23 Stories to Revisit on Doctor Who’s 56th Anniversary

The 23rd of November marks the 56th anniversary of Doctor Who – a milestone it wouldn’t be close to reaching without the passion and devotion of its incredible fan base. Over the years we’ve been treated to a number of specials that specifically celebrate each anniversary – all of which are obvious choices to re-watch each November. 

This year we decided to ask 23 contributors to share with us a story that sums up the magic of the show, no matter how unique or controversial. The results showed us that actually, it isn’t the big celebratory, spectaculars that capture what we love about Doctor Who. In fact, it’s the smaller and more personal stories full of life lessons and heart.

Surprisingly, hardly anyone picked the same story as another. The diversity of options and opinions shows that Doctor Who truly has something for everyone. So, if you’re having trouble picking a DVD from your shelf this anniversary, look no further than these 23 stories special chosen by female, trans and non-binary fans.

An Unearthly Child – @0hmyst4rs


It wouldn’t be a Doctor Who anniversary if you didn’t watch the very first episode, would  it? The magic begins in 1963 as two teachers follow their student into a Junkyard to discover more about her, unaware the truth is bigger than they could ever have imagined. The relationship between the characters are wonderfully unique, these brief and chaotic encounters eventually blossoming into a magical TARDIS team. Full of black and white charm and 60’s vibes that makes me nostalgic for an era I never knew, this story is a special one for us all – the very beginning!

The Five Doctors – @Tardis_monkey


The Five Doctors’ was the first-ever Doctor Who story I watched as a kid. It was the most fantastical story with five actors playing The Doctor, a menagerie of companions and a whole load of classic villains. What more could you want from a Doctor Who story that celebrates not only its history, but was in aid of a brilliant cause: Children in Need. It opened up so many doors to the world of Doctor Who and I have never looked back. Thank you, Terrance Dicks and happy anniversary Doctor Who.

Hell Bent – @Clara_paige


I love Hell Bent! It’s perfect for an anniversary rewatch because it packs in so much of what works in Doctor Who. Before Jodie took to the TARDIS, Clara Oswald assumed the role of the Doctor and flew off to have adventures in her own right. What could be more inspiring?

Flatline – @vranouk


From the tiny TARDIS to the iconic “goodness had nothing to do with it” closing line, Flatline is a work of genius that joyfully subverts nearly every rule in the Doctor Who playbook. It manages to turn a very simple concept – The Doctor is trapped and the companion has to get them out – into a thoughtful exploration of Doctor Who itself. The casual horror of the Boneless walking, the joy with which Clara calls herself the Doctor, ‘local knowledge’ Rigsy, the visual gag of the Doctor moving the tiny TARDIS Addams Family-style: all of these are stand-out moments in a near-flawless episode. But perhaps most importantly of all, Flatline is a story about the Doctor and the consequences of being around them. For 45 brilliant minutes, the roles of the Doctor and Clara are reversed, and she is confronted with the impossible choices the Doctor makes every day. Years before the Thirteenth Doctor, it was an absolute joy to watch.

The Husbands of River Song – @FaceofBoaz


I love The Husbands of River Song because it gives us a glimpse into both how The Doctor sees the Companion role, and how a Companion behaves without The Doctor around (as far as she knows). While it’s all great fun, there is still a hurt that permeates – River doesn’t need The Doctor or care about him at all. The eventual revelation that she truly loves him and the counter revelation that he truly loves her is one of the most feel-good resolutions of an episode. Especially knowing that this is River’s last true interaction with the Doctor, it gives us a nice bow on their relationship, echoing her words from The Wedding of River Song – “I can’t let you die without knowing you are loved . . . and by no one more than me.” Watching relationships play out in often unorthodox fashions is one of my favourite elements of Doctor Who, and this episode is one of the best representations of that aspect of the show.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth – @Niamhmakennedy


“We’re all capable of the most incredible change”

After Jodie was announced as the 13th Doctor, I couldn’t watch any of her trailers, or appearances in character, without crying. Bit weird, I’m aware. Turns out I was going through a personal experience just as monumental as the casting, to me, at least. Gender has never quite sat right with me. I didn’t know why, but being a ‘woman’ or ‘man’ felt restrictive and gross. Watching 13 bound onto the TV, improvising her way through saving the world, not only comfortable but rejoicing in her new body and personality while also not giving a frick that it happened to be a woman’s one, showed me the possibilities open to me if I did the same. A few months later, I came out as non-binary, and I’ve never been happier. (And yes, I cried all through the episode. It was awesome.)

