Ian Chesterton: Science Experiment
Cliches are funny things, they can be both annoying and undetectable, depending on how they are handled, and in some cases they can be necessary as well. When Doctor Who was started in the early sixties, it became apparent that a couple cliches were needed for the show’s weekly serial adventure concept to work.
The Doctor was set to be not only the shows name sake and star, but also the brains of the operation, the one who would be coming up with the solutions to all the sticky situations the crew of the Tardis would be getting into.
They also had Barbara and Susan, one a history teacher who would be both a fount of knowledge in the historical episodes and along with Susan would find herself in the (cliche) typical trouble female leads found themselves at the time, although Susan did break the mold of the usual teen age girl in certain aspects, being an alien who had been traveling alongside her grandfather the Doctor for a long time.
Most cliche ridden of all was science teacher Ian Chesterton, who also was to be the action man of the series, the one who would do all of the physical fighting and have the bumpiest ride along the way, getting to experience the terror of being both a Roman slave and the glory of being knighted by King Richard the Lionheart, not to mention having to endure a traveling companion in the Doctor who could not get his name right.
Ian always stuck out to me though despite the cliches that riddled his character. He was honest and bold and twenty thousand times more brave then most people would ever be in the situations he was thrust into.
The Doctor also seemed to take longer to warm to Ian then to Barbara, meaning he had to take a lot on the chin and keep going, something that is also to be admired, especially as Barbara was a modern woman who sometimes went her own way as well, meaning Ian often found him self arguing from the least populated corner in many disputes. He also had an odd moment from time to time, such as losing his Coal Hill School tie to a pool of acid on Vortis, as well as a fun loving side, as displayed while dancing to the music of The Beatles Beatles in the Chase, meaning that Ian was to me the first well rounded companion, one that seemed to be an actual person despite what the formula of the programme had set him up to be.
It can also be argued that along with his fellow traveler Barbara and the start of Tegan Jovanka‘s reign from the Peter Davison era, Ian is also one of the few companions that longed for home instead of the adventures through space and time he had fell into, no matter how longed he traveled for and how many tasks he was undertaking at the time, home was always on his mind, to Ian the Tardis and the places it took him would always be a cold and unwelcoming lifestyle that he could never fully adjust to, almost the complete opposite of later ones like Sarah Jane Smith, Ace or Rose Tyler, who loved their time in the Tardis and never wanted to leave when their time at the Doctor’s side came to a close.
As far as the show itself went, for many years the position Ian created on the Tardis crew roster as an action man for all occasions was insured by always having a male companion in the cast until the start of the Jon Pertwee era’. By that time the Doctor had become more of an action man in his own right in that incarnation, doing Venusian Karate and riding all terrain bikes. . Roll call for the mid sixties male Who companion started with Steven Taylor in The Chase, same adventure that saw Ian and Barbara return to London in the sixties. Steven became as a replacement to do all of the things Ian had been doing in the past, and the had little choice traveling time and space with a young girl and a brilliant, yet frail old man.
Ben Jackson would also fill in her but for me it was really only Ian Chesterton and later popular second Doctor companion Jamie McCrimmion had the charisma and moxie to break out a bit from the more expected and cliché aspects of the characters that were written for them. Ian Chesterton was popuklar enough in some circles to be the first choice to be the returning companion at the center of events in the season Twenty story Mawdryn Undead instead of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, but the idea was mooted as William Russel was not available to play Ian at the times.
Ian’s departure, who along with fellow traveler Barbara Wright were also unique in the history of Doctor Who as the first companions we get to see enjoying returning home or living a new life, not that surprising considering they were part of the original cast, but it was an image the series would not repeat or emphasize much until the series returned in 2005. and it really impresses upon the viewer how being in the Tardis can change ones outlook on even the mundane tasks of everyday life. Ian Chesterton might have started out mired in cliches but William Russel seemed to be able to inject just enough humanity into it to be fondly remembered as one of the most underrated Doctor Who companions in the shows history.
– Thomas Spychalski