News & Blog

R.I.P. Caroline John

The BBC is reporting that British actress Caroline John has passed away at the age of 72. John was known to me and millions of other fans as Liz Shaw on the original Doctor Who.

(Above, the Brigadier, Liz Shaw, and the Doctor stare at something in the distance that will be added later with shockingly bad special effects.)

Liz Shaw only appeared in one season, Jon Pertwee’s first as the Doctor, plus a one-off appearance in 1983’s 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors.” She was a brainy scientist who assisted the Doctor in the lab at UNIT headquarters during his exile on Earth just as ably as she did in the field against the Autons, Silurians, possessed radioactive astronauts, and other threats. Frequently exasperated with the Doctor, she famously told the Brigadier that all the Doctor really needed was someone to pass him his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he is. Eventually, Liz returned to her home base of Cambridge to focus on her own work, and was replaced as the Doctor’s UNIT assistant by Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning), who passed the Doctor his test tubes and told him how brilliant he was. And also wore short skirts.

Because Caroline John’s time on the show was so brief, she never achieved the iconic status of Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) or Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), both of whom also passed away recently. But as a member of the Doctor Who family, and as a female companion in particular, Liz stood out as someone who never screamed or tripped over a tree root while running away from something. Believe it or not, in the world of classic Who, that made her different from pretty much every other female character.

Rest in peace, Caroline John. You may not have been among the most beloved companions, but some of us still remember you fondly.

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