The star of Doctor Who is of course the Doctor himself, but the producers of the program decided that they needed to introduce a vehicle through which the audience could identify called the companion. As the program progressed, the role of the companion began to extend beyond just being a pretty face asking what was going on and getting into trouble. The role turned into something of a free agent who operated independently of the Doctor and in some cases even had a rather rich back story. In total, the Doctor has had 40 companions (including newcomer Amy Pond). Very few of those companions have been male, and fewer still have been alien.
This makes Turlough a rarity in three categories… he’s also one of two red-haired companions ( the second is Amy Pond).
Stone cold killer
Introduced in the 1983 three part story collectively called the Black Guardian Trilogy (out on DVD this year), Turlough was at first an assassin hired by the embodiment of evil himself to kill the Doctor. Turlough starts off as a seemingly everyday schoolboy, albeit a reckless one. He steals the headmaster’s vintage car and nearly kills himself and his cohort in the crime ‘Hippo.’ Rather than the pearly gates, however, he is greeted by the Black Guardian who offers the red-haired youth a new lease on life if he agrees to kill a man he has never met. The dialog between Turlough and the Black Guardian also establishes that the boy is not of this world and despises humanity. During the following adventures, Turlough realizes that the Doctor is not a man who deserves to be killed as his evil master had led him to believe. Breaking his agreement with the Black Guardian, Turlough decides to remain with the Doctor and share in his adventures.
A refreshingly new twist on the standard theme of the companion, Turlough was played by actor Mark Strickson, well known to the British TV viewing public from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. One of the more gifted actors to star in Doctor Who Strickson was also given very little to do past his three-part premiere adventure. In fact, there are several stories where Turlough is given an astonishingly spare amount of dialog, such as Resurrection of the Daleks where despite the fact that he is the only actor on camera for some scenes, he is remarkably mute.
We call them ‘flight attendants’ now
One of the clever ideas with Turlough was to have him play off of the feisty Tegan who disobeyed the Doctor at nearly every turn yet was loyal to him at the same time. Tegan could see something was not kosher with Turlough yet failed to catch him in any real act of villainy. Ironically as soon as Turlough earned Tegan’s trust she left the pair of travelers, deeming their once fun and innocent travels had turned dangerous and sinister, something way ahead of its time. This may sound familiar to fans of the new program as the Doctor and Rose were reminded throughout the second season that their lifestyle was dangerous and there would be a price to pay.
Planet of Fire
For his last adventure in 1984, producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward decided to finally reveal who Turlough was and tell his entire history, yet another rarity for a companion. Planet of Fire saw the arrival of companion Peri, the seeming demise of the Master and the destruction of the robot Kamelion. With plot elements as powerful as these it’s funny that many fans still remember that this story also filled in all the blanks on Turlough’s past. A political refugee of the planet Trion, he was exiled to the backwater planet Earth. Throughout the course of events, Turlough finds that the political climate has changed in his home world and he can at last return. He and the Doctor seem to have bonded in their last exchange, perhaps because they were both remarkably intelligent and forbidden to ever return to their home.
More than friends?
It’s a pity that more was not done with Vislor Turlough but all the same he remains one of the better companions seen in the 80′s. I suppose it has to be said that due to the somewhat fey acting from Strickson and the ‘vulnerable’ quality imbued in the Doctor by Peter Davison… plus the fact that he wears a school boy uniform all the time… there may appear to be something more than mutual respect between the Timelord and his traveling companion.
But Trions tell no tales.
Click here for all of Turlough’s adventures with the Doctor on DVD.