Blackpool Illuminations.

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