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Doctor Who Companion Profile: Barbara Wright

Doctor Who Companion Profile: Barbara Wright

Barbara Wright, played by Jacqueline Hill, one of the First Doctor Companions

Barbara Wright

Portrayed By: Jacqueline Hill

Doctor(s): First Doctor

Tenure: 16 Stories (73 episodes), from An Unearthly Child (Nov, 1963) to The Chase (June, 1965)

Background: Barbara Wright is a history teacher at the Coal Hill School alongside Ian Chesterton. We are introduced to her in the series’ pilot episode as the teacher of Susan Foreman, who is soon revealed to be The Doctor’s granddaughter. Perplexed by Susan’s strange behavior, Ian and Barbara follow her back to her home in a junkyard, where they see her enter a mysterious police box. They follow her in, only to discover the TARDIS, the time machine that serves as a home to Susan and The Doctor. Though they promise to keep the secret, the paranoid Doctor refuses to let them leave and instead whisks them off through space and time.

Personality: Barbara is incredibly sensitive and deeply intuitive, often discovering the root of a problem long before anyone else in the group. She is the conscience The Doctor has yet to discover, showing kindness and tenderness to him, Ian, Susan, and eventually Vicki, even in the tensest of situations. Though it is never made explicit, it is heavily implied that Ian and Barbara develop a romantic relationship over the course of their time on the TARDIS (in the spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, it is mentioned that they have since married), and though they come to enjoy The Doctor’s company, when they see an opportunity to get themselves back in their own time using a Dalek craft, they take it and to return to their old lives as teachers.

Arguably a relic of the show’s original educational mandate (which planned to alternate historicals intended to teach children about the past with science fiction stories aimed at educating them about science), Barbara became to stand for much more than the importance of understanding history. She was a moral compass for The Doctor, teaching him not just to fight injustice, but to care about humanity and, more importantly, to care about the people he traveled with rather than simply treating them as obstacles or means to an end. The Doctor never comes out and says it, but in their time together, it seems clear Barbara is his favorite Companion (especially once Susan is out of the picture).

Special Skills: Barbara is brilliant and incredibly emotionally incisive. She has a strong knowledge of history that comes in incredibly handy when the group is stranded in the past, but she also displays strong interpersonal skills. Perhaps most importantly, she can get through to The Doctor when no one else can. They often disagree, but he always respects her and she generally causes him to keep an open mind.

Best Story: The Aztecs, which spotlights Barbara in a futile attempt to rewrite history and stop a rich culture from going down the path that will lead to their destruction when the Spaniards arrive to settle the area. Barbara’s compassion is deeply misguided (both in terms of her being a white lady trying to save the savages and in the way she hopes to completely alter the course of human events), but it is also completely sympathetic. She simply sees a culture with many positive aspects teetering on the brink of some terrible decisions and wants to try to steer it in the right direction. It is beautiful, poignant, and ultimately tragic stuff, a definite highlight of the show’s first series.

Worst Story: Marco Polo. Barbara, like Ian, was present for most of the show’s first two series and her tenure is a nearly unbroken string of stories that are either classics or incredibly fascinating misfires. Marco Polo, however, is overlong and reasonably uninteresting, but worse than that, it is one of the missing serials, which means toiling through seven episodes worth of reconstructions.

Highlights of tenure: Almost too many to mention. In addition to her passionate pleas in The Aztecs, Barbara entertainingly fends off the advances of Emperor Nero in The Romans and every time she stands up to The Doctor, it is a sight to see.

Lowlights of tenure: Barbara sure knows a lot about history, but almost none of that can liven up Marco Polo. Also, she just sort of stands around a prison cell waiting for the men to save her in The Reign of Terror. Come on, Barbara. You’re better than that.

Memorable quotes:

– Barbara: “Oh, don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here… then everything that is good would survive when Cortez lands.”
– The Doctor: “But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!”

This is arguably the most famous exchange during the First Doctor’s tenure, and it wouldn’t have happened without Barbara.

Other notes: Barbara, along with Ian, is arguably one of the most important Companions of all time. She stood up to The Doctor time and again and forced him to open his mind and expand his world view. She helped him evolve from a hermit in a junkyard to the hero we know today.