Genesis of the Daleks – @abitmeddlesome


Genesis of the Daleks is a story that captivates by the title alone. As the audience, we’ve seen the Daleks but were never given an origin. It begins with the Doctor and his friends dropped into a war to end all wars between two races: the Thals and the Kaleds. We watch as a mad scientist creates the Doctor’s most fearsome foes. Among the chaos, our hero is faced with a terrible choice: with his foreknowledge, does he allow these creatures to evolve knowing what they will become, or does he obliterate an entire race at their birth?

Demons of the Punjab – @NatalieRobyn812


Demons is probably not the first episode that would come to mind when you think of a Doctor Who anniversary rewatch, but for me, it’s a perfect example of a type of story that Doctor Who does so well, yet you’d never really think about it. It’s all about the darkest side of human nature, think about stories such as the Caves of Androzani or Planet of the Ood or Oxygen. But what Demons does differently is provide us with a strong emotional connection to the story and the characters that it has, which leads up to a devastating conclusion. It’s just another case of the show being extraordinarily good at forming a connection with characters we barely know. And yet, it ends perfectly like Doctor Who, with the idea and theme of hope always being there.

Dimensions in Time – @JDenchen


I’ve chosen this story as my entry into essential viewing for 56 years of Doctor Who, not just as it means so much to me on a personal level, but as I genuinely believe there is something for all fans here. If you look past the obvious lack of plot and shoehorned addition of EastEnders, which in fairness are huge things to look past, it has all surviving Doctors of the time, bundles of companion cameos, the madness of the JNT era (after all this was his last story in charge of the show) and the charm of 90s television. This story serves more as a celebration of the series rather than a plot-driven piece.

As far as John Nathan-Turner and David Roden were concerned this was the final legitimate Doctor Who story. I believe it celebrates the series in such a way, not with the plot, or cameos, or Doctors, or references, but the ambition.  I believe the same ambition went into bringing the show back and the eventual casting of the first female Doctor Jodie Whittaker. This story is one of those people either love or loathe, and hating it isn’t fair. Don’t take it seriously. Watch it for its comedic and bizarre nature and it’ll make for great viewing. This is why I think it’s perfect viewing to celebrate 56 years of Doctor Who. I’m not saying Dimensions in Time is “Heaven Sent” drama, but that its uniqueness will make a fun viewing.

Boom Town – @HarryLikesSuits


Boom Town may seem like an odd choice of an episode to pick out as one to watch to celebrate Doctor Who’s anniversary, but it’s a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, has great moments for everybody in the TARDIS team, and that allows the viewer to simply enjoy themselves. After all, who could forget Margret the Slitheen’s dinner date with the Doctor? Or the TARDIS defeating her by turning her into an egg? No, it isn’t the most profound story that Doctor Who has ever had, but it’s pure fun – and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what the show is supposed to be?

The Green Death – @IreneWildthyme


The Green Death is to me, a perfect Doctor Who story. Love, environmental justice and fighting for what you believe in. Giant maggots in Llanfairfach lead The Doctor to BOSS and Jo Grant to Professor Clifford Jones, Biologist, expert of fungus, who she would marry by the end of the story. An ending Jo deserved and an adventure that has been long explored throughout the Who universe and continues to thrive, particularly through Big Finish. Mike Yates undercover, Metebelis 3 and The Doctor’s many disguises are all memorable, the most poignant being the subtle exit of The Doctor in Bessie after toasting the happy couple never fails to make one shed a tear. It is truly the end of an era for Pertwee fans but also the beginning of new adventures for The Doctor, Jo and UNIT. That is why this will forever be one of my favourite stories.

Love and Monsters – @strange_cherry


I don’t know any episode as misunderstood as “Love and Monsters”. I know most of you probably cringed when you saw this name in this list. “What is this… thing is doing here? I am here to celebrate Doctor Who!” Indeed you are. But is it not a great way to celebrate Doctor Who than to watch again an hommage to its fans?

 L.I.N.D.A. is the most accurate representation of Doctor Who fans you can find… and it comes from the show itself! A group of people with various backgrounds, various hobbies, but united by one passion: The Doctor. Friends sharing many fond moments, even if they have nothing more in common than this Gallifreyan folk. If it is not the quintessence of the fandom, I don’t know what is.

The Doctors Wife – @christawolf94


For me, one of the stories that is a perfect illustration of everything worth loving about Doctor Who is The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman’s first and best contribution to the show. By focusing on the TARDIS and giving her a voice, it changes how we see the show: not just the story a madman (or madwoman) with a box, but the story of two very close friends exploring the universe together. Even when the Doctor hasn’t got any human companions around, they’re never really alone. The TARDIS will always be there, ready to go on another adventure.

