One of my favorite things about Doctor Who is the first trip the Doctor makes with any new companion. Now I’m not talking about their first adventure, where they meet the Doctor and get pulled into a much larger world than they knew existed the day before. No, I’m talking about their first trip, the moment they decide they want to travel through time and space with the Doctor inside that little blue box. I love it, in part, because these episodes always make me think how would you even begin to choose?!!? If you had allllllllllll of time and space laid out before you, where would you even want to go first? How could you pick?!? Or, if you were in the Doctor’s place, how do you decide what first to show your new companion?
While the Millennium Falcon, “the fastest hunk of junk in the [Star Wars] galaxy,” was my long running love as the single greatest ship in all of fiction (and I’m not just talking sci-fi here, I mean all of fiction ever) for many years, my heart has now been fully, willingly, and completely given to the TARDIS. The Falcon had a good run; it did. And I’ll always love it! But there’s nothing like the TARDIS. Given the choice – in every way, shape, or form – I’d much rather travel in the Doctor’s Type 40 TARDIS than Han Solo’s Corellian YT-1300 light stock freighter.
First, there’s the obvious. While the Falcon is fast, it’s got nothing on the TARDIS. And the TARDIS can take you anywhere in all of time and space in one wheezing instant of “Vworp! Vworp! Vworp!”ing. Who passes that up?? Second, while I’ve always loved the Falcon’s personality and how it is very much its own character in the Star Wars films (I still love it for that), the TARDIS is all of that and more. I like her personality more than the Falcon’s, too.
Most importantly, I love what the TARDIS is, what she symbolizes, what she creates. In this, the TARDIS has my love and respect and admiration. Because while the Millennium Falcon is – and will forever be – a really cool ship, the TARDIS is alive and – by her very nature – she creates community. The TARDIS isn’t just a way to travel through time and space but a way to foster connections. The TARDIS invites and encourages family to grow in and around her. To my mind, nothing can be more beautiful and appealing than that.
Unlike most ships, TARDISes aren’t built. They’re grown. Once born, there is “a small degree of both virtual and manual construction work that takes place” but it wouldn’t be accurate to talk of a TARDIS being assembled as you would any other ship.  Along with being born instead of built, the TARDIS itself is sentient. So, while it’s a machine, yes, its personality is the byproduct of it being a living, thinking being. I’ve always felt the Twelfth Doctor’s explanation to Bill of how the TARDIS travels (in “Smile,” S10E2) captures it with more clarity than any other. As she’s walking about the control room Bill asks, “Where’s the steering wheel?” The Doctor replies, “Well, you don’t steer the TARDIS. You negotiate with her. The still point between where you want to go and where you need to be, that’s where she takes you.”
This point is reiterated in the following episode when, expecting to return to London in 2017, the Doctor and Bill find themselves exiting the TARDIS on the Thames during the last great Frost Fair on 4 February 1814. Bill says, “Hang on, why aren’t we home? Can’t you steer this thing?” The Doctor says, “I told you, you don’t steer the TARDIS, you reason with it.” Bill asks, “How?” The Doctor admits, “Unsuccessfully most of the time. She’s a bad girl, this one, always looking for trouble.” Once the Doctor directs her to the wardrobe to help them blend in with the aesthetic of 1814, Bill says, “So the TARDIS has dresses and likes a bit of trouble? Yeah, I think I’m low key in love with that.” The Doctor agrees, “Me too.” I’d second…or, uh, third, I guess…all of that :).
Being sentient, the TARDIS takes those who travel within her to where they need to be and where they need to be is often where others are in need of help. I love this. I love that this unbelievable ship understands all of time and space may be open to you, but there is also a responsibility that comes with being able to travel like this. As the Doctor tells Bill and Nardole (in “Oxygen” S10E5) when they ask why they don’t just leave when things become exceedingly dangerous, “The universe shows its true face when it asks for help. We show ours by how we respond.” So the TARDIS forces those who travel within her to acknowledge their true face and/or choose who they will be.
