Doctor Who is one of the greatest things to ever air on television. It can be funny, sad, mysterious, nerve-wrecking, heartwarming, and sometimes all of that in the same time. No wonder it gets its own page.
Steven Moffat is one of the best things to ever happen to it. His plots may be confusing and unnecessarily complicated, but he broke from the New Who companion formula of "insecure everygirl finds her inner strength" (which is an awesome story in its own right) and added a whole new "fairy tale" sort of vibe to the series that made people who didn't care for the RTD era fall in love with the show again.
Russell T Davies needs love too. He brought back the show and introduced a whole new generation to wonderful sci-fi.
Davies was the best thing that could've happened to Doctor Who. Thank you for well-written characters (both male and female!), the good kind of crack, the happy, the sad, the multitudes of awesome, and bringing Doctor Who to a huge audience.
Likewise, Christopher Eccleston was indispensable to reviving the Doctor and causing a whole new generation of fans to fall in love with. It's a shame he's so often overshadowed by David Tennant, who, by the way, is also awesome.
It's funny, witty, heartwarming, tear-wringing, and brilliant every step of the way. Even the episodes that aren't so amazing always have something in them to make up for it, whether it be a wonderful side character, a well-acted scene, a beautiful message, or a memorable story.
Classic Doctor Who. Sure the stories dragged and the special effects sucked, but it was all fun, cheese, and mind games, and was a hell of a lot more charming than most of the non-Star Trek sci-fi drivel that was being pumped out in the '70s and '80s.
Absolutely nothing in the universe compares to the sheer awesomeness of Tom Baker as the Doctor. To many fans, it's not a matter of 'best actor to play the Doctor' or 'favourite Doctor' or what have you - he simply is the Doctor.
The sheer versatility of Tom's work as the show moved from borderline horror stories (Seasons 12-14) to Lighter and Softer (15-17) to near-philosophical (18) is amazing, if only because he never comes across as out of place. No matter what came his way, this Doctor triumphed by just being his sweet self - strange, alien, beautiful.
(And he has awesome companions.)
The Classic Series, which has genuinely three-dimensional, likable characters. Throughout its 26 year history, it stands out as being unique, meaningful, suspenseful, chilling, hilarious, nightmarish, heartrending, all in one gigantic package of awesomeness. The effect of having a large and varied number of writers is also felt, with the Doctor's adventures being fresh and memorable every time. One of the biggest aspects that did it is the personality of Troughton's Second Doctor of being arrogant before his enemies but genuinely caring and likable when talking to those he trusts had a big impact on him. The writing in the Tom Baker years also managed to retain a considerable part of this aspect.
"Love & Monsters" and "Fear Her" are great episodes. Sylvester McCoy's first season is better than people give it credit for and his latter two are fantastic. All complaints about "Last of the Time Lords" are Insane Troll Logic. Oh, and "The Keys of Marinus" is a great episode.
You do not mention Doctor Who without mentioning the Eighth Doctor's adventures in the audios and books. "Zagreus", especially. And you do not mention Doctor Who without grinning at the Tenth Doctor's CMoA in his first episode: Driving away the Sycorax after shortly recovering from regeneration trauma! Lordy, you also do not mention Doctor Who without thinking of Human Nature/Family of Blood. The show is jam-packed with Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
Have to add to this. The Eighth Doctor Adventures got me into Doctor Who after months of skirting the edges of the fandom, put off by Archive Panic. Novels!Eight is funny, adoreable, immeasurably compassionate and above all, a certified Badass.
Not only that, his companions have been, all of them (even Sam), amazing. Sam often suffered from poor writing but when an author got her right, she shone, Seeing I being a prime example.
Compassion was prickly and grumpy and, refreshingly, didn't hero-worship the Doctor and made her feelings known. And after becoming a TARDIS? Compassion of the Remote proceeded to be an even more incredible Jerkass Woobie and fight Time Lords, Faction Paradox and even the Doctor for control of her own destiny.
