Clara’s time on Doctor Who is coming to an end—no spoilers here—and it’s bumming us out. But she’s not the first companion to leave the Doctor’s side in a totally bummer fashion. Here are the 10 most depressing companion departures, until now.
Note: This list only includes companions from the television series — as Alasdair points out, if you included the audio adventures, then pretty much every one of Paul McGann’s companions would be on here. Also, we’re not including any companions who basically turned out to be fine later, like Captain Jack.
Also, we should clarify — this is the most depressing exits, not the saddest. Every companion’s departure is sad, but only some of them are actually depressing.
We debated a lot which companion to put in this slot—runners up included Nyssa, who leaves to be the only woman in a leper colony in space, Jo Grant, who breaks the Third Doctor’s heart, and Dodo, who’s so screwed up by the mind-controlling computer WOTAN that she can’t even say goodbye to the Doctor in person. But we decided Tegan was somewhat sadder — at the end of “Resurrection of the Daleks,” she’s so upset by all the face-melting, vagrant-murdering, mind-probing, Dalek-foaming action, and the insanely high body count, that she just... can’t deal any more. More than any other companion, Tegan just hits her limit, and seems genuinely traumatized and shocked by what she’s been through, to the point where she can’t face getting in the TARDIS again. “It’s stopped being fun,” she says, “I’m sick of it.” And then she runs off, while the Doctor begs her not to leave like this. At last, the Doctor mutters something about how he must change his ways, and then he’s gone.
The first time we meet the Time Lords, the Doctor’s own race, they show us right off the bat what jerkfaces they are. It’s not enough to send the Doctor’s faithful companions home — they have to have their memories erased, too. This is especially sad for Jamie, who’s been with the Doctor for years and has shown “evidence of recent rapid learning,” as the Dominators put it in another story. Jamie and the Doctor have gone through so much together, and developed a lifelong bond of friendship — but the Time Lords somewhat randomly decide to take it all away, leaving Jamie much, much poorer. And Zoe, too, has grown a lot with the Doctor — but it’s all wiped clean.
Doctor Who has a long, proud tradition of companions randomly leaving the Doctor to marry or follow someone else they just met. Because these are people who form attachments easily, I guess. But Melanie doesn’t just wind up with a random Gallifreyan (like Leela) or a random Trojan dude (like Vicki.) Rather, she runs off with the space pirate Sabalom Glitz, who’s one of the biggest sociopaths in the history of Doctor Who. When we first meet Sabalom, he’s trying to kill the last humans on Earth, so he can steal some Time Lord secrets. And shortly before Mel decides to go traveling with him, we hear that Sabalom sold the previous crew of his spaceship into slavery, after which they were turned into sort of ice zombies. With a track record like that, Mel’s decision to run off with Glitz seems like a perfectly sound one. Right? Right? I love how the Doctor says, “Mel can keep you out of trouble, Glitz.” Heh.
For my money, this was one of the cleverest ideas Russell T. Davies had for Doctor Who — a companion who flunks out. When I first watched “The Long Game,” I really thought Adam was here to stay — until towards the end. Adam’s behavior may seem incredibly selfish, but most of us can probably imagine ourselves doing the same. You’re in the far future, with all its wonders — why not take advantage of it? Adam decides to equip himself with all of that forbidden future knowledge, and the Doctor sends him packing as a result. Adam’s stuck back on Earth at his Mum’s house, and now he can never be around people snapping their fingers, or his futuristic third eye will reveal itself. (Above: a pretty hilariously remixed fanvid.) He can never go to a Beat poet recital again! Poor Adam. I half expected the show to bring him back again, as a villain or something — but instead, he’s just left hanging. Which is a gutsy move on RTD’s part.
Of course, you can debate whether River Song is a companion. She’s a recurring character who’s traveled in the TARDIS many times, so she earns the label in my book. (And BBC America lists her as one.) Anyway, River’s death is sort of a downer — she sacrifices herself to save the Doctor, who doesn’t even recognize her because this is their first meeting from his perspective. And thus, the Doctor knows how she’ll die the whole time they’re together. She also gives up all her extra regenerations on another occasion, to save the Doctor after she’s poisoned him. And later, she volunteers to spend most of her life in prison (albeit with frequent escapes) so the Doctor can pretend to be dead. All in all, she gives up rather a lot for the Doctor, and it ends in tears. (Although she gets a weird sort of afterlife trapped in a virtual world, looking after one real child and some virtual ones, which isn’t the afterlife I’d choose.)
