Heroes of Doctor Who: Leela

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

Photo copyright Owen Quinn

Once again we look at the massive catalogue of characters from Doctor Who’s history, those who helped make him the man – Timelord – he is today. This week we look back at Louise Jameson as Leela…

I love Leela. There, I said it. She was perfect in every way and is as much a part of the golden age of Doctor Who than anyone.

She was unlike any other companion ever to have graced the Tardis. Raised in the jungle under the rule of Xoanon, she saw through his false God image and challenged his power. Aligning herself with the fourth Doctor, she drove him mad with her quick reflex to kill her enemies as whether it be with Janus thorns which paralysed and killed you instantly or a quick knife to the ribs. Having defeated the mad computer that the Doctor helped to create, she forced her way aboard the Tardis.

Now it is well documented that Tom Baker wanted to be a solo Time Lord and was dead set against the idea of a companion, especially a savage killer. For him to not see the appeal of a companion wearing a leather bra every week is amazing but there are many dads out there who were very happy to see her. But sense prevailed as Leela adapted her dress sense to the era eg Horror of Fang Rock and the classic Victorian urchin look in Talons of Weng Chiang.

But Leela was more than just a bikini. She was a noble warrior who saw the Doctor as the wisest man she knew and she was his protector. So the Doctor decided to tame the savage beast and they evolved an Eliza Dolittle relationship where he would educate her in the finer facets of civilisation. However she taught the Time Lord more than he ever taught her.

Together they embarked on some of the best known and regarded stories ever. Whether it be the Robots of Death or the supernatural driven Image of the Fendahl (this one is my absolute favourite) Leela protected her Time Lord at every step. There was also the political satire of The Sun Makers which saw Leela nearly steamed to death and face the Sontarans’ arch enemies Rutans for the first time in the show’s history in the Horror of Fang Rock. I remember this one well and it is another personal favourite of mine. In this Leela’s eyes changed colour from brown to blue as the contacts hurt Louise’s eyes. She later found a new friend in K9 in the Invisible Enemy and it was Leela who carried the story as she battled to save the infected Doctor falling to the virus that was trying to invade our level of existence.

In the classic six-parter – and for many the only six-parter to ever work – she and the Doctor faced Magnus Greel, giant rats and the Talons of Weng Chiang. I remember being terrified as Leela was dragged off by a giant rat. Critics laughed at the puppet rat but for this young one it was the only time I thought Leela was going to die. And her Janus thorns came in handy to save the Doctor from the minions of the Black Tong.

Behind the scenes things were intense between the lead actors which led Louise to eventually decide to leave. In the Invasion of Time Leela became the first companion to be allowed to visit Gallifrey to battle the Vardans and Sontarans and surprisingly this is where she stayed along with a certain robot dog that was as loyal to her as she was to the Doctor. Her loyalty was severely tested when the Doctor seemingly betrayed Gallifrey and banished her to allow the Vardans to invade. Even trapped outside the walls of the capital, she defended the Doctor, her belief in him unwavering that he was up to something. She was right. The Doctor had been faking all along but the Sontarans tricked him instead as they had used the Vardans as a cover to gain access to Gallifrey and all its secrets. But in the end she stayed for the love of a soldier, a most wimpy thing by any warrior’s standards, but the producer had prayed Louise would change her mind about leaving right up to the last minute which explains the soft exit.

In the years that followed, Leela and the Doctor fought again in various novels including a sequel to the Robots of Death called Corpse Marker and the chilling Drift that sees a new force test Leela to her limits. She also featured in the seventh Doctor’s final story Lungbarrow.

And again Big Finish couldn’t leave the character alone and she became part of the companion chronicles. But bigger things were in store as they launched a new series called Gallifrey which saw Leela’s adventures on the Doctor’s homeworld following her leaving him. Various characters from the show joined her including Romanas 1 and 2. This has been a great success and it is down to Leela’s character and the fantastic stories written for her. She was also in the surprise cliffhanger for the Jago and Litefoot adventures, two characters she fought alongside with in the Talons of Weng Chiang who now have their own series with Big Finish. She was sent by the Time Lords as the two Victorians battle a new foe. Indeed we were blessed that she and the Doctor gave us more stories as Tom Baker agreed to reprise his role in the Big Finish series. Hearing them together again is a pure joy.

For many she is the best companion ever to grace the show and Louise is such a talented actress I could watch her forever.

To think that in 2011 we would witness not only the fourth Doctor and Leela returning to new adventures but some sequels to their original televised stories, I would never have believed them.

I met Louise finally at a comic con in Belfast and we spent quite a while just chatting about the show and life in Northern Ireland. The fact she was interested in more than just signing autographs just showed me the wait to meet her was worth the wait. An amazing lady that is genuinely loved by fandom. I also Remember Tenko and her role in EastEnders which was tragivcally cut short.

There is a timeless, magical quality about this era, filled with images that have stayed with viewers for years. If these new adventures are half as gothic and classic as their old ones then this will be one very happy man. And if I’m going to follow anyone into danger, it’ll be the lady with the Janus thorns and killer instincts that I’ll be following. Girl power never looked so good.

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