Trix was funny and clever, a Femme Fatale who was introduced working for the villain and who started traveling with the Doctor because Sabbath bored her!
There's Fitz. Where to begin with Fitzgerald Michael Kreiner? The one, the only, the irreplaceable? A Loveable Sex Maniac, Cowardly Lion and Deadpan Snarker, Fitz, like Jamie as mentioned below, is an excellent example of a non-traditional companion done absolutely right. He's arguably one of the most, if not the most realistic and fleshed-out characters in the franchise as a whole, and after seven years and fifty-five books traveling with the Doctor, the two become a magnificent dynamic duo. He's devoted to the Doctor (and vice versa) to the extent that their relationship is remarked upon as being that of an old married couple, he's had an incredibly rich (and confusing) backstory and series of character arcs, and he embodies Sex Drugs And Rock N RollmeetsAscended Fanboy. Fitz Kreiner is easily a contender for best companion of all time.
Smith makes the role fun and magical, Amy and Rory are great companions and Moffat and co's storys have covered all the bases that make the Doctor great. And now going back to not only the first 2 seasons of the revival but Davison's fifth doctor, Doctor Who is even more fantastic and its message of being yourself and standing out really speaks to you.
MATT SMITH. MADE. OF. WIN.
McCoy deserves some love. The Mysterious chess master who tricked Davros into destroying Skaro himself, strolled calmly away from an exploding circus and talked two enemies into committing suicide during his tenure. Oh, and Ace, one of the most awesome companions of the classic era.
Every incarnation of the Doctor! They are all just so awesome in their own original ways!
Matt Smith is awesome embodied, and a nice change from the tragic, if still very dramatic and well-done, Tenth Doctor.
Matt's like bow ties and fezzes. Cool.
That scene from Journey's End when the Children of Time were piloting the TARDIS together, bringing the Earth back home, set to an utterly beautiful and rousing Ood chorus, is probably the most wonderful moment in the history of television. It also feels like a celebration of everything that Davies had done for the show.
I just feel the need to say that my long-overdue discovery of Doctor Who is what finally convinced me to embrace my eccentric side that was previously hard to express and a slight source of shame. Turned out that I have several Doctor-ish qualities myself! It's a well-written, action-packed, hilarious, just plain fun show, the best I've ever seen...and it goes on record as being the first thing to make me legitimately Squee. Before this show, I never squeed.
^This right here.
The Hartnell era. It could be a serious costume drama one week, an action-packed thriller the next, and a slapstick comedy farce the week after. All with a wonderful kindly-but-grumpy old man at the helm. Doctor Who has never been quite like it since.
The Colin Baker era. Gets a lot of crap for uneven stories — because no era had those — but is very underrated. Best stories? "Revelation of the Daleks", "Vengeance on Varos" and the whole "Trial of a Time Lord" arc. And he has some of the best audios on Big Finish.
Favourite Stories note You can also vote on and add your favorites on the Best Episode page.
In 50 years, the show has had many, many greats. The ones below are generally considered the best of the best.
"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" — William Hartnell, 1964. TARDIS crew arrive in the 22nd century to see that not only have the Daleks survived their apparent extinction on Skaro, but they have conquered the human race and established themselves as a terrifying force to be reckoned with. The ending contains one of the most heartfelt moments of the entire series, as the Doctor says goodbye to his granddaughter Susan who departs to marry a freedom fighter from 22nd century Earth.
"The Tomb of the Cybermen" — Patrick Troughton, 1967. The Doctor, Jamie, and new companion Victoria land on the planet Telos, where an archaeological expedition from Earth is hunting down the last remains of the Cyberman civilization — and two of the explorers are hoping to find more than knowledge. The earliest surviving Second Doctor story, and highly influential — on the rest of the Troughton era, on the series' later depictions of the Cybermen, and, curiously enough, on the Eleventh Doctor.
