When I began watching Classic Doctor Who, it was like a whole other world. The show – from its pacing to style to the character of the Doctor – felt very unfamiliar. But I soon found my rhythm, loving it for what it was and how it flowed into the Doctor Who I fell in love with. I was immediately fascinated by Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter! So often I’ve seen the Doctor mourn their lost family, grieving all those who died when Gallifrey burned, leaving them the last of the Time Lords. But here Gallifrey still hung in the heavens and the Doctor was travelling with his granddaughter! I couldn’t wait to learn all about Susan and her relationship with the Doctor. It left me wanting to explore her character, what it felt like to meet one of the Doctor’s blood relatives, and ponder what happened to Susan after she parted ways with her grandfather.
I’ve always loved the scene where the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler are in the TARDIS building a gizmo to help the Isolus stranded inside/possessing a young girl named Chloe. As they work, they discuss children.
The Doctor – “It’s a child. That’s why it went to Chloe – two lonely mixed up kids.”
Rose – “Feels to me like a temper tantrum ’cause it can’t get its own way.”
The Doctor – “It’s scared! C’mon, you were a kid once.”
Rose – “Yes, and I know what kids can be like. Right little…terrors. Oy, I’ve got cousins. Kids can’t have it all their own way, that’s part of bein’ a family.”
The Doctor – “What about trying to understand them?”
Rose – “Easy for you to say, you don’t have kids.”
The Doctor – “I was a dad, once.”
Rose is stunned, “What did you say?” The Doctor turns the conversation back to their project but Rose’s whole demeanor changes for a moment as she tries to take this in. Here is the man she’s come to know so well, the man she trusts with her life, the man she loves and…he had kids?? What?!? I love this scene in part because, as a viewer, I was as shook as Rose. So the Doctor didn’t just lose his people and his planet. He lost his children, too. A hole in my heart opened for the Doctor in that moment. That’s a level of pain and loss I can only begin to imagine.
Meeting Susan then, brought me so much joy. Here is the First Doctor, roughly 450 years before their Ninth incarnation would meet Rose for the first time, travelling with his granddaughter! Another oft recounted tale on Doctor Who is the Doctor stealing a faulty Type 40 TARDIS and running away from Gallifrey to travel all of time and space. But in watching Classic Doctor Who I learned the Doctor didn’t run away alone! Rather, it was the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan who first stole that TARDIS and left Gallifrey behind for all the wonders of creation.
Famously, their TARDIS’ chameleon circuit was busted. So when they landed in 1963 London, it camouflaged itself as a blue police box…and got stuck that way. But the TARDIS’ directional circuit was also broken. This meant the Doctor and Susan could pilot the TARDIS and work all of its systems but they had absolutely no control over where or when they’d materialize after takeoff. In effect, there was no way (save random chance) for them to ever return home or to any place or time they may visit. After dematerializing, there was no going back.
Think of the bond that brings. Imagine how close you’d have to be with someone or how close you’d become with someone (or both!) if you were to run away like that together! Who would you take with you on a one way ticket ride out into all of time and space? For real! Take a moment. Think of someone you’d run away with into eternity. Who would that be? The Doctor didn’t bring their significant other. The Doctor didn’t bring their best friend. The Doctor didn’t bring any of their children. It was Susan who ventured out into everywhere and everywhen with her grandfather. How special their relationship must be!
Upon meeting Susan in the very first episode ever of Doctor Who, I was surprised I’d seen her before! When the Twelfth Doctor was teaching at St. Luke’s University in Bristol, he had two pictures on the desk in his office. The first was of his wife, River Song. The second woman…I didn’t recognize. I presumed it was someone from the Doctor’s past, Steven Moffat making some deep cut reference to the show’s original run. And he was…but it was Susan!!!! The Doctor has a picture of River and of his granddaughter on his desk! My heart!!!
While I didn’t know her name was Susan and had yet to know what she looked like, I had heard the Doctor mention her before I came to Classic Doctor Who, too. When the Eleventh Doctor takes Clara Oswald through the bazaar on the Rings of Akhaten he tells her, “Do you know, I forget how much I like it here. We should come here more often.” Clara asks, “You’ve been here before?” The Doctor tells her, “Yes, yes, yes. I came here a long time ago with my granddaughter.”
