Sunday, June 24, 2012

Emotional Chemistry

It seems far too soon after the loss of Elisabeth Sladen to be saying goodbye to another companion, but only last Thursday I was greatly saddened to hear that Caroline John had passed away.

For just the one season of Doctor Who, she gave us the wonderful character of Liz Shaw. Maybe she wouldn’t be as widely remembered outside of Doctor Who circles as Lis Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith, but she left as enduring an impression here.

Since I was about three or four at the time, I was far too young to retain any clear memories of her stories on first broadcast, but my earliest vivid memory of Doctor Who does hail from Ambassadors Of Death, so it’s an important era for me. When I finally got to view that season through (relatively) grown-up eyes, I fell in love – with both the stories and Liz Shaw.

They were trying something different with the series and the companion. Back in the days when incident was more important than character, I daresay the character brief for Liz was very brief, but she invests a probably sketchy outline with a lot of charisma and sparkle and lends the role credibility and substance. And she has great fun playing her jack-booted fascistic alter-ego in Inferno. In contrast to the Hollywood take on ‘sexy scientist sidekick’ – say, Denise Richards, in Bond flick, The World Is Not Enough – you can actually believe this woman has degrees in physics, chemistry and half a dozen other subjects. Indeed, Liz Shaw seems more progressive than a Bond girl equivalent from about 30 years later. The series tried again to provide the Doctor with an intellectual equal later on, but neither Romana had Liz’s relateability.

I remember reading once upon a time that Caroline John didn’t believe she and Pertwee shared any particular screen chemistry and she would know better than me. But you could have fooled me. And she did. The illusion is successful at least and their Doctor-companion relationship won me over more than the longer-running Doctor-Jo one that followed.

The first ever Who book submission I wrote was an adventure called Equilibrium, which featured the Third Doctor and Liz. There’s an earlier version of Drift which was intended for the same team. And the same goes for Emotional Chemistry. So it’s clear I had a burning ambition to write something for the character, and although sadly none reached publication it wasn’t for the want of trying.

After Doctor Who, I’d occasionally see Carline John pop up in things like Sherlock Holmes (the Jeremy Brett version and The Hound Of The Baskervilles with Tom Baker) and it’d always be a rare treat. But naturally she’ll always be Liz Shaw to me. It’s a credit to her that she’d touch my life so relatively briefly but make such an indelible mark.

A lot of fond memories of Doctor Who are all the fonder for her. What is for me the show's richest season is all the richer for her contribution. And we’re poorer for her loss.