The finale of Doctor Who: Flux aired Sunday night. I’ve lots of thoughts and lots of feelings. But they’re still percolating so, instead of writing about Doctor Who: Flux, I want to write about the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) and the dream TARDIS team I’ve had bouncing around in my mind since I finished watching the Second Doctor’s era of Classic Doctor Who last summer. While I struggled at first to connect to the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), the wonder of his era came alive for me when he and his longtime companion Jamie McCrimmon (Frazier Hines) began travelling with Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury). As soon as I met Zoe the seeds for this piece were sown. I want – nay, I need – some sort of story (be it novel, audio drama, comic, or all of the above) where she reunites with the Doctor to travel with her and Yaz. It would be perfect! I think it’s a story that needs telling, too…and here’s why.
If you haven’t watched or finished Doctor Who: Flux yet, this piece won’t discuss anything in it outside of what the first minute or two of the very first episode implies so you can read without spoilers!
The Second Doctor and Jamie would meet Zoe in the year 2079. She was working onboard Space Station W3, more commonly called “the Wheel,” as an Astrometricst First Class and librarian in their Parapsychology Library. In school, she majored in pure mathematics and graduated with honors as well as several degrees. One of the reasons I fell in love with her character so quickly was how unique Zoe is among the Doctor’s companions for being so intelligent. She takes to life on the TARDIS immediately. She easily understands the scanners, the fluid links, and recognizes the smell of mercury leaking while knowing why it’s important! The Doctor’s other companions (particularly up to this point in Classic Doctor Who) learn a bit here and there but Zoe’s in her element from go. Her ability to calculate probabilities and understand what’s going on around them – and what can happen – in any given moment is a great benefit to the Doctor and Jamie, too.
However, Zoe isn’t just intelligent but, time and again, she proves herself as smart if not smarter than the Doctor!
A perfect example comes in “The Invasion.” Trying to get into International Electromatics back in 20th century London, the Doctor is twice so frustrated by the computer answering service – once on the phone and once in person – that he begins literally banging on the machine and throws his hands up with a defeated huff. Once the Doctor and Jamie go missing, Zoe and Isobel Watkins (Sally Faulkner) go to International Electromatics themselves. Once Zoe realizes the computer won’t be of any help to them and only stand in their way, she easily figures out how to overheat the machine and shut it down.
We see another indication of Zoe’s intelligence in episode two of “The Krotons.” As Zoe, Jamie, and the Doctor attempt to figure out just what these “Krotons” are, Zoe and the Doctor take an intelligence test these mysterious beings have devised. The Krotons use this test to select their companions from among the Gonds, always picking their best and brightest. Zoe scores higher than any Gond ever has and, as a result, is selected. As no one ever returns from the Dynatrope after they are chosen, the Doctor doesn’t want Zoe to go in alone. So he takes the test, too, and is obviously flustered.
By his own admission, he hates computers and Zoe is far better with them than he is. He keeps brushing her away and then calling her back to explain how he uses it. “Oh Doctor,” Zoe says watching him answer the first question, “you’ve got it all wrong!” The Doctor replies, “Oh dear, I’ve been working in square roots… Can I have that again, please?”
Zoe – “Well they don’t give you second shots! Well press the button again.”
Selris – “This is the most advanced machine. Perhaps he can’t answer the questions.”
Zoe – “Of course he can! The Doctor’s almost as clever as I am.”
Selris – “See? [pointing to the machine and showing the Doctor’s low score]”
The Doctor – “Oh no, what have I done??”
Zoe – “Oh Doctor, you’ve divided instead of multiplying! You must concentrate.”
The Doctor – “I am Zoe! I am!”
Once he finishes, the Doctor proudly says, “Yes, I think that’s rather better. I think I’ve scored better than you have, Zoe.” Zoe replies, “You answered more questions [as the Doctor pulled her off the machine before she finished]. And besides, this isn’t supposed to be a competition!” While Zoe’s safety is first and foremost in the Doctor’s mind, he isn’t too keen on her scoring better than him. Not being far and away the smartest person in the room isn’t something the Doctor’s used to!
