Dodo: an experimental companion

What to say about Dodo Chaplet? Probably the least remembered of the First Doctor’s companions – probably the least remembered companion of all, apart from Kamelion – I’ve been rather fascinated by her appearance in six stories (well, four and a half really) of the show’s third season in 1966; sufficiently fascinated to watch/listen to all the series, read all the novelisations, read indeed all the spin-off novels featuring her, pore over Wood and Miles, and to get hold of the interview Nicholas Briggs did with Jackie Lane in 1993, now released by Reeltime on DVD. There’s not a lot of information about Lane out there, and also a source of confusion with the actress Jocelyn Lane, ten years older and much better known (including sometimes as “Jackie”).

Dodo is mocked by many fans, with one recent survey describing her as the one companion he would want to give “the sharp end of a Dalek gun” to. In particular, the circumstances of both Dodo’s introduction to the series and her departure from it must rank among the clumsiest entries and exits for any regular character. She arrives at the TARDIS in Wimbledon Common in 1966, eager to report a traffic accident, and then immediately decides she is happy to leave with the Doctor and Steven, whatever the consequences. Both the Doctor and Steven behave with such extraordinary inconsistency in this brief scene that it is painful. Five stories later, they are back in 1966, and Dodo gets hypnotised by a rogue computer; at the end of episode two she is sent off the the country to recover, and never seen again; not even given a decent farewell – here is Polly trying to explain that away. (Steve Lyons and David Bishop respectively did their best to resolve these peculiar occurrences in their spinoff novels.)

The third season of Doctor Who saw much stress behind the scenes anyway, with three different producers, the longest single-story arc ever (The Daleks’ Master Plan), and much trouble with last-minute script changes. There was a great deal of turnover in front of the camera too: Dodo Chaplet was the fourth of five different female companions to feature during the season. There is a rumour that a plan to replace the lead actor by stealth at the end of The Celestial Toymaker (the Doctor is invisible for most of the story, and could therefore have been materialised with a different body at the end) was scotched when someone inadvertently sent Hartnell his renewed contract to sign before it had gone through all the proper channels.

Even under better circumstances, Dodo would have been somewhat in the shadows: both her immediate predecessor and successor as female companion (Jean Marsh and Anneke Wills) had real star quality and experience which Jackie Lane lacked. In fact she was the youngest actor ever to play a female companion, filming her first scenes on 7 January 1966 for broadcast four weeks later, not quite six months after her eighteenth birthday. (Matthew Waterhouse was eighteen and four months when his first scenes were filmed in April 1980, which makes him the youngest companion ever; but he lasted a bit longer in the show than Jackie Lane did, making her the youngest ex-companion ever.) [See correction] She admits quite frankly to Nicholas Briggs that she was given no direction whatever in how to play the character. Indeed, she is perhaps too kind; between her first few scenes, the direction she was given as to what accent to adopt changed drastically, to adopt essentially received pronunciation with occasional outbursts of slang rather than the more demotic tones which she had used at the end of The Massacre. (Widespread fan lore describes her accent there as “Cockney”. It clearly isn’t – listen for yourself – Jackie Lane is from Manchester.)

Yet, although one can make excuses for the ropey scripts, the lack of direction from the production team, and the failure to define her role properly, the fact is that even from her interview many years later, one feels that Lane’s heart wasn’t really in it. She had been approached to play Susan two years earlier, but turned it down because she did not want to be committed for a long period of time. She did the nineteen episodes in her contract – her last episode broadcast not quite six months after her first appearance in front of the cameras – and then as far as I can tell never acted again. (IMDB has her in an episode of “Get Smart” in 1969, but I’m pretty sure that must be Jocelyn Lane, not our Jackie.) She did of course later set up an agency for actors doing voiceovers, including both Tom Baker and Janet Fielding among her clients.

I don’t want to be unfair. I think that she does quite a lot with limited material. Every single one of her stories shows a new bit of Dodo: in The Ark she is rebellious and mischievous younger sister to Steven’s more tightlaced elder brother; in The Celestial Toymaker it is she who tries to feel compassion to the Toymaker’s evil minions; in The Gunfighters she is the one who actually co-ordinates getiing Doc Holliday to the right place at the right time (while Steven keep getting captured); in The Savages it is she who comes closest to working out what is really going on in the labs; and in The War Machines I think she does a brilliant job of being brainwashed before her ignominious departure. Yet there’s something missing, in terms of a basic spark with the rest of the cast. No longer overshadowed by Steven, she comes into her own to a certain extent in her last story, only to be written out halfway through. Ironically, her last words are to try and assert her own identity

This seems to be the first time we as viewers are invited to really look at one of the regular supporting cast; up to now it has been the Doctor who visually dominates every scene he is in. However, it doesn’t work for two reasons. The first is that the clothes on the whole are not very flattering. The second is that style can’t really compensate for a lack of substance. I think every other companion, bar Susan, was given a decent build-up for us to understand where they came from and why they might decide to travel with the Doctor. Although Dodo is in fact the first companion since the very beginning to come from our own time (Vicki, Steven, and Sara Kingdom from the future; Katarina from the past) she is oddly enough the one we know least about, and find out least about. She is the girl next door, but one whose parents never let you talk to her and who isn’t allowed to discuss anything except the scenery.

There’s not a lot of Dodo fan-fiction out there. Such as I have tracked down, it consists of the following:

Anyway, I think tha’s got her out of my system. Thanks for bearing with me.

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1 Response to Dodo: an experimental companion

  1. sinclair_furie says:

    Hm, that is supposed to be a 🙂

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