As Doctor Who fans across the world will know, it’s been announced today that the lovely Caroline John has passed away at the age of 72.
She is, of course, best known for playing the role of the Doctor’s companion, Liz Shaw, in Series 7 (1970) opposite newcomer Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. Unlike many of her predecessors (and successors), Liz Shaw was a scientist and able to talk with the Doctor almost as an equal, as someone with technical understanding and scientific intelligence. As a strong, clever woman this was both her triumph and her downfall. As the principal requirement of any companion in Doctor Who is to ask a lot of questions which the viewers might be asking themselves, Liz rarely needed to, prompting incoming producer Barry Letts to decide that a different companion was required. As Caroline was pregnant at the time this decision coincided with her desire to leave the series and Dr Elizabeth Shaw went back to Cambridge.
Before Doctor Who entered her life, Caroline had trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, worked extensively in theatre, touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre in King Lear, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Merchant of Venice and as Hero in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. She reprised the role of Liz Shaw, albeit as a phantom, in The Five Doctors, and Dimensions in Time, both shown as part of the BBC’s annual Children in Need appeal. In the 1990s she appeared again as Liz in the P.R.O.B.E. stories written by Mark Gatiss, featuring numerous actors from the history of Doctor Who.
As well as recent appearances on screen in episodes of Doctors, Midsomer Murders and Silent Witness she appeared briefly in the Richard Curtis film Love, Actually, the Nigel Kneale TV adaptation of The Woman in Black and the political thriller A Very British Coup. More recently she returned to Doctor Who in Big Finish Productions audio dramas based on the series. In Dust Breeding - playing a character other than Liz Shaw – and The Blue Tooth (2007) where, as Liz, she recounts an adventure she once had with the Doctor and UNIT. After The Blue Tooth she returned in four more Companion Chronicle audio plays - Binary; The Sentinels of the New Dawn; Shadow of the Past; and the as-yet-unreleased The Last Post.
Caroline was married to Geoffrey Beevers, who played the renegade Time Lord known as the Master in The Keeper of Traken, Dust Breeding, Master, The Trail of the White Worm and The Oseidon Adventure. They starred together in an episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot called Problem at Sea as Mr & Mrs Tolliver.
Although we never met, her interviews on the DVDs, the CDs and in magazines have always displayed her affection for the character of Liz and her surprise at the fans’ love for the character. Having just recently watched all her stories for the TimeVault podcast I was reminded of what a strong woman she played and the brilliant way she played her. At a time where the series was changing to survive and bright young things were at the helm, it was a brave attempt to make the female companion brighter, smarter and more grown-up. And Liz Shaw and Caroline John were exactly what the series needed, right when it needed them most.
Alongside Jon Pertwee, Roger Delgado, Barry Letts, Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen, an era of Doctor Who is sadly disappearing. Caroline will be as much missed as they all are and my thoughts are with her family and friends.