I think I’ve finally put my finger on what’s been dampening my enjoyment of New Who since 2005.
In the original Doctor Who, with only one or two exceptions the Doctor’s companions were just people. Everyday, regular, ordinary folks trying to cope with his weirdness. They were us, in other words. They were there to give us a frame of reference when viewing the universe through the Doctor’s old, tired, jaded eyes. Sometimes they were useful (Sarah Jane, we miss you!), sometimes they were a bit hapless (poor Harry), and sometimes they were victims of the Doctor’s zeal and unconscious tendency to push people to be as larger-than-life as he was (poor Adric).
With the exception of Martha Jones (who the writers couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with), NONE of the new Doctor Who companions have been “just people.” They’ve been destined to travel with him, been vital to his continued travels in more than support ways, become something other than normal people while traveling with him, or – twice now, Donna literally and Clara figuratively – have effectively become the Doctor for a while.
They have a greater purpose in the universe, which stunts our ability to identify with them. They are, in other words, almost as alien as the Doctor himself. Something Liz Sladen managed to capture in her own series is that even after growing out of being ‘just a reporter,’ Sarah Jane was still only human at the end of the day. She had no great destiny, no special powers. She was just…us, trying to follow in the Doctor’s footsteps and make him proud.
Most of the Doctor’s new companions have not been us. We can’t follow in their footsteps.