Leaving aside whether knowing this is a good thing or not (personally I preferred it when you didn’t know someone, even The Doctor, was leaving until the episode where it happened rather than the current soap-like situation where practically every major storyline is leaked by the BBC months in advance), let’s cover what we know about them.
What we can do is look back of the traditional role of The Doctor’s companion.
Doctor Who has had 2 main types of companions – the ‘Damsel in Distress’ and the ‘Action Companion’. Due to The Doctor being an old man most of the generic hero behaviour was assigned to the action companion. It was their job to kick down doors, run after things and punch monsters while The Doctor used his brain to come up with a more sensible, if less visually dramatic, solution.
The damsel in distress is self-explanatory – her (and in the early days it was always a ‘her’) job was to point at the Dalek/Cyberman/Zygon, scream, get kidnapped and have to be saved by The Doctor and the action companion.
Since the series came back in 2005 this has changed. The Doctor is now young and handsome and as a result gets to act more like a Hollywood action star. He may not walk slowly away from explosions wearing shades but he’s punched monsters, fired a gun and even kissed a girl on a few occasions.
This has also led to a changing in the nature of the companions. The vast majority of his companions are still damsels, but these girls aren’t in distress! All of them are quite capable of saving themselves, and even the day. Quite often, when River’s involved, she’s even the one causing distress in others.
While River is without a doubt the most ‘action companion’ of the companions from the revival she isn’t entirely a New Who concept. It could be argued that she’s an updating of Ace (who, lest you forget, once took out a Dalek with a baseball bat!) or Leela (no not the kick-ass cyclops from Futurama – this Leela), who would be more likely to stab you with her Janis thorn knives than scream. Although feminism has moved on far enough that River isn’t required to dress in a leather bikini.
We’ve even had male damsels in distress. Rory, when he isn’t being a complete badass Last Centurion superhero, has had to be rescued on more than one occasion, and before him Mickey had to be saved by Rose in practically every story he featured in.
While it is now accepted that women can drive the story in ways other than being captured, and have a more heroic role, is the mainstream audience ready for what many consider the next logical progression of this – a Female Doctor?* Only time can tell but for now I’m sure Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character will be a worthy addition to the companion roster.
*yes, this long raged over debate has now been solved** – thanks to Neil Gaiman’s episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ it is now canon that Time Lords can change gender when they regenerate.
**ok well not conclusively. Geeks will be geeks – there’s always an interpretation for dialogue to fit our own theories there if you just look hard enough.