The history of Doctor Who is absolutely chock-full of awesome one-off characters. Some that were initially intended to be one-offs even became recurring characters or companions (Donna, anyone?). But it’s no secret that some stand out more than others. That’s as true today as it ever was, but I think it’s important that we remember some of the greatest ones from the Classic era and make sure they get their dues. And in an age where women were still largely being confined to the role of helpless female, it’s absolutely wonderful to find that some of the greatest standouts were women.
There are a lot more of them than you may think, even in the early days of the show. The Troughton era alone produced a surprising number of them. Astrid Ferrier in “The Enemy of the World” was a total badass and completely capable of holding her own in the fight against the evil Salamander. And then there was Gemma Corwin in “The Wheel in Space”, who was a great deal braver and far more in control of things than her own boss. The entire crew was either in love with her or depended on her (or both). She was awesome–so naturally, they killed her off. The Tom Baker era saw (among others) Professor Emilia Rumford in “The Stones of Blood”, who became a one-off companion and helped to save the Doctor, Romana I, and even K-9. I love her.
There are loads of others too, but I think my favorite of the lot has to be Anne Travers in “The Web of Fear”, played by Tina Packer.
Anne was the daughter of Professor Edward Travers*, the anthropologist first encountered by the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria in 1935 Tibet during “The Abominable Snowmen”. He returns in this continuation of the Great Intelligence saga and his scientist daughter is thrown into the mix. And she is the one who really helps the Doctor to save the day, especially after her father is taken away by the Yeti and possessed by the Great Intelligence.
Anne is great. She’s a strong, independent female scientist who I think is a template for future companions like Zoe Heriot and Liz Shaw, and to an extent, even Romana. She is very clever, self-assured, and doesn’t take crap from men who try to paint her to be unusual for being both a woman and a scientist. She makes this very clear from the beginning when she snubs Captain Knight.
KNIGHT: What’s a girl like you doing in a job like this?
ANNE: Well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d like to be a scientist, so I became a scientist.
KNIGHT: Just like that?
ANNE: Just like that.
She’s so great. I really hope that when this aired, at least one little girl heard that line and jumped for joy. It’s such a clever piece of writing.
Anne did get to do her share of screaming though, as you’d expect. It was probably a policy for “Doctor Who girls” at the time or something, I expect. But then again, if I were attacked by a giant robotic Yeti, I would probably scream too. She gets her own back though, because she manages to help the Doctor gain control of one (which they name “Fred”) by doing sciencey things to one of the control spheres. The Doctor is able to trust her with the complex scientific work it takes to achieve this. And to gain the Doctor’s trust as a competent scientist is a task that even most male scientists on the show have trouble with. Good on you, Anne.
I’m sad that Anne was only a one-off character, to be honest. She was so good I think she should’ve been a companion. Imagine the Doctor getting flustered later as Anne and Zoe regularly out-science him. It would be beautiful!
Who is your favorite one-off character? Are you a fan of some of the badass females from the Troughton era? Let us know in the comments!
* Fun Fact: Edward Travers was played by Jack Watling, father of Deborah Watling, who played companion Victoria Waterfield.