By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Once again Owen looks at the long history of Doctor Who and picks a character that was instrumental in the creation of the Timelord we know and love. This week… Nyssa.
Hailing from the peaceful union of Traken, Nyssa’s father Tremas was taken over by the Master and then the Master’s interference with Logopolis resulted in huge chunks of space dissolving including her world and everything she knew. She was brought to the Doctor by the Watcher who was revealed to be a future Doctor in the hours before the fourth regenerated into the fifth.
In many ways Nyssa, played by Sarah Sutton, was the perfect companion and Peter Davison has gone on record with this. She was gentle, loyal, a brilliant scientist and very independent. The Doctor trusted her completely, bowing to her skills in Terminus to recreate a cure for Lazer disease, a type of leprosy and in the Visitation was able to build a sonic machine to stop the Terrileptil android when it tried to take over the Tardis.
She was a very quiet soul and when she had a point to make, the Doctor knew to stand and listen. It was up to Nyssa to steer the Tardis away from imminent destruction in Castrovalva as the newly regenerated Doctor was in no state to help them.
A plot device not used to its full advantage was Nyssa’s telepathic abilities that were instrumental in Time Flight when the Xerephan race used her as a conduit to help the Doctor defeat the Master. When the chips are down, Nyssa was a strong girl who left the Tardis a woman who takes charge when everyone else falls apart. In Mawdryn Undead she deals with the badly injured Mawdryn who claims to be the Doctor and makes the decisions against Tegan’s advice. She cared deeply for her friends and is distraught when Tegan is possessed by the Mara. When she loses her in the market she blames herself.
But in Terminus Nyssa decides to stay behind to make it a proper hospital to cure Lazer disease. Infected herself, she is cured by a massive dose of radiation but knows this is a risky and unethical form of treatment. She leaves her friends for a greater cause in circumstances in which she may well die but she has to follow her heart.
But there has been a massive Nyssa resurgence in the last couple of years. She has been feature in novels in both the Doctor Who ranges. She meets the fourth Doctor In the future but cannot tell him who she really is because he hasn’t met her yet.
But Big Finish has used her in audio stories frequently but decided on a new twist. When they decided to reunite the old Davison Tardis team, it was decided it should be with an older Nyssa, one who has come through the Lazer experience and become slightly harder. It freshens the relationships between the old regulars and takes her character in new directions but her loyalty to the Doctor and her friends has never changed.
And for that, she is a great example of character evolution and daring to do something new keeps Nyssa in our hearts.