Former Doctor Who actress Caroline John has died at the age of 71. Her funeral took place yesterday.
Unlike many of those she followed, and several who followed her, Caroline John’s character Liz Shaw was a brilliant scientist working with UNIT. Many will remember her as the first Doctor Who companion of the feminist age, as a brilliant scientist who didn’t just stand around screaming “DOCTOOOOOR!!!!” and flashing some cleavage. She was calm and collected, willing to learn from the Doctor and could have a cutting tongue when necessary (in a frustrated exchange she refers to her role as “somebody who passes The Doctor test tubes and tells him how great he is”). Recruited by Lethbridge-Stewart shortly after the Doctor’s second regeneration and while he was still missing in Spearhead from Space, she was tasked with investigating threats from space against humanity, but largely felt redundant when comparing The Doctor’s vast knowledge of the universe.
Less of a travelling companion and more of a research assistant and scientific liaison with UNIT, her character signified a very Earth-grounded era of Doctor Who where the enemy in nearly every story turned out to be The Master. The Doctor was fond of Liz, seeing her more of an equal than many of his previous companions and at the end of her final story, he tells her that he will miss her.
John appeared in my favourite story from the Pertwee era, the dimension-jumping story Inferno about a drilling programme gone wrong. It would be her final story as a companion before the introduction of Jo Grant. In the story, the Doctor uses the dismantled TARDIS to slip into an alternate reality 1984-esque Britain where drilling is far advanced than in our reality.
It is through “evil reality Liz” that The Doctor makes his escape by making her see the lunacy of “Brigade Leader” Lethbridge-Stewart’s continuation of the drilling. That world is destroyed and The Doctor makes it back in time to save our world (ooh, who saw that one coming?!) from a mass of volcanic eruptions and green-skinned werewolf type things called “Primords” (go with it, it is a very good story).
She continued to support Doctor Who long after she left the show and was a regular at conventions and autograph signings until just a couple of years ago. She also appeared in The Five Doctors and the one-off Children in Need production Dimensions in Time.