"Spearhead from Space" — Jon Pertwee, 1970. Jon Pertwee's introductory story also gives us the Autons, villains based on the concept of plastic come to life with the iconic image of shop dummies smashing through their windows and attacking passers-by. See also the following season's opener Terror of the Autons, which brings them back and introduces the Master, the evil Time Lord who will cause trouble for the Doctor for years and years to come.
And, in true enigmatic Doctor fashion, introduces Nine to Rose in a future encounter.
"The Three Doctors" — Jon Pertwee, 1972-1973. The first and greatest of the multi-Doctor stories sees the Third Doctor reluctantly teaming up with his first two incarnations against Omega, one of the three founders of Time Lord society. Whilst the tenth anniversary special is a vital part of 'Doctor Who'' canon for elaborating on the Time Lords since their last appearance, its greatest strength is the chemistry between the Second and Third Doctors, who bicker constantly whilst trying to save the universe.
"Genesis of the Daleks" — Tom Baker, 1975. Quite a padded serial in places (six-parters can be like that), but the character of Davros is introduced here to great effect in a good story about Nazism and scientific progress. The scenes with the Doctor debating Davros about the moral implications of engineering a race bent on genocide, and then later agonising over touching two pieces of wire together to commit genocide himself are still the series' finest moments.
A conundrum later revisited to heady effect in "The Parting of the Ways" — Christopher Eccleston, 2005, with the Dalek Emperor legitimately calling for the Doctor to destroy him, and by extension all other known remaining Daleks... via means inescapably fatal for any form of life, Dalek or otherwise... just so he can have the potential satisfaction of watching the Doctor commit mass murder.
"Pyramids of Mars" — Tom Baker, 1975. Lovely story set in a Egypt-obsessed Genteel Interbellum Setting, with the Doctor matching wits with an ancient Egyptian God. From Mars. With robot mummies. A lot better than it sounds - tight, tense chase scenes, gorgeous period details and a cracking script.
"The Deadly Assassin" — Tom Baker, 1977. A fantastic political thriller set on Gallifrey. Whilst this story was reviled when it came out, it is now considered a classic for a variety of reasons; it was the first story that took an extended look into Time Lord society and culture, brought back The Master for the first time since his previous actor's death, and introduced the Time Lords' co-founder Rassilon. Written by Robert Holmes.
"City of Death" — Tom Baker, 1979. A four-parter co-written by Douglas Adams and later informing parts of the plot to his novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. The story is brilliantly paced, there's a natural chemistry between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward (who fell in love during the shoot), and brilliant comedy, including a cameo by John Cleese and Eleanor Bron. Consistently ranked in the top ten by fans.
"The Caves of Androzani" — Peter Davison, 1984. A bolt from the blue in that it is a cracking story in a lean period for the show, Caves has a tight story, two epic cliffhangers, a wonderfully human villain in Sharaz Jek and a Heroic Sacrifice for the Doctor very much in keeping with Davison's quiet-but-noble portrayal.
Also written by Robert Holmes and directed by Graeme Harper, declared the best story in the show's history by a fansite poll in 2007, and by a ranking of every story by Io9.
"The Curse of Fenric" — Sylvester McCoy, 1989. McCoy's earlier stories had been deemed "too silly" and blamed for falling ratings, but Fenric showed the Seventh Doctor Growing the Beard. There had been hints before this that he was really The Chessmaster, but this intriguing and well-executed story discovers new depths in both Doctor and companion. It's also damn scary when you're eleven...
It could be argued he had grown the beard at the start of previous season. But this is still a great story for the Doctor in general.
"Alien Bodies" — What could be considered Growing the Beard for the Eighth Doctor Adventures. This troper may not consider it canon with the new series but you don't need to consider the EDA canon to enjoy them. This is a great story, introducing "Faction Paradox", the Time Lords war, along with taking a poorly though of villain and making them a major threat. It provided inspiration for "The Name of the Doctor" and still stands as one of the finest DW books.
