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Janet Fielding Looks Back on 40 Years Playing Tegan Jovanka in Doctor Who

With Tegan and Ace making their return in The Power of the Doctor, this year also marks 40 years since Tegan Jovanka first appeared on screen alongside the Fifth Doctor. Big Finish has also been celebrating the landmark with their Fifth Doctor Adventures, the two volumes of Forty, which has reunited Peter Davison with all of his companions, including Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, and even Kamelion. And the Brigadier and Master popped up for good measure.

And now, Janet Fielding has been reflecting on her time on Doctor Who.

There’s been a lot said about the behaviour of the leading man in the form of Tom Baker towards the end of his time on the show. Janet Fielding made her first appearance in the series in his last adventure, Logopolis.

“Tom was quite an intimidating figure, quite frankly! I mean, I just sort of ended up keeping my head down and, you know, doing my work. It was, I think, a very emotional time for Tom, because he’d been doing the role for so long and was so associated with it. It must have been not an easy time for him.”

I think Baker has always been a bit funny about his final years on the show; that intimidating figure is still evident, even on the commentary track for Logopolis alongside Janet Fielding and script writer Christopher H. Bidmead. Also at the time, 1981, he was married to Lalla Ward and their relationship could be quite tumultuous, plus Baker was ill at the time of recording.

So it’s no wonder, from Janet Fielding’s, Matthew Waterhouse’s, and Sarah Sutton’s POV, they have all said they doubt they would have enjoyed doing a full season with the Fourth Doctor. (That’s not to say he’s not still a great Doctor though.)

Fielding has often said she was probably the only person who had no idea who Peter Davison was when he was announced! She had never seen All Creatures Great and Small because she was always working in the theatre, but the tensions behind the scenes eased very quickly when Davison took the role and the friendship between Peter Davison and Janet Fielding, as well as the Doctor/companion partnership of the Fifth Doctor and Tegan both have become fan favourites.

It’s always nice to hear them sparring on commentary tracks and making of documentaries, especially new ones of the Blu-Ray boxsets.

“We spend so much time taking the mickey out of each other, and being rude to each other. Genuinely, it’s like family – he’s always trying to score points off me… and regrettably he often succeeds. David [Richardson], who produces the Doctor Who stories [at Big Finish] will tell you that he’s had guest artists come in and say, ‘Oh, Janet and Peter, they don’t seem to really get on, do they?’ and he says, ‘No, no, they’re like this all the time – when they’re polite to each other, that’s when you have to worry!’.”

Despite the fact she was only supposed to be there for a few stories, with her reluctantly joining the TARDIS to help the new Doctor and then desperately trying to get back home, Tegan and Fielding proved popular enough that producer John Nathan-Turner had no intention of leaving her stood on the roof of Heathrow Airport having sadly seen the TARDIS disappear before her eyes at the end of Time-Flight.

But despite being popular with viewers and the reason why she was originally created (to get flights to Australia and maybe film a story out there), Nathan-Turner made no secret of her only being there for the dads watching. And that might be obvious from the Airline uniform to the gradually shorter and shorter skirts and dresses she wears towards the end of her tenure…

Luckily, Janet Fielding decided that if she was going to be there for the dads, she didn’t have to be happy about it. But Tegan was always much more than just someone who was there for the straight, male viewers. In many ways, she feels like a Donna Noble many years beforehand. A reluctant traveller to begin with, she gradually grows to enjoy her time in the TARDIS. What she doesn’t enjoy, is the body count and I think with her being a woman as opposed to a teenager like Adric and Nyssa, she can call the Doctor out on things that the younger companions couldn’t.

She was brave and faced some of the most shocking moments in the whole of the show, including one of the first deaths of a companion, the many crimes committed by the Master, and having her mind violated by the Mara, amongst other things. It was this and the growing body count that saw her bow out at the end of the 1984 story, Resurrection of the Daleks with a tearful farewell, that still works as one of the saddest departures the show has ever produced.

Reflecting on her life after Doctor Who, Janet Fielding told the Radio Times:

“I left acting [in the 1990s] and for a while I was an agent, and I can remember talking to one of my young clients who was so thrilled to meet Tegan. It suddenly truly hit me what a privileged place it is to be, to be part of somebody’s childhood… you’ve formed part of their cultural heritage and that is a hugely privileged place to be. I’ve helped create a character – because it’s not just me, it’s the writers as well, and the directors and everybody – but I’ve helped create a character that is really held fondly by people and that’s just a privilege. What a lucky thing, you know?”

With The Power of the Doctor, Tegan became one of only a handful of old companions, or legacy characters, who have made a return in the modern era. Others include Sarah Jane Smith, K9, Jo Grant, and the Brigadier. (Admittedly, the scene at the end of the special, bringing back numerous companions, adds a few more to that number, but it’s still not many!)

I’ve no doubt that some of the viewers of the Centenary Special will have gone back and watched Tegan’s adventures for the first time — and discovered why she is still one of the best companions!

Jordan Shortman

Janet Fielding Looks Back on 40 Years Playing Tegan Jovanka in Doctor Who

by Jordan Shortman time to read: 4 min
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