Caroline John, Doctor Who companion Liz Shaw, dies aged 72

The actress starred alongside third Doctor Jon Pertwee in four episodes in 1970

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Caroline John, Doctor Who companion Liz Shaw, dies aged 72
Written By
Radio Times staff

Actress Caroline John, known to Doctor Who fans as companion Liz Shaw, has died, aged 72.

The Yorkshire-born actress passed away on June 5 and was laid to rest after a funeral in south-west London yesterday.

John first appeared alongside newly-regenerated third Doctor Jon Pertwee in the 1970 story Spearhead from Space, and travelled with the Time Lord for his next three adventures.

As Liz Shaw, she witnessed the first appearance of reptilian race the Silurians, experienced parallel universes and even got to drive the Doctor’s pride and joy, his canary-yellow roadster Bessie.

John reprised the role in 1983 ensemble episode The Five Doctors and took part in a number of Doctor Who audio plays with her husband Geoffrey Beevers, who voiced The Doctor’s nemesis The Master.

Two of Radio Times's biggest Doctor Who aficionados shared their memories of the actress and her character.

"As Professor Elizabeth Shaw, a Cambridge boffin hired by the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, Caroline John broke a chain of screaming juvenile companions seen in Doctor Who for most of the 1960s," said Patrick Mulkern.

"Mature, sometimes severe, and of course fabulously glamorous, Liz wasn’t a 'companion' in the strictest sense because she never set foot inside the Tardis. In fact, her Unit post meant she was soon serving as the Earthbound Time Lord’s first bona fide 'assistant'."

Mark Braxton has fond early memories of Liz Shaw: “Just as Jon Pertwee was my first Doctor, so Liz was my first companion, holding my hand through the scary bits and helping to cut through the gobbledegook!" he said.

"Though a short-lived sidekick (just four stories in early 1970), Liz established herself thanks to her brilliant mind, a succession of crazy outfits and Caroline John’s consummate professionalism as an actress. She played Liz as no-nonsense and conscientious but also warm and caring. With a lovely, mischievous laugh. A great loss to the Whoniverse.”

John left Doctor Who after 25 episodes to have her first child. In 1978, she looked back on her time on Doctor Who with mixed feelings: 

“I was excited at first to be a brainy girl, but all the directors wanted really was a sexy piece. It was such an effort looking glamorous on cold clay-pits and rubbish dumps. I enjoyed the series but found it restricting after a while,” she said.

John's acting career began at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, taking in work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

In 1982, Doctor Who producer Barry Letts hired her to play Laura Lyons in The Hound of the Baskervilles, opposite fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s Sherlock Holmes. In 1989, she and husband Geoffrey Beevers were Mr and Mrs Tolliver in Problem at Sea, an adventure for Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

More recently, John appeared in guest roles in shows including Midsomer Murders and Silent Witness, with her last TV credit coming on BBC1’s Doctors in 2008.

Last year, she won plaudits for her sensitive audiobook reading of the autobiography of Elisabeth Sladen, her Doctor Who successor, who died in April 2011.

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