Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Companions: Ben Jackson

Ben Jackson
(Michael Craze)

Ben Jackson was introduced to Doctor Who as a successor of sorts to departed companion Steven - Ben took on the "action hero" role that Steven, and Ian before him, played opposite the elderly Doctor. Ben was a Cockney sailor from modern-day Earth. Together, he and Polly would ground the show in the present and represent the point of view of the audience perhaps a bit better than spaceman Steven or the soon-to-depart dull-as-dishwater Dodo.

Oh, and also, he was freaking adorable. Look at him! You can't not love him!

Right, sorry. I'll try and keep that reined in. Ben was an Able Seaman (YEAH HE WAS!) in the Royal Navy. His heart belonged to the sea, and when we first see him he's feeling blue because he's stuck on a six month shore posting while his ship patrols in the West Indies.

Here he is in his first story, The War Machines, meeting his soon-to-be-best-friend Polly and soon-to-be-Doctor-Who-history-footnote Dodo. Polly and Dodo fail to cheer him up, but when Polly gets harassed by a drunken goon, Ben rushes to her defense. Soon he's swept up in the fight against the evil computer WOTAN, and with Dodo and Polly both hypnotized into working for the enemy Ben quickly becomes the Doctor's go-to assistant. He traps one of the titular machines for the Doctor, and rescues Polly from the final firefight.

Dodo stays on Earth, and when Ben and Polly slip aboard the TARDIS to return the Doctor's dropped key, they're both rather surprised to find it's bigger on the inside. (It's only the third season, that hasn't gotten old yet.)

The Doctor had put the TARDIS in flight before he realized the duo were aboard, and he was irritated by their presence, but amused by their refusal to believe that they were travelling in space and time.

The trio arrive in 17th Century Cornwall. Ben grudgingly accepts that they're not in London anymore, but refuses to believe that they've traveled in time - or that the Doctor can't control the ship and return them home. Worried about being arrested for desertion, he stalks off, determined to walk back to civilization. The Doctor and a slightly more credulous Polly follow along. Soon the TARDIS trio are caught up in the machinations of The Smugglers, a ruthless gang of pirates searching for Captain Avery's missing treasure.

Huh. I meant to insert a picture of the pirates, but instead put in a picture of Ben with no shirt on by mistake. Whoops. It's also much larger than the other pictures for some reason. Oh, look, Polly and the Doctor are in the picture, too! I didn't notice them before. Anyway, they beat the pirates and escape in the TARDIS and it all works out.

Here they are at the end of the story - they look much happier than they did at the beginning, don't they? Ben's accepted that the Doctor has been telling the truth, and although he never stops hoping that the TARDIS will take them home, he does begin to enjoy his adventures - although his focus is always on protecting Polly, for whom he seems to be developing some strong feelings. He calls her "Duchess" due to her comparatively posh manner, because there's no surer route to a girl's heart than to mock her upbringing.

In The Tenth Planet, the TARDIS takes them to a military base in Antarctica in the year 1986, where the travelers help fight off the very first invasion of the Cybermen. With actor William Hartnell unwell, the Doctor doesn't appear in a good chunk of the story, leaving much of the action to Ben.

Here he is in a radiation suit or something, as he sabotages a rocket that would destroy the Cybermen's home of Mondas but would take the Earth with it. When the Doctor and Polly are captured, Ben rescues them, and the young couple help the ailing Doctor back across the ice to the TARDIS, where he collapses and undergoes a peculiar metamorphosis, for the very first time...

I did it again! That's not a picture of the Doctor regenerating, it's just another picture of Ben looking adorable. Honestly, you'd think I didn't know what I was doing! It's from the right story, though - The Power of the Daleks saw Ben and Polly dealing with the Doctor's first ever regeneration. Ben flat-out refused to believe that this strange younger man was the same crotchety racist old Doctor he had been travelling with. (Did I say racist? Sorry, sometimes I get the behind-the-scenes gossip mixed up with the on-screen stories.)

The TARDIS lands on the planet Vulcan, where they emphatically do not encounter any pointy-eared logicians. Instead the Doctor is surprised (because he didn't watch the opening credits and doesn't know the title of the story) to encounter his old enemies the Daleks. The Doctor overcomes the baddies despite his somewhat erratic behavior, and Ben slowly comes to accept that he really is the same man with a new face and stronger line-memorization skills.

