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Companion Guide: Barbara Wright

History teacher extraordinaire

Planet of origin: Earth
First TV appearance: An Unearthly Child
Last consecutive TV appearance: The Chase

Barbara Wright, played by Jacqueline Hill, is the first person (aside from the Doctor and Susan, of course) to enter the TARDIS in the very first episode of Doctor Who. Consequently, it is easy to see the early days of Doctor Who as being about Barbara’s perception of the strange events she finds herself plunged into.

A history teacher whose curiosity is piqued by the strange girl at her school, Coal Hill, Barbara is clearly a strong, independent woman. As a teacher and colleague she seems brusque and professional, although obviously has quite a close relationship with colleague, Ian Chesterton.

Although Barbara may well spend much of her first ‘adventure’ terrified and screaming, it is a perfectly understandable reaction for someone from the 20th Century being confronted by the savagery of prehistoric life.

Barbara also gives us one of Doctor Who’s most iconic scenes – the cliffhanger to The Dead Planet, which sees her menaced by a plunger and giving one of Doctor Who’s best screams.

But, by the time Barbara is trekking through the Skarosian jungle in The Daleks, her strength of character shines through and by The Edge of Destruction not only has she gained confidence in dealing with her strange new life, but she is also more than willing to stand up to the Doctor and put him in his place. It is she who works out, at least partly, what is going on inside the spaceship and as her travels continue, she goes from strength to strength.

The pinnacle of Barbara’s time aboard the TARDIS is surely The Aztecs.  Landing inside an Aztec high priest’s tomb, Barbara is declared the reincarnation of the high priest, Yetaxa, and sets about trying to save Aztec culture from the destruction she knows is coming at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors.

Another significant moment for Barbara is in The Crusade, when she is hiding from Saracen guards in Jaffa with the terrible dilemma of having to kill a young girl to save her from a more horrific fate in the hands of El Akir, the local warlord.

Barbara, as a handsome young woman, also attracts the unwanted attention of undesirable men whilst on her travels.  In The Keys of Marinus, she is attacked by Vasor, a duplicitous trader and tracker and in The Romans she becomes an object of lust for the Emperor Nero himself.

Despite clearly enjoying her travels aboard the TARDIS, the prospect of returning home is never far from her mind. Her hopes are momentarily raised at the beginning of The Reign of Terror when it looks like they may have returned to their own time and place, and later, when she and Ian realise an abandoned Dalek time machine could take them home – the final episode of The Chase, she leaps at the chance.

The joy on her face in those final scenes as she returns to London, 1965, is tangible.

Sadly, Jacqueline Hill died in 1993 and therefore, the character of Barbara has had a limited presence in the Whoniverse beyond the TV show – although Hill herself did return to the show in the role of Lexa in Meglos.

In stories released as part of The Companion Chronicles and The Early Adventures ranges from Big Finish, Barbara often takes only a minor role in events with her contributions being voiced mainly by Carole Ann Ford or Maureen O’Brien as they narrate the stories. In later Early Adventures, Barbara is portrayed by Jemma Powell who also plays her in The First Doctor Adventures range, after being cast as Jacqueline Hill in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time.

Beyond the audios, Barbara made a significant return alongside Ian and the Eleventh Doctor in the DWM comic strip Hunters of the Burning Stone. She is also the focus of the short story The Book of Shadows where she marries Ptolemy Lagus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, in an alternative timeline. Another short story which focuses on Barbara is Nothing at the End of the Lane.

There are a number of novels published by both Virgin and BBC Books which feature Barbara; notable ones include: Venusian Lullaby (which features Barbara on the cover illustration; The Plotters; City at World’s End; The Time Travellers and The Witch Hunters.  Barbara also returns alongside Ian in a Master-led novel – The Face of the Enemy – set during the Third Doctor’s era (but not featuring the Third Doctor).  Barbara and Ian effectively become the Master’s companions and the author, David A. McIntee, does well at extrapolating what an older Barbara would be like.

Jacqueline Hill is one of Doctor Who’s best actresses in a companion role and her time aboard the TARDIS is never anything less than enjoyable when Barbara is on screen.  A natural performance which gives lie to the belief that all Classic era female companions were screamers in need of rescue, Barbara is one of the reasons the early years of the show still hold up today.

View all Stories featuring Barbara

Read more about Barbara at the TARDIS Wiki

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Written by: deltaandthebannermen