Heroes of Doctor Who: Turlough

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

We once again look through the back catalogue of characters who helped make The Doctor the Timelord she is today…

copyright BBC

Never before has a companion come aboard the Tardis with the express purpose of murdering the Doctor in order to secure passage home.

Revealed as a prisoner at a boarding school on Earth, Turlough is kept in check by a mysterious solicitor in London but is bored and hates Earth so does nothing but cause trouble. But this boy is devious and cunning and would blame his mother if it gets him out of mischief.

But as the fates would have it, he is at a school where the Brigadier, now retired from defending the planet with UNIT, is teaching maths and it is the ex UNIT man’s vintage car that Turlough steals and crashes. In a limbo – unconscious due to the crash –  he is contacted by the Black Guardian, whom the Doctor defeated in his fourth incarnation in the Key to Time season. He has finally tracked the Doctor down but, unable to act himself, uses Turlough as his agent.

But time and again the boy has a crisis of conscience but is locked into the deal and must play it out. It’s certain the Doctor knows something is wrong so the old adage “Keep your enemies closer” comes into force and over the next two stories, Terminus and Enlightenment, sees the mission come to a conclusion. Trapped on a fleet of space ships that look like old Earth sailing ships with every type of crew including pirates, the Tardis crew find this is a race run by Eternals who need human minds to fuel themselves. The prize is Enlightenment and when Turlough betrays the pirate captain, who is also an agent of the Black Guardian, he finds himself the winner and the Doctor’s life is in his hands. Torn between the Black and White Guardians he chooses to save the Doctor. Enlightenment was his choice all along and the real prize which frees him from the Guardian’s agreement. Despite his constant arguing with Tegan who has never trusted him, even she must give him a second chance when he asks the Doctor to take him home.

Unfortunately for the character, there was no thought beyond the trilogy and Turlough spent most of his time locked up or just running around for no purpose. He is part of the twentieth anniversary and in the Five Doctors, he is paired with the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, and trapped in the Tardis, it is Turlough who manages to save it from being destroyed by a Cyber bomb.

In Warriors of the Deep, the third Doctor’s old enemies the Sea Devils and the Silurians, reptilian cousins and the original inhabitants of Earth, are out to start another world war. Turlough’s cowardice is seen again but he comes up trumps in the end, but I feel this was sloppy writing. It regresses the character instead of progressing him and, at this stage of his travels with the Doctor, he should have grown in confidence and not been so cowardly. He tried to rally the troops against the Master in the King’s Demons yet here all that is forgotten.

The Awakening is another ‘Turlough gets locked up’ story but Frontios tries to give him some dignity when an Earth colony at the end of time is threatened by the deadly Tractators, underground insects that can control gravity. As the story unfolds, Turlough had flashbacks to a racial memory when his home was invaded by the aliens and gives the Doctor the answer to stop them in the end.

He is side-lined in Resurrection of the Daleks because this is Tegan’s farewell story but his final story, Planet of Fire, sees him find a tribe from his homeworld and his past is revealed. Turlough is a political prisoner, his solicitoris  actually his prison officer and his brother and father were sent into exile but their ship crashed, killing his father and leaving his brother a God in the eyes of the religion that had built up on the planet. Turlough always had a selfish streak and he almost doesn’t rescue Peri because he recognises the signal from his home world. But his conscience, no doubt influenced by his time with the Doctor, overcomes all and he takes charge to defeat the Master and save his people. In the end their political status is revoked and they are pardoned. Turlough almost doesn’t go home but he has a brother to care for now so he leaves the Tardis, telling Peri to look after the Doctor.

Of course, we meet again in novels and the fabulous Big Finish range where Turlough has so far had solo adventures, travelled alone with the fifth Doctor and rejoined his old team of Nyssa and Tegan for a new series of adventures. He has had a love interest and the character has deepened with every adventure. Mark Strickson is on record as saying how proud and delighted he is to have been part of the show and how he is great friends with his co-stars. He can talk for ages about the show and made a point of clearing his schedule so he could rejoin his old friends to record the new series of Big Finish all the way from Australia.

And not only that, he is only one of two companions to have his own novel along with Harry Sullivan in a story called Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma.

He was involved in some big stories and the ginger-haired boy will never be forgotten.

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