When the TARDIS takes them to the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1746 Scotland, the Doctor is, unusually, the one who wants to get right back in the ship and take off again, but Ben wanders off to take a look around.

How much phallic imagery can YOU spot in this picture? After the usual historical shenanigans the crew takes off, with Highland lad Jamie McCrimmon in tow, making our TARDIS traveling trio a less alliterative quartet. The time-space machine takes them to Atlantis for the marvelously bonkers story The Underwater Menace, where Ben spends most of the story in a wetsuit.

Also there are Fish People. Seriously, watch this story. Ben's original role of the go-to action guy has become redundant twice over by now, with Patrick Troughton playing a much more physically capable Doctor than William Hartnell's, and now strapping young buck Jamie added into the mix. This combination of characters is unusual for a TARDIS crew throughout the show's history - discounting the UNIT team, this is the only time we'll see two male companions at once. Perhaps the writers were worried about finding enough for the actors to do when more than one filled a similar stock-type, but there's nothing to worry about if you're writing for actors as good as these, and Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze are quite good indeed. These four rank as one of the strongest TARDIS teams in the show's history, so of course not a single complete story featuring all four exists, only scattered episodes.

I know, guys, it's a bummer. But cheer up - next stop is the moon!

Ben, you look worried. Adorably worried. And you should be! In The Moonbase, the Doctor's kooky quartet encountered the malevolent Cybermen for the very second time. Jamie's flat on his back for a lot of the story, so Ben gets quite a bit of action. And if this blog were all slash fiction, that sentence would be a good jumping-off point, but all I mean is that Jamie's sick with the same malady the Cybermen are infecting the crew with, so Ben gets the action-hero spot to himself until he's better. Maybe I need to start a second blog?

Ben gets an even bigger share of the spotlight in The Macra Terror, when the TARDIS takes its crew to an evil holiday spaaaaaace! The apparently happy human colony is actually being controlled by the evil Macra, a race of giant crab things who the production team wisely keeps mostly in the dark until they're able to CGI themselves up for the Tenth Doctor and Martha in Gridlock decades later. I already showed a picture of the Macra in my entry on Polly, so instead here's Ben getting a massage.

I'm booking my vacation now! The Macra try to take over the minds of the foursome, but they're all able to resist - except Ben. Michael Craze gives a great performance here, as Ben is brainwashed, believing that all is right in the colony and becoming frustrated with his friends' attempts to subvert the status quo - he struggles with his desire to do what he sees as the right thing and turn them in to the authorities. He finally comes round and saves the day when their lives are in danger, but Ben spends a good portion of this story as an antagonist for the other three.

The Macra Terror is the last full outing for Ben, as he's sidelined fairly early on in his next and last story, The Faceless Ones.

Cheese! That's the manly travelers pausing for a photo while making plans to rescue the once-again kidnapped Polly. Ben would be captured as well by the end of the second episode of this six-part story, with the pair only returning to say goodbye to the Doctor and Jamie at the end. The TARDIS has landed them back on the exact same day they left - July 20, 1966 - and they decide to stay behind.

Ben doesn't appear again on the show, but some of the spin-offs have suggested what might have happened to him. Several licensed short stories have given brief looks into Ben and Polly's lives after leaving the TARDIS - according to those, they drifted apart and married other people, but were reunited by the Doctor in 1999. Polly had divorced and Ben's wife had died, and the two finally admitted their feelings for one another. On The Sarah Jane Adventures it was suggested that in the present day the two are running an orphanage in India together.

Ben is one of the most under appreciated companions of the classic series, even more so than Polly, I think - certainly because of the sheer number of his episodes that are missing, but also perhaps because of Michael Craze's untimely passing in 1998. If you haven't seen any of his stories, take a look - there are audio and video reconstructions of the missing episodes, so it's possible to fill in the missing pieces if you're motivated. Just look at how adorable he is!


  1. Shirtless Ben? Excuse me while I swoon - now all I need is the scene of Jamie shirtless from THE WHEEL IN SPACE and i can die happy!