As the first episode of “The Unearthly Child” began to play, I was finally meeting Susan for myself! Here was the Doctor’s granddaughter, the person who ran away from Gallifrey with him to travel forever through the stars!
And I completely fell in love with her :). I absolutely adore Susan’s character!
When the Doctor and Susan were enjoying their extended stay in 1963 London, Susan was enrolled at Cole Hill School. They were living in the TARDIS, parked in I.M. Foreman’s junkyard at 76 Totter’s Lane. To her teachers, Susan was clearly a genius, surpassing all of her peers (and instructors) in her knowledge of subjects like science and history. Yet they found it curious she didn’t know how many shillings were in a pound or thought England was on the decimal system. When corrected in class, Susan’s replies were often enigmatic.
Susan – “I’m sorry, Miss Wright.”
Barbara – “Don’t be silly, Susan. The United States has a decimal system. You know perfectly well that we do not.”
Susan – “Of course, the decimal system hasn’t started yet.”
Discussing their brilliant-yet-perplexing charge one day after school, Susan’s history teacher Barbara Wright tells Ian Chesterton, her science teacher, she drove by Susan’s given address and saw I.M. Foreman’s. And when she offered Susan at-home tutoring to let her work on level with her ability, Susan refused, saying her grandfather, with whom she lives, doesn’t like visitors. Worried their student may be living alone in a junkyard, Barbara and Ian go to investigate. One things leads to another, they force their way into the battered old police box, find themselves inside the TARDIS, and – in his panic at their secret being revealed – the Doctor throws the dematerialization switch and sends the four of them back to the Middle Paleolithic period, roughly 100,000 BCE.
Tensions run high at first, particularly between the Doctor and Ian, but they soon become a family. This expansion of her family meant a great deal to Susan, too. As she ponders her teachers’ natural desire to return home, she finds conflicting emotions within herself.
Susan wouldn’t have admitted it, but the revelation that they had not returned to Ian and Barbara’s time had filled her with relief. She felt guilt about this, because she knew how much it meant to them. But their talk of 1963 always made her feel unhappy. She had had precious few friends in her young life. Wherever the Doctor had taken her, she had been an outsider, ignorant of the norms and customs of one society after the next. She hadn’t really minded before, because she hadn’t know what it was like to belong somewhere. But she was one quarter of a special group now. They liked each other (for the most part) and they worked well together. And Susan didn’t want to lose that group. She liked nothing more than to see her former teachers getting their teeth into a complex problem or enthusing about a historical fact or a scientific discovery. Each time she hoped that, one day, they would grow to appreciate what they had now; what the Doctor could show them. Then 1963 would become a distant memory of an abandoned life. One day.
Together, the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian would travel to places as varied as Skaro, Marinus, and the Sense Sphere (in the same solar system as the Ood Sphere!). They’d meet Marco Polo in 1289, encounter the Aztecs in the 15th century, and find themselves in the middle of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution in 1794.
Through these adventures, as I discussed in my “Impressions of the First Doctor” piece, Susan often falls into the “hysterical woman” trope. She screams, cowers, and faints more than any other character. Admittedly, it’s a bit frustrating to watch but I get it’s the patriarchal/sexist convention of the times. Lots of older movies have the same (1968’s Night of the Living Dead comes immediately to mind). But this isn’t Susan’s only role. She is a competent, capable, compassionate character in her own right.
In the Sense Sphere, it’s Susan’s telepathic abilities that allow the TARDIS team to communicate with the Sensorites and understand they fear an attack by the humans. Thus they see the Sensorites’ response to the human-crewed shuttle isn’t overt aggression but a frightened act of defense. With her abilities, Susan becomes the means for communication between all parties which ultimately leads to resolution. It is Susan who traverses the forests of Skaro on her own, befriends the Thals, and finds the cure for the radiation sickness her grandfather, Ian, and Barbara are suffering. One of my favorite Susan moments is when she quickly deduces a malfunction in the TARDIS during materialization left them all roughly an inch tall. Ian refuses to believe her for an almost comical amount of time until Susan’s evidence becomes irrefutable. As the episode plays out, the viewer sees Susan figure out what’s happened to them before the Doctor does!
And Susan is so full of joy. Her love of her grandfather, her love of Barbara and Ian, her love of the people they meet and the places they go all shines so brightly through her smile.
