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Companion Guide: Susan

The Doctor’s granddaughter

Planet of origin: Gallifrey
First chronological TV appearance: An Unearthly Child
Last chronological TV appearance: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Susan is the Doctor’s very first ‘companion’ but, as Carole Ann Ford – the actress who originated the role – is quick (and adamant) to point out, she isn’t actually a companion but a relative of the Doctor – she is his granddaughter.

However, her origins are shrouded in mystery and there are some conflicting accounts of the reason for her departure from Gallifrey, alongside the Doctor.

As viewers, we first meet Susan when she is a pupil at Coal Hill School. Her odd demeanour piques the interest of two of her school teachers, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton and they follow her home one evening to sate their curiosity. Encountering her grandfather in the junkyard listed as her home address, Barbara and Ian hear the voice of Susan inside an incongruous police box and crash into Susan’s true world – all of time and space.

Notable moments for Susan included her friendship with Ping-Cho when the TARDIS crew were forced to accompany Marco Polo on his journey to visit Kublai Khan; her telepathic abilities coming to the fore on a spaceship orbiting the Sense-Sphere (The Sensorites); and defying the gender role imposed on her by Aztec culture (The Aztecs).

After many adventures with her grandfather, Ian and Barbara, Susan met and fell in love with freedom fighter, David Campbell, during the Dalek occupation of Earth. She chose to stay with David and aided him in rebuilding Earth’s civilisation after the Doctor defeated the Daleks.

The expanded Whoniverse has detailed both Susan’s pre and post-TARDIS life which included leaving Gallifrey with the Doctor and those early travels in the TARDIS, to, as an adult, giving birth to her son, Alex and reuniting with the Doctor in his Eighth incarnation. There are also stories of her contribution to the Time War.

Susan, though, even after she left the TARDIS, continued to be something of an enigma. There are conflicting accounts of her post-TARDIS life with the novel Legacy of the Daleks detailing a different story to what is seen in Big Finish’s audios or in the BBC Radio programme, Whatever Happened to…Susan Foreman.

Susan has also been played by four different actresses: Carole Ann Ford originated the role on television and has recreated her in numerous audios, but the character has also been played by Claudia Grant in The First Doctor Adventures range from Big Finish; as a much younger child by Robert Tovey, in the two Peter Cushing Dalek movies (Dr Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD); and by Jane Asher in the aforementioned Whatever Happened to….where we encounter Susan as an adult.

Carole Ann Ford first returned to the role in two of Big Finish’s Unbound range – a ‘what if’ style series which saw other actors taking on the role of the Doctor. In Auld Mortality and A Storm of Angels, Carole Ann Ford played an older Susan opposite Geoffrey Bayldon’s take on an early incarnation of the Doctor – one who never left Gallifrey.

Carole Ann Ford’s first recreation of her younger self was in the Companion Chronicle, Here There Be Monsters. Other noteworthy Companion Chronicles featuring Ford include Quinnis, which details the adventure referred to in the TV episode, The Brink of Disaster; and The Beginning – the first part of a trilogy involving a character from Gallifrey called Quadrigger Stoyn – which documents Susan and the Doctor’s hurried departure from Gallifrey and their first trip in the TARDIS.

The Early Adventures from Big Finish, also launched with a story featuring Carole Ann Ford as Susan. Domain of the Voord, performed by Ford and William Russell as Ian, alongside a small guest cast, serves as a sequel to The Keys of Marinus. Another significant Early Adventure featuring Ford as Susan is After the Daleks which depicts Susan’s efforts to rebuild Earth society in the wake of the Dalek invasion.

Ford also features in two Lost Stories – Farewell, Great Macedon and the almost legendary ‘got replaced by The Daleks’ Anthony Coburn script, The Masters of Luxor.

An important development for Susan was when she reunited with the Eighth Doctor and introduced him to his great-grandson, Alex. Beginning in An Earthly Child, this epic story arc involves Susan, Alex, the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller battling the Daleks and featured an extremely life-changing finale for Susan. 

The First Doctor Adventures range of full-cast audios from Big Finish, sees Claudia Grant take on the role of Susan.  Grant played Carole Ann Ford in the TV drama documentary, An Adventure in Space and Time and moved to playing Susan, the character, alongside the rest of the drama’s cast of TARDIS regulars. Each release features two stories – an historical and a ‘science fiction’ story. Popular stories include The Invention of Death, Tick-Tock World (with Carole Ann Ford in a featured role) and The Barbarians and the Samurai.

Strangely, for such a significant character in the history of Doctor Who, when the various novel ranges were published, Susan rarely featured as a character. Recommended books for Susan fans, though, include: the historical Past Doctor Adventure from the BBC, The Witch Hunters which sees the TARDIS crew caught up in the Salem witch trials; and the Virgin Missing Adventure, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which has the TARDIS materialise in a world of magic, dragons and fairy tale creatures.  With the 15th Doctor’s first series leaning into the fantasy element of Doctor Who, this could be appropriate reading. Another significant novel featuring Susan is, of course, the infamous Legacy of the Daleks by John Peel, which delivers a very different post-TARDIS, adult Susan rebuilding Earth society tale.

The character of Susan is beloved by many due to her unique status of being the first blood relative of the Doctor we meet – and it’s in the very first episode of the show.  Carole Ann Ford’s rapport with William Hartnell is evident in every scene they play together and, if it can’t be avoided that the character was poorly served as the series progressed, it can be agreed that Ford never gives less than 100% in her performance both on TV and in her renaissance via Big Finish.

View all Stories featuring Susan

Read more about Susan at the TARDIS Wiki

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Written by: deltaandthebannermen