"The Chimes of Midnight" — Paul McGann, 2002. Why aren't there any Big Finish Stories here? This is Steven Moffat's favourite 8th Doctor story, a murder mystery in a Haunted House with an excellent mix of horror, humour, and tragedy. Moff has good taste.
"Spare Parts" — The definitive origin story for the Cybermen. A story like "Genesis" but more tragic in showing there is little hope for the people of Mondas. And of course plenty of Nightmare Fuel. Much of this was adapted into the Series 2 Cybermen episodes.
"Davros" — A Day in the Limelight for Davros. This is quite possibly the best story for Davros. It has the 6th Doctor, but doesn't feature Daleks or companions. It has Davros experience a whole range of emotions, and defines his character well. It's also another great example of how much Big Finish has helped 6 shine. It proves a great prequel to "Revelation of the Daleks" as well.
"Dalek" — Christopher Eccleston, 2005. Not only does the story amply demonstrate that showrunner Russell T Davies could breath new life into old concepts and update the show for the new millennium, it also shows writer Robert Shearman's talent for complex characters, making the Dalek in question highly sympathetic and showing the Doctor at his most vengeful. Plus, the special effects are amazing and Eccleston delivers a breathtaking performance.
"Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood" — David Tennant, 2007. The Doctor literally becomes human and loses his memories to throw off pursuit. Very good on several levels, but most remembered for two scenes: The moment "John Smith" realizes that for the Doctor to return, he must "die", and the Doctor's vicious (but chillingly still in-character) Karmic Revenge on the beings that put him in that situation. (See also its source material, the popular Doctor Who New Adventures novel Human Nature, which was about the Seventh Doctor — its author, Paul Cornell, adapted it for TV.)
"Blink" — David Tennant, 2007. What a coincidence, another episode by Steven Moffat. This uses a different narrative technique as it is told from the point of view of a civilian who receives a message from a mysterious stranger called the Doctor, and must work with him from decades apart to create a Stable Time Loop. It also introduced what are commonly considered the most terrifying Who monsters yet — the Weeping Angels. The best episode of the best of the revived series.
"The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone" — Matt Smith, 2010. The action-packed Aliens to "Blink"'s Alien, this episode takes the already-creepy Weeping Angels and makes them just that much scarier by getting a whole cavern full of them and explaining that not only can't you blink, you can't open your eyes either. Reintroduces River Song, and implies a much longer game for Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner.
"Vincent and the Doctor" — Matt Smith, 2010. This episode is lovable for three reasons. First off, Rory has just been erased from time so the Doctor takes Amy to an art museum to cheer her (or maybe himself) up. Just seeing that each Freudian Slip (including a subconscious one by Amy) shows they still remember Rory warms my heart. Seeing something strange tips them off to go talk to Vincent van Gogh, which leads to point number two. The way it appeals to an art buff. Spotting all of Vincent's best work in his house is fun. The sky morphing into Starry Night is an impressive effect. Hearing Vincent talking about color and art might have caused a lot of artists to jump up and say "I get that! I totally see where he's coming from!" Last but not least, seeing the Doctor and Amy give new meaning in Vincent's life by showing him the exibit and hearing the museum tour guide gush about him. It doesn't change much, he still commits suicide, but Had they seen this episode, a lot of people who felt depressed or maybe even suicidal may have found inspiration in this episode.
Also awesome for its realistic portrayal of mental disorders. Van Gogh still commits suicide because while seeing how he would be revered in the future gave him temporary hope, he was still suffering from depression and hallucinations that weren't understood in his time period. The Doctor even says that mental illness is a complicated phenomenon that doesn't have an easy cure. It's a remarkably mature handling of the complexities of mental illness — there's no magic, instant cure, but it's also possible to find bright moments even in the darkest times.
11th Doctor: The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.
"The Day of the Doctor" — Matt Smith, 2013. A masterpiece from Moffat, a marvellous commemoration of 50 years of Doctor Who, with Thirteen Doctors despite Peter Capaldi not being here yet, which does homage to the past and looks to the future. One of the finest pieces of TV ever done.
