Doctor Who’s Lost Companion: The Story of Katarina

Whenever I’d listened to the audio tracks or read the novelisation of The Daleks’ Master Plan, the entire story was out of context within the larger world of Doctor Who episodes. Usually, that’s not an issue. The Master Plan was a huge but self contained story. Watching the previous story, The Myth Makers wasn’t a prerequisite. Heck, even watching the episode before Myth Makers wasn’t a vital part of it, but Mission to the Unknown was one fascinating prologue to the 12-part epic.

Okay, so you’re watching The Daleks’ Master Plan for the first time and the First Doctor is traveling with his two companions, Steven and Katarina. Depending on your past knowledge of the era, Steven and/or Katarina may be new to you but obviously, they’re companions, so an important part of the show and have history with the Doctor. Of course! So, it’s a cracking good story but suddenly, with episode four, Everything Changes in the world of Doctor Who, with an unprecedented event.

Now, seriously, if you, dear reader, have never seen, listened to, or read The Daleks’ Master Plan, and don’t know where I’m going, stop reading this now and go enjoy it. You can come back later. I implore you. Go.

Major spoiler coming…

So in episode four, The Traitors, we find a horrible hostage situation we’ve seen many times before but it ends with this lovely girl Katarina being sucked out into space with her abductor. This is a truly shocking moment. It’s the first time a companion died on Doctor Who. I imagine it was probably much much worse for the week to week live viewers at the time, losing an established companion. Turns out, no.

The first time I witnessed this, I found it to be a truly bold move by the production team. Killing off an established companion? Wow. Tip of the hat, guys. In the decades since, whenever dealing with the Master Plan, of course one thinks about the gutsy risk of killing her off. But that’s hogwash.

One day, I finally listened to the audio soundtrack of the preceding adventure, The Myth Makers. It’s highly recommended. If you liked The Romans, you’ll enjoy this one. Anyway, part of the anticipation was learning more about Katarina as this was where she joined the Doctor. So, I’d get a four part adventure seeing what makes her tick, this poor waif destined to get chucked out an airlock. I listened to Part One… no Katarina. Ditto parts two and three. Where was Katarina? Surely she has to appear at some point? Finally, she gets a brief name check early in Part Four, and at the end, she has maybe a line or two as she helps an injured Steven into the TARDIS – the end. So, for all intents and purposes, what you see of Katarina in The Daleks’ Master Plan is what you get. Adrienne Hill was very excited to get the part, taking over from the departing Vicki, played by Maureen O’Brien. She phoned all her family, friends and neighbors. Then five weeks later, “FWOOOMP”. Guess what that sound effect is.

But there’s actually a behind the scenes story here with consequences of paths not taken. Or taken. The new producer of the show was John Wiles, who took over from Verity Lambert and was not very happy in the position, did not respect the writers and actors nor was well liked by the writers or actors. In fact, The Daleks’ Master Plan was not a great set to work on for those three months. Wiles didn’t want Maureen O’Brien around anymore, as she occasionally asked “questions”, made “suggestions”, and, like all actors on set, were just a nuisance. So even though O’Brien was content to stay, Wiles decided not to renew her contract. New script editor, Donald Tosh and he threw together the Katarina character at the last minute to replace Vicki.

The Doctor Who Magazine spin off special magazine, In Their Own Words: The Sixties (2005) has all the compiled quotes and interviews from all the participants relating the events. Wiles especially comes off poorly, though even Tosh – by most accounts a lovely chap – must be credited with making some badly thought out decisions.

They got rid of Vicki. They bring in Katarina. But then, in very short order, Tosh stated his dilemma that each and every week, the Doctor will have to explain everything to her all the time, because she’s from Ancient Greece and can’t grasp anything. So they decide to get rid of her in what turns out to be a shocking way. Or were they even paying attention? Terry Nation was writing his all too brief script of the Master Plan ahead of time, so still had Vicki referenced in the role instead of Katarina. Tosh had said that Nation dropped off a mere 6 pages of story that was supposed to be the first six episodes but in fact was not nearly enough for one. Tosh had carte blanche in changing whatever he wanted.

If Wiles and Tosh had had their wits about them, they could have had O’Brien stick around for an extra five weeks and really made a far more powerful statement with the airlock scene. Or really, if Tosh had faith in his writers, they could have taken the gutsier approach and had the Doctor teach Katarina, have her character learn and grow. Maybe this was too much to ask for? I don’t know.

In the end, the character of Katarina was not served well and that’s a shame in any era.