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A sad loss for the Doctor Who family

In a time of change

Caroline John played Liz Shaw

Season seven’s star

I was saddened to hear about the death of Caroline John, who played Dr Liz Shaw opposite Jon Pertwee’s Doctor.

When Caroline John joined the cast of Doctor Who, she did so at a time of change. Patrick Troughton had regenerated and his companions had decided to leave the show at the same time which meant a new Doctor and a new companion. The show would now be made in colour and Barry Letts was about to become the new producer. Another bold decision was to strand the Doctor on Earth. This meant that Liz Shaw became the first (and only) companion not to travel in the TARDIS.

Season seven had a distinctly Quatermass feel to it as the new production team aimed the program for a more mature audience. The monsters were still there but more often than not, the real monsters were shown to be man, whether it was the slaughter of Silurians or the continued drilling into the core of the Earth regardless of the consequences.

Dr. Liz Shaw was a different character from previous companions in that she was able to, at least partly, understand the Doctor’s scientific explanations.  Unfortunately this would prove to be a problem. Whereas Zoe, who also had an above average intellect, had Jamie to explain things to (and being able to give this information to the viewer) Liz didn’t have someone to act a go between between the Doctor and the viewer and so the decision to replace her was made.

During the filming of the final story of the season, the excellent Inferno, Caroline John was also looking to leave the series due to her pregnancy. Her final performance in televised Doctor Who (although she did return for a brief appearance in the 20th  anniversary story, The Five Doctors) saw her play Dr. Liz Shaw and Section Leader Liz Shaw in Doctor Who’s first foray into the realms of parallel universes.

Although the Liz Shaw experiment was not deemed a success, Caroline John’s contribution to season seven was very important and easy to under rate. The season consisted of only four stories (1 four parter and 3 seven parters); Spearhead From Space (the story that introduced the Autons), Doctor Who And The Silurians (the only televised story to have “Doctor Who And The…” as part of the title), The Ambassadors Of Death (a very Quatermass like story written by David Whitaker, Doctor Who’s first script editor) and the aforementioned Inferno (written by the future creator of Scottish soap opera “Take The High Road”). The Autons and Silurians were to make a comeback not just in the classic series (Terror Of The Autons and Warriors Of The Deep respectively) but also in the new series, notabley Rose (the Autons) which saw the return of Doctor Who to our screens and the two part story The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood (The Silurians).

Caroline John reprised the role of Liz Shaw for the Companion Chronicles, produced by Big Finish. She got to meet with an iconic monster that was noticeably absent from the third Doctor’s era, the cybermen (The Blue Tooth). The other stories to feature Liz Shaw are Shadow Of The Past, The Sentinels Of The New Dawn, Binary and the forthcoming The Last Post.

Carolin John was also the narrator for the audiobook of another sadly departed member of the Doctor Who family, Elizabeth Sladen.

Caroline John will be missed and my thoughts go out to her family and friends.

Caroline John 1940-2012 R.I.P.

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One Response

  1. I was sad to hear of Caroline’s death. She was a great actress, I love her performances & I think it was a shame that Letts & Dicks felt that scientist LIz Shaw wasn’t a character viewers could empathise with or would drive the plot exposition leading to a short tenure in the show. Of course, Romana (Lalla Ward) left in simillar circumstances as Nathan-Turner/ Bidmead felt a second Timelord with a big brain was one too many. Caroline Johns gave a great performance on Big Finish’s “Bluetooth” & was never sniffy about her link to “Who”, a show which hasn’t always been seen as fashionable or career-enhancing as it now.

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