Characters, Villains, and Monsters
The Doctor himself. How many times has he saved the world, and sometimes the universe, by now? The man is a legend. Read the Doctor Who section of Awesome Moments if you need convincing. Or consider this fact: he has saved the entire universe, everything that is, was, will or could be. He has done this more than once.
Not to mention the fact that the Doctor has been played by twelve actors, each one giving him a distinct character, and each of them being completely awesome in their own unique way.
John Hurt may have appeared briefly but he made a great impression and should still be counted among the Doctors!
Especially John Simm's version. Large Ham has never been so delicious.
Ace: Best companion ever, bar none. Wailed on a Dalek with a baseball bat and went toe to toe with other nasties armed with nothing more than a bad attitude and a backpack full of home made explosives. Also had a slightly sweet student/mentor relationship with the Doctor.
Sarah Jane Smith: She was voted as best companion ever several times and still is. She wasn't a Screaming Woman, and she managed to get her own spin-off decades after she appeared on the show.
Rose Tyler (Billie Piper, 2005-2006; 2008): Rose was the first companion for the new series, and in many ways combines the best of both the 'Sarah Jane Smith' style companion and the 'Ace' style companion. She's something of an everygirl, with an interesting backstory giving her plenty of room for character development, who's spunky and intelligent. She's also probably the first companion to have overt romantic tension with the Doctor.
Rose Tyler still damn awesome, Hype Backlash be damned. She was a perfect match for the ninth Doctor in particular and showed new audiences exactly why the Doctor needed a companion, and why they didn't have to be the stereotypical screamer.
She put Nine back together and then got godlike when he was in real trouble, she had the time of her life with Ten, got cut off from him altogether and then? She decided to get Totally. Fricking. Awesome. On her own, no help available.
"One word in the wrong place could blow an entire causal nexus."
And of course Barbara Wright, who had more awesome in her first few episodes than some companions had their whole career.
Donna doesn't need to be turned into the Doctor to be awesome, either: she's basically awesome in every appearance. She's the one who pays attention enough to work the part of the plot which the climax hinges on in "The Doctor's Daughter", as well as doing something similar in "The Sontaran Stratagem". Oh, and in her re-introduction episode, "Partners in Crime", she manages to infiltrate the same building the Doctor does on her own, but infinitely better. No sonic screwdriver, no psychic paper: just her wits and innate awesome. Win. No wonder she turned from The Scrappy in "The Runaway Bride" into a fan favourite on that episode alone.
Plus, she gets more character development than practically anyone besides the Doctor himself.
Romana is fucking awesome. Both of her. The consummate companion: a survivor, tougher than she looks, tougher than she herself once thought...spars verbally with the Doctor and physically with their enemies, truly committed to the cause of justice in the multiverse, intensely moral, a snappy dresser, has great Character Development, a massive dose of Deadpan Snarker, a hint of Covert Pervert, loads of Shipping, even a nice spot of Never Found the Body!
Turlough stole the Brigadier's car, tried to kill the Doctor after making a Deal with the Devil, double-crossed just about everybody at some point before finally deciding to do a Heel-Face Turn...and this is only in his first three serials.
Speaking of Turlough, the fandom seems to have the most epic love/hate relationship with the Fifth Doctor's entire set of companions, so I'm going to give the rest of them some love:
Adric: Really not nearly as bad as a lot of people make him out to be. Yes he has a great number of flaws and suffers from inconsistent writing, but real people are flawed. Plus, he does have a number of good traits. He cares about his friends, he endures an entire serial strung up in a hole in the wall and Mind Probed by the Master (note that the next companion to get a similar treatment from the Doctor's best enemy made it through because he was immortal), he actually flies the TARDIS once note and with more accuracy than most Classic Doctors, landing it in the same room as the people he's trying to rescue, has a nice little budding-apprentice rapport with the Fourth Doctor after Romana leaves and, perhaps most importantly, he's willing to sacrifice his own life to try and save Earth.
