The case for putting an assassin in the TARDIS

Miss Oswald has faced the raven and embarked on her final adventure, which leaves a Companion vacancy in the TARDIS. The Doctor clearly has some business he needs to settle back home, but once that’s sorted he’ll be looking for someone new to rattle around the universe with. Given New Who’s exploration of The Doctor’s darker nature, I’d like to suggest that the show takes inspiration from its roots and brings us a new Turlough.

To catch you up, in case you missed Mark Strickson’s brief run on Doctor Who back in the ‘80s, Vislor Turlough was a selfish, vaguely conniving alien stuck on Earth - in a boys’ school, no less - desperate to get off the planet. The Black Guardian, diametric opposite of the White Guardian and all around Bad Guy who’d like to throw the universe into chaos, made Turlough a deal: assassinate The Doctor and you get to bid Earth goodbye. Turlough took the deal, figuring he could wriggle out of it somehow, discovering too late that The Black Guardian isn’t someone you can just dodge. He wormed his way onto the TARDIS crew and made a few half-hearted attempts to do the Doctor in. Obviously, when push came to shove, Turlough did the right thing and stood up to The Black Guardian, but the episodes where he was figuring out how to kill the Doctor were particularly energized, especially given how family-friendly the show was at that time.

I don’t mean we should bring back the actual character of Turlough, of course; not enough viewers would have any idea who he is, and adding a now middle-aged male companion to the TARDIS isn’t exactly a ratings magnet. But the idea of Turlough, a cowardly schemer trying to manage a murder, would add a fascinating and fresh dynamic to the Doctor/Companion relationship. The Doctor has had some particularly tense and angry moments with his TARDISmates during New Who, but even when they disagree it’s clear that ultimately they are on the same side. Having someone on the inside working against him, waiting for the right moment to strike or, even better, manipulating someone else into doing the deed for them, would be a great story arc to explore, especially when you start thinking about who should be the one to order the hit.

The original presentation of the White and Black Guardians was admittedly a little simplistic for modern storytelling, with their nice, clean divisions into good and evil and telltale clothing choices, but their core concept is still strong. Virtually every culture on the planet has some version of opposing forces keeping the universe in balance. The Doctor has certainly made some universe-rattling moves in the past few years, so it would even make a certain amount of sense for the Black Guardian to step in and put a stop to it.

But then again, what if the White Guardian did it?

One of the things that’s made New Who good is the underlying idea that The Doctor is as irresistible as the gravity of a black hole, and nearly as destructive. He breaks up families. He racks up a lot of collateral damage. People tend to die around him in droves. More than one of his companions has struggled with the realization that their lives are better when he’s not around. Sure, he’s always ready to jump in and help, but is that because he’s altruistic, or because he feeds off the adulation of the people he saves? The Doctor is brilliant and courageous, but he also has a constant need to be impressive. The Doctor saves the day time and again, and always, always makes sure he has an audience around to see him do it.

So, sure, we could just trot out the Black Guardian again to prevent The Doctor from foiling a variety of evil plans, but wouldn’t it just be so much more interesting for the White Guardian to say enough is enough? The idea that the good guys sometimes need to do ugly things for the greater good is timely and relatable, and it would give Peter Capaldi a chance to really dig in and explore the true nature of this Doctor, the one who would make a ‘good Dalek’, the one who isn’t sure if he’s a good man, the one who needs flash cards to remind him how to be empathetic. The one who sent out his confession dial because he was ready to die. Speaking of the confession dial, what would Missy do if she discovered that the Doctor’s companion was trying to kill him? Would she help? Sit back and watch? Would she intervene, because if anyone’s going to kill The Doctor, it should be her? Lots of options there, and all of them are fun.

Of course, we all know that this assassin wouldn’t succeed or else there’d be no more show. Eventually, the traitor would be found out and would either follow Turlough’s lead and switch sides or be punished in some way - sent to intergalactic jail, maybe. But if the run-up was handled properly, the end result would hardly matter. The Doctor’s greatest advantage is that he’s seen and done so much, so let’s give him a threat he won’t see coming and see how he handles it. Let’s see how we handle it.

Susan Arendt

Susan was once Managing Editor US at GamesRadar, but has since gone on to become a skilled freelance journalist, editor, producer, and content manager. She is now 1/3 of @Continuepod, 1/2 of @BeastiesLl, co-founder of @TakeThisOrg, and Apex Editor, Fluid Group.