And here’s another debatable companion — he’s only in two stories, although he had a scene filmed for “The Awakening,” and it’s on the DVD. Kamelion is a shape-shifting telepathic android that the Master takes to medieval England, to impersonate King John for reasons too confusing to go into here. The Doctor breaks Kamelion free of the Master’s influence and brings him into the TARDIS — and then Kamelion apparently is so scared of Tegan, he hides away until she’s gone. The next time we see Kamelion, alas, he’s once again being jerked around by the Master, and he’s finally left begging the Doctor to kill him. Practically his last words are, “Kamelion no good.” (Skip to about 7:00 in the video above.) He’s the only companion the Doctor has killed with his own hands — and shown no remorse about afterwards.
Peri is like Schrödinger’s Companion. The famously incoherent mega-story “Trial of a Time Lord” gives us two possible endings for Peri, and it’s up to us to decide which we believe is true. 1) She has her head shaved and then her mind is erased to make way for an evil slug, and then she’s murdered by a rampaging barbarian played by Brian Blessed. (And it’s the Doctor’s fault.) Or: 2) She survives and marries that rampaging barbarian, who’s sort of a bloodthirsty maniac and probably not such a terrific husband. It’s debatable which fate is worse. In any case, the Doctor is told she’s alive and married at the end of the story, but he apparently never bothers to go check on her.
The most famous of the dead companions from the original series, Adric is a mathematical genius from a pocket universe, who is so proud of his gold star in math, he wears it all the time. He’s actually kind of a neat character in his early stories, when his youthful arrogance is drowned out by Tom Baker’s overwhelming know-it-all-ness. But once Tom Baker regenerates into the more subdued Peter Davison, Adric becomes kind of hard to take. (His worst moment: lecturing the mega-genius Nyssa about how women aren’t good at math. Really, Adric?) In any case, his final story sees him throwing an epic sulk that lasts an entire episode, and then he finally sacrifices his own life to stop the Cybermen — only for everyone else to realize that Adric’s sacrifice was actually in vain, because the Cybermen’s scheme only wound up killing the dinosaurs. (At least, there’s an escape shuttle, which Adric could have gotten on, and it would have been fine.) His death is utterly pointless, and only confirms what a useless twit he was. Poor Adric.
Adric isn’t the first companion to die — that honor belongs to Katarina, who travels with the Doctor a brief time before getting airlocked. And her death is actually more depressing than Adric’s. Why? Because it’s not even clear she knows what the heck is going on, and she gives her life in a very Trip Tucker fashion, dying in a hostage situation that could have been resolved plenty of other ways. Katarina only joined the Doctor at the end of the previous story, and she’s a servant girl from ancient Greece who thinks the TARDIS is a “celestial temple” and the Doctor is some sort of god. (Here’s the only surviving episode from her brief era, where she calls the Doctor “My Lord” over and over.) A few episodes later, she’s taken hostage by a random space criminal, and she tosses herself out the airlock, along with him. All for the sake of the man she incorrectly believes is a god. As the Doctor says soon afterwards, “She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand.”
I almost wish there was a Number Zero, because that’s how much this ending depresses me. Donna had one of the more inspirational arcs of a Who companion, growing and learning as a result of joining the Doctor. She went from someone who didn’t even notice a Cyberman invasion to a seasoned and compassionate time traveler — and then she got almost-godlike “metacrisis” powers. Yay? Except that this led to her having her mind wiped, leaving her in a situation where even hearing the Doctor’s name could make her head explode. Later, she gets a nice wedding and a lottery ticket — small compensation for losing the best part of her identity.
Thanks to Alasdair Wilkins for the input!
This io9 Flashback originally appeared back in 2012. The main departure since then, prior to Clara, was Amy and Rory. And honestly, Amy and Rory were FINE. They lived long, happy lives in the 20th century. It was sad that the Doctor couldn’t be with them, but not really depressing, per se.