Nyssa: Very intelligent, practical, good-natured, (and Peter Davison's personal favorite). She's the one who keeps the most level head when all hell is breaking loose and when the situation calls for it, she can kick serious ass. Like that one time she, oh I dunno, threatened to shoot the Time Lord President.
Tegan: When you've got a TARDIS full of alien geniuses, it's good to have someone human aboard to identify with. And, let's be realistic here: if you accidentally wandered into a police box that was not only bigger on the inside but labyrinthineand magically went to other planets and had an unreliable driver who wasn't sure if he could ever get you back home again, you would probably be pretty freaked out too. In a way, she was almost like the Donna Noble of her era. She was loud and feisty, she spoke her mind, she took crap from no one (especially the Doctor), but she gradually warmed to her surroundings and her situation and when the Doctor came into her life a second time, she gladly hopped along for the ride.
Martha. Fuckin. Jones. Full stop! Smart, check. Funny, check. Bad Ass, triple check! And she's inspired more PSL than anybody else on this list. Hell, even Shakespeare thought she was hot stuff!
She's practical, keeps her calm, has a bottomless well of patience and yet knows when to put her foot down (and calls the Doctor on his BS when she tells her brother to hide in "The Sound of Drums"), runs in heels and vaults desks in skirts, saves the world twice, knows when to walk away, and then went on to REMAIN awesome in series 4. A lot of people seem to dislike Martha because she was 'personality-less', but it wasn't that at all. She was a woman who may not have taken over a room when she walked into it, true, but she got shit done awesomely. Oh, and she talks like this to the man she's head over heels, puppy-dog eyed for and hasn't known for long at all, and who is showing her the universe:
Doctor: Oh, right, are you staying, then?
Martha: Until you talk to me properly, yes. 'The last of your kind' ... what did he mean by that?
Doctor: It really doesn't matter -
Martha: You don't talk! You never say!
Martha was mature, responsible, and independently capable. She thought before acting, generally considered the welfare of others besides herself and the Doctor, and chose to be where she was needed (with her family and UNIT) over where she might have wanted to be (exploring the universe with the guy she was head-over-heels for.) I'm not trying to dis Rose here, she was a nice girl, but until her return in series 4, that was all I ever really saw in her. I was first introduced to Doctor Who with the new series, so for me Martha was the first companion I actually admired.
The reason much of the fandom didn't like Martha was because they couldn't cope with Rose leaving. If they look at Martha they can see she is perhaps the best companion of New Who. This video really shows how great Martha is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW_xiQtGqHk Something pointed out here is that Martha is the only one of the New Series companions who leaves on her own terms. She doesn't need the Doctor to have an awesome time, as series 2 Torchwood showed. Certainly one of the most underrated characters.
BrigadierSir Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Badass Normal extraordinaire who has traveled with more Doctors than anyone else put together. Still kicking ass and taking names in his seventies. Alien scum? Get the hell off his world, if you know what's good for you.
He was only in one episode, note this version, any way but Pete Tyler really made an impression. He was smart enough to see through Rose's (admittedly paper-thin) lies, didn't spend the whole episode agonizing over the fact that his daughter had time-traveled, realized what needed to be done, and did it with a smile on his face.
Amy Pond. She's so different than the previous 2005-era companions. Where they were the everygirls, she's, well, a bit mad. And Karen just makes her so likeable even when she's so wonderfully flawed. Brilliant.
The previous three main New Series companions are Made of Win in their own rights, but Amy isn't just a companion. She's as much a part of Eleven as the TARDIS, the sonic, and the angry horde of Daleks. Amy Pond is why Eleven is who he is, and vice versa.
No love for Jamie McCrimmon? He was spectacular!
Yes. Yes, yes, yes — brave and sweet and funny and fantastically, unswervingly loyal.
