[Contains an impromptu foam-party and SPOILERS!!!]
As I’ve said before, I’m really not that keen on either the concept or execution of Doctor Who, despite having many friends who swear by the show, and admiring several writers who’ve contributed stories to the Who-niverse over the years (such as Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Moorcock). On the other hand, I do have a chronic weakness for extreme cuteness, so when Wendy Padbury was announced as a guest for this year’s Comic-Con, I was so struck by the photo they posted from her “Companion” days that I immediately started seeking out all her episodes… only to discover that many of them are “missing”, presumed lost forever! Her character, ‘Zoe Heriot’, a perky young maths-prodigy from the future, was first introduced in the final serial of season five, “The Wheel in Space” (eps #5.35-40) (1968), but only two of the six episodes are held in the BBC archives, meaning that the rest of the story had to be patched together with repeating stills, muffled audio clips (recorded from the TV by fans back when they originally aired), and on-screen captions to fill in the action for home viewing… which is just a pain in the arse to sit through, so I skipped that, and plunged on into seasons six.
Five of the S6 serials, “The Dominators” (eps #6.01-05), “The Mind Robber” (eps #6.06-10), “The Krotons”* (eps #6.19-22), “The Seeds of Death” (eps #6.23-28), and “The War Games” (eps #6.35-44) are fully extant… “The Space Pirates” (eps #6.29-34), is another unwatchable, mostly missing mish-mash… while the third, “The Invasion” (eps #6.11-18), was only lacking two episodes, which were replaced with animated reconstructions, accompanied by a remastered audio track. I have to say, in many ways I preferred those animated episodes to the live-action ones, because they had more atmospheric cinematography, more reliable special effects, and more stable camerawork! They also spent less time lingering on Zoe’s (admittedly very eye-catching) bottom in her short skirts and skin-tight sparkly cat-suit, so I guess we can call that a “win” for Feminism… unless you’re the sort of feminist that endorses short skirts and skin-tight cat-suits as “empowering”?** Personally I found the way that Zoe was dressed, posed, and framed in the earlier episodes to be fairly exploitative… for example, the “cliff-hanger” ending of ep #6.06 had her laying across the TARDIS console like a chanteuse on a grand piano, with her posterior presented to the viewer, as the camera revolved around her in sweaty-palmed slow motion (this was then repeated at the start of the following episode, to help refresh our memories). Of course, in the interests of full disclosure (and absolution?), I have to confess I loved every second of it… and even re-watched it a couple times… but I know that doesn’t make it right! Gah!
As for her actual character… well, she did do an awful lot of damsel-in-distressing, but then her male equivalent, ‘Jamie’ (Frazer Hines), also got injured and captured and frozen and face-swapped on various occasions, so they were probably quite evenly matched on that score. That is the role/fate of Companions in this series, regardless of gender… to ask ‘The Doctor’ (Patrick Troughton) (aka “The Second Doctor”) questions for the sake of exposition, and to put themselves in peril, so that he can heroically rescue them, and save the day/universe. Thankfully, she did get a couple of spotlight scenes, such as when she single-handedly defeated the “Karkus”, a muscle-bound comic-strip-villain-come-to-life, using a succession of Kung-Fu flips, in ep #6.09 … gleefully destroyed a computerised reception desk by spouting nonsensical programming language at it, in ep #6.12 … earned the admiration of a roomful of military types by quickly calculating the exact co-ordinates/trajectory necessary to ensure that their meagre supply of missiles set off a chain reaction of explosions to destroy an invading alien fleet, in ep #6.17 (note how one male extra is unable to resist sneaking a glance down at her backside as she bustles between them seeking data)… bravely volunteered to exploit her petite size to squeeze through a maintenance duct into the central control room of a moon-base, to turn up the thermostat and incapacitate the invasive Ice Warriors, in ep #6.26… and then (sort of) rescued The Doctor from a prison cell, and smashed a vase over the head of an unsuspecting baddie who was about to report them, in eps #6.35-6. Go Zoe!
Although some characters were quite condescending to her, The Doctor was always praising Zoe for her intelligence, and hyping her computer-beating brain to others. True, he did get exasperated with her at times, and a little petty competition crept in from every now and again, but he clearly recognised and treated her as an intellectual peer, despite her immaturity. Trivia sites suggest that the three main cast members got along very well off-screen, and grew very close over the course of the season, and I think that warmth and familiarity comes across quite clearly on-screen as well. I couldn’t really give a fig for the stories, which were often rather samey and drawn-out, but what kept me watching was my fondness for the characters, and my enjoyment of their interactions. Unusually, all three actors decided to jump ship at the same time, meaning that the grand finale featured a very sweet group goodbye, wiping the slate completely clean for the following (full-colour!) season, in which Jon Pertwee was introduced as “The Third Doctor”. The trio was briefly reunited in The Five Doctors (1983), but Zoe and Jamie only got a couple minutes of screentime, deep into the second hour of the feature-length episode, and were really only fibbing phantom versions of themselves, so it’s barely worth the bother… although the Raston-Warrior-Robot vs. Cybermen fight scene was pretty awesome, I admit.
Fun fact: Padbury is now retired (aside from convention appearances, obviously), but for a while she worked as a theatrical agent, representing several Who actors, including Colin Baker (aka “The Sixth Doctor”), and she’s also credited with discovering a young fella named Matt Smith (aka “The Eleventh Doctor”) at the National Youth Theatre… though whether she used some sort of stolen alien brainwashing device to “process” him into wanting to join the series, I can’t say.
* In my head, I can’t stop saying “croutons”… and I’m sure some of the actors mispronounced it that way as well! I was also amused by the varying pronunciation of “Cybermen”, which reminded me of that bit from Friends where Chandler and Phoebe discuss “Spider-Man”: It’s not his last name. It’s not like “Phil Spidermun”. He’s a spider-MAN!
** Only this morning, I saw a pro-women-in-sports advert, bearing the “This Girl Can” slogan, that included a prolonged close-up of a young lycra-clad bottom gyrating into the camera, so… I really don’t know how I’m supposed to react as a wannabe-male-feminist. Gah, again!