Journeys End – @jodieewhittaker


As someone who grew up with the Tenth Doctor and his companions by my side, who fell in love with Russell T Davies’s new version of a very old show, there is no better episode that sums up my love for Doctor Who than Journey’s End. It has threat on the largest scale (the literal destruction of the universe), it has buckets of emotion (who doesn’t cry throughout the final fifteen minutes?) and, most importantly is has the friendships that make Doctor Who the show that is. Nothing celebrates this show, and particularly its revival, better than the display of family in the scene where everyone is towing the Earth back home and it’s the perfect episode to sum up the era of my childhood.

The Holy Terror (Big Finish) – @mumford_98


Listening to The Holy Terror for the first time was an incredibly unique experience. I love the DWM 6 comics and their breezy, fun feel and Holy Terror is able to capture the dynamic between the two leads while still feeling unique thanks to the high concept setting and mesmerizing score. The episode plays with character archetypes ranging from dark fantasy to Shakespeare plays to biblical stories. This gives it an almost theatrical feel and managing to deconstruct said tropes in a way that is both funny and also plays into the ultimate narrative scope of the story; one that’s both powerful and puts much of the story in an entirely new context. The full story manages to be a piece on trauma, parenthood, hierarchy & tradition, the ethics of fiction and a humanistic perspective on the concept of godhood.

Twice Upon a Time – @timelesbians


Twice Upon A Time remembers the First Doctor in a beautifully written story of self-discovery and new beginnings. A perfect anniversary watch, it honours old companions and new alike, honours those who fought for our country, and introduces Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth, the first female aligned Doctor, after a lead up to just who she will be and what she will represent. The Twelfth Doctor meets himself in his first incarnation, both of them refusing a change, and follows their journey as they accompany each other in a story of self-contemplation to wrap up Capaldi’s time on the show. It is heart-warming and heart-breaking, powerful and brilliant, and encompasses everything Doctor Who is truly about.

Vincent and the Doctor – @brittanyplus


 Vincent and the Doctor is one of the most quintessential episodes of Doctor Who. Very few episodes capture the heart and warmth of the show, while also reminding the audience that not everything can change. I believe it’s perfect for an anniversary rewatch because it captures the show’s essence. It will leave you feeling warm but heartbroken, just like all the best of Doctor Who should.

Fear Her – @Safarox8


Although it’s not my favourite, Fear Her will always have a special place in my heart because it was, oddly, the first Doctor Who I ever saw. Although I enjoyed it, I didn’t properly discover the show for a few more years and was delighted when I came across the episode once again (“Oh, so *that* was Doctor Who!”). I love the humour and warmth it radiates while dealing with the heavy, and to me, personally meaningful topic of family trauma. That’s what I love about the show; even the most unlikely of stories can make a lasting impression.

Aliens of London/World War Three – @AlexFacemelter


 Aliens of London and World War Three as one full story is, in my opinion, one of the most authentic interpretations of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. The Doctor is portrayed more realistically than ever, the alien plot is creative but chillingly realistic, the arc of each character is phenomenal, and the dialogue is beautifully written. The Doctor’s reactions are so truly in character, he wants to experience and be in the middle of history and nothing could be more exciting than watching humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrial life. The character arcs of Jackie, Mickey, and Harriet Jones are realistic and wonderfully clever.

The pinnacle of the story is the Doctor. If the Doctor was a real person, I can bet he would be a lot like he’s shown here. The way he stands unafraid of the aliens and the way he bluffs them and the way he analyzes the fake alien in the hospital room, all of it is perfectly Doctor Who. You may be worried about the fart jokes, and while I hate them with a seething passion, I still think this story is one of the best that Doctor Who has to offer. That’s how good this story is. So if you want to watch some Doctor Who to celebrate its anniversary, I can wholeheartedly recommend this story. It is, in a word, fantastic.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs – @Jessicatzen


Invasion of the Dinosaurs has everything a classic Doctor Who story should have – a big goofy looking monster, UNIT, and a bit of excitement. The best part, I think, is that it’s a true test of loyalty for some of the Doctor’s friends, and without spoiling anything, the Doctor and Benton make a really good duo!