When the Cybermen come to conquer 20th century Earth in “The Invasion,” Zoe, Jamie, and the Doctor align with UNIT to try and stop them. As the Cyber-Fleet prepares to land on Earth, UNIT begins coordinating anti-missile missiles to try and shoot them out of the sky. They even seek Russian help (no small plot point for a show airing in 1968 in the midst of the Cold War and the Space Race!) in an attempt to convert a planned spaceflight into a delivery system for a nuclear warhead. In all this Zoe’s brilliance is on particular display working with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)’s men. Speaking with UNIT control she says:
Zoe – “Major, I think we stand a good chance at getting at least ninety percent of them.”
Major Branwell – “How? We haven’t got enough missiles.”
Zoe – “Oh please, Major. Just knocking out half a dozen of them will do very little good at all. Let’s try for them all!”
Major – “Look miss, I know my business and I’m telling you we haven’t got enough missiles.”
Zoe – “Yes you have! These things are coming in in a formation pattern. Now, if you set your missiles carefully you can setup a chain reaction of explosions.”
Major – “No. There isn’t time to compute all the relevant information. They’d be on top of us by then.”
Zoe – “Give me thirty seconds.”
Major – [looking to the Brigadier]
Brigadier – “Give her what she asks major. Thirty seconds.”
Major – “But sir, this is ridiculous!”
Brigadier – “Just thirty seconds.”
However after Zoe picks up her clipboard and begins glancing at their screens, she’s finished her calculations in just seventeen seconds. She instructs them, “Here, feed this into your computer.” “You better be right,” the Major tells her. “I am,” Zoe assures him confidently. And Zoe is! With her calculations, UNIT is able to knock out the entire Cyber-Fleet before it even enters Earth’s atmosphere!
In addition to being brilliant, Zoe is such a warm character. She’s inquisitive and open and so eager to learn all time and space have to offer. She begins to travel with the Doctor and Jamie, in large part, because she wants to see and learn about everything she doesn’t know! She’s also courageous, clever, and so very welcoming to the people they meet in their travels. Zoe was made for life in the TARDIS and she makes the lives of those she encounters so much the better for having known her. I was irrationally upset when I reached the end of the Second Doctor’s tenure and Jamie and Zoe left the TARDIS in his final episode, too XD. I wanted more! I still want more!
And that’s why I’d love to see Zoe – this magnificent character and one of my favorite of the Doctor’s many companions – join the Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz in the TARDIS. But why the Doctor and Yaz specifically? Why not more novels with her travelling with the Second Doctor and Jamie? Or why not the Tenth Doctor or the Twelfth Doctor? Well, the Thirteenth Doctor can connect with Zoe in a way she never could in her earlier regenerations.
For as much as I adored Zoe’s time in the TARDIS, it also made my heart sad. The stories carried some of the sexism inherent of the time (a sexism sadly not yet expunged in our culture) in how her intellect is handled. While the Doctor is always celebrated for his cleverness and indeed can only save the day again and again and again because of his mind, Zoe is often called a “know-it-all” or a “robot” by her coworkers aboard the space wheel for her command of knowledge.
Returning to “The Invasion” we see Classic Doctor Who does address, with varying degrees of success, the growing Feminist Movement. When Isobel comes up with the idea to use infrared film to capture pictures of the Cybermen in the sewers beneath London in an effort to get UNIT command in Geneva to green light action, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart agrees…but tells Isobel it’s a task better left to his men.
Isobel – “And all I need is my cameras from the house and I’m all set.”
Brigadier – “No wait a minute. This is hardly a job for you.”
Isobel – “Why ever not?”
Brigadier – “Well, you’re a young woman. This is a job for my men.”