In addition to always helping those in need, the TARDIS fosters communion with its structure as well. “TARDIS” stands for “Time And Relative Dimension In Space,” an acronym created by the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan. Susan was one of the first to travel with the Doctor and she used the term to help explain what the TARDIS is and how it functions. This became the defacto name of the ship because of how far and wide the Doctor has travelled, as beings from all across the cosmos recognize a vessel like that as a “TARDIS.” This name has a double meaning, too, speaking to how it moves through time but also how it’s “bigger on the inside.”
Given the Time Lords’ mastery of transdimensional engineering, while the TARDIS may look like a li’l blue police box from the outside it, in fact, “would be impossible to enumerate the thousands of chambers and connecting passageways within the TARDIS.” This near-infinite amount of space means the TARDIS can welcome and accommodate a staggering amount of beings comfortably. Bring the whole fam! There’s no shortage of room! Travelling across time and space can be as community-oriented experience as the Doctor chooses (which, given the relative isolation the Doctor often travels in, speaks to a certain sort of trauma/tragedy/loneliness of the Doctor’s life (but that contemplation’s best saved for another post)). Within the TARDIS’ vast array of rooms we find bedrooms, several bathrooms (including a luxurious one), a massive wardrobe with clothing for all manner of beings and all manner of body types from all points of history across space and time, a kitchen, an mammoth library, a swimming pool, an art gallery, a greenhouse, several squash courts, a karaoke bar, and a jacuzzi. All this is to say, the TARDIS doesn’t simply hold many people onboard but it is a comfortable and welcoming place to be.
Lastly, the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits foster community in two essential ways, too. She bonds telepathically with all those who travel within her. This symbiotic bond allows the Doctor to maneuver such an exceedingly complex machine while also transferring the knowledge necessary to operate the TARDIS to an individual with a connection to her in emergency situations. So we see communion between the TARDIS and those who travel with her. We also see the TARDIS foster communion between those who travel with her and all those they encounter on their travels. The telepathic circuits automatically translate any foreign language – spoken or written – inside your head.
The TARDIS is a sentient ship with no weapons and it creates avenues to easy communication for all beings across time and space, bonds with those who travel in her, encourages you to engage in your ethical responsibility to the other, and is vast enough to accommodate whomever you’d like to travel with. Given all this beauty of the TARDIS’ nature plus the ability to go anywhere in all of space and time, it’s not surprising that so many people have leapt at the chance to travel with the Doctor. In brief, here’s a little look at each companion’s first trip in the TARDIS (note, as is clear below, I’m not going through all of “classic” Doctor Who – I’ve only just started watching those episodes myself (but who knows? I may do a follow-up to this post someday featuring all the “classic” companions)):
Rose Tyler – “The End of the World” (S1E2) – the Doctor takes Rose five billion years into the future to see the last day of the Earth. They join a gathering of wealthy delegates from across the cosmos who have paid for the privilege of being aboard the space station Platform One as the sun expands into a red giant and consumes the Earth.
Captain Jack Harkness – “Boom Town” (S1E11) – after meeting during the Blitz in WWII London, Captain Jack decides to travel with the Doctor and Rose. They end up back on Earth, in Cardiff in 2005. They encounter the Slitheen Blaine once again, as she tries to destroy Earth for a trip off world.
Mickey Smith – “The Girl in the Fireplace” (S2E4) – after Mickey finally decides to journey with the Doctor and Rose, they find themselves aboard an abandoned spaceship in the 51st century. The ship is filled with windows and doors which open into the life of Madame de Pompadour in 18th century France.
Martha Jones – “The Shakespeare Code” (S3E2) – the Doctor takes Martha into the past, to the Globe Theatre in 1599 where they meet William Shakespeare along with a band of wicked Carrionite witches seeking to free their banished brethren from captivity.
Donna Noble – “The Fires of Pompeii” (S4E2) – after two random meetings with the Doctor (the 2006 Christmas special “The Runaway Bride” and “Partners in Crime” (S4E1)), Donna agrees to travel with the Doctor. They arrive in Pompeii on 23 October 79 CE…the eve of the volcano’s eruption.
