6 amazing one-shot classic Doctor Who characters who need their own spin-offs


Welcome to the first in an occasional series of list-based blogs inspire by the fact that I’ve read Cracked.com too much. Hurray! And sorry…

If you’re a relative Doctor Who newbie, you’re frankly a little spoilt for spin-offs, offshoots and other means to really flesh out a franchise – see Torchwood, the resurrected Sarah-Jane Adventures and Vastra/Jenny/Strax for examples. However, you may not know about a whole raft of characters from the original series who made fleeting, yet memorable, appearances and earned every right to their own parades. Here, in transmission order, are just a few – feel free to leave a comment on any that you think I’ve missed out.

1. Anne Travers (Tina Packer) The Web of Fear (1968)

You can't handle this, The Sixties.
You can’t handle this, The Sixties.

Daughter of recurring Yeti-botherer Professor Travers, Anne was the only woman in a bunker full of blokes whilst big furry robots and colossal cobwebs invade London – and she was a total badass.

Her character arc is basically this: be head-fuckingly cool with everything from smarmy reporters to boorish soldiers, effortlessly nail long-term companion Victoria Waterfield for the whiny, spoilt idiot she truly was, and be instrumental in inventing the gadget with which the Doctor saves the day. Oh yes, and have one of the most empoweringly feminist tech lines in the history of television:

Soldier: What’s a girl like you doing in a job like this?

Anne: Well, when I was a little girl, I thought I’d like to be a scientist – so I became a scientist.

Anne represents the tantalising direction the show’s female companions could have gone in had the producers not wanted them to show up the leading man – see Caroline John’s magnificent Liz Shaw (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liz_Shaw#Casting_and_characterisation) for more on how intelligent female characters got shat on during this general era.

2. Miss Hawthorne (Damaris Hayman) The Daemons (1971)

Don't even get her started on CS Lewis...
Don’t even get her started on CS Lewis…

Parachuting into the occult-tinged Pertwee classic like someone who accidentally missed their cameo in a Hammer movie, Miss Hawthorne’s main function was to warn of the inevitable shitstorm caused by the Devil’s End barrow being opened (spoiler alert: Devil gets out). It might have ended there but for several key contributions throughout the rest of the story:

– she banishes an angry wind spirit using an incantation, i.e. with what we assume must be ACTUAL magic, as this implication is never challenged.
– she calmly lays out an violent Morris dancer (no, really), using a crystal ball in her handbag and follows up with the James Bond-level quip “on these occasions the outcome’s a certainty”.
– her ongoing enthusiasm for jumping the bones of UNIT stalwart Sergeant Benton.

Imagine a sexed-up Miss Marple battling crime using white witchcraft. If you don’t like the sound of that, then I don’t like you.

[PS. In case you think I’m being wildly fanciful with all this, in October 2014 THIS SHIT WILL APPARENTLY GO DOWN: https://www.galaxy4.co.uk/product.thtml?id=3556]

3. Rogin (Richardson Morgan) The Ark in Space (1974)

'I know we technically have to re-invent the concept of currency, but let's say your subs are £12 per month.'
‘I know we technically have to re-invent the concept of currency, but let’s say your subs are £12 per month.’

He’s brought out of cryogenic suspension three episodes into a four-part story. Pretty much his first line is ‘I said five thousand years ago, “There’ll be a snitch-up!”‘. He unfussily gets on with his job as insectoid aliens menace the last of humanity. However, nothing becomes his life like the leaving of it…

Needing to manually launch a rocket to despatch the deadly Wirrn swarm into deep space, the Doctor is punched out by Rogin, who insists:

‘You don’t want trouble with the Space Technician’s Union, Doctor – that’s my job!’

He’s the only declared union member in the history of the show, and sacrifices himself BECAUSE of that. Give this comrade a prequel.

4. Bettan (Harriet Philpin) Genesis of the Daleks (1975)

'When I'm the last leader of my race, I will totally... Oh.'
‘When I’m the last leader of my race, I will totally…

From the harrowing, apocalyptic ashes of the Daleks’ origin story rose not only their status as a Nazi archetype, but also the last vestiges of their eternal enemies, the Thals.