Isobel – “ [appalled] Well of all the bigoted, antifeminist, cretinous remarks…”
Brigadier – “This is no job for a girl like you. Now that’s final.”
Isobel – “Oh you…you man.”
Brigadier – “I’ll get in touch with my photographic unit and get them onto it [leaves].”
Isobel – “All the stupid, idiotic, bigoted…”
Jamie – “Ah, well he’s right you know.”
Zoe – “Jamie McCrimmon!”
Jamie – “Well, he is.”
Zoe – “Just because you’re a man, you think you’re superior, do you?”
Jamie – “Now I didn’t say that. ‘Course it’s true [smiling].”
Zoe – “Is it really? Right. Coming Isobel?”
Isobel – “A splendid idea.”
Jamie – “Uh…where are you going?”
Zoe – “Do you think we should let him come with us?”
Isobel – “Ahh, I don’t know. Men aren’t much good in situations like this.”
Jamie – “Now, now just a moment. Where are you going?”
Isobel – “London. Coming?”
Jamie – “London? Now, now we shouldn’t do anything without the Doctor.”
They address the growing Feminist Movement directly and call out dismissive and oppressive attitudes towards women…yet despite the empowering speech which led them to the sewers, the moment a crazed Cyberman starts stalking towards them, Zoe and Isobel begin to shrink back. Zoe exclaims, “What are we going to do??” It’s Jamie who steps up, shields them behind himself, and hides them all in the corner as the Cyberman lurches by.
Also, despite her brilliance and her feminist rhetoric, Zoe is more overtly sexualized than any companion before her. As just one example, look at the difference in how Zoe and Jamie cling to the TARDIS console in “The Mind Robber” after the TARDIS is seemingly destroyed and they are scattered out into space:
And it wasn’t just her coworkers on the Wheel, the Brigadier and the UNIT staff, and culture in general that dismissed Zoe and her point of view. During their travels together, the Doctor and Jamie often tease Zoe for what she says and the questions she raises. They also regularly dismiss her points and concerns, which is horrible to begin with, but all the more confusing and frustrating given how often Zoe proves herself and how much she clearly knows!!!
The Doctor, in her thirteenth regeneration, is a woman for the first time in her 2,000+ year memory. As a result, she can understand Zoe’s experience in a way she never could before now that she finds herself a woman who is always the smartest person in the room. The Doctor experiences firsthand what Zoe had to deal with her whole life when she, Yaz, Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh), end up tangled in the witch trials sweeping through Bilehurst Cragg in the early 17th century. No matter what she may say, her psychic paper can’t do any amount of bending to get King James VI (Alan Cumming) to see her as Witchfinder General:
King James – “[looking at the psychic paper] Witchfinder’s Assistant. [to Graham] So you must be the Witchfinder General.”
The Doctor – “What?”
Becka – “No, she said she was.”
King James – “A woman could never be the General.”
The Doctor – “Silly me. Must’ve got all confused. Mustn’t I, boss?”
Graham – “Er, yeah, that’s me, sire. North West Division, promoted from Essex.”
King James – “[looking to the Doctor, Yaz, and Ryan] Are these your underlings?”
Graham – “It’s a very flat team structure. We all have our areas of expertise.”
King James – “Even the wee lassie?”
The Doctor – “Even me. Very handy undercover. Send a woman to catch a woman.”
King James – “A cunning ruse, using your innate aptitude for nosiness and gossip.”
Later as things in Bilehurst intensify, the Doctor’s frustrations mount as the finger of blame begins to swing her way.
Becka – “You are no witchfinder’s assistant. You are Satan’s acolyte.”
The Doctor – “I am not.”
Becka – “That’s why it is happening today, because you are here, as you say, to take over this village.”
The Doctor – “You know that’s not what I meant. We do not have time for this.”
King James – “Mistress Savage is correct. It is your fault that Alfonso is dead.”
The Doctor – “I tried to save him.”
