inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #0 of 122: Plutopian (jonl) Sun 5 May 24 12:29
Inkwell welcomes you to the world of Doctor Who on The WELL!

You've probably heard of the BBC science fiction series, "Doctor
Who" which started in 1963, and still in production - making it one
of the longest running TV shows in the world. 

The WELL was one of the very first online communities and it has
been active continuously since 1985, so combining the two could be a
marriage made in heaven. This particular discussion simply had to

A new season of Doctor Who gets underway from May 10/11 starring
Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor and Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday, his
latest companion. That presents a perfect opportunity to dive into
what's been called the Whoniverse - the world of the Doctor. In fact
The WELL is even hosting a special limited edition <whovian.>
conference for the duration of the 2024 run - if you're interested
in having a look, you can sign up for a WELL membership (If you're
interested in joining the WELL to dig deeper, follow this link to
join: <> or else get in touch - via email
to inkwell at - to see if we have any golden ticket gift
invitations available).
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #1 of 122: Plutopian (jonl) Sun 5 May 24 12:31
The two co-hosts of the fledgling <whovian.> conference are here to
talk about all things Who - past, present and future. First up
there's John Hood (johnhood), whose lifelong passion for the
creative arts was ignited when John's parents took him to see "Star
Wars" in 1978. Shortly afterwards, he got a portable tape recorder
as a Christmas gift, and this initial inspiration led him on a path
to graduate from Bournemouth University with a degree in Media
Production. He has worked for the BBC, Reuters and Dow Jones in
various capacities, from breaking news to foley artist, and with
acting legend Sir Christopher Lee ("Star Wars"/"The Lord of the
Rings") at BBC Radio 4. He has been a guest speaker talking about
media career paths to undergraduates at the University of Exeter.
John's successful and high profile blog, "Generation Star Wars,"
explores and celebrates various fandoms, most notably those focused
on "Doctor Who" and "Star Wars."

Joining John is Andrew Lewin, who has been active as (draml) here on
the WELL since 2001. Andrew hosts the <wellcome.> conference
(helping newcomers settle in) as well as <europe.> (for members from
around that continent). Professionally, a degree in Mathematics from
York went scandalously underused, and instead he's a freelance
writer, web developer and marketing communicator based in London
who's worked on everything from women's weeklies to TV listings
magazines and government public information campaigns. He currently
covers Formula One for the website But underneath all that,
if you scratch him you will find he bleeds all things Gallifreyan
having written scores of reviews and features on Doctor Who,
including a number of substantial collaborations with John for his
blog "Taking The Short View," and for the aforementioned "Generation
Star Wars" and others.

Welcome, John and Andrew, to the WELL's on version of the TARDIS!
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #2 of 122: tired titular trope (draml) Mon 6 May 24 07:25
Thanks so much for having us here, Jon! I know the history of
Inkwell and the calibre of people who have taken part over the
years, from Susannah Fox's latest incisive comments giving such a
fascinating insight into the US medical system (a total revelation
to me, as a Brit cared for since birth by the NHS) to your own
annual State of the World discussions with Bruce Sterling.

I have to confess to a certain amount of anxiety as well as
industrial quantities of imposter syndrome at the thought of even
attempting to follow in their (and your) footsteps by being here. I
should probably be slipping in through the tradesman's entrance
rather than the front door, especially as we're here to lower the
hitherto intellectual tone with idle chatter about what many are
quick to disparage as a "silly children's TV show". 

That phrase always triggers me. Okay, sure, Doctor Who is a
television show, that's undeniable. And it's also frequently,
intentionally, gleefully silly when it wants to be. But it's never
been just a children's show, even when it first started 60 years
ago. It's a family programme, aimed at bringing all generations
together for 25 or 50 minutes a week that everyone can enjoy.
Children deserve quality entertainment after all, and adults need
some silliness in life. It's  a wonderful gift in today's dark and
troubled times, and was a beacon for millions around the world
during the pandemic when people were struggling with their mental
health during lockdown.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #3 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Mon 6 May 24 07:30
But I'm getting ahead of myself. We should really say something
about what Doctor Who is, for those not already in the know.

The very first episode was broadcast the day after JFK was
assassinated in Dallas - hardly an auspicious bit of timing for a
new show to launch into. The 25-minute "An Unearthly Child" is an
eerie, mysterious tale set in foggy nighttime London. Concerned
about the behaviour of one of their teenage students, two school
teachers carry out an impromptu home welfare check and find that she
lives with her crotchety elderly grandfather above a scrap dealer's
yard. Their attention is drawn to an odd blue box amidst the rest of
the junk, concealing an impossibly vast interior that boggles
belief. When they discover this box also has the ability to travel -
anytime, any place, anywhere in the universe - their minds are
completely blown. The grandfather (called the Doctor) cackles with
malicious glee as their world literally lurches sideways.

And that's it. The show has grown and changed immeasurably since
then, but everything you need to know about Doctor Who - all the
seeds of what it still is today - are already right there in that
initial broadcast. It's as perfect a TV pilot as you're likely to
see, even allowing for the primitive production values of the time.
I wish John and I had been alive and old enough to see it when it
originally went out. If we had been, I wonder what the two of us
would have thought of it: too weird, too strange, too silly? Or
would we have been instantly captivated and unable to look away?
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #4 of 122: John Hood (johnhood) Mon 6 May 24 08:17
Firstly, thank you for this unique opportunity to engage with fellow

I first saw An Unearthly Child during The Five Faces of Doctor Who
season on BBC2 in 1981. Up to that point, Tom Baker was the only
Doctor I’d seen on TV. Target novelisations and Marvel UK’s Doctor
Who Weekly and Doctor Who Monthly were my gateways to earlier

It was enthralling and captured my childhood imagination on a chilly
November night.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #5 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Mon 6 May 24 08:40
If I recall correctly, "The Five Faces of Doctor Who" was pretty
much the first time that the BBC had the idea to show old episodes
in a themed fashion. In the past they had done occasional repeats of
a story from the most recent season (or series) in a cutdown/omnibus
format to fill the summer schedules, but they'd never reached
further back and shown stories featuring different actors in the
title role. 

So it's not a surprise that you hadn't seen previous incarnations
prior to Tom Baker's Doctor. This was just after he had left the
role, wasn't it? I think they were trying to get people used to the
idea of someone new coming in, by showing that this had happened
before and that the moment had been prepared for, you could say.

So did you have any awareness at all of the original Doctor, William
Hartnell before that moment? Or was your knowledge of him mainly
from stills and story novelisations? Being a bit older than you, I
was watching in 1972 when they broadcast "The Three Doctors" in
which Jon Pertwee was joined by Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, so I
guess that was my first encounter with the past Doctors.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #6 of 122: John Hood (johnhood) Mon 6 May 24 08:51
Yes, as far as I know, it was the first time the BBC curated a
themed season of classic serials spanning all incarnations of Doctor

Talking omnibus editions, I think I saw Genesis of the Daleks and
The Robots of Death. This was a time prior to my parents owning a

I was aware of William Hartnell, but only through the pages of
official publications. Dad was a big fan of Jon Pertwee, so my
fandom follows in its wake.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #7 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Tue 7 May 24 11:04
Your dad is clearly a wise man of great taste and distinction! I
also grew up with Jon Pertwee in the role, and rather like your
first love or your first kiss you never quite get over that
attachment to your first Doctor even many years later. He'll always
be "my Doctor".

Something interesting underlying these memories is how different
things were back in 1981. There were no streaming services; home
video players were only just becoming affordable; and repeats were
surprisingly rare. So if you missed a show back then, that was it:
you could be pretty sure that you were never going to see it, ever.
That is so different from today when you can buy any Doctor Who
story that still exists on DVD or Blu-ray, or in the UK watch for
free right now on-demand on the iPlayer. That is, except for "An
Unearthly Child" (for licensing reasons) which brings us neatly full
circle to our initial topic.

I wish I could remember what my reaction was to that themed series
of repeats, of seeing "An Unearthly Child" and what I thought of it.
I suspect I was awed to actually see this piece of TV history that
I'd read about so often in fan magazines. Not to mention the
original novelisation by the show's first script editor, David
Whittaker. It took more than a few liberties with the show's
established lore in order to make it a more satisfying stand-alone
read by starting on Wandsworth Common and having it run straight
from the first episode into the Daleks serial without stopping off
in the prehistoric era en route.

I'm not sure about this, but did "The Five Faces of Doctor Who" also
show the original pilot episode as well as the broadcast version of
"An Unearthly Child"? I remember being stunned to find out that
there was a different version, and why, and that it still existed,
let alone to get to watch it and compare it with the later one.
Doctor Who was an early education about the television business and
how it worked.

Did you see that original pilot, John? What's your take on "An
Unearthly Child" as a whole?
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #8 of 122: Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 7 May 24 11:44
I'm looking forward to following this chat. I've never watched any Dr
Who episodes and always felt I'd come in too late to catch up, so many
different Doctors and others. Plus I never understood the tone of the
show, whether it was serious or not -- I wanted to be in on the joke,
if there was one. 

I came to know David Tennant quite late, from Jessica Jones and Good
Omens, which led me to watch the... teaser? episode for the new season
and I intend to try it out. Thanks for doing this.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #9 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Tue 7 May 24 11:57
I hope we don't disappoint!

The fact that the show has been going for 60 years (with the odd break) 
does make it feel like a sheer vertical cliff face to climb, but don't 
worry about it. The show itself regularly resets and consciously stops to 
explain itself and provide a nice jumping-on point for anyone new, making 
it easy for newcomers to understand. It's going through one of those 
periods now with the new guy, Ncuti Gatwa, who is unlike any of his 
predecessors. He should be a fun person to get to ride along with.

You can start there completely unaware of the past. Or you can look back 
and catch up with previous Doctors. Either way, just enjoy.

The <whovians.> conference that's just started on The WELL is taking the 
same view: it is mainly themed around the new series, episodes of which 
start dropping at the weekend, and we'll obviously be talking about those 
here in the Inkwell as well. But there's also topics for people who are 
nostalgic about past Doctors, and advice for people like yourself who would
like to get into it more and need help finding the best way of doing so.

As for the tone of the show? We're working on that. It's rather unique!
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #10 of 122: John Hood (johnhood) Tue 7 May 24 13:17
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #11 of 122: Frako Loden (frako) Tue 7 May 24 13:44
I'm like <esau>--I never watched DOCTOR WHO and was always mildly
intrigued by its appeal. It always looked washed-out on the screen
and populated by unattractive people, so I never stuck around. But I
knew it had a huge fandom, so now I'd like to know why.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #12 of 122: Administrivia (jonl) Tue 7 May 24 19:51
Just a bit of administrivia:

This conversation is world-readable, i.e. can be read by anyone on
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If you're reading this conversation, and you're not a member of the
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This conversation will last for at least two weeks, through May 20.
In order to read the whole conversation, we encourage you to return
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inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #13 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Wed 8 May 24 01:53
Thanks for the wholesome administrivia, Jon! 

I'll just add that the <whovians.> forum that we keep mentioning is
one of the hundreds of regular conferences on The WELL cover
thousands of subjects that can only be accessed, read and posted to
by members. What you see here is along the lines of a 'preview' of
all that and we hope it makes you interested enough to sign up at
the web page Jon gave, and see more for yourself.

We do have a small number of gift invitations offering free
three-month memberships. If you'd like one of these then send an
email to the Inkwell address in the previous post, or to me directly
at draml at Please include 'Whovians' in the title and
just a few words about yourself and your interest in Doctor Who, and
where you saw this offer.

> This conversation will last for at least two weeks

Or knowing Jon and I, we will still be wittering on about Who until
the show itself is cancelled - which will never happen!
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #14 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Wed 8 May 24 02:14
And after those messages from our sponsor, we return you to our
regular programming!

I've been thinking about the questions raised by Scott and Frako
about how newcomers to the show can get introduced to the show and
up to speed. 

I would honestly go back to post <3> and the description of the very
first episode: the show is about this eccentric Doctor, who (spoiler
alert) turns out to be an alien, and his odd blue box is advanced
technology called the Tardis. He keeps picking up companions who
share his adventures as he tackles threats big and small from
monsters both human and of other worlds.

Wikipedia puts it like this: Doctor Who is a British science fiction
television series that depicts the adventures of an extraterrestrial
being called the Doctor, part of a humanoid species called Time
Lords. The Doctor travels in the universe and in time using a time
travelling spaceship called the TARDIS, which externally appears as
a British police box. While travelling, the Doctor works to save
lives and liberate oppressed peoples by combating foes.

The question of tone is actually a very interesting one. Star Trek
is almost as long-lived as Doctor Who, and despite the hundreds of
episodes, multiple spin-off shows and over a dozen feature films not
to mention legions of books and comics over six decades, it does
feel like it has an overarching feel to it - of the Navy in space,
or perhaps a Wagon Train to the stars - that Doctor Who lacks.
Actually I'd counter-argue that even within that homogeneity, Star
Trek does have remarkable variation from episode to episode, perhaps
best seen in the seven seasons of Voyager.

But Doctor Who is definitely somewhat more fluid and flexible. In
many ways it's more of an anthology series in which every story is
almost a thing in and of itself, with a different location and cast
where the Doctor and his companions are just a convenient linking
thread from one to the next, and the Tardis a way of getting them in
and out of story at the beginning and end. In other words, each
story can be totally different (and is often the work of a writer
and director given free reign). 

