Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Barbara and Ian


One thing that re-watching the Hartnell years teaches you is that Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian (William Russell) are one of the series finest companion partnerships. They last from An Unearthly Child to The Chase. Sixteen stories and - roughly - seventy-seven episodes. A not insignificant chunk of Doctor Who that.

Ian and Barbara are teachers at Coal Hill School. Barbara teaches history and Ian 'science'. It is Barbara's curiosity about their pupil Susan, who seems to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma, that leads them to a junkyard. It is from there that they are kidnapped by the Doctor and whisked off into time and space.

Initially the relationship between the Doctor and his 'hostages' is naturally a prickly one. The Hartnell Doctor is a particularly grumpy take on the part, especially early on. Indeed even as late as The Reign of Terror The Doctor is capable of throwing a childish tantrum that leads to him threatening to dump Ian and Barbara at their next landing place.

In the end though it is the Doctor's relationship with Barbara and Ian that 'humanises' him. They're there when he leaves Susan behind and when Vicki joins the team and their decision to leave in The Chase seems to make him genuinely upset and angry.

The Chase ends with a lovely little montage and scene of Ian and Barbara back in London. It is 1965, so they've got some explaining to do about their two year absence. After all in 1963 they disappeared and Ian's abandoned car will be found outside Totter's Lane. Now they're going to reappear.

Barbara and Ian are also - in my head canon - the first couple to travel in the TARDIS. Whilst they might not be together at the beginning it says something about their relationship that Barbara is willing to present Ian with her Susan issues and that Ian will support her. But by the time we get to the start of The Romans there is no way they are not an item. Perhaps it is wishful thinking but when they return to Earth in The Chase I think they're settling down together to a life of teaching and travelling. With some special project work with UNIT or Countermeasures under the watchful eye of Torchwood probably too.

Ian is played by William Russell, who had been the lead in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot back in 1956-57. Ian's initially more baffled by the TARDIS and the Doctor than Barbara. Perhaps his 'science' background makes it harder for him to face up to the TARDIS mucking up his long held theories and knowledge.

If Ian's the same age as William Russell he's almost 40 when they stumble into the TARDIS, which means he might well have served in the armed forces during World War Two. If he's a little younger then whilst he might have missed World War Two he would definitely have done National Service, which could have meant front line service in one of Britain's handful of end of Empire conflicts. It would certainly explain his comfort with hand-to-hand combat and, as seen in The Aztecs, his ability to render a man unconscious with only this thumb.

Ian carries the main weight of the fighting - with the lovely exception of The Romans - during his time in the series and most of his stories feature a fight for Ian to get involved in. A lot of the time they aren't particularly well-choreographed until The Romans.

He's often asked to do little more than be stolid, heroic and determined and it is to William Russell's credit that he manages to make Ian seem like a real human being. On occasion he gets to be the voice of reason and he's almost trustworthiness in human form. People - aliens or not - seem to trust Ian. He's sometimes the moral centre of the story, particular before The Doctor starts behaving like the Doctor we know now.

If Ian is solid it is Barbara that really shines. Jacqueline Hill is magnificent as Barbara right from the off. It is Barbara that calls out the Doctor most often and in The Aztecs gets the chance to challenge the Doctor's view of time. Barbara tries to save the Aztecs from themselves but fails. It gives Jacqueline Hill a real chance to shine as she goes head-to-head with the Doctor and Tlotoxl. It is Barbara that challenges the Doctor in Edge of Destruction and who makes him apologise.

Barbara does suffer from being on the receiving end of the unwanted attentions of people like Vasor in The Keys of Marinus but she is rarely simply a peril monkey. Even in stories where she spends her time being captured and threatened there is always a strength to Barbara that makes her a model for other companions, particularly Sarah Jane. Barbara can be afraid and brave at the same time. She rarely backs down. Her attempt to bluff the Daleks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth is one of my favourite Barbara scenes.

I think both Ian and Barbara deserve to be better remembered by Doctor Who fans as wonderful companions. It helps that both are fine actors who take every decent opportunity they get to show what they are capable of and can help raise more average material to a higher level but for me Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) is one of the great Doctor Who companions. I mean what is Clara if not Barbara with less cardigans and a little more 'mystery'.

I'd recommend The Aztecs to see Barbara at her best and The Crusade to see Ian doing his thang but for the story that shows both of them at their best and shows the strength of their relationship than I'd go for The Romans. But I'd pick The Romans as one of the highlights of the Hartnell era full stop.

The TARDIS won't be the same without them.

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