Again, only in one episode-but Commander Adelaide Brooke. Showed in every moment she was on screen her concern for her crew-tough, tough lady with a dreamer's heart. When the Doctor's PTSD overcame him and he pulled her and two of her crew out of Bowie Base before its destruction, she did what she had to do to correct the timeline. And it was horrible, and powerful, and glorious. Peace to you, Commander Brooke.
Sergeant Benton. Unflappable, cheerful, unfailingly loyal, and into ballroom dancing. The first person to see the inside of the TARDIS and just accept it for what it was, because "nothing about you surprises me anymore."
One of Doctor Who's spinoffs, Faction Paradox, has a few. Most are perfect Magnificent Bastards, but that doesn't make them any less awesome. Cousins Eliza and Justine for one. How many people, aliens or deities are there willing to take on what essentially amounts to a psychotic TARDIS (or a living timeline) with all of the Master's deviousness and evil, confront her for control of Gallifrey and win?
River Song? She is magnificently fascinating and badass.
Not only that, but she's such a Woobie! Daughter of Amy and Rory, kidnapped from them as a baby and raised to be a living weapon. Not much is known about her upbringing yet, but we know that she was kept in an extremely creepy orphanage as a child (along with an insane caretaker and frightening aliens) before being locked in a space suit where she was clearly terrified. She is hardly fazed when she regenerates in an alley, with only a homeless guy to worry about her well being. And she was arrested for "killing the best man she ever knew". Technically wrongfully. All this while she is moving along the timestream opposite to her beloved Doctor, and we know that when they meet for the first/last time, she will die in a Heroic Sacrifice.
Same universe as the above, but different show: Ianto Jones, Owen Harper, Gwen Cooper and Toshiko Sato of Torchwood.
On that note, Miracle Day was fantastic! Excellent actors and great writing.
Doctor Who has a multi-universe of amazing characters, not least of which is the enigmatic, often Adorkable, sometimes Insufferable Genius of a time-travelling, face-changing, universe-saving and running-a-lot Madman with a Box of a main character himself.
Clara "Oswin" Oswald is an incredibly refreshing and enjoyable companion—she's special and knows it, is totally happy with her life and job, enthusiastically throws herself into every adventure with the Doctor, and is exuberant and confident almost to the point of cockiness. It's really quite fun to watch her run around like mad, throwing out witticisms and sass, but still paying attention to the little things like the girl in "The Rings of Akhaten".
The very underrated Lucie Miller, who I think still tops all New Who companions. Like Donna, not interested romantically in the Doctor. She may seem Book Dumb, but she's resourceful, brave, has great chemistry with 8, and like Martha leaves on her own terms. Her adventures are a joy to listen to. And she has one of the greatest companion endings I have ever watch... experienced! Crashing a spaceship into the Dalek mines before they can turn Earth into a plague planet and defeating the terrifying Dalek Time Controller.
The Dalek Time Controller itself is one of the greatest villains in all Doctor Who! A Dalek who understands time and directs their time travel strategies, with a delightfully evil voice that sounds like Blofeld's cat speaking as a silky Dalek. According to 8 the most dangerous Dalek, carefully manipulating the timelines to bring about Dalek control. A character who causes trouble for New and Classic Who, in reverse order!
Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines, 1966-1969; guest appearances in 1983 and 1985): Jamie is in many ways an exception to several of the rules listed above. He's male, originates from well before the twentieth century (being a Scottish piper at the Battle of Culloden in 1745), and yet not only did he appear in the most episodes, (117 in total), but to this day remains a popular, well-loved companion. Proof that playing with the formula can pay off.
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Trope Namer for The Brigadier. A man who despite all he went through remained courageous. One of the Doctor's best friends and the only man who was ever his Boss (when he worked for the Time Lords he was unwilling).