With a certain poetic justice, they’re led not by one of the plentiful old white dudes that magically ended up running EVERY ALIEN RACE THAT WAS EVEN REMOTELY HUMAN, but by an infinitely capable, emotionally literate and (above all) practical young woman who leads the survivors of her race in sealing the Daleks into their bunker and giving them enough breathing space to re-establish civilisation on the planet.

That, friends, is a story that deserves to be heard, not least because (as indeed with Anne Travers) the writers resist giving Bettan a drippy ‘for the ladies’ romantic subplot of any kind – and, more troublingly, because she appears to be the only woman left on Skaro…

5. Mags – Jessica Martin The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1988)

On camera, this looks more like the Eighties then The Eighties does.
On camera, this looks more like the Eighties then The Eighties does.

Mags starts as a put-upon companion to a booby-ish explorer, bonds wonderfully with Ace (AKA the companion without whom Rose Tyler simply wouldn’t have existed), and then only goes and does this:


…because also she’s a werewolf.

Mags winds up playing a pretty sizeable part in defeating a bunch of bored chaotic gods, sticks one to the patriarchy in fine style by killing her ‘handler’ (who by this point has gone to the dark side in a properly twattish way), and predates both ‘Buffy’ and ‘Being Human’ by having a good old subtextual young adult fret about how to manage her burgeoning power.

The fact that TV never got around to making a show about a spunky young lady werewolf who runs an intergalactic circus is one of the reasons I get so famously, celebrity-baitingly annoyed at what’s on TV.

6. Control (Sharon Duce), Redvers Fenn-Cooper (Michael Cochrane) & Nimrod (Carl Forgione) Ghost Light (1989)

Seen here first, third and fifth from left - I COULDN'T FIND A BETTER PHOTO OF ALL OF THEM, OKAY?!
Seen here first, third and fifth from left – sorry, this was the best picture of all of them I could find. Sylvester McCoy’s amazed I even found this one.

If you claim to enjoy the new stories whilst never having seen the high-Gothic, delightfully bonkers and infamously confusing Ghost Light, then what are you doing reading this stupid blog? GO AND WATCH IT BECAUSE IT’S AMAZING.

I can’t adequately sum up the story, except it revolves around evolution (in both character and nature in general) and responsibility for one’s scientific and/or emotional creations. Along the way we encounter a wonderfully tally-ho Victorian adventurer (Cochrane), an understatedly eloquent Neanderthal butler (Forgione) and a fabulously abrasive human test subject (Duce), who is trying to learn what civilised society even IS. Long story short, they end up flying off in a space ship to have adventures together.

Don’t question this – just accept that it’s the best idea anyone’s ever had, and that it hasn’t been written because the human has not yet been invented that could do it justice.

Honourable mention:

Henry Gordon Jago & Professor Litefoot (The Talons of Weng Chiang)

Everyone wanted their favourite theatrical impresario and proto-Holmes to have their own franchise – so Big Finish, erm, gave them a franchise which is currently in its TENTH GODDAMN SERIES: http://bigfinish.com/ranges/v/jago-litefoot

Is the ‘Right to Fail’ flawed?

I’m writing this today for two reasons. Firstly it’s a lovely day for someone with ancestral vampire skin to find an excuse to stay indoors and over-think. Secondly a culmination of events have led this to being a bit of a ‘black dog’ weekend, except in my case instead of a black dog, I have a pelican:

It's distracting, unmanageable and utterly ridiculous, yet still screams 'HERE I AM BITCH, DEAL WITH'. Birds are great metaphors.
It’s distracting, unmanageable and utterly ridiculous, yet still screams ‘HERE I AM BITCH, DEAL WITH’. Birds are great metaphors.

So yeah, I was thinking about the ‘right to fail’ today. It’s an expression that gets thrown around a lot, especially at people like me who make a point of talking loudly in theatre bars about why I’m the ONLY person who doesn’t suck.

But seriously folks, I used to do proper theatre reviews under an ingenious Clark Kent/Keyser Soze/El Kabong-style pseudonym. Contrary to what media practice seems to currently be dictating, it’s a very rewarding and insightful experience, which doesn’t change even if you fully intend on analysing art ‘at-source’ rather than after it’s finished. I stopped ages ago, mainly because I was getting increasingly close to reviewing people I’d consider my peers, and I felt like a twat about that.

'Take THAT my close personal friends!'
‘Take THAT my close personal friends!’

