Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ben & Polly

Like Barbara and Ian, I felt that Ben and Polly deserve a joint blog. Why? Because like Barbara and Ian I felt - and this is purely my own personal head canon - that they're destined to stay together after their time with the Doctor. Perhaps it is just because they depart together but I think there's more to it than that.

From their introduction in The War Machines Ben and Polly were an item. It took Polly to shake Ben out of his foul mood and Ben was insistent that they should find and rescue Polly, which he did. Polly also shook off enough of Wotan's influence to let Ben escape. By the time we get to The Underwater Menace there's no way these two aren't an item. In the final episode, Ben asks the Doctor 'What about Polly?' ignoring Jamie's very existence and it is Ben that Polly rushes to hug. They also choose to leave together in The Faceless Ones and the Doctor tells Polly to 'look after Ben.' So I'm all for Ben and Polly staying together post-TARDIS. I don't think it was ever easy. There's the class difference for a start. The implication was always that Polly was 'posh' and Ben was 'common'. I think they were supposed to be Doctor Who's dip into the modern world.

Ben was Michael Caine - and perhaps it is a coincidence that one of Michael Caine's earliest film appearances was as a sailor (blink and you'll miss him) in 1957's Sailor Beware - the young cockney lad. He wasn't a geezer. He was a nice lad. A bit rough around the edges, inclined to complain and bit but loyal, brave and fun.

Polly was...well...Polly was one of the women of the mid-60s: independent, fun and absolutely refusing to be put in a box. Yes, occasionally she can be a little snobbish, especially to Kirsty in The Highlanders but she's good-hearted. It is her idea to put together the 'Polly Cocktail' in The Moonbase  and she refuses to stay behind when told too. She isn't feisty, which has become something of an over-used word in Doctor Who terms, but she isn't a soft-touch either.

Michael Craze and Anneke Wills make a great team too. They have chemistry. It's such a shame that their time in the programme has been so battered by the destruction of Doctor Who in the archive. Of the 40 episodes of their time in the programme only 13 still exist. The only story in that exists in its entirety is their debut: The War Machines, which makes it hard to make a fair judgement of their time except through audio/reconstructions. But I always liked them as a team. They seemed like normal people who had fun with the Doctor for a while but eventually wanted to go home. After all, there are only so many times one can be knocked out, brainwashed, kidnapped or threatened with death before it seems less like fun and more like duty.

The truth is once Jamie appeared on the scene Ben and Polly's time in the series was limited. Three companions are too many to give properly balance stories too. Someone always has to end up unconscious or missing, which ends up making Ben and Polly's final story a bit of a waste as they hardly feature in most of it. It wasn't exactly going out in a blaze of glory. It seems to be a hangover to the arbitrary way in which companions were written out at the tail end of the Hartnell era the nadir of which was Dodo's departure. It doesn't have the post-departure joy that Ian and Barbara's departure does in The Chase but you hope that they have a happy life post-TARDIS. According to the Sarah Jane Adventures, they're running an orphanage together in India so I'm not the only one who thinks they're destined to be together forever.

Sadly Michael Craze died in 1998. Anneke Wills, who I've actually met briefly at a signing or two, has led an amazing life. Her two volumes of autobiography - Self Portrait and Naked - are well-worth reading. Not just for the Doctor Who tales but because she has a lot of stories to tell. It's a life worth reading about. She has worked frequently with Big Finish on Companion Chronicles and where they've re-cast Ben Jackson with Elliot Chapman who does a sterling job. The Companion Chronicles are, by the way, some of the best Doctor Who stories you'll hear so if you've not dipped into Big Finish and you have a fondness for or curiosity about Ben and Polly then this might be a good place to begin.


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