Doctor Who Girls: The Seventies (Part I)

1970s, doctor who, doctor who companion fashion, jon pertwee

Caroline John as Liz Shaw (1970). Possibly the best pins in Who History, Caroline John was the natural successor to Wendy Padbury’s brainbox character of Zoe. Except Liz (great name, non?) was a modern day woman who just happened to be a brilliant scientist in her own right.

Brought in as UNIT’s replacement for The Doctor initially, she would end up ‘assisting’ him (in his exile on Earth) for four stories in Jon Pertwee’s debut season as The Doctor. She was the perfect foil for his slightly pompous, dandy Doctor, being as she was rather down-to-earth and of a relatively equal intellect (for an earthling anyway).

She also ran around in some seriously scanty skirts, fabulous knee high boots and even a floppy hat in The Ambassadors of (ping!) Death. Thus showing that the length of a gal’s skirt is not relative to the size of her brain. And also, yet again, proving that Doctor Who was no place for maxi skirts.

Overshadowed by her successors, and sidelined somewhat by her brief tenure by The Doctor’s side (she never even got a jaunt in the Tardis, poor love!) Liz Shaw is one of my favourite companions – for she was an intelligent, independent woman who neither needed, nor fell in love with, The Doctor.

Dear, lovely intelligent Liz Shaw. So of course the producers decided to continue in their inspirationally modern slant on the screaming companion character in the newly liberated Seventies. Right? Wrong. Say hello to Jo Grant (1971-73), and her knickers.

I’ve already blogged about Miss Grant as a Fashion Icon, thanks to her prediliction for dressing in head to toe Biba. Jo was wonderfully ditzy, seemingly rather dim and considerably younger than her predecessor. The implication was made that her promotion into UNIT was thanks to some healthy nepotism, but she was certainly a bright spark when it was needed. Although always with a giggle and a flutter of those spidery Biba eyelashes.

The Doctor certainly seemed to enjoy her company, although I would dispute that he preferred his companions to be a little bit screamy and stupid. He was certainly frustrated by her silliness, and charmed by her hidden depths, which would imply that he really does prefer a bit of spunk and spark in his companions. Jo was rather too much the adoring girl though, which often brought out the most patronising aspects of her mentor’s character.

All this aside, and I’m not even sure where I stand on Miss Grant – except that I would happily stand on and squish her in an attempt to get into her wardrobe and steal most of her gear, she was certainly adorable, always fabulously attired and occasionally quite brilliant. I won’t go into specific episodes because each and every one is a gem where Jo’s clothes are concerned, and each and every one is a Biba gem at that!

They returned to a slightly more sophisticated young woman for the next occupant of the Tardis wardrobe. This time dressed in Biba rivals Lee Bender for Bus Stop, Sarah-Jane Smith (1973-76 and beyond) was a fiesty reporter/journalist type who would stride headfirst into situations and enjoyed an occasionally snippy dialogue with her first Doctor. This first generation Sarah-Jane was my favourite and, unlike most people, I truly loved (and never questioned) that she was paired with Pertwee in The Five Doctors in 1984. Alas though, it eventually went horribly wrong with The Doctor’s regeneration and the introduction of a certain Mr Harry Sullivan.

Originally, the replacement for Jon Pertwee had been intended to be an older actor in the same vein as William Hartnell’s interpretation of the character. So producers had hired Ian Marter to play a new male companion (the first since Jamie left in 1969), because they felt they needed a virile young man to do….well, virile young man things. Nevermind that they already had Elisabeth Sladen as a strong female character, of course they needed a chap for chap things. In the end, as we now all know, they hired a young Tom Baker for the role who was perfectly capable of running around and in no need of a Harry Sullivan. So with effectively a ‘spare’ companion, they had to relegate poor Sarah Jane to mere screaming, girly companion character to give Harry enough to do (and provide enough of a contrast to the two male leads).

Doctor: If I touch these two wires together, I can go back to having just one sexy, confident and intelligent female companion.

Harry: I say Doctor, steady on now old chap….I mean…..golly…..gosh…..that’s really rather beastly….

Sarah Jane: *wibble* *scream*

Doctor: There’s just no debate is there?

Now I love Harry and his excessive poshness. But thankfully he was let go by the end of this debut Fourth Doctor series, and Sarah Jane was finally able to regain her place as The Doctor’s main squeeze. Although she never did quite recover from this volte face in her characterisation, and remained perhaps a little too girly and screamy for my liking. Luckily, Sladen has had another chance (or three) at the role (most recently in her own series spin-off from ‘Nu-Who’) and has returned to the stronger character I so adored in her first series with Pertwee.

Style-wise, she must be applauded for never wearing a mini skirt and thus breaking with classic Who tradition that, regardless of how long skirts may be outside the Tardis, the companion always deems a mini skirt to be suitable quarry-sprinting attire. She donned a very cutesy print maxi dress in The Masque of Mandragora, one of Victoria’s alleged cast-offs (peculiarily Edwardian for Miss Waterfield but we’ll let that go) in The Pyramids of Mars and who on earth could forget the Andy Pandy striped dungarees from her departure story, The Hand of Death?

Let’s just pretend her rescue from a little tumble down a slight incline in The Five Doctors never happened shall we?

Part II coming soon (where we see the true meaning of the phrase “One for the Dads”, see where Servalan’s cast-offs ended up and try to work out why on earth a fully grown woman in a school uniform would be such a popular companion?).

9 thoughts on “Doctor Who Girls: The Seventies (Part I)

  1. Thanks Sharon! I think the word is ‘geek’ – haha! 😉 But I don’t mind….it’s just one of the many cult TV series I love watching for the clothes. It’s all very well reading Vogue, but I much prefer seeing the real deal on real people!

  2. That was an awesome read! I am just now discovering Liz Shaw and though no one ever will replace Sarah! Jane! as my favorite companion of all time, I really dig Liz quite a bit. =)

  3. "Do I have the right?" ;)Great post, my wife says that she would've worn Sladen's red and white jumper back then, so it isn't all that bad…I'm one of those Americans who grew up with Tom Baker's incarnation and so everything else pre and post-fourth Doctor is new to me. In 1980, I wrote to Elisabeth Sladen and got a nice personally autographed picture back for my trouble! Lovely!I'm in the process of catching up with all the Who I need to see and have been reading up with the ABOUT TIME books to read more in-depth analysis than anyone really should.

  4. It is interesting to note that while Sarah Jane Smith never wore boots with a mini-skirt, the actress did in a publicity shot, and also wore short shorts, which revealed that she did have rather attractive legs.And yes, her character is seemingly remembered as a tough journalists (ala the Pertwee years) by most but in most stories she whined and cried like a little girl…And I think of her as a Pertwee companion myself so I had no real problem with her appearing in 'The Five Doctors' as such.

  5. Jo Grant all the way, not just for personality but for her clothes. Great 70s style.I did begin to like Liz Shaw though, appreciating that Doomwatch style of Who more as I got older.Shock confession but I always thought Sarah Jane overrated. Don't hate me people

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