|Doctor Who character|
|First appearance||Spearhead from Space|
|Last appearance||Inferno (regular)
“Dimensions in Time” (charity special)
|Portrayed by||Caroline John
Hazel Burrows (DVD spinoff)
|Home era||20th century|
Elizabeth Shaw is a fictional character played by Caroline John in the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who and its spin-offs. A civilian member of UNIT – United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (later retitled: UNified Intelligence Taskforce), an international organisation that defends the Earth from alien threats, she was the companion of the Third Doctor for the 1970 season. Liz appeared in 4 stories (25 episodes).
Liz Shaw first appears in the first serial of the seventh season (1970), Spearhead from Space, having been drafted from the University of Cambridge by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart as a scientific advisor to UNIT. She is an accomplished scientist, an expert on meteorites with degrees in medicine, physics and a dozen other subjects. Her extensive training, however, is still pale in comparison to the Doctor’s own knowledge of the universe and scientific principles far beyond those of Earth. Sceptical at first of UNIT’s ambit to defend against alien invasion, Shaw changes her mind when she encounters the newly regenerated Doctor and becomes involved in defeating the plans of the Nestene Consciousness and its animated plastic Autons.
Liz continues to work with the Doctor and UNIT through encounters with the Silurians, the so-called Ambassadors of Death and the Inferno project, where the Doctor also encountered Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, an alternative version of the scientist in a parallel universe. She eventually resigns from UNIT and returns to Cambridge; there was no “farewell scene” on screen for Liz, with her departure simply being announced by the Brigadier at the beginning of Terror of the Autons. She reportedly told the Brigadier that all the Doctor really needed was someone to pass him his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he was.
Liz’s life after leaving UNIT is not explored in the series. In the Seventh Doctor serial Battlefield (1989), the Doctor gives Ace a fake ID with the name Elizabeth Shaw. Additionally, in the 2010 The Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor colonel tia karim mentions that “Miss Shaw can’t get back from Moonbase until Sunday.” Caroline John appeared as an illusory image of Liz in the 20th Anniversary television movie The Five Doctors (1983), and as Liz herself in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time.
John also played Liz Shaw in a series of straight-to-video stories produced by BBV under the umbrella title of P.R.O.B.E., in which the character works with a paranormal investigation organisation not unlike UNIT, called the “Preternatural Research Bureau”. John later returned as Liz appeared in five Big Finish audio stories narrated by the character: The Blue Tooth (2007), Shadow of the Past (2010), The Sentinels of the New Dawn (2011), Binary (2012), and The Last Post (2012). The latter introduces Rowana Cooper as Liz’s mother, Emily, and the planned sequel was not finished due to John’s death in June 2012.
The 1996 Virgin Missing Adventures novel The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell also explores the events surrounding Liz’s resignation from UNIT. Liz additionally appears with UNIT in the Missing Adventures novel The Eye of the Giant (1996) and the Past Doctor Adventures novel The Devil Goblins from Neptune (1997). Liz eventually does travel in the TARDIS with the Third Doctor and Jo Grant in the Past Doctor Adventures novel The Wages of Sin (1999), which takes place after the Doctor regains his freedom. A parallel version of her appears in the novel Blood Heat where she is still part of UNIT fighting against the Silurians in a world where the Doctor died before defeating the reptiles. According to the 1997 Virgin New Adventures novel Eternity Weeps by Jim Mortimore, Liz dies in 2003, the victim of an extraterrestrial terraforming virus contracted while she was part of a UNIT team investigating an alien artefact on the Moon, despite the efforts of the Seventh Doctor and his current companion Chris Cwej to save her.
Casting and characterisation
The part of Liz Shaw was given to Caroline John who was recommended to the outgoing production team by James Cellan Jones. Although John had been working regularly on the stage (including at the National Theatre under Laurence Olivier), she was frustrated that she had not won any TV roles. According to several DVD releases in the Doctor Who series and interviews with the actress herself, taking dramatic steps, John had herself photographed in a bikini and sent the picture around to BBC producers. The photo ended up on Peter Bryant‘s desk and he offered her the part once they had met, without any formal audition or screen test. After appearing in the 25 episodes that made up the four stories of the seventh season, John left the programme because she was pregnant with her first child, and producer Barry Letts had already decided against renewing her contract. Letts and Terrance Dicks viewed the character as unsuccessful, feeling that she did not fill the companion’s role of asking the Doctor for exposition and acting as an audience surrogate. In 1978, John expressed mixed feelings about her role as Liz, saying, “I was excited at first to be a brainy girl, but all the directors wanted really was a sexy piece. It was such an effort looking glamorous on cold clay-pits and rubbish dumps. I enjoyed the series but found it restricting after a while.” John continued to appear at fan conventions from the 1990s onwards.
