Companion’s Name: Ian Chesterton, Steven Taylor, Ben, various characters at times after
Traveled with: First & Second Doctors, in varying degrees Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Twelfth & Thirteenth
Seasons: Classic 1-6, various seasons after
Best Known For: Fighting the bad guys in some sort of physically aggressive fashion, so the Doctor does not have to fight.
Before we go much further, lets put it out there: man of action is a known TV trope. It’s basic definition is a man who’d rather do things than discuss them. In the world of Doctor Who it’s rare for a pure man of action to exist. The inherent nature of the show, from it’s original writ to educate and entertain, which then evolved to question the nature of humanity has all the characters take a “talk first” approach. That being said, anyone who has watched Doctor Who documentaries or behind the scenes features from the Classic era has probably heard this term used with specific characters.
When you talk about a Doctor Who man of action, you’re talking about a younger, physically fit man who can do the fighting in place of the older, comedic or out of shape Doctor. These were considered necessary characters during the Hartnell years. Someone had to rescue the girls (although Barbara, Polly and Zoe were rather good about taking care of themselves at times.) Notable moments can easily be summarized through the singular example from the season 1 serial The Aztecs: Ian Chesterton, played by William Russell, was either fighting or having someone threaten to fight him in every episode. It was a literal plot that one of the great warriors kept trying to either intimidate, threaten or full on fight Ian.
Steven Taylor was constantly getting into fisticuffs and trying to keep Dodo out of trouble like a nagging older brother (there is a whole other host of fan theories about why he looks after her this way, from secretly being in love with her, to secretly wishing she was her grandmother, to secretly being her grandfather.) Before that it was Vicki that he looked after. The easiest and most humorous example of Steven’s man of action role is in the season 3 serial The Gunfighters where he gets figuratively then literally roped into a fight with the Clantons of Tombstone.
Ben (did he ever have a last name?) was the calmest of these men, constantly talking through situations and attempting to problem solve with the Doctor and Polly, before anything else. However the young man was brought in to act in a physical nature verses an ailing Hartnell. He became redundant in the Troughton (Second Doctor) tenure opposite the physical comedy of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon.
After Ben left, the Doctor Who man of action role would never be as traditional as it previously had been. Jamie was a comedic character. He was a man of action only because he was from the past. It was up to the Doctor and later Zoe to explain the science-fiction and reasoning plot points. Jamie acted out because it was central to his character as a freedom fighter who was a fish out of water everywhere he went.
With the introduction of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor the man of action was no longer necessary. The Doctor was the man of action, who wasn’t afraid to fight, knew Venusian Aikido and didn’t squirm at the thought about using physical violence. After this there would be variations of the MOA. Mike Yates, Harry Sullivan, Turlough and Glitz Sabalom would all push, challenge or subvert this role through villainy, ineptitude or purpose. Modern Doctor Who would flat out turn the trope on it’s head with the liberated Captain Jack Harkness and the growth of Mikey Smith from bumbling boyfriend to man of action. You could argue that, when paired, Amy and Rory take on man of action traits; River Song also does not shy from the need to be violent. Even former soldier Danny Pink nonsensically flips over an alien to distract it while the Twelfth Doctor sciences-it-up. The difference between all of these characters and the ones in the First and Second Doctor eras is the growth and development they undergo. It makes them more than just a man of action. Their sole role isn’t to just be physical. Yates goes from UNIT soldier to corporate/big government brainwashed sell-out to recovering trauma victim. Turlough learns the value of not being selfish, Glitz becomes… somewhat reformed? Okay, that one is debatable. However, Jack Harkness literally grows beyond the show to his own spinoff, Torchwood. The only Modern Who man of action to come closest to the early Classic Doctor Who definition of man of action is the genderbent version found in Yaz Khan.
The Doctor Who man of action is a thought provoking character, when comparing it’s various incarnations and a great weekend companion that allows you to sample from many different decades of the show.