Caroline John: Actress best known as Liz Shaw in 'Dr Who'

 

As Liz Shaw, companion to the third incarnation of Doctor Who, played by Jon Pertwee, Caroline John brought to the programme an intelligence not previously seen in the Time Lord's assistants. On top of tackling action sequences with the usual gusto displayed by them, the scientist could understand the Doctor's techno-babble and he treated her as an equal.

John once recalled how she prepared herself for the role by consulting a dictionary of scientific terminology, only to find the jargon in the scripts to be made up. She also explained that she had no driving licence at the time, despite being seen at the wheel of Bessie, the Doctor's canary-yellow roadster. However, it was the screen scientist's equality with the doctor that might have led to the ending of John's short, six-month run in 1970. She began as Pertwee was taking over as star of the cult series from Patrick Troughton, whose assistants – played by Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury – had also been written out.

Derrick Sherwin, the programme's script editor, had been promoted to producer the previous year and sought to revamp what the BBC saw as one of its flagging series. He wanted to ditch what he saw as "crazy and unbelievable sci-fi creations which children and hardly [any] adults could even believe in as the basis for a story" and sought to "bring it down to Earth" in the vein of the writer Nigel Kneale's Quatermass serials of the 1950s.

This aim was partly achieved by creating the fictional UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, an organisation defending the Earth from alien threats, of which Dr Elizabeth Shaw was a civilian member, drafted in as a scientific adviser from Cambridge University by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney).

When a new producer, Barry Letts, took over a month into John's run and believed that Doctor Who had strayed too far from the original premise of the Time Lord's companions asking him questions that might be in viewers' minds, he decided not to renew her contract. In fact, she was pregnant and would have left anyway.

Nevertheless, John had made an impact and later revived Liz Shaw in the television film The Five Doctors (1983), to mark the series' 20th anniverary, and the 1993 Children in Need special Doctor Who: Dimensions in Time, as well as exclusive video dramas (1994-96) and audio books (2007-2012).

The actress was born in York, the daughter of Anthony John, a theatre director, and Mary, a dancer. She made her film début at 14 as one of a group of food-throwing children at a party in the comedy Raising a Riot (1955), starring Kenneth More. After spending a year in France as an au pair, she trained at Central School of Speech and Drama, before acting at the Royal Court and in repertory in Ipswich, Oxford and Sheffield. She also played Isabella in an RSC production of the Jacobean tragedy Women Beware Women, at the New Arts Theatre Club, London (1962).

John enjoyed four seasons with the National Theatre Company, under Laurence Olivier as artistic director, and when the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, opened in 1967, John starred as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, the first of various leading roles she took in rep after the National. She appeared only twice on TV – as a nurse in The Black Madonna (1963) and in a one-off role in The Power Game (1969) – before landing her part in Doctor Who.

John had a run as Helène Renard, the Resistance leader's wife captured by the Germans, in the third series (1990) of the espionage drama Wish Me Luck and played the housekeeper to the bickering politicians Freddie and Jack in Harry Enfield's Television Programme (1990). She was also seen as the judge in EastEnders (1995) when Nigel Bates fought for custody of his stepdaughter Clare in a battle with her real father.

John and her husband, the actor Geoffrey Beevers, appeared together on stage and screen together many times, such as in the series A Very British Coup (1988) and Agatha Christie: Poirot (1989). Her final television role was in an episode of Doctors four years ago.. She is survived by Beevers and their two sons and daughter, Daisy Ashford, who acts under the surname she took from the author of the novella The Young Visiters.

Caroline Frances John, actress: born York 19 September 1940; married 1970 Geoffrey Beevers (two sons, one daughter); died London 5 June 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent