By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
In our new regular feature each week we’ll be looking back at characters that have come and gone in the Doctor Who mythology and we do our bit to ensure they will never be forgotten. This week, the third Doctor, John Pertwee’s companion: Jo Grant.
There are few companions like Jo Grant. Played by Katy Manning, Jo was brought in as a more traditional companion as the producers felt that previous sidekick scientist Liz Shaw was too much the equal of the Doctor, played at the time by Jon Pertwee.
Jo was ditzy, clumsy and rushed in, ever eager to please her new boss, not realising that the Brigadier had placed her with the Time Lord just to keep her out of his hair because her uncle was high up in the ministry.
Right in the path of harm’s way was just where Jo would end up for the next couple of years as she and the Doctor battled a whole plethora of alien creatures. Much has been written about the UNIT family both on and off the screen and Jo was the little sister that kept getting into scrapes. On more than one occasion, she almost ended up killing the Doctor.
In her first adventure, Terror of the Autons (January, 1971), she was hypnotised by the Master into triggering a bomb intended for the Doctor. Despite his initial reservations about her, the Doctor quickly grew to love Jo Grant. In some ways she was the first companion to be loved by the Doctor. Long before Rose Tyler, Jo’s eventual departure was one of the most emotional ever. She met her husband to be while battling giant maggots in Wales where miners were dying from touching a toxic sludge. Caught up in his eco beliefs and desire to save the world (and remember, this was long before our current ‘save the environment’ culture), Jo decided to travel to the Amazon with him. Everyone remembers that poignant moment where the Doctor silently raises his glass to her future before slipping off into the night alone. That final shot of him driving his beloved Bessie car into the night speaks volumes compared to Rose sniffling all over a wall in another dimension.
Katy Manning was Jo Grant in every way. She was clumsy but had the heart of a lion. She put her life on the line for the Doctor on more than one occasion as she believed completely in him. In the Daemons, she threw herself before Azal, the basis for the Devil as he was about to kill the Doctor under the Master’s influence. She was the first companion to encounter multiple Doctors in the Three Doctors and even the Master had a grudging respect for her in the end. From Ogrons to Draconians, from Seas Devils to Daleks, Jo displayed a bravery that would put many to shame. She went blindly to find the secret of Axos as she knew something was wrong and, despite her encounters, she didn’t believe the Tardis had taken her to another world but alien priests and primitives soon changed her mind.
At this point in time, the Doctor was stranded on Earth, his mind wiped of all time travel by the Time Lords, but at the end of the Three Doctors – when he was pardoned having saved the universe from the renegade Time Lord Omega – he wouldn’t leave unless Jo came with him. Out in the universe she found even deadlier situations including an army of Daleks on a planet populated by invisible creatures and fungus spitting plants, the dreaded Aggedor in the kingdom of Peladon. There she teamed up with Ice Warriors and almost stayed to become the Queen but life with the Doctor drew her back. They were also miniaturised in a travelling show full of creatures in Carnival of Monsters including the dreaded Drashigs, half dog, half caterpillar and became a prisoner of the Ogrons.
Even alone, as a prisoner of the Master, beautifully played by Roger Delgado, she was brave and spirited and wasn’t afraid of opening her mouth.
Jo’s adventures continued in novels and comic strips (including an adventure with the 8th Doctor in Genocide). But it wasn’t until the advent of the Sarah Jane Adventures that Jo finally returned to our screens, as mad and clumsy as ever and still battling to save the Planet. She was still married and now a mother of seven. When UNIT brought her to their base for the Death of the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Jo finally met and immediately formed a bond. Jo was saddened and jealous that Sarah Jane had met the Doctor again several times while he had never returned to see her. When the 11th Doctor materialises, she chides him for looking like a baby while he says she looks like she’s been baked.
Only when the Doctor transports himself, Jo and Sarah Jane to an alien world to escape the Shansheeth, does Jo finally get her chance to confront him. In a moving moment the Doctor tells her he has been watching her and knows all the wonderful things she has done with her life including throwing herself over Niagara Falls in a tea chest to protest against some environmental threat. He is so proud of her and everything she has become and in that conversation Jo finds the assurance she has sought all her life. She is happy to stay behind and let him continue his travels, knowing that part of her is still out there.
It is a beautiful full circle for the character but her journeys continue in the Big Finish range of audio plays where Jo’s character has been explored further including her tendency to throw her life away for the Doctor in the Many Deaths of Jo Grant.
Jo has never been forgotten, especially since she’s the first companion to pose nude with a Dalek. At the end of Death of the Doctor, Jo drives off in black taxi with her grandson to continue her fight for the world, a fight that began with plastic aliens, an evil Time Lord and nearly blowing up her best friend. If there is any justice we should see Jo Grant one last time for the 50th anniversary; if not, she may just pose nude again with a Dalek.
That was Jo Grant; the girl who always made an impression and will never, ever be forgotten.