That can be difficult - I've had times when I've sat down to watch a
new episode with trepidation because I have no idea what to expect
and worry that I might hate it, more anxiety than I get with other
shows. But that diversity is also its strength and the reason why
the show still feels fresh and exciting, I believe.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #15 of 122: Plutopian (jonl) Wed 8 May 24 07:21
Any idea why the TARDIS appears as a police box? When and how that
appearance was selected? (I assume the TARDIS is actually so old
that it preceded the appearance of British police boxes in the UK?)
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #16 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Wed 8 May 24 07:43
Oh boy, this is why I love these kind of discussions! There are so
many things that as a fan you take for granted and think aren't
worth mentioning, and it's only when someone actually asks that it
stops you dead and you go, "Oh. Right. Yeah. Good question."

In a real world TV production sense, they needed a compact,
collapsible prop that would fit in a tiny studio set that the cast
could enter and leave. The police box is perfect for that. It's like
Star Trek thinking they could get away with a soft dissolve and
sparkly glitter rather than paying for expensive model shots of
shuttle craft taking off and landing every week.

In plot terms, the Tardis is meant to be able to change its external
appearance to fit in with whatever environment it lands so that it
doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. So in that original episode,
set in London 1963, a police telephone box common in the time was a
reasonable disguise. But the "cloaking device" (as we might call it
today) was faulty on the Doctor's Tardis and it stopped working, and
has remained stuck as a police box more or less ever since. Again
from a production point of view it keeps the cost down, and you want
something distinct that the audience will notice. 

There have been suggestions that it should move on, but fans have
howled in protest. It's as much a part of the show as the Doctor him
(or her) self. Besides, what would you change it to?
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #17 of 122: John Hood (johnhood) Wed 8 May 24 10:27
The Chameleon circuit! I remember watching Attack of the Cybermen
and thinking not my TARDIS! The blue box is iconic.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #18 of 122: Scott Underwood (esau) Wed 8 May 24 10:41
I had to look up what a police box was, exactly -- I guess I'd always
thought it was a phone booth.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #19 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Wed 8 May 24 11:08
It kind of was, basically. Not for nothing did Bill and Ted travel back in
time in a phone kiosk.

It was basically somewhere that a police constable walking the beat could
use as a base of operations - somewhere to keep his equipment, where he
could stop to write up his notes and have a sandwich. There was a phone that
he (and the public) could use to call the local station. He could even use
it to incarcerate an offender until help arrived.

I think they were at their peak in the 1940s and 50s, but by the time 
Doctor Who started they were already in decline because the public started 
to get phones in their own homes, and the police got radios and patrol 
cars so police boxes were no longer needed and they started being 
decomissioned so even by the time Doctor Who started they were in decline. 
In fact I always felt it was a bit of an in joke, that the Tardis - this 
incredibly advanced piece of alien technology - got it wrong and chose 
something that was already a bit of an anachronism to model itself on.

I never saw a police box 'in the wild'. I think the last ones went out of 
service around 1980. The production wanted to use one of the last 
remaining police boxes to film at for Tom Baker's last story "Logopolis" 
but when they arrived there, they found it had been removed just a few 
months earlier and they had to use the Tardis prop to stand in for an 
actual police box instead. 

Umm - this is all something of a massive diversion, isn't it, so I'm not 
sure how interesting it is for the second day of our Who discussion!
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #20 of 122: Frako Loden (frako) Wed 8 May 24 12:52
It's interesting enough for me to have read everything up to here.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #21 of 122: Scott Underwood (esau) Wed 8 May 24 13:02
Okay, another question: the companion, who is she? Is it always an
attractive woman? Was it just a way to get an attractive woman on the
show or does she fulfill a needed function? Do companions last longer
than Doctors?
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #22 of 122: Mary Mazzocco (mazz) Wed 8 May 24 16:46
There have been a number of non-attractive and/or non-female
companions! But I leave details to the experts.
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #23 of 122: Andrew Alden (alden) Wed 8 May 24 18:43
I was walking in the Berkeley hills and passed a car with a Doctor Who
license-plate frame. They are everywhere!
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #24 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Thu 9 May 24 00:35
We are! There's a Whovian behind you even as we speak ;)

> another question: the companion, who is she? 

Gosh, that's a another brilliant question. You're really good at
this, Scott! It's another example of something that a long term fan
like me or John takes for granted but which is actually an
incredibly important part of how the show works, and its appeal. Now
you've brought it up I feel there's so much that needs saying that I
could go on for hours and hours. (I won't, because someone will
surely stage an intervention.)