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen, 1973-1976; guest appearances in 1983, 2006 and 2008): The fact that Sarah Jane Smith has reappeared in the show more than any previous companion and has had two spin-offs built around her (K-9 and Company in 1981, which failed to make it past the pilot stage, and The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2007, which was a bit more successful) should suggest something. She's usually considered the archetypal companion; a human journalist from twentieth and twenty-first century London, she embodies a lot of the traits listed above. Katy Manning, who played companion Jo Grant, called her "the quintessential Doctor Who girl," which is about as accurate a summation as you're gonna get. You could do worse for role models. (Lis Sladen sadly passed away from cancer in April 2011. The entire fandom, old and new, grieved her hard - but as Russell T Davies said, "Sarah Jane will go on forever." She is, as she will always be, our Sarah Jane.)
Romana (Mary Tamm, 1978-1979; Lalla Ward, 1979-1981): Romana is, if not the first, then at least among the first of the companions who was also arguably the Doctor's equal. A fellow Time Lord, she was demonstrated to be his rival and possibly even superior in the intelligence stakes (if still rather naive and sheltered, thus enabling her to perform a lot of the traditional roles of the companion). This enabled her to generate a chemistry with the Doctor unlike that seen with previous companions, based on a more even keel; Romana was quite capable of snarking at the Doctor and upstaging him if necessary. With Romana, we also see the beginnings of UST between the Doctor and companion (helped by the fact that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, the second Romana, were off-camera involved in a relationship). As she was played by two actresses, both contributed in making the character a memorable success.
Ace (Sophie Aldred, 1987-1989): As mentioned above, Ace single-handedly inspired the entire Crowning Moment Of Awesome list; not bad.summary She once went to town on a Dalek with a superpowered-baseball bat. She's a key influence for the modern-style companion, precisely because she's a complete break from the 'screamer' cliché; she's a tough, savvy, snarky kid. However, she's also one of the few companions in the classic series who was given any real sort of character depth and Character Development beyond a fairly shallow backstory; the 1989 series is essentially all about the Doctor helping Ace resolve her childhood issues as much as it is about fighting monsters, which was quite novel for the series at the time. She still has some of the best character in the Whole Series.
Charley Pollard: An Edwardian Adventurous with a lot of character, who the Doctor risked the Web of Time rather then kill. Smart, adventurous, and brave, she got to travel with the Doctor before she first met him.
Donna Noble (Catherine Tate, 2006; 2008; 2009): Originally appearing in the 2006 Christmas special and returning as the companion of Series 4, Donna was the first female companion in the new series who didn't fall in love with the Doctor. She started off as The Scrappy, but her Character Development made her incredibly popular. Through out the season, she constantly called the Doctor out when he was being hypocritical. In contrast to The Doctor's ability to see the big picture, Donna was good at noticing the details that the Doctor often overlooked or thought insignificant.
Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill, 2010-2012) Rory is the first long-term male companion in the new series, and is quickly turning into a fan-favorite. Starting out as just a bumbling everyman, Rory turned into an extremely loyal, plain BAD-ASS character, who even manages to surpass the Doctor in terms of awesome moments on occasion. In some ways, he is almost a male Ace, albeit with a more sweet disposition. The fact that Rory is on this shortlist and not his wife, who's been on twice as many adventures with the Doctor, is saying a LOT.
River Song (Alex Kingston, 2008; 2010-present) Her first appearance in the two-parter episode Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead painted her as not only a possible love interest for the Doctor, but as someone he would come to trust enough by his side to tell her his name. Her appearances in Series Five and Six only prove this more and more. She was a weapon to kill the Doctor and "did". But she's also saved his life. Also she's the daughter of the above badass, is able to make a Dalek beg for mercy three times, and shot a Silent dead from behind without even looking at it... meaning she didn't know it was behind her or that it existed. And... She's the Doctor's Wife. (No, not that one, though they do get on quite well.)
Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables). The 6th Doctor's Big Finish companion, and a doctor in her own right (of history). She's a middle-aged woman who doesn't take any of Sixie's crap. She features in some the Sixth Doctor's best adventures, such as "Jubilee".