By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
We once again look at the history of Doctor Who and the people that make the character who he is…
Now for me growing up, Peter Purves was part of the dream team from Blue Peter along with Shep, Lesley Judd and John Noakes.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered through a new publication called Doctor Who Weekly that he had also travelled in the Tardis and battled Daleks. I was totally in awe that the guy from Blue Peter that showed me how to tie my shoelaces and build an advent crown was a friend of the Doctor’s.
Peter Purves has the distinction of any other companion of playing two different characters in the same story. He was a loud mouth American when the Tardis landed on the Empire State Building to avoid the Daleks (fan fiction would have a ball connecting this with Daleks in Manhattan) but later, when our heroes are captured and taken to the city of the Mechanoids (hoped to be the next big thing with the release of a toy), we discover Steven Taylor, a pilot from the future, the robots’ prisoner.
It isn’t long before the Daleks arrive and a major battle that levels the Mechanoid city allows them all to escape. Thinking Steven died in the inferno, the Doctor and Vicki are surprised to find him injured but alive on the Tardis. Helping him recover, he quickly filled the role of action hero and the Doctor’s right hand man that had previously been filled by Ian.
Steven had no desire to return home for reasons unexplained and took to life aboard the Tardis like a duck to water. He, along with Vicki, was the first companion to meet another of the Doctor’s species. Neither was his loyalty to the Doctor blind. Indeed it was quite frictional between them at times.
In the massive story the Dalek Masterplan, Steven was the first to endure the unthinkable; the death of a companion, or in this case two. Both Sara and Katarina sacrificed themselves to save the Doctor as he fought to prevent a galaxy-wide invasion by the Daleks and their alien alliances including Mavic Chen. Steven was devastated at their loss and maybe inside his grief made him blame the Doctor a little, a quiet resentment that festered. Maybe Steven’s new home was more important than he let on and losing his loved ones brought back memories he had never shared. He was furious the Doctor allowed Vicki to stay behind at Troy and, at the end of the Massacre, he was so livid at the Doctor’s decision to let Anne Chaplet die in Paris rather than bring her aboard the Tardis, that he actually left, determined to never return. However, he collides with Dodo Chaplet who literally stumbled into the Tardis forcing the Doctor to lift off with them both. This lack of continuity was explained in a future BBC novel but Steven was so sure she was a descendant of Anne he became a big brother to her.
He was the first companion where a real live elephant featured in a story called the Ark with the Beatle hair-styled Monoids. In the Celestial Toymaker, a story with missing episodes, William Hartnell was written out of a couple of episodes by being turned invisible, leaving Steven and Dodo to carry the story on their own as they beat every sick game the Toymaker threw at them. But in the end Steven, maybe still hurt by the Anne situation or still stinging from Sara and Katarina’s deaths, decided to stay to become leader of a society in a story called the Savages. It was a bittersweet departure as the producers wanted hipper companions so decided to clear out Steven and Dodo but more on her in another feature.
The fact that Peter went onto bigger things as one of the most sought after television presenters, installed him in the nation’s heart and he is still a strong feature on TV today. His Tardis team has also frequented both the Missing Adventures range of books and the BBC past Doctor’s range, recalling a mostly forgotten period of the show due to the number of missing episodes.
Although he never returned to acting, he made an exception when Big Finish asked him to reprise the role in their audio range. He has done several companion chronicles that have truly deepened and expanded his character. He has done several DVD commentaries and extras recalling his time on the show which has been honest and from the heart. He was real friends with William Hartnell and admired him greatly.
He has even teamed up with Jean Marsh’s character, Sara Kingdom, in what many regard as simply the best original companion pieces ever. When you think about it that is some accomplishment; to endear a character that has never been mentioned in the programme since to a whole new generation of fans that weren’t even born when he travelled in our favourite police box. Steven had one of the most traumatic times with the Doctor, steeped in death even more than any other companion and for that he should be commended in the halls of Who history.