By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Every week we look back at one of the characters from Doctor Who’s long history, it could be a major character or a minor one, but they all helped create the history – and character – of the Doctor.
Dodo literally stumbled aboard the Tardis without explanation. Played by Jackie Hill, Dodo seemed to be the victim of behind the scenes politics and bad writing in an era where change was about to sweep the show.
Before long, we would see not only Steven and Dodo disappear but the first Doctor too. In her handful of stories Dodo was a resilient girl who slipped right into the trio but with very little character development. It was believed by Steven that she was the descendant of one Ann Chaplet, a woman he had become close to but had been forced to leave behind on the Doctor’s orders during the Massacre. History had, according to the Doctor, decided she was to die but it seemed he was wrong when fate threw Dodo through the doors and into their lives. The sloppy entrance was explained in the BBC novel Salvation where Dodo becomes a fully-rounded character with a background. Aliens impersonating gods threatened the world and Dodo was part of it all.
But on television she served as the viewer’s hook to the Doctor’s world. She was the first companion to sing as the adventure the Gunfighters saw her and Steven become an unlikely duo at the battle of the OK Corral where the Doctor is mistaken for Wyatt Earp.
She was also the first companion responsible for changing the course of an entire species when she passed the common cold to humans aboard the Ark. This allowed the one-eyed alien slaves, the Monoids, to become the dominant force aboard the generational ship. It was also the first time a real live elephant appeared on the show. As with many episodes of this time, some are missing, having been wiped by the BBC as per their policy of the day. Therefore we are missing the majority of the Celestial Toymaker, a fondly remembered story where the Doctor faces an eternal entity called the Toymaker who trapped space travellers and forced them to play his games. However they were fixed to fail and those poor souls became pawns in the Toymaker’s games for all eternity.
Dodo and Steven face the majority of the story alone against the games where they have to rely on their own wits to survive while the Doctor is trapped at the mercy of the Toymaker.
This gave Dodo a real drive and showed the potential she could have had in the best traditions of a Doctor Who companion. However, her day was over when Steven left them in the Savages. She and the Doctor land in modern day London where they meet new companions Ben and Polly in a battle against the force Wotan and its War Machines. And she didn’t get a proper exit, something I still find disrespectful to any character in any show. Dodo simply disappeared, having gone home and leaving the Doctor a note. As I’ve said before, if you put a character on screen to help viewers identify with the Doctor’s world, then viewers invest time and emotion in them. To simply wipe them off like a second thought is an insult to both the actor and audience alike.
Jackie has rarely given interviews about her time on the show, she has done some conventions but mostly remains private. Thankfully, the novels have helped in redefining the characters of old as it seems writers see the opportunity to enhance those that weren’t well served by their time on the show. She hasn’t as yet done any Big Finish audio plays but there is always the chance. In this upcoming fiftieth year, it is more important than ever to look back and realize that every companion has helped build the legacy that is Doctor Who. Dodo is no exception and she may one day return through those police box doors in one form or another.