King James – “You saved him from being shot. You said this evil fell from the heavens. Oh yes, it fell, like your lord, Lucifer!”
The Doctor – “[frustrated] Honestly, if I was still a bloke, I could get on with the job and not have to waste time defending myself.”
King James – “Oh you bewitch us with your alluring form and your incessant jabber, but I knew you were unnatural from the very start. And now I see you for what you really are.”
One of the brilliant parts of this exceptional episode is how the viewer feels the Doctor’s frustrations right along with her. It’s so difficult to watch the Doctor in place where her words hold no sway! Because she’s right! If she were still a bloke this wouldn’t be happening. How many times have we seen the Doctor swan in, chat quickly and confidently, and everyone fall into place for them? The Doctor is hardly ever questioned and when they are, their confidence and assertiveness often diffuses the situation…or at least gives them a fair amount of wiggle room.
But here, in Bilehurst Craig in the early 17th century, for the first time in over 2,000 years no amount of talking will work for the Doctor because now the Doctor is a woman and that truth discredits her knowledge and ability in the eyes of King James. If it’s frustrating for the Doctor to be dealing with this in the 17th century, imagine how frustrating it was for Zoe to deal with in 2079 let alone all her time travelling with the Doctor and Jamie. The Doctor, in her thirteenth regeneration, no longer has to imagine that frustration.
I would love a story where the Doctor seeks Zoe out, whether for her help in solving a problem or because a disaster she’s averting leads her to cross paths with Zoe again or simply to apologize for how she treated her when they knew each other during her second regeneration. In the hands of the right author (Jenny Colgan or Una McCormack, two of my all-time favorite Doctor Who authors, come immediately to mind), it could be a very powerful story. And I know it would be exciting! Heck, maybe Wendy Padbury could write or cowrite a novel where Zoe meets the Thirteenth Doctor, as Sophie Aldred did with her character Ace, in Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End (clearly my preference would be for a novel but I’d love an audio drama or comic series, too).
At the end of their time travelling with the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie had their memories wiped by some very judgy and very institution-abiding Time Lords. While on trial, the Doctor’s interference through time and space against Time Lord rules is denounced. He is exiled to life on Earth without a working TARDIS and his companions are sent back to the moment they decided to travel with him, all their memories of their time together erased. But, as we know in the world of Doctor Who, lost memories can be regained. When the Tenth Doctor uses a chameleon arch to rewire his biology, he hides his memories/essence/true self inside a fob watch (something which seems common among Time Lords). When he opens the watch, his memories return. And, heartbreakingly, when he must take all Donna Noble (Catherine Tate)’s memories of their time together, he warns her mother, Sylvia (Jacqueline King), and grandfather, Wilf (Bernard Cribbins), never to mention anything about their time together to Donna again, lest her memories return and she die.
We know the Doctor can hide memories and we know they can restore them, too. Plus we already have precedent for Zoe’s memories returning in the Doctor Who audio dramas! Shortly after the Time Lords returned her to her own time, Zoe (who was able to deduce she was two years older than she should’ve been so something had to have happened) had another run in with the Cybermen and their attempt to convert her restored her memories in Legend of the Cybermen. While she lost them again after that adventure, years later she began to have vivid dreams of her time with the Doctor and Jamie in Fear of the Daleks. As this didn’t match up with anything she knew about her life, she began psychiatric counseling. Echoes of Grey has Zoe living alone into her late fifties as the damage the Time Lords did to her memory made it hard for her to form and maintain relationships. Zoe would encounter several people who tried to help restore her memories (across the stories The Memory Cheats, The Uncertainty Principle, and Second Chances) but they remained hazy at best.
Can you imagine the beauty and power of the Doctor not only reconnecting with Zoe but of finally restoring her memories after a lifetime of struggle due to the machinations of the Time Lords? Just imagining it makes my heart soar! The Thirteenth Doctor is at the perfect point in her lives to do something like this as she struggles with the knowledge that memories of an unknown amount of lives have been stolen from her. The space for this adventure(s) fits neatly into the Doctor and Yaz’s timeline, too.
The very beginning of the very first episode of Doctor Who: Flux (see? I told you it would come up!) implies the Doctor and Yaz have been travelling for some time together since Ryan and Graham chose to remain on Earth. Clearly they have had lots of adventures together as they’ve developed such a natural rhythm together as a duo and Yaz has even learned how to operate the TARDIS on her own. As the Doctor tries to find a way to drop her walls, open up more with Yaz, and deepen their relationship (something Yaz has always wanted but she’s been particularly pointed about since “Revolution of the Daleks”), it creates a very natural space for the Doctor to reflect on the relationships she’s had, both good and bad, with her other companions. What a time for the Doctor to meet Zoe Heriot once more!
The potential for conversations between Zoe and Yaz is fertile ground, too. Yaz finds herself in the middle of her time travelling with the Doctor. She is patient and compassionate yet firm as she tries to get the Doctor to truly open up with her. Zoe, on the other hand, filled her young life with travels with the Doctor, too. However, those memories were taken from her and the fallout of her time with the Doctor, fallout the Doctor never sought to rectify over decades of Zoe’s life and centuries of the Doctor’s, continue to ravage her life.
Admittedly, part of me wants to see this story (I mean maybe it could even be a trilogy of novels…am I getting greedy?) because I feel Zoe deserves better. She never got the credit she deserved during her travels with the Doctor and Jamie. That makes me sad. And her memories of that time were stolen from her, wreaking havoc through the rest of her life. That breaks my heart! But I’d also just love to experience the Thirteenth Doctor, Yaz, and Zoe together just to experience the sheer joy which would fill my Doctor Who-loving heart :).
So, if you were planning on getting me a Christmas present (which you totally don’t have to!) but haven’t yet and if you don’t have any idea what to get me…maybe talk to Wendy Padbury and/or BBC Books and/or Una McCormack and/or Jenny Colgan and/or Big Finish and/or Titan Comics and, you know, grease the wheels that will bring my TARDIS Team dream to life? I’d be super appreciative! And if you can’t make it happen, that’s ok. I still love you and you’re an amazing human being.
P.S. I also love peanut butter blossoms.
If you’d like to read more musings connecting classic companions to modern Doctor Who you can try:
Desperately Seeking Susan: What Happened to the Doctor’s Granddaughter? examines what happened to the Doctor’s very first travelling companion, their granddaughter Susan, in the wake of the Last Great Time War.
 Tristan de Ver Cole, dir. “The Wheel in Space.” Doctor Who, season 5, serial 7, BBC, 1968.
 Douglas Camfield, dir. “The Invasion.” Doctor Who, season 6, serial 3, episode 2, BBC, 1968.
 David Maloney, dir. “The Krotons.” Doctor Who, season 6, serial 4, episode 2, BBC, 1969.
 Douglas Camfield, dir. “The Invasion.” Doctor Who, season 6, serial 3, episode 7, BBC, 1968.
 Douglas Camfield, dir. “The Invasion.” Doctor Who, season 6, serial 3, episode 5, BBC, 1968.
 Douglas Camfield, dir. “The Invasion.” Doctor Who, season 6, serial 3, episode 6, BBC, 1968.
 David Maloney, dir. “The Mind Robber.” Doctor Who, season 6, serial 2, episode 1, BBC, 1968.
 Sallie Aprahamian, dir. “The Witchfinders.” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 8, BBC, 2018.
 David Maloney, dir. “The War Games.” Doctor Who, season 6, serial 7, episode 10, BBC, 1969.
 Charles Palmer, dir. “The Family of Blood.” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 9, BBC, 2007.
 Graeme Harper, dir. “Journey’s End.” Doctor Who, season 4, episode 13, BBC, 2008.