So I’ve decided that after each companion leaves the series, I’ll write a little bit about them and my thoughts on them. Here’s our first installment, all about Susan!
Susan was the Doctor’s first-ever companion, and traveled with him from the moment he left Gallifrey to the moment he left her back on 22nd century Earth.
Susan was a curious young woman, apparently about 15 or so. She loved science and math, and seemed interested in history, though not in love with it. While her reasons for wanting to go to a normal human school on Earth were never fully explored, it’s pretty clear that she was likely very lonely. She also had a little streak of bravery where she would force herself to do things that terrified her (going back to the TARDIS in “The Daleks”, for example) simply because no one else could.
But the character was very inconsistently written, and it’s very clear that the writers really weren’t sure what to do with her. Clearly she couldn’t be a love interest for Ian, and Barbara couldn’t really interact with her as a peer. The Doctor was an authority figure in general, and being her grandfather only made it worse.
So sometimes Susan was brave, and other times a screaming coward. She often suffered little breakdowns, which might make sense if she really was a fifteen-year-old human girl, but she wasn’t human, and likely was older than 15 in strict terms (though with Time Lords, perhaps 50 is the new 15?).
To an extent she suffered from the same problems that Adric would suffer from, and that other teenage characters, like Wesley Crusher, suffered from on other TV shows. Adult writers seldom know how to really write well for teenagers of either gender, and this isn’t helped in a show like Doctor Who, which for all its attributes is not a character-based drama, especially in the early years.
The character is somewhat redeemed by Big Finish, who have brought her back in such things as “An Earthly Child”, where the Doctor, in his eighth form, finally returns to visit her. She’s also come back in several stories set in the first and second season, and even returned in a few stories set before “An Unearthly Child”.
What positive attributes Susan has can largely be credited to Carole Ann Ford, who really did her best with a minimal role. She made the character charming and lovely when she could, and that really helped.
Overall, Susan’s departure, while historic in the terms of the show, it doesn’t have a huge narrative impact, given that Vicki shows up in the very next story, and can easily be viewed as a replacement Susan.
Still, she was the first and will always be special.