Amy Pond – “The Beast Below” (S5E2) – running off with her “raggedy man in a box” on the eve of her wedding, Amy travels with the Doctor to Starship UK in the 3290’s. It is the ship built to house and evacuate the population of the UK when Earth was threatened by solar flares in the 29th century.
Rory Williams – “The Vampires of Venice” (S5E6) – picking Rory up on his stag night, the Doctor takes both Rory and Amy to Venice in 1580, in an attempt to help strengthen their relationship on the eve of their wedding by showing Rory some of the wonders Amy’s seen, too.
Clara Oswald – “The Rings of Akhaten” (S7E6) – the Doctor and Clara journey to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten in the distant future to attend a religious festival. While there, they learn Merry Gejeth, the Young Queen of Years, is to be sacrificed to the parasitic alien force, Akhaten.
Nardole – “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” (Christmas Special 2016) – ok, so we don’t know that this is Nardole’s first trip with the Doctor after they meet in the year’s previous Christmas special. In fact, it’s probably not. But I love his character and this is the first time we see him travelling with the Doctor so I’m including it. They travel to New York City in 2016 to battle body-stealing alien brains alongside a reporter and mild mannered nanny/superhero.
Bill Potts – “Smile” (S10E2) – the Doctor takes Bill to one of Earth’s first space colonies (the planet is unnamed in the episode) in the far future. The human colony is run by a bunch of emoji-bearing robots or, as the Doctor describes it, “the utopia of vacuous teens.” As with Rose, the Doctor asks Bill where she wants to go. Excitedly she says, “the future.” When he asks her why she says, “Why do you think? I want to see if its happy!”
Graham O’Brien, Yasmin Khan, and Ryan Sinclair – “The Tsuranga Conundrum” (S11E5) – after being inadvertently pulled along with the Doctor to another planet (S11E2) and the past (S11E3), the Doctor finally gets them home (S11E4). As she prepares to leave, they decide to stay and travel along with her. Their first proper adventure with the Doctor finds them besieged by an adorable-yet-deadly PTING on the medic ship Tsuranga 1 in the 67th century.
(It’s worth noting, River Song was intentionally left off this list as Alex Kingston, the actress who plays River, doesn’t see her as a companion. River is almost universally listed amongst the Doctor’s companions but I feel the woman who plays her has a unique insight into the character and I believe it’s important to follow her lead here.)
Alright, so, that’s where everyone else gets to go. But where would I go? I think about this ALL THE TIME. And, for me, if the Doctor popped up on my doorstep and if they asked if I’d fancy a trip in the box and if they asked me where I’d like to go, I’d pick the past. I would. No question about it. For my first trip, I’d want to go somewhere into the past of human history.
I know me. The far future and/or some distant alien planet is going to be a wee bit too overwhelming for me. At least at first! I’m not saying I’d never want to go see the future and alien worlds. Of course I would! Who has a chance to fly around in the TARDIS and doesn’t elect to check out the future and alien planets? But at first it would be too much. I’d much rather my first voyage be to explore the Earth’s past. That’s who I am and that’s more within my comfort zone.
Those are my favorite first trip episodes, too! I am so drawn to any episode where the Doctor takes someone to the past like that. I think the Doctor’s trip with Clara in “The Rings of Akhaten” is perhaps the most emotionally rich of all the first trips. The Doctor’s offering of his memories – all his pain and loss – to Akhaten, as well as Clara’s sacrifice of the leaf, always moves me to tears. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is one of my favorite Christmas specials because I just find the whole thing fun and adorable in all the right ways. Plus, NARDOLE!!!!! And I’ve already written about how Rose’s journey with the Doctor in “The End of the World” is the most fascinating of the first trips to me. But my all-around favorite first trip is – hands down, no question – Martha’s journey with the Doctor in “The Shakespeare Code.” I never tire of watching this episode! It’s one of my all-time favorite Doctor Who episodes just in general, too. Everything about it is perfect for me! The setting is a large part of that. The idea of seeing Shakespeare himself in the Globe Theatre is so exciting! I would definitely want something like that for my first time out in the TARDIS.