But no matter how close a bond they share, a bond strong enough for Susan to run away into forever with her grandfather, children grow-up. Sooner or later everyone heads out into the world to build their own lives and families, through bonds forged in love, extending beyond the family they were raised in. This time comes for Susan as well and, despite being the very first companion the Doctor travels with, she will be the first to leave.
When the TARDIS lands in a war-torn London in 2164, the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara learn the Daleks have successfully invaded Earth. The planet is theirs and what’s left of humanity is enslaved or struggling to fight back in little pockets of a ragtag resistance. Naturally, the Doctor and co. join up with the resistance. As they strategize against the Daleks, Susan becomes close with resistance fighter David Campbell. Feelings develop and Susan falls in love with David. Once the Daleks are vanquished and the TARDIS prepares to leave, David explains to Ian how he wants nothing more than to be a part of making things grow upon the Earth once more.
When Susan says her goodbye, David asks her to stay with him.
David – “Please stay. Please stay here with me.”
Susan – “I can’t stay, David. I don’t belong to this time.”
David – “But I love you, Susan. And I want you to marry me.”
Susan – “You see David, Grandfather’s old now. He needs me. Oh, don’t make me choose between you and him, please!”
David – “But you told me! You said that you’d never known the security of living in one place and time. Look, you said it was something that you always longed for. Well, I’m giving you that, Susan. I’m giving you a place, a time, an identity.”
Susan – “No, David! [she begins crying] I’ve lost my shoe. Oh David, I do love you. I do, I do, I do!”
At this point, inside the TARDIS, the Doctor quietly closes the doors.
Susan – “Grandfather!”
The Doctor – [through the intercom] “Listen Susan, please. I’ve double-locked the doors. You can’t get in. Now move back, my child, where I can see you.”
[Susan steps into view of the TARDIS’ scanner]
The Doctor – “During all these years I’ve been taking care of you, you in return have been taking care of me.”
Susan – “Oh, Grandfather, I belong with you!”
The Doctor – “Not any longer, Susan. You’re still my grandchild and you always will be. But now, you’re a woman, too. I want you to belong somewhere, to have roots of your own. With David, you’ll be able to find those roots and live normally like any woman should do. Believe me, my dear, your future lies with David, not with a silly old buffer like me. One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan. Goodbye, my dear.”
With that, the TARDIS dematerializes. Susan silently stands where it was, drops her TARDIS key, and slowly turns to walk off, hand in hand, with David. Yes, the Doctor promises to return, but at this point the TARDIS’ directional circuit is still broken – something Susan knows, too.
Once my tears dried I realized…Susan doesn’t have a TARDIS. She’s living with David in 2164. What happened to her?? I knew Carole Anne Ford would play Susan again in Doctor Who’s 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors” but I also knew a) I haven’t watched this yet (obviously) so I didn’t know what happens and b) that was well before the Time War anyway. So what happened to Susan?? Did she survive the Time War?? Was she on Gallifrey when it burned?? Or is Susan still alive somewhere?!!? My heart needed her to be alive!
Naturally, I turned to the internet. Reading her entry on TARDIS Data Core: The Doctor Who Wiki I found…well, ok I found a few conflicting story bits from almost sixty years of audio dramas, novels, and comics (both about her past identity and her life after saying goodbye to the Doctor in 2164). The main thread of her story says Susan stayed on Earth, married David, and they had a son together, Alex Campbell. Alex was half human and half Gallifreyan with one heart and no regenerative or telepathic abilities. After David’s death, Susan would meet her grandfather twice more in his Eighth incarnation.
When the Time War began, Gallifrey sent many urgent hypercubes to Susan requesting her return to help battle the Daleks. The Eighth Doctor did his best to prevent this but ultimately Susan heard the messages sent to her and returned to the front lines in Gallifrey via a TARDIS the Time Lords sent to pick her up. UGH. I DON’T NEED THIS FROM YOU TIME LORDS. WHY COULDN’T YOU LEAVE SUSAN ALONE??
But – and this is a BIG “BUT” – we don’t know if Susan lived or died during the Time War. On many occasions, the Ninth Doctor through the Thirteenth Doctor have told their companions their entire family died yet there’s no story which definitively tells us Susan dies.
