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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; if only her character had been enabled to do so a bit earlier.

One thing she didn't suffer from was the great destruction of old Doctor Who episodes. A surprisingly high proportion of Dodo's episodes actually survive - 11 out of the 19; I haven't calculated, but I am sure that is a larger percentage than any of the Second Doctor's companions, and certain that it is more than for Katarina or Sara Kingdom. Thanks to this, we can be sure about the most striking point about Dodo: she wears a different costume in almost every story. She starts off in schoolgirl uniform for the scene where she wanders into the Tardis on Wimbledon Common, then for The Ark has changed into a rather peculiar and not very flattering mock-medieval tabard; in The Celestial Toymaker, she has this rather attractive circle motif on her T-shirt and skirt (the T-shirt being a bright red, but the viewers of 1966 would not have known that); for The Gunfighters, she and Steven both go native into cowboy costume; and then for her last two stories, she wears a rather businesslike dress (the picture below isn't great, but the best I could find). I have seen a rumour that the original plan was for her to change her hairstyle as well for each story, but she stymied that by getting a haircut over the Christmas break before her first scenes were filmed.



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.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
blue_condition
Apr. 14th, 2007 09:22 pm (UTC)
Dodo is the prototype for many, many later companions though - ordinary young girl from Earth, with no particular skills or talents. Polly, Jo, Peri, Mel (ok, eidetic memory), Ace (ok, a Wolf of Fenric), Rose...
blue_condition
Apr. 14th, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC)
actually, Victoria too, after a while the fact that she "came from the past" didn't make much difference.
nwhyte
Apr. 15th, 2007 06:13 am (UTC)
Absolutely - hence my title for the piece.
livii
Apr. 14th, 2007 09:42 pm (UTC)
This is a truly fabulous post; an unflinching look at the character and actress without bashing and leaving those of us who rather enjoy her with a good feeling, and possibly you will have convinced a few others too. There have been so very many fantastic companions on the show over all the years, but Dodo really doesn't stack up all that badly in my mind, it's that a lot of the others overshadow her (and hardly anyone has seen her episodes).

(I've come to regret that they named her Dodo - how do you have positive thoughts about such a name?)

I'm very fond of her in The War Games, and her interaction with One; you get the feeling the actors genuinely liked each other, and One looks truly sad when she doesn't come back, and he thinks he'll be all alone. And I feel sort of the same way about her, but then Ben and Polly come aboard and, y'know, the show goes on happily. :)

(This is my long-winded nodding and agreeing with you!)
nwhyte
Apr. 15th, 2007 06:17 am (UTC)
The name "Dodo" would have been survivable if everything else had gone better (indeed, look at Peri - equally stupid name, but lots of other things went better). But it's still an unfortunate choice!
livii
May. 9th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC)
Quite some time later - I'm doing up a quick post for loves_them_all on Dodo, since she did not get represented in their month of Companion love, and I'm hoping to link to this post, and your other Dodo-related posts - they're brilliant, and there's no point in me trying to say any of it better. Is that okay?
davesangel
May. 9th, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
Hey, I like the name "Peri" :P
davesangel
May. 9th, 2008 09:16 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen a lot of the Hartnell stories, and those I have seen I can't really remember well enough to comment upon Dodo with real certainty. However, for some reason, my abiding 'memory' (if that) is of reading an issue of Doctor Who magazine several years ago, which featured a poll about the best DW 'Missing Adventures'. The editor mentioned that in one of these MAs, 'The Man in the Velvet Mask', Dodo contracts a sexually transmitted disease (possibly fatal, can't remember) whilst in post-revolutionary France. I have no idea how true this may be, but it's a bit of an unpleasant way to deal with a companion who wasn't featured as much as perhaps she should have been in the television series...
nwhyte
May. 10th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)
Hmm... That is only mildly accurate; it is not strictly speaking a disease in the normal sense, and DWM were resorting to easy mockery of a book that is more sophisticated than they wanted to admit. The good thing about the story is that it gives Dodo a sex life at all; Who Killed Kennedy? of course takes this further.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 27th, 2014 01:13 am (UTC)
i have always liked Dodo. mainly because the war machines and the gunfighters
seemed to be the only Hartnell stories my PBS station had to air (grew up in the states/maryland public TV) But looking at her stories now she really does seem to be a prototype for the female companions to come - the dr says would you like to go for a ride through all of time and space and the girl says i dont understand what you mean but it sounds like fun and off they go - and like rose,clara and Sarah-Jane and others, she is soon pitching in helping out even saving the day ! in fact the only thing i dont like about the Dodo episodes is Stevens interactions with her - considering his experience with the dr he is way to gruff with her.
so strangely Dodo is most like the girls from the reboot Dr who while polly with mike is more of a lookback
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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