Like Wilf in the most recent series, I appreciate the prospect of a good companion-that-never-was in the form of Charles Dickens. Dickens combines curiosity with a sharp intellect, perception with a entirely understandable interest in self-preservation.
Throughout ‘The Unquiet Dead’ – verging on a bottle episode once matters have settled on the encounters within the funeral parlour – Dickens fills the role of companion with enthusiasm. Doubting the Doctor’s technobabble, he nevertheless comes to embrace the extraordinary once the evidence stacks up to support it. His world-weariness and desire to debunk charlatans means the alien needs to work hard to break his resolve and single-mindedness. Dickens considers trickery and sleight-of-hand faced with mere apparitions, but in the end he comes around. Even when gripped with fear, his keen mind kicks into gear and brings him back to some measure of sobriety with a solution to the whole problem of the Gelf. Many companions of the past would have kept running, indeed you would have questioned their change in character if they hadn’t.
Dickens could easily function as a perfectly good foil to the Doctor, earthing him when the need requires it, questioning his decisions and reminding the Time Lord that he is no more master of the world around him than any of us. The Doctor may well have a machine that allows him to travel anywhere in time and space, and he may feel the Turn of the Universe beneath his feet – but, that’s not to say he cannot be surprised or taken off guard on occasion, faced with possibilities that passed him by or he was all too ready to ignore. The Gelf play on The Doctor’s good nature and his guilt in relation to the events of The Time War and that is almost his undoing.
For those who play Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space here’s a stab at a character write-up for the great author. I would not go so far as to claim perfection, as this happens to be the first time I’ve tried this; but, I think it more or less conveys Dickens character – at least within the confines of the Whoniverse.
Name: Charles Dickens
Attributes: Awareness – 4, Coordination – 3, Ingenuity – 5, Presence – 4, Resolve – 4, Strength – 2
Skills: Convince – 4 (Charm), Craft – 3 (Writing), Knowledge – 4 (Law, Literature), Medicine – 1, Science – 1, Subterfuge – 2
Traits: Friends (mG, The Ghost Club*), Lucky (mG), Photographic Memory (MG), Run For Your Life (mG), Voice of Authority (mG), Argumentative (mB), Cowardly (mB), Dark Secret (mB, family**), Insatiable Curiosity (mB), Obligation (mB, family), Sceptical (mB***)
* A group, based in London, engaged in the research and investigation of the paranormal, in which Dickens took an increasing interest in his later life.
** In his youth his whole family ended up living in debtors prison for a time and he dallied with certain affairs during his life of which he appears to have been thoroughly ashamed.
*** Dickens urge to doubt and debunk means he suffers a +2 bonus to his roll when subject of any conflict seeking to convince him about the supernatural (i.e. they’re going to have a hard time convincing him of anything). When faced with supernatural occurrences, Dickens will always err on the side of doubt – and will suffer a -2 penalty to any roll to overcome his suspicions.
You can access a perfectly good biography of Dickens on Wikipedia.