Doctor Who: Ben Jackson, The Lost Companion
The Tumblr picture to your right was one that a friend sent me and it makes me a little sad. The screencap comes from the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor" where Clara Oswald is taken into the UNIT Black Archives and passes a board decorated with known associates of The Doctor. Fun as it might be to imagine, as the poster did, that the small picture of a young man featured was that of Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games in a neat bit of crossover humor, it's actually one of the least discussed companions in Doctor Who history, Ben Jackson.
Admittedly, the resemblance between Hunger Games actor Josh Hutcherson and Ben's actor Michael Craze is actually sort of striking. That said, Ben remains obscure even for fairly well-informed fans. It's a little odd considering some of the landmarks that Craze was present for in the show's history such as the first regeneration, the birth of the Cyberman, one of the last purely historical adventures and more.
Ben and his friend Polly Wright were the final companions of the First Doctor, and joined him on his last three television adventures after the departure of Dodo Chaplet. He was a sailor from Cockney with a solid working-class background. He and Polly chanced upon The Doctor when he was trying to thwart the sentient supercomputer WOTAN. He was a man of action who was an indispensable asset to The Doctor in the fight, and he and Polly made an effective team from the second they stumbled into the Tardis trying to return a key to The Doctor as he left London following WOTAN's defeat.
Unfortunately, that adventure ("The War Machines") is the single Ben and Polly serial that has survived in its entirety following the BBC's past policy of erasing episodes to save storage space. Two subsequent serials, "The Tenth Planet" and "The Moonbase", were later completed through audio recordings and newly animated reconstructions of the lost episodes taken from surviving telesnaps. In fact the season where Ben spends most of his time, Season 4, remains the only season from which not a single complete serial is available.
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As a result getting to know Ben is extremely difficult as virtually all of time in the Tardis requires suspension of at least one sense. There are the novelizations of the scripts and also the fan reconstructions using still images available on YouTube, but truly remarkable stories like "Power of the Daleks" are just fragments.
Even worse is that Ben is one of the very few classic series companions to not make much of an impact in the Big Finish audio plays that have kept those eras alive and ongoing since 1999. Michael Craze passed away in 1998 at the age of 56 after suffering a fall down the stairs and a subsequent heart attack. He had been a beloved figure in the fandom, often appearing at conventions and his funeral being attended by many stars of the Troughton era. The show's theme song heralded his coffin at the ceremony.
"The Power of the Daleks"
In 2009 Anneke Wills as Polly brought Ben back to life in "Resistance", the first of the Big Finish adventures to feature the Second Doctor, Ben, Jamie McCrimmon, and herself. Wills remains a powerful performer with an eerie ability to honestly make you forget she is merely aping the speech patterns of the deceased Troughton and Craze, and Frazer Hines does as well from Jamie's perspective. However, it's truly sad that Craze never got a chance to shine again in the same place. Ben appears in only four of the radio plays, the same number as Sara Kingdom who only ever starred in a single First Doctor serial.
It's a shame because if you take the time to get to know Ben through the reconstructions and the novelizations he truly is one of the best companions to ever enter the Tardis. It was really through him that the audience got to go through the first regeneration. He remained skeptical and suspicious of the man who had replaced his friend The Doctor, but kept hard to his strong moral core to help him defeat the Daleks on Vulcan just the same. He stood in for us at a time of great change for the show, and I doubt any companion could have done it better.
What made him great was how he amplified the show around him. Polly was brilliant, but working with Ben made her trademark cunning deductions into workable solutions. Jamie was brave, but with Ben next to him his bravery was augmented with a patience and strength that was way more effective. With the First Doctor he was a loyal deckhand that carried out the old man's authority through a more human face. With his successor his faith lent the scruffy cosmic hobo the gravitas the Second Doctor sometimes lacked when dealing with outsiders. He was as solid a companion that ever traveled through space and time.
The 50th anniversary saw Ben return on the edges of the show. In addition to his picture seen in "The Day of The Doctor" he cameos briefly in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time and was mentioned in passing in the huge Big Finish 50th anniversary special "The Light at the End". He always seems to be hanging out in the shadows ready to lend a hand if you need him; a largely forgotten but still important part of the show's long and continuing legacy.
Doctor Who returns later this year with "The Magician's Apprentice".
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