Doctor Who: Why Ian and Barbara are two of the greatest companions ever


Ian and Barbara are not just two of the first companions in Doctor Who history. We also think that they’re two of the best.

(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.

Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

Ian and Barbara are more than just the first human companions in Doctor Who. In our opinion, we also think that they’re two of the greatest.

When possible, we like to publish a wide variety of views at Doctor Who Watch. After all, we all enjoy Doctor Who for a wide range of different reasons, and we’ve all taken different things away from the series. It’s why for Series Eleven, all writers were encouraged to submit reviews for each episode, so we could get such distinctly different views.

So naturally, while I might be Site Expert for the site, I won’t always agree with every opinion given. When a list was written for the 30 greatest companions, I knew immediately that I’d disagree with it on some level. After all, we all have our personal rankings on who our favorite companions are. Who makes such a list and who doesn’t is down to purely personal choice.

However, I was still shocked at the fact that two companions didn’t make the list. Two very important and very influential companions: Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.

If you’re not caught up on Doctor Who history, Ian and Barbara were the first human companions that the Doctor ever had. They were there for his first incarnation at the very beginning. More than that – they arguably had a greater, more significant impact on them than any companion has since.

Ian and Barbara’s long journey with the Doctor begain in the first ever story, An Unearthly Child…

(Photo credit: Doctor Who/BBC.

Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

How it began

When the Doctor first met Ian and Barbara, back in An Unearthly Child, they didn’t travel with him willingly. In fact, he effectively kidnapped them!

It all began when they were investigating one of their mysterious pupils, Susan Foreman. She was, in Ian’s words:

"…absolutely brilliant at some things, and excruciatingly bad at others!"

Naturally, both of the two schoolteachers wanted to learn more by following her home. Which, as it turned out, was an old junkyard. A junkyard that, for some reason, had a police telephone box in it.

However, when they heard Susan’s voice from the phone box, they believed that she had been locked up in there by a strange, old man they had just met. It was only when they rushed into the box that they learned three things.

First, that Susan wasn’t locked up in the phone box. Second, that the old man was in fact Susan’s grandfather. And third, that the phone box was really a ship that could travel in time and space.

Despite not believing any of it, at least initially, the Doctor was desperate enough to take off the ship with the two unknowing humans still on board, rather than risk Susan either leaving him or being taken away from him.

Unfortunately for Ian and Barbara, this was at a point when the Doctor had absolutely no control over where the TARDIS went. So the Doctor couldn’t even get them home!

When Ian and Barbara first started traveling with the Doctor, they weren’t the closest of friends. But that eventually changed…

(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.

Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

Reluctant companions

As you can imagine, this made things difficult for the original TARDIS crew, to say the least. For a long time, particularly during the first three serials (thirteen episodes altogether), there was a distinct lack of trust between them.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that the Doctor would often work towards his own agenda during the beginning of his travels. Far from the hero that he would later become, he was more concerned with purely satisfying his own sense of curiosity, sometimes at the expense of the safety of the people he traveled with.

This was especially clear in their second adventure The Daleks. When they arrive on a strange, dead world (which they later learn is called Skaro), they soon discover a huge city. Everyone else is keen to leave the planet, but the Doctor instead wants to investigate the city further. He even fakes a fault in a core component, the fluid link, to ensure that they went there.

Unfortunately, he didn’t know that the atmosphere had dangerously high levels of radiation. The longer they walked around on the planet, the more they were exposed to it. As a result, they spent a portion of the story suffering from radiation sickness. And it’s all the Doctor’s fault.

So like I said, things weren’t easy for this TARDIS crew, at least not initially. But that did begin to change.

The original TARDIS team shared many adventures together, and eventually became close friends.

(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.

Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

A strong team

The key thing about Ian and Barbara was that they were the first humans that the Doctor had ever traveled with. So it’s understandable why, at first, he was reluctant to see their point of view. Up until that point, it had just been him and his granddaughter on their travels. A granddaughter from the same civilization as he was, which made conversation relatively easy.

However, suddenly, he was traveling with two aliens from a civilization far more primitive than his. He had to explain so much more on their travels, to each of them. And he had to get used to their own sense of morality, too.

However, over time, each of them learned to accept each other. The Edge of Destruction was a key example of this. When all their distrust of each other was brought out into the open, ironically, it made them a far stronger team in the long term.

Learning to be a hero

Each of them made mistakes, but each of them also learned to forgive each other. And the Doctor started to learn that sometimes, it wasn’t enough just to visit planets and see the wonders of the universe. Sometimes, it was important to fight against evil. This was definitely something that he learned from Ian. He may never have got his surname right, but he did eventually learn how to be a hero.

And this is why Ian and Barbara are so brilliant and so important. Without them, the Doctor would never have become the hero that we all know and love today. The First Doctor went through so much growth, and that’s a direct result of Ian and Barbara.

When the Doctor said goodbye to them, it was a deeply upsetting and emotional one. He was very reluctant to see them go, something that wasn’t true at the start of their travels. But they were both happy to return home. It’s a perfectly emotional exit for two great characters.

Ian and Barbara were often an adorable couple, especially in comedy historical The Romans.

(Photo credit: Doctor Who/BBC.

Image obtained from: BBC Press.)

An adorable couple

There’s one more thing I need to mention: just how cute Ian and Barbara really are. Seriously, there was so much chemistry between the two characters, and they were fantastic to watch together.

More from Winter is Coming

Even though they never became a couple on-screen, across the expanded universe, everything confirms that the two got married. Books, comics, audios. Even The Sarah Jane Adventures confirmed it!

It’s really not hard to see why. While nothing was ever said on-screen about how they were in love with each other or even a couple, they acted like an old-married couple from the very beginning. In fact, I had one friend ask me – just from seeing one scene of seeing the two together – if they were a couple. That’s how adorable these two are to watch.

I’ve always thought that Ian and Barbara were two of the unsung heroes of the Whoniverse. The recent companion listing seemed to confirm that. But, for this writer, at least, they will always be two of the greatest companions in Doctor Who history.

Next. Resolution added a few new details to Dalek mythology. dark

Are you a fan of Ian and Barbara? Do you think they should be considered two of the greatest companions in Doctor Who? Let us know in the comments below.