Basically, the role of the companion is not unlike that of John
Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories. In the case of both Sherlock
and the Doctor we have two charismatic, enigmatic but essentially
unknowable protagonists - almost anti-heroes. We can't think in the
same way as them, so we need someone - an audience identification
figure - who is going to ask the questions that we ourselves have on
the tip of our tongues.

It gives a reason for the Doctor to lay out what's going on, or for
Sherlock to explain his deductions and proclaim that it was all
elementary really, do keep up. Otherwise why would they ever bother
to do that? There was one time when Tom Baker lobbied the producers
to do away with the companion and just have the show focus on him,
and they finally did a story like that ("The Invasion of Time") and
he found it was much less satisfying than he thought it would be
without someone to play scenes with. Just the fact that you couldn't
split the Doctor and the companion(s) up limited opportunities for
the back-and-forth cutting between your regulars to make the show

You also need someone relatable in the show so that when something
bad or terrifying is happening, they react accordingly. The Doctor
can't do that because he's a two thousand year old alien who has
pretty much seen it all, so you need the companion figure to convey
the sense of danger on a basic human emotional level. It's why for a
long time the role of the companion was reduced to being about
"asking questions, and screaming".

And yes, I'm afraid that for a long time in the 70s that meant
producers saw the companion figure as being a young attractive
female since that was self-evidently their role in life - to ask
annoying questions, get into danger, and scream a lot. Fortunately
we've got a bit more advanced since them.

Okay, deep breath and then I'll start a quick history of companions.
Don't blame me, Scott asked for it!
inkwell.vue.544 : John Hood and Andrew Lewin: Finding Dr. Who
permalink #25 of 122: Andrew Lewin (draml) Thu 9 May 24 01:44
Right, a brief history of time-travelling companions. I'm relying on
John to fill in any gaps here!

When the show started - that very first episode, "An Unearthly
Child" - the Doctor was already travelling with his granddaughter
Susan. Having stolen a Tardis from the Time Lords, they were on the
run. Then in that pilot episode the two teachers Ian and Barbara
made their impromptu home welfare check, got into the Tardis and
were accidentally whisked away. Back then the Doctor had almost no
control over where and when the Tardis went so it was a couple of
years before he was able to get them back home again.

So you can see the initial set-up: there's a grandfather (the
Doctor), two parent surrogates (Ian and Barbara) and a young girl
(Susan). It's a typical multi-generational British family in the
1960s. Viewers watching this would have seen themselves in it. The
Doctor wasn't even the central figure initially, he was almost the
antagonist up to mischief (like Dr Smith in Lost in Space perhaps?)
and Ian the conventional hero. They weren't the Doctor's companions
per se, although a key line from the show is 'fear makes companions
of us all' which helped inspire that description.

But the original cast broke up. Susan found someone to marry, and
Ian and Barbara finally got back to 1960s London and stayed there.
Susan was replaced like-for-like with another young girl called
Vicki, while the departure of Ian and Barbara allowed them to slim
the cast down with just one replacement (Steven). So now it was very
much a case of the Doctor being the star, with two young leads (a
young woman and a young man) supporting him. And that's pretty much
how it went for the rest of the 1960s, including Frazer Hines coming
in as Scottish highlander Jamie for almost the whole of Patrick
Troughton's tenure.

The 70s saw the Doctor stripped of his ability to travel. He was
stuck on Earth and ended up working with a Torchwood-like team
called UNIT. As their science advisor (aka the only person in the
room with a clue what to do when aliens invaded) he had his own
assistant (Liz, then Jo, then Sarah) but there was also a supporting
cast of UNIT military officers, chiefly the Brigadier and Sergeant
Benton. When Tom Baker took over the role, the Doctor was free to go
travelling once more and took Sarah and UNIT's medical officer Harry
Sullivan with him.

It was only when it was clear that Tom Baker was young and dynamic
enough to be the show's action lead that they dropped the younger
male character. Sarah was followed by Leela and Romana (and Romana)
and it's this period that Russell T Davies sees as being the
quintessential model for NuWho since 2005 - the Doctor, and a young
female. There were attempts to return to the ensemble format under
Davison and Whittaker, but that's the generally accepted model today
and it's a mix that certainly works in terms of appealing to
audience demographics. There was also the character of Rory with
Matt Smith, but I always got the feeling that was accidental: the
character became so unexpectedly popular that even being killed off
on a regular basis couldn't keep him away.

And that I think is an overview of the companions. What have I


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