Liz Shaw’s Best Bits: What happened next?

Liz Shaw in Ambassadors of Death

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.

The cover-up

Brigadier: You’ve been agitating for a new assistant ever since Miss Shaw went back to Cambridge.

The Doctor: Liz was a highly qualified scientist. I want someone with the same qualifications.

Brigadier: Nonsense. What you need, Doctor, as Miss Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are. Miss Grant will fulfill that function admirably.

Let’s have a look at that for a second. The Brigadier claims that Liz Shaw frequently said that all the Doctor needed was someone to pass him test tubes and flatter his ego. Now, you’ve seen all her best bits – she’s saved the world and done all kinds of daring things by herself. Even when she’s been helping the Doctor, she’s done a whole lot more than merely pass test tubes. More than that, she’s stood up for herself and her skills on numerous occasions. Does that seem like the kind of self-devaluing, totally incorrect thing she’d say – and regularly? I think not.

More than that, the Doctor says “I want someone with the same qualifications”. We’re talking about someone who’s an expert in meteorites and has degrees in half a dozen other scientific subjects – basically, the smartest person in the world. In other words, the Doc is asking for the impossible and he probably knows it. He wants Liz back or no one.

Clearly, there’s a cover-up going on and we can deduce that in actuality either:

  1. Liz Shaw and the Doctor really were shagging, he’s been a bounder and a cad to her, and she’s gone back to Cambridge in a huff, probably to file a sexual harassment suit against UNIT. The Doctor doesn’t realise what a git he’s been, misses her, so makes it clear he wants her and only her brought back.
  2. She’s actually proved so useful and capable that she’s been reassigned to some other branch of UNIT (like the aliens are only going to attack Britain) and saves the world all by herself in some other series of exciting adventures that we never heard about. It’s all top secret, so the Brigadier lies to the Doctor about it all. The Doctor still wants her back.

Take your pick, or come up with your own options.

Post cover-up
We don’t hear much about Liz in the show after that. She gets mentioned a couple of times, the first time in Mawdryn Undead when the Brig has amnesia and the Doctor needs to remind him of his past exploits – “Liz Shaw you’ll remember of course”. Interesting that the Doc reckons the Brig would be more likely to remember Liz Shaw than Jo Grant, who was in 15 stories – what did happen between season seven and season eight? Another 11+ adventures with Liz Shaw saving the world?

We also find in Battlefield that the Doctor stills carries around her old UNIT pass with him. That’s useful, isn’t it? There must be literally hundreds of occasions he can use that. Or is it more likely a sentimental keepsake of all that shagging?

But she does make a couple of reappearances. Sort of. In The Five Doctors, we see a phantom version of Liz Shaw created to mislead the Doctor – compare and contrast the forceful phantom Liz with the wimpy Sarah-Jane:

And in the “so awful it hurts” Children in Need crossover with EastEnders, Dimensions in Time, she pops up for a few seconds in characteristic forthright style – to have a fist fight with the armed Time Lady villainess, the Rani. If you can bear it – and frankly, being clubbed to death like a baby seal by Canadians is preferable to watching Dimensions in Time – she appears about a minute into part two:

The novels
With the show dead for much of the 90s, there were no more opportunities for her to appear in the show proper. But she did return – not very well characterised – in spin-off comics and novels.

Of the books, the most notable were:

  • The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell, which explores in typically awful Gary Russell stylee, the events surrounding Liz’s resignation from UNIT
  • The Wages of Sin by David A. McIntee, in which Liz finally gets to travel in the TARDIS with the third Doctor (and Jo).
  • Blood Heat by Jim Mortimore, in which a parallel universe version of Liz is still part of UNIT and fighting against the Silurians in a world where the Third Doctor died before defeating the reptiles.
  • Eternity Weeps by Jim Mortimore again, which sees Liz die in 2003 after contracting an extraterrestrial terraforming virus while investigating an alien artefact on the Moon.

Generally, though, these bad boys are best forgotten.

Caroline John did return as Liz Shaw for some audio-video adventures.

Big Finish has so far produced a couple of “Companion Chronicle” audio plays, The Blue Tooth and Shadow of the Past, featuring Liz and the third Doctor, and is due to release a third, The Sentinels of the New Dawn, in April next year. In typical, reductive “we must close all continuity holes” Big Finish stylee, these have tried to explain not only important issues such as why she left, but why she wears mini-skirts a lot as well. Oh dear. They also messed up her characterisation considerably, too – making her a disgruntled, largely sour and quite weak individual, rather than the fun, strong, dynamic figure of season seven.

More notably, in 1994, BBV licensed the character of Liz from the BBC to produce its own range of videos, written by and occasionally starring Mark Gatiss, who now writes for and has acted in Doctor Who and Sherlock. The P.R.O.B.E. series, like all BBV videos, were thinly veiled attempts to do Doctor Who again with the original actors, but without the character of the Doctor, the TARDIS, etc (basically anything that would cost a lot of money).

In the four stories that were made, Liz Shaw runs a UNIT-like organisation, the Preternatural Research Bureau, that investigates the paranormal. The stories usually involved devil worship, boys’ boarding schools and boys coming to terms with being gay. They also featured Louise Jameson (Leela on Doctor Who) as Liz’s assistant (and possibly lover) as well as just about every Doctor Who actor imaginable and Gatiss’s pal Reece Sheersmith from The League of Gentleman.

On the whole, these weren’t great movies, and although Liz was in charge, her characterisation was somewhat off – she smokes a pipe for instance. So I don’t know about you, but even though you can watch those P.R.O.B.E. stories below on YouTube, I’d rather ignore them, the novels, the comics and everything else and remember the fun, smart, dynamic, original Liz of season seven – the best companion Doctor Who ever had.

And that really is the end.

P.R.O.B.E.The Zero Imperative: YouTube playlist since most of the vids have had embedding disabled.

P.R.O.B.E.The Devil of Winterborne: YouTube playlist since most of the vids have had embedding disabled.

P.R.O.B.E.Unnatural Selection:

P.R.O.B.E.Ghosts of Winterborne:


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.