When I did "Liz Shaw’s Best Bits", an in-depth look at the highlights of best Doctor Who companion ever Liz Shaw’s reign on the show (and beyond), I thought I was done. Five parts, four on her season seven stories, one on what happened after that, and that was Liz done, I thought. A shame, but that’s all there was.
But you can’t keep a good companion down, particularly when fanboy Russell T Davies is in town and he’s pissed off with all those New Adventures writers who gave companions unhappy endings. As you may recall from part five of Liz Shaw’s Best Bits, David McIntee Jim Mortimore was the man who decided to kill off Liz Shaw in the novel, Eternity Weeps, having her die in 2003 from a virus she contracted on the moon.
However, Russell T Davies, who recently returned Liz Shaw’s successor, Jo Grant, to the world of Doctor Who in the The Sarah Jane Adventures story The Death of the Doctor, also took time out in the story to let us know what happened to Liz Shaw:
Yes, boys and girls, Liz Shaw is alive and well and helping to save the world from aliens from up on UNIT’s base on the moon. It can’t be mere coincide that Rusty chose to tell us she was up there: that was a man saying "No! Enough is enough!" to Eternity Weeps. So Liz probably took a Lemsip and got over McIntee’s Mortimore’s virus, before going back to work the next day.
That’s Liz for you.
UPDATE: Thanks to @thejimsmith for pointing out I can’t even read book covers right and it was actually Jim Mortimore who wrote Eternity Weeps. Will I never be free of this name-mixing affliction?
Time for part five of Liz Shaw’s Best Bits, the last in our four-part series looking at Cambridge research scientist, physicist, biologist, forensic scientist, doctor, meteorite expert, computer scientist, electronic engineer, geologist, chemist, biologist, expert car driver, and feminist and style icon, Liz Shaw, the best companion Doctor Who ever had.
When last we saw Liz, back in Inferno, she seemed quite happy:
After all, in her four season seven stories:
Spearhead from Space: she gets a cracking introduction, taunts the Brigadier, gets recruited to UNIT, taunts the Brigadier, does some experiments, taunts the Brigadier, bonds with the Doctor over science, taunts the Brigadier, steals a key, taunts the Brigadier, tends to the sick, works out where the bad guys are, tells lots of jokes, does some light electronics and SAVES THE DOCTOR AND THE WHOLE WORLD.
Doctor Who and the Silurians: is deadpan, does some analysis, does some biology, does forensic science, spots a liar, is firm with a patient, lies to the Brigadier, blackmails the Doctor, goes caving, stands up for Silurian rights, makes sure the Doctor takes his medicine, refuses to obey orders, stands up to a tyrant, does lots of science, comes up with some good ideas for how to cure a plague, is stoic in the face of a loony plague-ridden tyrant, SAVES THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE, explains the Van Allen belt and takes control of a nuclear reactor.
The Ambassadors of Death: speaks French without the aid of a TARDIS, masters technology, outsmarts the Doctor over a computer, uses a Geiger counter, does science, has a car chase, engineers an escape, tries to escape again, encourages a scientist to defect, insults a villain, gets offered a job, helps the Doctor build a machine to escape captivity then SAVES THE WORLD.
Inferno: re-wires the TARDIS, does her sums, spots a problem with the drilling project, helps the Doctor with some experiments and tries to save him, pines for the Doctor, tends to his Time Lord medical needs, SAVES THE WORLD, gives the Doctor a great big hug and argues with the Brigadier.
That’s pretty damn good, isn’t it? She’s the Cathy Gale of Doctor Who there. She’s saved the world in every story, she’s got to have car chases, be a CSI, and learnt how to rewire a time machine. More than that, she’s been an equal partner with a Time Lord, filling in the gaps in his knowledge and intuition with her own knowledge and intuition. Would you want to give all that up? Clearly not, judging by that last scene of Inferno.
And yet, by the next season, she’s gone – to be replaced by Jo Grant in this travesty of a scene from Terror of the Autons. Prepare to groan as the entire series takes a massive quality nose-dive:
But what happened to Liz Shaw next? Well, follow me as we take a wander through Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, the P.R.O.B.E series of movies by Mark Gatiss, and a terrible, terrible UNIT cover-up.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for. We’re now at the last in our four-part series about the first Jon Pertwee Doctor Who companion, Liz Shaw – probably the best companion the show ever had. A Cambridge scientist with degrees in practically everything, she could have probably have saved the world all by herself: it’s just the Doctor had a few shortcuts that helped out.
Inferno was the only Liz Shaw story that didn’t follow the templates set by the old Quatermass serials, instead pioneering a whole new area of science fiction for Doctor Who – the parallel universe. Yes, if you thought nu-Who with its universe populated by Cybermen and Rose Tyler shagging a half-human Doctor was the first time we’d seen a parallel Earth on Doctor Who, you’d have been wrong.
So get ready not just for Liz Shaw’s Best Bits but also Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw’s Best Bits after the jump, where we’ll also answer the question: were the Doctor and Liz Shaw shagging?
We’re now over halfway through our low-budget, four-part series showing the best bits of premier Doctor Who companion Liz Shaw. Liz appeared during the first season of Jon Pertwee’s reign as the Doctor 40 years ago and is still unmatched when it comes to being the smartest, most assertive, most useful, most adult of all the Companions Who.
After last week’s look at her introductory story, Spearhead from Space, we look at what is the first of the “true” season 7 stories and the only one to really give the game away about the Doctor’s real name, Doctor Who and the Silurians. And since this is Liz Shaw’s best bits, I should point out that Liz Shaw uses science to save the entire human race from destruction by plague and takes control of a nuclear reactor – top that, Peri.
On Friday, we started a new, low-budget, four-part series that aims to show the best bits of premier Doctor Who companion Liz Shaw, who appeared during the first season of Jon Pertwee’s reign as the Doctor 40 years ago.
Last time, we did The Ambassadors of Death, her third story, purely because I think it’s the second-best Who story ever, but this week, we’re going to go back and do things chronologically and look at her – and Jon Pertwee’s – first story, Spearhead from Space.
Liz Shaw: Cambridge research scientist, with half a dozen degrees in subjects including physics and medicine. A go-getter who never gave up, who could outsmart the Doctor, who saved the world with her electronic engineering skills on more than one occasion. A companion so good, the Doctor could go back to his laboratory at the end of a story, leaving her to finish saving the Earth. The best companion Doctor Who ever had, which is why she got fired.
Trouble is, not a lot of people have even heard of her. For most people, feminism started on Doctor Who with Sarah Jane Smith. And that’s not totally surprising: Liz Shaw only appeared in one season – the first Jon Pertwee season back in 1970. That’s 40 years ago.
Consisting of four stories – the four-part Spearhead from Space and the seven-part Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno – season seven was probably the most adult of seasons, with some of the cleverest stories, which is naturally why the BBC threw them into a great big dustbin. For the most part, all we have left is an odd mix of colour and black-and-white versions of episodes, which is one of the reasons (apart from that whole seven-episode thing) that repeats have been fairly thin on the ground.
So how can we get an unknowing world to appreciate the value of Liz Shaw? Well, beginning this week (although not appearing necessarily every week, since these boys take time), I’m starting a four-part project called “Liz Shaw’s Best Bits”, which as the title suggests is a compilation of all the best bits of “Liz Shaw-i-ness” on Doctor Who. That’ll save you the three hours of viewing time necessary to get you through most of them, anyway.
The Ambassadors of Death This week, I’m starting with The Ambassadors of Death, Liz’s third story, and I’ll tell you for why. For my money, after the incomparable Caves of Androzani, The Ambassadors of Death is the best story old-school Doctor Who ever produced. It’s not perfect and the production values are very much of their time, but it’s a truly great bit of work.
The general plot is that we plucky Brits in the then near-future of 1980 (argh! UNIT dating controversy alert!) still have a space programme and have sent a space mission to Mars. Things begin to go wrong and the Doctor, exiled to Earth by the Time Lords and keeping himself gainfully occupied as UNIT’s scientific advisor, is called in to assist. It soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems and someone on Earth is interfering – and that Mars might not be as uninhabited as the first Mars mission suggested…
The Ambassadors of Death is notably the only crime story on Doctor Who – indeed, this is probably the most Avengers-esque story on Doctor Who, with Liz Shaw filling the Cathy Gale role nicely. It also plays cleverly on expectations set up by The Quatermass Experiment, that astronauts who venture into space are likely to end up different when they come back down again.
There are many plus points to Ambassadors: we have a proper villain who’s only in it for the money. He’s going around shooting people and burying the bodies. He switches allegiances whenever it’s convenient. He reports to a boss whose motivation isn’t world domination but who is simply misguided and trying to help the world wake up to what he thinks is an imminent alien invasion. And the aliens aren’t the baddies. It’s a human crime story with an alien backdrop and without the near-textual comments on morality the close-runner Doctor Who and the Silurians has.
It also has fantastic direction, probably the best ending to any Doctor Who story and Liz Shaw, being smart, offering witty one-liners, and getting captured (but hey, so does the Doctor), but still lording it over the villains. So, if you’ve 20 minutes to spare, peruse the first of Liz Shaw’s best bits: The Ambassadors of Death.
Part 1 – in which she speaks French without the aid of a TARDIS, masters technology, outsmarts the Doctor over a computer, uses a Geiger counter, does science, has a car chase and engineers an escape.
Part 2 – in which she tries to escape again, encourages a scientist to defect, insults a villain, gets offered a job, helps the Doctor build a machine to escape captivity then mops up the whole mess.
Well, I mentioned it on Friday as part of new series “Liz Shaw’s Best Bits” and the lure ever since has been irresistible. So today, the best bit from the best Doctor Who story ever – the final fifth Doctor story The Caves of Androzani.
Written by Robert Holmes, directed by Graeme Harper, Caves is without a doubt one of the bleakest of all the Who stories, with the Doctor and new companion Peri finding themselves stuck in the middle of a war on a moon that holds the key to near eternal youth: a chemical called Spectrox. Unfortunately, in its unrefined state, Spectrox is poisonous to anyone who touches it – guess who touches it. Go on – and so the Doctor and Peri have to spend most of their time looking for a cure.
The joy of The Caves of Androzani is that it’s pretty much exactly what would happen if the Doctor did end up in the middle war: he gets captured, tossed around as a pawn, and stuck in front of a firing squad, while more or less everyone around him dies. In fact, of all the many, many characters in Caves of Androzani, by the end, there are only two survivors, and neither of them is the Doctor…
As well as Graeme Harper’s incredible direction, Maurice Roëves’ mercenary, Stotz, and the sheer brutality of the story, Caves is notable for a couple of things: the use of machine guns, rather than outer-space lasers to make everything just that little bit more real; and the breaking of the fourth wall, with chief villain Morgus turning to camera at a couple of points to explain his thought processes.
Nevertheless, it’s ironic that the best bit is the end with Peter Davison’s regeneration into Colin Baker – still the best regeneration scene of them all (unless you count the lead up to David Tennant’s exit, and guess what that was modelled on). Unfortunately, within about three seconds, you can see everything falling apart as possibly the worst Doctor Who story in existence, The Twin Dilemma, is cued up.
If you want, you can watch the whole ruddy thing on YouTube thanks to BBC Worldwide (which has, unfortunately, made the whole thing unembeddable otherwise I’d stick it on here for you!)