The Doctor has said they’ve never confirmed Susan’s death either! Trapped in a museum of his own life, the Tenth Doctor works through the artifacts on display in an attempt to regain the memories he’s lost. After looking at the walking stick the First Doctor used, he tells Martha Jones about Susan, Barbara, and Ian. Shocked, Martha asks, “You left your own granddaughter? What happened then? Is she still alive?” The Doctor says, “I don’t reckon so. I can’t prove it. But the Time Lords are gone. As far as I know – I’m all alone now.” The Eleventh Doctor reaffirms this when he meets Oscar Wilde in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1882. The Doctor tells him, “Don’t knock junkyards, Oscar. I spent some of the happiest times of my life in one with my granddaughter once.” Wilde asks, “You have a granddaughter? Why am I not surprised? Where is she now?” The Doctor says, “Oh, you know, lost contact, never had a chance to look her up – that sort of thing.”
When I first read those comics they BLEW MY MIND. How could the Doctor never go looking for Susan?!? In all they lost in the Time War…how could they never seek out their granddaughter on the other side? They can even control their TARDIS (more or less) now! The directional circuit has been repaired for centuries! In the 1,200+ years the Doctor has lived since the Time War ended, how could they have never gone looking for Susan? She’s a Time Lord, too! She can live for millennia! She can regenerate! She could still be out there!
But the more I thought about it…the more I could see where the Doctor was coming from.
Of all the times the Doctor speaks of their lost family, it’s when the Tenth Doctor tells Martha that most emotionally affects me. With tears in his eyes the Doctor says,
I lied to you, ‘cause I liked it. I could pretend, just for a bit, I could imagine they were still alive, underneath the burnt orange sky. I’m not just a Time Lord. I’m the last of the Time Lords. The Face of Boe was wrong, there’s no one else. [sitting down beside her] There was…a war. A Time War. The Last Great Time War. My people fought a race called the Daleks, for the sake of all creation and they lost. We lost. Everyone lost. They’re all gone now. My family. My friends. Even that sky.
They lost. We lost. Everyone lost. They’re all gone now. My family. My friends. Even that sky. The wounds are still so open for the Doctor. Some may never fully heal. So I can see why the Doctor may not look for Susan. Perhaps they can’t bear the pain of knowing without question she died. And, without that knowledge, there is room to nurture a glimmer of hope in their hearts that maybe, some way, she survived. If the Doctor doesn’t go looking for Susan they can always hope, no matter how impossible it may seem, that she returned to the place she belongs, to the roots she put down, and lived that life of her own on the Earth of the 22st century she made her home.
Would you give up that hope? Call to mind the person you thought of at the top of this piece, the person you love enough and are close enough to that you could imagine running away with them into forever despite having no return ticket home. Now try to imagine, like the Doctor, you lost everything – your home, your people, everything you ever knew. And yes, you’ve continued on. You’ve built a beautiful found family around yourself over the centuries. But could you search out that special person with whom you shared such a special bond? Would the slim chance of finding them again be worth the risk of definitively knowing they, too, died on that horrible day? Or would you want to, would you need to, hold on to that sliver of hope?
Holding that person in my mind’s eye now, trying to imagine living the life the Doctor has for 1,200 years since the Time War…I think I’d need that person more than ever. The chance of having them, I think, would be worth the risk of knowing they are forever lost. Plus, I’m the sort of person who needs closure. I’d rather definitively mourn than lose potential time together for hope. But I don’t fault the Doctor for not looking for Susan. I get it and I respect how they need to mourn. Thankfully, it’s not something I have to sort in my life. And it may not be forever settled in the Doctor’s, either!
Peter Capaldi really wanted Carole Anne Ford to return as Susan during his time as the Doctor. When Capaldi asked Ford if she’d return during her visit to the set of the Doctor Who Christmas special “Last Christmas,” she told him, “Yeah, I’d love to come back!” Sadly, this wasn’t to be :/. Phooey. But there’s still hope! Doing the press tour for her Big Finish Audio Drama Susan’s War last year, Ford was asked if she’d be interested in appearing opposite Jodie Whittaker. She said, “Now there’s a thing. I have toyed with that. ‘Oh, Grandfa – ma!’ I think Jodie is fantastic! It’s a wonderful thing she’s doing. She does it fabulously well. And how it’s changed! We had to do what we did with a thruppence, but they had some really big budgets. It’s amazing.” AHHHHHHHHHHHH, I REALLY WANT TO SEE THIS.
The seeds have been planted as Mark Gatiss’ short story “Fellow Traveller,” released as part of the massive Doctor Who: Lockdown! campaign to give Whovians fun new material to explore during the fearful and uncertain times of Covid’s expansion and the world’s lockdown, has the Thirteenth Doctor return to see Susan fifty years after they last met! Where this falls in relation to the Time War and how “canon” it is remains to be seen. But as the Doctor continues to move through their trauma (as I discuss in this post), it opens the road to healing that may give them the courage to seek Susan out.
So, I mean not to play this card but it’s my birthday today so, Chris Chibnall, if you’ve not gotten my present yet can I have this? Please, please, please, please? Bring Susan back into the Doctor’s life! We’d have Carole Anne Ford back on Doctor Who AND we’d see the Doctor reunited with her granddaughter AND we’d definitively know that Susan survived the Time War and went on living her life!!! Everyone wins! Please and thank you.
Also, if I do get a birthday requests, how about this? If you’re reading this why don’t you call, text, email, FaceTime, Zoom, or message the person you imagined running away with into forever and tell them how much you love them and thank them for being such an amazing part of your life. Because that is a relationship worth celebrating and everyone enjoys hearing they’re loved and appreciated! Even if you think they already know, tell them anyway. It’s always nice to hear how much you’re valued :).
If you’d like to read more musings connecting classic companions to modern Doctor Who you can try:
Three’s Company: Why the Thirteenth Doctor, Yaz, and Zoe Heriot are a Dream TARDIS Team which considers the unique place the Doctor and Yaz find themselves in between Doctor Who Series 12 and Doctor Who: Flux and explores why this fertile story ground is the perfect time to bring back one of the Doctor’s most intelligent companions ever!
 Euros Lyn, dir. “Fear Her.” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 11, BBC, 2006.
 Lawrence Gough, dir. “The Pilot.” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 1, BBC, 2017.
 Farren Blackburn, dir. “The Rings of Akhaten.” Doctor Who, season 7, episode 7, BBC, 2013.
 Waris Hussein, dir. “An Unearthly Child: An Unearthly Child.” Doctor Who, season 1, episode 1, BBC, 1963.
 Steve Lyons, Doctor Who: The Witch Hunters (London: BBC Books, 1998), 27.
 Mervyn Pinfield and Frank Cox, dir. “The Sensorites.” Doctor Who, season 1, serial 7, BBC, 1964.
 Christopher Barry and Richard Martin, dir. “The Daleks.” Doctor Who, season 1, serial 2, BBC, 1963-64.
 Mervyn Pinfield and Douglas Camfield, dir. “Planet of the Giants.” Doctor Who, season 1, episode 1, 1964.
 Richard Martin, dir. “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Doctor Who, season 2, serial 2, BBC, 1964.
 “Susan Foreman.”
 It’s worth noting, while I HATE that Susan went back to fight in the Time War and I would MUCH RATHER she just enjoy a happy life, Carole Anne Ford along with William Russell (who played Ian Chesterton) returned to their roles to do an audio drama for Big Finish in 2020! While I’ve not listened to Susan’s War yet, I’m eager to check it out. If you want to you can do so here, too! https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/susan-s-war-2206
 Tony Lee. Doctor Who: The Forgotten #1. San Diego: IDW Publishing, 2009.
 Tony Lee. Doctor Who (2012) #15. San Diego: IDW Publishing, 2013.
 Richard Clark, dir. “Gridlock.” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 3, BBC, 2007.
 Nathalie Caron, “Peter Capaldi Really, Really Wants This Classic Doctor Who Companion To Come Back,” ScyFy Wire, Published June 2, 2015. Accessed July, 2, 2021. https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/peter-capaldi-really-really-wants-classic-doctor-who-companion-come-back
 Johnathan Appleton, “Carole Anne Ford Still Wants To Return To Doctor Who As Susan,” The Doctor Who Companion. Published May 26, 2020. Accessed July 2, 2021. https://thedoctorwhocompanion.com/2020/05/28/carole-ann-ford-still-wants-to-return-to-doctor-who-as-susan/
 Mark Gatiss, “Fellow Traveller,” Doctor Who: Adventures in Lockdown, edited by Steven Cole (London: BBC Books, 1998), 151-63.