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Time to start back at the beginning again, in 1963, when Doctor Who first started. Susan Foreman – played by Carole Ann Ford – was the very first of the Doctor’s companions, presented to the viewing public as his grand-daughter (not the original plan, but the show’s producers thought it would seem improper if the two characters weren’t related, what with the discrepancy in their ages and everything), and the subject of the show’s very first adventure; An Unearthly Child.
She’s an uncanny 15-year-old, a strange mixture of superior scientific and historical knowledge, alien cool, and jumpy teenage nerves. Sometimes she appears to be haughty and superior, sometimes terrified, and not afraid of bickering with the Doctor, but in a pretty heated, teenage sort of way.
She is, in short, the physical embodiment of the gene pool from which all future companions will be drawn. And naturally the very first episode of Doctor Who ever has been entirely devoted to her, just as the first episode of the relaunched show was devoted to Rose Tyler.
As with all of the companions, Susan should really be the one who provides the bridge between the human audience and the strange new world of time and space travel. But she’s too enigmatic to do that at first, and the Doctor’s world needs so much explaining, there would be no point just having her and the Doctor gallivanting around. So her teachers are roped in, and Susan’s job becomes that of interpreter. She has to explain everything in human terms to her new travelling companions, because the Doctor is far too combative to bother. She has one foot in his world, one foot in theirs. Heck, even her surname comes from the junk yard in which we first discover the TARDIS.
She’s also young enough to represent the show’s teen audience and start the screaming when the scary monsters come out. And naturally she’s very good at getting captured and acting nobly when the time comes. There again, there’s a lot of teenage angst in her relationship with the Doctor, clearly she’s in a period of transition for much of her time in the TARDIS.
Here’s Doctor Who season 1, episode 1, part 1, and it’s all about young Susan, spooky Rorschach blot, weird lessons and all:*
And here’s the next installment, which features the very first appearance of the Doctor, in all of his gruff glory, plus the first time anyone has seen the interior of the TARDIS.
She invented the name TARDIS. She did that. She started the whole thing off. Before Susan and her peculiar need to attend an Earth school in the ’60s and be like all the other teenagers, the Doctor’s need to be secretive and hidden might well have made the show a pretty boring watch. She pulls him towards what was then modern Britain in the same way that she pulls Ian and Barbara into the TARDIS.
Here’s her goodbye, the first one, and every bit as upsetting as that of Rose or Donna.
Although…it’s a bit strange that he doesn’t offer to come back as soon as he’s dropped Ian and Barbara off, don’t you think? Just to say hello? Ah well, that’s TV drama logic for you.
Naturally, when she comes back in The Five Doctors some 21 years later, her main job is running down corridors and doing what she’s told, just like the good old days:
It’s always like that when families get together isn’t it? You fall back into old habits, even when you don’t really want to.
Incidentally, you can see all of An Unearthly Child when you subscribe to the Doctor Who VOD streams on Facebook.
* Incidentally, did you see those introductory credits? People in 1963 must’ve thought their TVs were on the blink the first time they saw those.
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic