Companion Tropes 16
Me? I’m their Man in Havana. I’m the technical support. I’m… Oh, my God, I’m the tin dog.
That’s probably Mickey Smith’s most famous line, from the Doctor Who episode School Reunion. It’s a funny moment, but what exact does that imply, that comparison between Mickey and K9? What part in the narrative does Mickey fulfil, that can be equated to K9? I would suggest they are equivalent characters in three key ways, only one of which is mentioned by Mickey:
- Technical Support
We will have to work backwards through that list, because when we first meet Mickey only one of those three characteristics is present. In Rose, Mickey clowns around when we first see him with Rose, and then later we see him pretending to be strangled by an Auton arm for laughs. When the script calls upon somebody to be eaten by a burping wheelie bin, of course that has to be Mickey.
Like K9, Mickey tends to exist to provide the Doctor with funny dialogue, often at his expense:
MICKEY: I bet you don’t even remember my name.
MICKEY: It’s Mickey.
DOCTOR: No, it’s Ricky.
MICKEY: I think I know my own name.
DOCTOR: You think you know your own name? How stupid are you?
But he also has funny lines of his own, such as his banter with Jack in Boom Town, calling him “Jumping Jack Flash”, and captain of “the Innuendo Squad”, and nicknaming the Doctor “big-ears”.
Like K9, he is the additional companion, the secondary priority. He is written out of the action when not needed, often the one who gets left behind:
DOCTOR: Mickey, surveillance. I want you outside.
MICKEY: Just stand outside?
In Rise of the Cybermen, he recognises his own status as the lesser of two companions:
MICKEY: Well, you don’t know anything about me, do you? It’s always about Rose. I’m just a spare part.
ROSE: I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.
MICKEY: Go on, then. There’s no choice, is there? You can only chase after one of us. It’s never going to be me, is it?
…and then in The Age of Steel he finally develops as a character beyond the point where he will simply be left to stay out of trouble, growing beyond his tin dog status:
MICKEY: What about me?
DOCTOR: Mickey. You can er
MICKEY: What, stay out of trouble? Be the tin dog? No, those days are over.
Weaponry is the comparison between K9 and Mickey that is the least prevalent, but it is there. The unpalatable truth about K9 was that, for all the Doctor’s talk about not using guns, for three series he travelled around with a talking gun on wheels. K9 was a weapon, and was frequently used as a weapon. We don’t really see a similar companion function from Mickey until late in the game, but when we do he goes BIG with it. In Army of Ghosts he has a massive gun, and our first sight of him in Journey’s End is Mickey blasting away at a Dalek. In his final appearance we find him fighting a Sontaran, alongside his UNIT wife Martha (The End of Time). At other times he is inventive with his choice of weaponry, using vehicles as weapons in School Reunion and The Parting of the Ways, which gets referenced in The Age of Steel:
There’s nothing wrong with a van. I once saved the universe with a big yellow truck.
The closest comparison with K9 though is the one that is quite specific to Mickey as a companion, and the one he mentions in that famous quote from School Reunion: the Doctor’s tech support. This is of course K9’s major role in many stories. Writer Russell T. Davies did a very clever thing with Mickey. He was already fulfilling the comedy role, but that doesn’t make for an especially useful or well-rounded character. So when an episode requires somebody to do a bit of hacking or whatever, why not make Mickey that character? At a stroke, that pulls the same trick as was played with K9 all those years before: combining comedy with the tech support.
This starts happening almost immediately. In Aliens of London, Mickey reveals that he has spent the year since Rose researching the Doctor, and has been resourceful enough to find out about UNIT. In World War Three he gets into the UNIT website, and later hacks into the Royal Navy to get access to a missile. In The Christmas Invasion he finds out about the pilot fish on the internet, helpfully substituting for the Doctor at that point as the one who explains things, with the Doctor out of action. In School Reunion he hacks into army records.
But note how much the tech support role and the comedy both start to fade away as Mickey’s time on the show progresses. Eventually he becomes far more than that. It’s a key difference between Classic Who and 21st Century Who: the level of character development. By the time the Doctor has paid Mickey his farewell visit, he has become far more than just the tin dog. RP