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
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine