Talons Series: Leela…

…You Got Me On My Knees

The bohemian wanderer, exploring the heavens that have been and gone and the stars that will be, solitary and aloof, lonely, yet used to his own company; the Doctor is anonymous, yet a hero. Until he lands on a lost colony world and discovers that he is feared throughout their recorded history. Then along comes Leela, and things start to look up for him.

However long we suppose the Doctor was travelling alone for since the end of The Deadly Assassin, it’s far too obvious that he isn’t keen on any company whatsoever at the end of Face of Evil. Either he is (as stated above) too fond of his own company, or he’s pining for Sarah Jane. Or there is a third choice – he just doesn’t take a shine to Leela at all.

It has been talked about before – not least in his autobiography – that the character of Leela was not considered particularly appealing to Tom Baker. He found her background and concept unoriginal and derivative, and certainly unsuitable for Doctor Who. Well, you’ll be very surprised to find that I, Christian Cawley – owner of a very well-read copy of “Who on Earth is Tom Baker” – am in disagreement with the Great Man. Leela is a fantastic character in concept and background, used exceptionally well in her first few stories and sadly given a very disappointing departure. This positive beginning is of course almost entirely due to the expertise of the character’s creator Chris Boucher…

Boucher’s influence on British sci-fi is considerable. As well as creating two of the most distinctive cultures seen on Doctor Who, he was also heavily involved with Blake’s 7, acting as script editor for the show and writing eight stories across the show’s three series.

As a member of the Sevateem tribe, Leela appears to be one of only two women. Her forthrightness and obvious anti-chauvinistic attitude leads her straight into the Doctor’s TARDIS. Otherwise it is a lifetime of childrearing on behalf of the tribe’s males, something modern girls either want or they don’t. Despite being a girl from the future, Leela is very much a modern girl; questioning everything, accepting nothing, single minded yet stunning. Throughout the course of Face of Evil, she develops from token companion-in-waiting into the Doctor’s personal body guard, whether he likes it or not. Sort of like a 1970s Ace…

Chris Boucher took his creation on her first voyage in the TARDIS, penning her next story, Robots of Death. Often described as a futuristic “Ten Little Indians”, Robots of Death is nothing more than an excellent serial set on board a Sandminer staffed by the eponymous robots and a few humans from the series best-realised alien society. Curiously, Boucher leaves his new creation with little to do – in Robots of Death she seems to wander around in shock.

Of course Leela is wonderful in the next story; as the Doctor famously declares in The Talons of Weng Chiang: “I brought you to the wrong century. You’d have loved Agincourt”. She watches the Doctor’s back, takes out a gang of Black Scorpion agents and insults a policeman – all in the first episode. However her patience with the Doctor and his strange ways is already running a little thin:

Leela: ‘Doctor, you make me wear strange clothes, you tell me nothing: you are trying to annoy me.’

Despite the Doctor’s standoffish nature towards Leela, the character nevertheless remains loyal to him. Originally conceived as an “Eliza Doolittle” character to be guided by the Doctor’s “Professor Higgins”, this aspect of both characters’ relationship soon was forgotten, much in the same way Sarah Jane Smith being a journalist was ignored. Unlike Sarah Jane, however, Leela didn’t really degenerate into a screamer until very late in her time with the Doctor.

The animal skin and chamois leather costumes were of course a big hit with the older male viewers of Doctor Who, and they remain to this day revealing outfits – although the less said about early publicity shots of Ms Jameson with darkened skin, the better. Despite Victorian dresses and Victorian tomboy outfits, Leela is unsurprisingly more comfortable in the savage-girl collection. How on Earth did the production team manage to get Louise Jameson into such a costume?

The lady behind Leela is known for playing strong female roles in shows such as “Bergerac”, and “EastEnders”. While Louise Jameson is possibly better known now as Rosa Di Marco in the long-running British soap, she is still fondly recalled by randy dads as they reminisce about 1970s television and Doctor Who. She has also long been a convention favourite, and appeared in 5 of the Bill Baggs Video series, including Mark Gatiss’ PROBE spin offs. Furthermore, she interestingly coached prisoners in drama following her time on Doctor Who; among her students was Leslie Grantham!

Without a doubt, Leela was later upstaged by K-9 in the minds of the shows younger viewers. Despite another story from her creator (the underrated Image of the Fendahl), Leela’s departure in The Invasion of Time is well-timed, despite its sudden manner. Now usurped by a robot dog, the character had run her course. Sadly, her potential was never quite realised in the manner of her successor’s but there will always be a place in every fan’s heart for Leela.

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