This post is part of a series of feminist takes on Doctor Who companions. I ask these questions: Are they strong? Do they get to be the protagonists? To what extent are they the equal of the Doctor? Which stereotypes do they fit into, and which do they resist?
So far I’ve looked at Amy Pond, River Song, and Clara Oswin Oswald, all characters from New Who. Now it’s time for me to jump back in time to my favorite companion ever: Zoe Heriot.
If you’re looking for a critique of feminist aspects of her character, you won’t get any here. Somebody else can criticize this or that. Nope, it’s pure appreciation. I adore her. She was the first female companion I’d ever seen, and if it hadn’t been for her, I doubt I’d have even started watching Doctor Who.
Who was Zoe Heriot?
She appeared in Doctor Who alongside Patrick Troughton, the 2nd Doctor, and Frazer Hines, his companion Jamie. She was one smart girl:
Zoe Heriot is the Wheel’s parapsychology librarian (which means that she’s received brainwashing-like training in logic and memory), an astrophysicist, an astrometricist first class, and a major in pure maths.
(From the TARDIS Data Core wiki entry on “The Wheel in Space.”)
She was emotionally underdeveloped at first. But after she met the Doctor and Jamie, who taught her the power of intuition and instinct, she decided to set out on a journey of personal growth by stowing away on the TARDIS and becoming an Adventure Hero.
She was an Adventure Hero par excellence. Brave, smart, thoughtful, full of initiative, curious, you name it. And she developed emotionally pretty darn fast, building warm relationships with Jamie and the Doctor. She was a bit of a screamer. That’s the 1960s for you. But honestly, faced with the horrors she saw, I’d scream too. And her screaming wasn’t at all out of place: her Doctor was the panickiest Doctor ever.
Zoe was also Jamie’s equal. Jamie was a Highland Scot from the 18th century. He’d left a war for independence to travel in the TARDIS, but he was ready any minute to jump back into the fight. They complemented each other nicely: Jamie fought with his hands, and Zoe with her mind. Both were young and depended on the Doctor at times, but took initiative whenever needed.
She was also a match for the Doctor, intellect-wise. In “The Krotons,” she beat the Doctor on a computer-based test. I think this was my very favorite moment. As a young woman myself, in school, I was so excited to see a woman be smarter than the Doctor. At other times, she conversed with him in scientific gobbledygook — something few of his companions have done since.
Her ending was not ideal. The Time Lords wiped her memory, just as the Tenth Doctor later did to Donna Noble. That was unfair! But at least she got to retain the memory of her first adventure with the Doctor. She resumed her life on the spaceship, and in my mind at least, her character development stuck and she led a full and happy life.
A taste of her character
Here’s a snippet of dialogue in which Zoe interrogates the Doctor:
Zoe: [to the Doctor] How did you pilot the rocket ship? You see, I’ve calculated its original course. It was a surface and supply station for Number Five Station, overdue and presumed lost nine weeks ago. Well the rocket couldn’t have drifted eighty seven million miles off course.
Dr. Who: So what’s your theory?
Zoe: Well, there is a record of the last contract with the Silver Carrier rocket. It had seven million miles to touchdown, and enough fuel for twenty million. Well, it couldn’t have drifted here off course in the time involved. It must have been driven and piloted.
Jamie: Och, you are a right wee space-detective!
Zoe: There’s only one solution. That rocket was re-fuelled in space. – Provided for at least with another twelve fuel rods.
Dr. Who: Well, it is an interesting theory…
Zoe: Oh, it isn’t a theory. You can’t disprove the facts. It’s pure logic.
Dr. Who: Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority. Supposing there was a faulty automatic pilot?
Zoe: To drive a rocket eighty seven million miles on fuel for twenty million?
Dr. Who: Well, it’s a possibility.
Zoe: That rocket was driven here somehow. I know it was.
Smug, isn’t she? She doesn’t back down if she thinks she’s right.
Oh, did I forget to mention?
Zoe is also a computer programmer. Here she is giving a computer an insoluble problem in ALGOL.
How about the actress?
The actress who played Zoe, Wendy Padbury, went on to become a theatrical agent. In a bit of a quirk of fate, she was the one who discovered Matt Smith, the actor who plays the current Doctor. She tells the story in this Youtube video. She was also a theatrical agent for other actors who appeared in Doctor Who: Nicholas Courtney, Colin Baker, and Mark Strickson. Small world, eh? I wonder who her other clients were . . .