By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Once again we embark on a journey through the history of Doctor Who and pick out a character who helped make him the Time Lord we all know and love today…
Tegan, an Australian air hostess on her first day at work, had her aunt murdered and flung to an alien planet where the universe is teetering on the edge of destruction at the hands of a megalomaniac and the only thing standing in the way is a man in a scarf and an old police box.
It was a traumatic introduction for Tegan who would be the fifth Doctor’s stalwart companion, appearing in the entire run bar one story, Planet of Fire. Initially desperate to go home, Tegan eventually came to love life aboard the Tardis. And she became the first companion to leave the Tardis only to rejoin in a later story. The final story of Peter Davison’s Time Flight saw Tegan left behind at Heathrow Airport by accident, ironically the place she had been trying to get to throughout the entire series only to be captured by Omega in Amsterdam in the next story. This lead her to be reunited with the Doctor and Nyssa and she resumed her travels, having been fired from her job for being late. Tegan was a self-admitted mouth on legs and she and the Doctor had an initially fiery relationship. But the more she travelled, the more she loved it. She grew close to her companions, finding a sister in Nyssa and she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. If she didn’t like you, you knew it. She knew something was wrong with Turlough and let him know it, but when he redeemed himself in Enlightenment, she became fond of him, although his cowardice continued to annoy her. She was paired with the first Doctor in the Five Doctors and was the first companion to meet the Brigadier in Mawdryn Undead. Her instincts were spot on, knowing that the injured Mawdryn was not a newly-regenerated Doctor.
My own personal meeting with Janet fielding was at Panopticon years ago where I asked the panel what their favourite cliffhanger was and she answered by calling me on stage and threatened to throw a jug of water over me. Still, she smiled when I bought one of her photos to be signed.
In acting terms her finest hour came when she was possessed by the Mara in Kinda and Snakedance, using her as a bridge to come back to this world. Janet was astounding and there are some real chills in these stories, especially Snakedance. Tegan trusted the Doctor implicitly, even if she always didn’t show it, but in the end she left in Resurrection of the Daleks when all the carnage became too much for her.
Over her time, Tegan faced Cybermen, the Master, the Mara, Sea Devils, Silurians and Tractators and even a visit to her grandfather brought her face to face with the Malus, a demon-like monster trapped in a crumbling church.
Although he wasn’t exactly over the moon when she rejoined in Arc of Infinity, the Doctor was devastated when she left. She was an important part of his life, challenging him on many occasions to make sure the right thing was done. He was confident in her ability to handle an Eternal in Enlightenment, a race of beings that lived using other people’s minds.
She wasn’t afraid of tackling anything she believed was wrong, breaking into files on Frontios to reveal their dark secret and confronting them with it.
Janet became an agent and vowed never to return to Doctor Who ever but did DVD commentaries on nearly all her stories. Seeing the show as pigeon holing women, she stood firm and fans wanted to see her come back somehow outside of the comic strips and novels.
She eventually relented and agreed to do a one-off Big Finish story where she was reunited with the fifth Doctor in a fight against the Cybermen. But this time we learned Tegan was dying from a brain tumour and, in a moving speech, she told the Doctor she had lived more with him than most people do in a lifetime so she was going to take her chances with her illness, despite his begging her to come with him to find a cure. That was a brave move for the character but it didn’t end there. Janet enjoyed it so much she returned to do a new series of stories that reunited the fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Turlough and Tegan. They have also completed a series of Lost Stories; scripts that were commissioned or considered but never made. Now the world is reliving this Tardis team and they have been a roaring success. She has even been mentioned in the Sarah Jane adventures in the story Death of the Doctor in which we learn she is fighting for Aboriginal rights in Australia.
Tegan is back, loved as much as ever and who knows, she just might return for the fiftieth anniversary. Here’s hoping… despite the fact she tried to drown me.