John particularly enjoyed her role as the “fascist” version of Liz seen in the alternate universe in Inferno, disliking when she had to change to the normal Liz. Liz has been seen as more of an assistant than a traditional companion because she never travelled on the TARDIS. Unlike other “co-conspirator” companions, Liz serves as a bridge between the Doctor’s world and the more grounded UNIT. She has also been described as more mature and equal to the Doctor than previous companions. Following John’s death in 2012, current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat described Liz as “not just a sidekick but a scientist in her own right” and an example of his sentiment that “The Doctor’s companions should never be his assistants – they’re the people who keep him on his toes”.
Christopher Bahn of The A.V. Club described Liz as a “missed opportunity” because she had such a short time as an assistant and it seemed to him that “the producers didn’t really know what to do with a strong, smart female character”. Bahn also commented that Liz’s “cynicism and skepticism was a good quality for a scientist, but also a sometimes offputting character tic”. In an analysis of Doctor Who and the Silurians for Doctor Who: The Television Companion, David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker were positive towards Liz, who they said was “very good foil, far removed from the naïve young companions of the past”. Radio Times writer Mark Braxton wrote that, despite her short appearance, “Liz established herself thanks to her brilliant mind, a succession of crazy outfits and Caroline John’s consummate professionalism as an actress”. Braxton also felt that “she was too caring to be cold” and despite not having the “companionly affection” later seen with Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith, they had an “innate respect” for each other. Braxton’s colleague Patrick Mulkern, while calling John a “gifted actress”, criticised the way Liz was “severely styled” in her first appearance. SFX‘s Ian Berriman also criticised Liz in Spearhead from Space, writing that she was “so snarky she’s annoying”. Will Salmon of the magazine listed Liz’s departure as one of the worst in the series since she just “[vanished] between seasons”. DVD Talk‘s John Sinnott felt that John could come across as “a bit stiff” and did not have much chemistry with Pertwee, most likely due to their personal relationship. In 2010, readers of Radio Times voted Liz the 27th best companion, out of 48 options. In Ridley Scott‘s 2012 film Prometheus, Noomi Rapace‘s character is named Dr. Elizabeth Shaw; Dr. Nicolas Pillai, a lecturer from the University of Warwick‘s Film and Television Studies department, argues that this is a reference to the Doctor Who character, as Scott used to work for the BBC as a designer.
- “Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles: Liz Shaw”. Big Finish Productions. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- “The Last Post Cover Released”. Big Finish Productions. 22 August 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
- “Caroline John, Doctor Who companion Liz Shaw, dies aged 72”. 21 June 2012. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- “Inferno”. BBC. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- “Season 7”. BBC. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- “Doctor Who actress Caroline John dies aged 71”. BBC. 22 June 2012. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- , “DWM Archive: Inferno”, Doctor Who Magazine, #305, 27 June 2001, Panini Comics, p. 41.
- McAlpine, Fraser (30 March 2012). “A Companion to the Doctor’s Companions: Liz Shaw”. BBC America. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Bahn, Christopher (19 June 2011). “Spearhead From Space”. The A.V. Club. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Howe, David J. and Stephen James Walker (1998). “The Silurians”. BBC. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Braxton, Mark (21 September 2009). “Doctor Who and the Silurians”. Radio Times. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Mulkern, Patrick (14 September 2009). “Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space”. Radio Times. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Berriman, Ian (6 May 2011). “Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania — DVD review”. SFX. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
- Salmon, Will (26 September 2012). “10 Best Doctor Who Companion Departures (And 5 Worst)”. SFX. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
- Sinnot, John (27 June 2008). “Doctor Who — Beneath the Surface”. DVD Talk. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- Jones, Paul (16 November 2010). “Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler voted the best Doctor Who companion”. Digital Spy. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Zalben, Alex (12 June 2012). “What’s New With Doctor Who: Prometheus Crossover, Companion Photos, and Goodnight Pond”. MTV. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Bentley, David (2 June 2012). “Prometheus link to Doctor Who revealed as university academics give verdict on the film and Alien franchise”. Coventry Telegraph. Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
- Liz Shaw on Tardis Data Core, an external wiki
- Liz Shaw on the BBC’s Doctor Who website
- A series of video compilations of Liz Shaw’s appearances on Doctor Who and elsewhere
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