I should note, for my enjoyment’s sake, I love “The Fires of Pompei” and “The Vampires of Venice” for similar reasons, as far as the setting goes. I rewatch those episodes often, too. But if I’m dreaming up my ideal first trip in the TARDIS I’d much rather deal with Carrionite witches as I get to see a Shakespeare play with William Shakespeare than deal with the emotional trauma of Pompei’s destruction or all the young girls abducted and murdered by the Saturnyns.
However risk, both physical and emotional, is a natural part of travelling in the TARDIS. When we take seriously our call to help those in need, we can’t avoid the potential of harm to ourselves. I love the conversation the Doctor has with Yaz, Ryan, and Graham before they leave on their first proper trip together. It underscores the reality of where they’re heading and what they’re doing:
The Doctor – “I can’t guarantee that you’re gonna be safe.”
Yaz – “We know.”
The Doctor – “Do ya? Really? ‘Cause when I pull that lever I’m never quite sure what’s gonna happen.”
Ryan – “That’s ok.”
The Doctor – “You’re not gonna come back as the same people that left here.”
Graham – “But that’s alright. I think that’s good.”
The Doctor – “Be sure, all of you. Be sure.”
Yaz – “Sure.”
Graham – “Sure.”
Ryan – “Deffo.”
The Doctor – “[smiling] Look at you! My fam. No, still doesn’t quite work. Team TARDIS?”
Ryan – “Eh.”
Yaz – “We’ll take that.”
The Doctor – “Welcome aboard, properly. Oh! Do you wanna do it together? I love this bit.”
Then they all place their hands on the lever together and pull, sending the TARDIS hurtling off into the Time Vortex. And, given the chance, I’d love to do the same, risks and all. At the end of the day, willingly risking ourselves at times for others – even and especially for those we don’t know – is part of what it means to be a compassionate, aware being. And I think, in accepting the TARDIS’ call to do so, we become better, just as we can help others to a better place, too. We’re changed, yes, but for the better. And as Graham says, “that’s alright. I think that’s good.” If the TARDIS materializes on my doorstep, I’m jumping in and, if I’m given the choice, I’m asking to head off into the past. I’d LOVE to see all the great religious prophets and mystics – Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad, Lao Tzu, Moses, etc. and so on – preach. So if I get to pick more specifically than just the past (I know, I know…I’m being greedy), that’s where I’m going :D.
While I always hate ending a post with a question as it makes me feel needy and demanding, I’m going to do it anyway. But don’t feel you have to answer this. Ok? No pressure! Disclaimer aside, how about you? If the TARDIS materialized on your doorstep, where would you like to go on your first trip? The past? The future? An alien world? Where, with all of time and space open to you, do you feel called to go first??
Want more of my li’l series exploring every companion’s first trip on Doctor Who? Well you’re in luck! Check out:
Rose Tyler and the Doctor: Bonding at the End of the World explores “The End of the World” (S1E2) where the Doctor takes Rose five billion years into the future to see the last day of the Earth. This journey says so much about the Doctor’s emotional state and how Rose responds to their trip reveals much about who she is and why the Doctor needs her.
Clara Oswald and the Doctor: The Song of Our Souls walks through “The Rings of Akhaten” (S7E7) when the Doctor takes Clara to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten in the distant future, where they meet the young Queen of Years, Merry Gejeth. It is a beautiful celebration of our stories, our souls, and the infinite potential of a life.
 Richard Atkinson and Mike Tucker, Doctor Who: TARDIS Type 40 Instruction Manuel, (London: BBC Books, 2018), 12.
 It’s worth noting, most of this information I know from watching Doctor Who as much as I do so the citations are for two main purposes. First, I double-checked to be sure what I was saying was accurate. Second, I am all about low-key proud of the fact that I am citing my TARDIS manual which means I have this on my book shelf :).
 Atkinson and Tucker, 15.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 92.
 Ibid., 94-6.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 111.
 Sam Ashurst, “Here’s Why Your Favorite Companion Left Doctor Who,” Digital Spy. Published December 13, 2008. Accessed November 30, 2020. https://mycomicrelief.wordpress.com/2020/11/23/fancy-a-trip-in-the-box-considering-the-tardis-and-each-companions-first-trip/