It was announced today (June 21st, 2012) that actress Caroline John died on the 5th June but news of her death was kept private until after her funeral. Caroline is in many ways one of the companions whose importance to the Doctor Who lore was vastly underrated until the last few years.
She became Jon Pertwee’s first companion, Liz Shaw, an eminent scientist at a time when the show was on the verge of cancellation. It is to her credit and the team’s that not only did the show survive but thrive. Seen by producers as too smart to be a companion, she was written out after a year but what a year. From Spearhead from Space to Inferno, Liz proved himself more than capable of being in the Doctor’s company. Though she returned to the series twice in future years, she had her own series PROBE, a sort of British X Files. And with the advent of Big Finish, Liz was once again front and centre of the action. God bless you, Caroline, gone but never ever forgotten. Here’s our tribute to a great lady.
Owen’s Heroes of Doctor Who Episode One: Liz Shaw
Liz Shaw was not a happy bunny. She was happily working in Cambridge when the Brigadier drafted her to work for UNIT. He needed a scientific advisor and she was the best qualified person. What exactly her background was for UNIT’s extra-terrestrial activities was never explained but circumstances would soon put her with a newly arrived, newly regenerated Doctor in a battle against the plastic based Autons and Nestene Intelligence.
The show was not in a good place. It was facing cancellation and if this new Doctor and companion didn’t work out then the end was nigh. Now the show was going in a new direction. Exiled on Earth by the Time Lords, The Doctor found a home with UNIT, the United Nations intelligence taskforce, first seen in stories like the Web of Fear and Invasion. Now the alien threats would come to Earth or in some cases from beneath the Earth. So everything was crucial. This era was as crucial as the debut of Chris Eccleston and Billie Piper, strange though it may seem to us in the upcoming fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
Liz was an independent woman with a brilliant scientific mind and she and the Doctor gelled straight away. As this was a new action hero era for the show, Liz found herself in plenty of dangerous situations including almost drowning in Ambassadors of Death at the hands of vicious thugs. Played by Caroline John, she was fearless and as scientifically driven as our favourite Time Lord.
However, what she thought she knew about science goes out the window when she meets the Time Lord who accepts a place at UNIT alongside the Brigadier.
Over the next few months, Liz is involved with the Silurians, reptiles that originally occupied the Earth, Martian ambassadors and an alternate Earth where the Inferno project pierced the Earth’s crust and caused its destruction where the surface was swallowed in huge lava fields. I this reality Liz is an office in a Gestapo like regime and despite her early misgivings, she quickly comes to believe and trust the Doctor,
However, the producers decided Liz was too close to the equal of the Doctor and the show needed a more tradition companion so Caroline John’s contract was not renewed. It was a bit of a shock for the actress but she had just discovered she was pregnant and was going to leave anyway.
Liz is also one of the few companions that did not receive a proper farewell and this stuck with quite a few fans afterwards. To this end, a new series of stories were commissioned for video as a spin off series, Probe, where Liz was an investigator all on her own with some great stories.
She reappeared as a ghost in the Five Doctors and the Dimensions in Time skit for Children In Need along with many other past companions. Caroline has completed many Big Finish Companion Chronicles stories which have further cemented her as a fan favourite. And she has even managed to travel in the Tardis in the BBC books range along with Jo Grant.
A true exit story was written for her in the missing adventures series called the Scales of Justice where Liz had one more run in with the Silurians and explored her reasons for leaving the Doctor. Written by Gary Russell, t is an intelligently crafted book that showcases Liz Shaw at her best.
And never forget, without Liz to usher in the third Doctor, it would not have been the success it became.