One idea I’d kept coming back to when I was reviewing was ‘why is this show even HERE?’ On the one hand that might have been God’s way of making me stop, but as a piece of ruthless standalone philosophy I’ve since found it very helpful.

It’s meant that ever since then I’ve asked myself:

1) Is this thing I’m writing saying something different that I have not heard said before?

2) If not, is it saying so in a manner that I have not seen before?

And I think if the answer to both these questions is ‘no’, then… why? Why will the world be worse off if this piece of art is never made? Why therefore is it worth your time, oh labouring writer, when it’s most likely a version of something you’re seen and really like and want to emulate?

Don’t get me wrong, we’re all allowed to be the product of our influences. I myself spent a good couple of years trying to be Tom Stoppard, before realising how much I needed to fuck off with that, and then spent another 3 years trying to be Joss Whedon. Nuance happens when you realise people and techniques you want to emulate might not actually work brilliantly for you, and you devise your own ways of working with your particular skills. Thus you eventually develop the whole ‘unique voice’ thing that we hear so much about.

'I'm a white dude in the arts industry, could my voice BE more unique?!'
‘BOO YEAH! I’m a well-off white dude in the arts industry, could my voice BE more unique?!’

Taking this back to the ‘right to fail’, this is how I really see it applying in art, and I think it’s also what William Zinsser was talking about . It’s about one’s personal journey being a necessary series of troughs and peaks, all of which should be treated as learning experiences, and how there is no ‘ideal way’. It’s genuinely good and inspiring reading for anyone with any self-doubt about where they’re heading. I say that even though it references Holden Caulfield, a front-runner in my list of ‘notable literary characters I would happily leave critically injured without summoning medical assistance’ (other contenders include Cathy Earnshaw and the bloke from David Nicholls’ One Day).

But the thing is, right, I don’t think it’s fair to take that very individual principle and apply it to organisations. Organisations have multi-layered oversight and appoint on merit. Organisations are organisations FOR THIS VERY REASON. I can see how a person might accidentally produce some art that doesn’t work if they’re making it by themselves, but if they’re producing various drafts over time for an organisation that can afford a literary department, dramaturgs, etc. then there’s a lot more accountability going on. And let’s not even get started on if they happen to be subsidised…

So should this usher in an era of X-Treme artistic safety? No, of course not. I’ve said as much before:

The-Genre-Question-Exeunt-Magazine 2014-05-18 13-32-13

…although some people bafflingly pretend that I didn’t:

Postcards-from-the-Gods-Genre-ecology-and-economy 2014-05-18 13-33-11

See, I don’t think a lot of people even know what they mean by ‘fail’. That might even include me. I used to think of it as the double-team of ‘artistically nonsense’ and ‘lost even more money than would normally be considered acceptable’, but that’s probably wrong. Reading Zinsser again it seems to be about having the bravery to try new and interesting things and being reflective enough to learn from them and see them as part of a ‘bigger picture’. Again, wonderful advice for the aspiring artist.

But for an organisation with more resources and oversight, isn’t a ‘failure’ the inability do the things they’ve evolved and exist to do, i.e. the bravery, the interestingness, the reflection?

And perhaps the greatest of these is reflection. The others can take years to attain and are subjective as heck, but I can’t see how you propose to get to either without reflection. I constantly reflect on past work because it’s the main mechanism the world has by which to judge me. It’s a constantly open invitation to adapt, improve and accept yourself at any given stage of your career. I’ve somehow managed to eventually do this without giving myself a hard time, and I am the acknowledged Eternal Galactic Champion of giving-myself-a-hard-time-for-shitty-reasons.

What I’m basically saying is that for all we talk about the right to fail, we never talk about the corresponding responsibility that’s inherent with any right that’s any use at all. In this case I suppose it’s the responsibility to reflect. Fail, yes, fail in grandiose, overarching ways – and then show what you’ve learned. I always find it refreshing when I hear individual artists talking publically or privately about aspects of their career that didn’t work. It makes it okay, and the fact that they can talk about it means that they see it as part of a bigger picture.

When did you last hear an organisation, artistic director, producer, or arguably anyone with substantial power in the industry do that? Even if you have, is it more or less than the number of ‘right to reply’ columns you’ve seen written in response to poor critical receptions?

Anyone who talks about rights without addressing their own responsibilities doesn’t like responsibility. You should not listen to such people.