Who’s Next: Faye Marsay

The next actress we might feasibly see in the companion role come Series 10 is one of the names more often bandied about, ever since her much-acclaimed appearance in the 2014 Christmas special, Last Christmas. It’s Faye Marsay.

Faye Marsay seems to fit the profile of a prospective Doctor Who companion actress: she’s young and obviously talented, but, for now, relatively unknown—or up-and-coming, depending on how you want to look at it. A stint as a Doctor Who companion has often been a springboard for talented up-and-coming young actresses to rise to greater prominence in the film and television industry, à la Billie Piper, Karen Gillan and now Jenna Coleman, who’s now going off to play the high-profile eponymous role in Victoria on ITV.

Faye Marsay’s appeal lies in the fact that she already has an established character in Doctor Who, the quirky, endearing Shona McCullough, a “would-be” companion if there ever was one. Shona made an impressive impact upon the fandom, and Marsay built up literally overnight her own sizable faction of Shona fans who want to see Shona travel with the Doctor. That’s not just a testament to the wonderful character created by Steven Moffat, it’s a credit to Marsay herself, who’s clearly an exceptional actress, having brought vividly to life her character and captured the audience’s affections within moments of her appearing onscreen.

There’s so much that’s right in bringing Shona back as a companion. She’s a genuinely engaging and lovable character. She’s very different from Clara, in the way she approaches the challenges she’s confronted with. She’s brave, like Clara, but she’s also, compared to Clara, refreshingly human. Clara has always displayed extraordinary qualities that make her, at times, almost as alien as the Doctor. Compared to Clara, Shona seems a much more relatable character — just an ordinary girl — and, in that way, recalls Rose.

An ordinary girl. That would be a big change in itself from The Impossible Girl, and The Girl Who Waited. But she’s also unordinary. She hasn’t got the enviable, photogenic life of Amy or Clara or Martha, and she hasn’t got the super-stunning looks of pretty much every female Doctor Who companion ever (don’t get me wrong, though, she’s still pretty). Shona is quirky and eccentric, and not a generic “Mary-Sue” by any means. She has an off-kilter sense of humour. She looks like she has a very mundane and unfulfilling life, as though she’s just crying out to be whisked away in the Tardis. In these respects, she’d be much like the Moffat era’s Donna, or even an unconventional Ace-like companion. This is good. A change from stunning, sweet-natured girls-next-door would be very welcome.

But there’s one pretty big reason I don’t want Shona to be the next companion. In almost any other set of circumstances, I’d love to see Shona board the Tardis. It’s just that, as refreshing a change as she would be, she’s still not different enough from literally all her predecessors since 2005 to make a real difference. She’d be another “ordinary” British girl from the 21st Century. In any other circumstance, Shona would be an exciting change, but, after five 21st Century British girls in 10 years, Shona would feel tedious and repetitive. To the casual audience, she’d be difficult to distinguish from the five characters with strikingly similar profiles that preceded her. The casual audience might reasonably conclude that it’s all more of the same and that they’ve seen all this before. And, frankly, I’d be bored, too.

It’s for these reasons that, as much as I love Shona’s character, I don’t want her to be the next companion.

This show really does need to get away from the standard companion archetype, at least for a while. I’ve loved all the modern Doctor Who companions, each in their own way, but repetitive and unoriginal is the one thing Doctor Who shouldn’t be. The show should even avoid the appearance of repetitiveness, as the traumatic experience of the late 1980s should have taught us.

The show did successfully break the mould of young Doctors in the fantastic Peter Capaldi, so there’s no reason it couldn’t break the mould of young, ordinary, British and 21st Century (YOB21’s?), too. The classic series always managed to mix it up fairly consistently, plucking its companions from the past, present and future, from alien worlds, and even, shock horror, from the male sex—that is, as proper companions rather than attached to main female companions.

If Doctor Who wants to keep the 21st Century British girl formula, it needs to do something radically different in respect of the profile of the next companion: Lady Christina de Souza was a superb example, and, personally, I’d have loved to have seen Lady Christina travel with Ten as a proper companion. But part of Lady Christina’s appeal was that, even with the same gender, nationality and time period as Rose, Martha and Donna, she was so different from what we were used to in a companion, and she brought such distinctive qualities to the role because of her unique profile.

Something to think about.

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