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I was watching The Web Of Fear (one of the lost episodes). In episode 5, the Great Intelligence says that if The Doctor doesn't comply then it will "have to seek the help of lesser mortals - like your companions here!".

Is there an earlier in-universe reference to the term "companion"?

The term "companion" is used more outside the programme — which is to say in fandom — than within the narrative. It was especially rarely used in the original version of the television programme and practically never uttered by the Doctor himself

http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Companion

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If it's just a matter of someone calling the people accompanying the Doctor companions, then Episode 2 of The Daleks counts. That would be 28 December 1963.

From the transcript (note: not an authorised transcript by any account):

DOCTOR: No, no. Thals? What are you talking about? We're not Thals, or whatever you may call them. Can't you see we're very ill.
DALEK 1: You and your companions need a drug to stay alive.
DOCTOR: We have no drugs. (softly) A drug? A drug. The drugs left outside the Tardis.

  • Agreed Mr Lister. Then again, in "An Unearthly child", the Doctor says "Fear makes companions of all of us." – Retract apologise reinstate Jan 15 '16 at 15:06
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    @KerrAvon Yes, but I specifically didn't mention that, because the Doctor includes himself there! The Dalek quote is the first one to use it in the same meaning as in the question . – Mr Lister Jan 15 '16 at 15:08

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