The TV Movie – @bexpls


The TV Movie is one of the first Classic DW stories I watched, and it’s one of my absolute favourites. It’s one of only two televised Eighth Doctor stories, and both of them are amazing, but that isn’t a reason to watch it. As a Doctor Who story, the TV Movie really shines for me because of how different it is, completely unique from the Classic and NuWho runs. It’s one of the best introduction stories to a Doctor and a great exit for the Seventh Doctor, whose scenes are superb. While I adore the Big Finish audios and BBC Books’s Eighth Doctor Adventures series (which people wanting to experience more of the DW Extended Universe should look into by the way), it really does make you wish the Eighth Doctor had more televised stories, because Paul McGann is honestly a delight. It’s a perfect anniversary-celebration story because it highlights the fantastic, often under-appreciated Eighth Doctor in one of his, including all the books, audios, and comics, best stories ever.

Resolution – @FetinSmiles


For me, Resolution is the perfect episode to watch for the anniversary; it’s dramatic, tense, and nostalgic. For the first time in series 11, we find The Doctor faced against a monster from her past. What better way to end the Thirteenth Doctor’s first series than by having to stop a Dalek invasion from happening on Earth? There’s a real sense of danger, especially for viewers who know the history between The Doctor and the Daleks. The Team (Gang? Fam??) work brilliantly together, and the episode leaves us wanting to see what they will get up to next in series 12.

Listen – @lookingfortelos


I got into Who in 2014. Series 8 was the first time I watched live. Also, sad coincidence, 2014 was when my life took a stark downturn. Depression is bad, especially when it’s been brewing for a long time and feeds on your issues with sexuality and gender. And I think that’s why this season of Who in particular stuck with me: not just because it’s really good (although, it is), but also because it was the one that was most helpful to me, personally. “Listen” is a story about how the whole canon of Who, all the mysteries and the lore and the cleverness, ultimately are irrelevant, because what truly matters is that it can be present, in the end, to comfort a crying child. It’s a ghost story where the ghosts are the characters’ own pasts and neuroses, and where they have to find beauty and balance in their inner turmoil. And as someone who was very afraid for a very long time, being told by the Doctor that it was alright – that was invaluable.

Happy 56th anniversary of Doctor Who everybody! 

Which episodes will you watch to celebrate? Tweet us @thetimeladies_

Women Behind the TARDIS: An interview with Lisa Bowerman

Our Women Behind the TARDIS series focuses on the amazing women who’ve worked on our favourite show, with behind the scenes insights and in-depth interviews. We recently sat down with Lisa Bowerman to ask more about her incredible journey with Doctor Who and find out exactly where it all began…

Doctor Who has always been kept alive by spin-off shows, books, comics and more when it’s not on the air. One of the biggest and most loved parts of the Who world is Big Finish, home to officially licensed Doctor Who audio plays. Covering every Doctor, they’ve even brought back the original actors for new adventures to get our ears around. What some may not know so much about, however, is their creation of legendary original ranges and their expansion on guest characters and stories. A notable example is Seventh Doctor companion Bernice Summerfield. Created by Paul Cornell in 1992, she featured in Virgin New Adventures novel Love and War and was nabbed by Big Finish for audio tales in 1998. To get the low down on Bernice Summerfield and Lisa Bowerman’s long term involvement with Who, we went on an exciting trip to Big Finish HQ!

Stepping into the Big Finish studio in London feels like walking into a family home. Welcoming smiles and plates of sandwiches fill the lounge space, while exciting things are happening behind the studio doors; new Benny adventures are coming to life!

Excited Doctor Who chat ensues as it always does between fans, and we’re immediately comfortable in Lisa and the team’s presence. We’re eager to hear all about the last 30 years of her life and her journey with Doctor Who, and she seems excited to tell us about her first experience of the show, “I was always aware of it, but sometimes you’re just too young to know what’s going on. But I was aware of William Hartnell being on the television with his striking costume, and of Patrick Troughton. The one that I properly remember was Jon Pertwee.” We laugh as she remembers the terrifying Autons and reveals her love for the quirkiness of the third Doctor’s era. “Weirdly, My middle brother (also an actor) was getting his equity card in Northampton where they were filming The Talons Of Weng Chiang, and he was in it – as one of the stage hands (strictly non-speaking)! He got me Tom Bakers autograph!” she lovingly recounts. “But my first proper experience was, of course, Survival.”


Lisa’s first professional stint in the world of Who was an appearance in classic serial Survival, which sadly happened to be the last when the show was cancelled in 1989. So just how did she bag the role of a feisty, horse riding cheetah woman? “Mainly by accident, because someone backed out! They needed someone who could ride a horse, and I knew the director. They called me out of the blue and asked, ‘do you wear contact lenses?’ I said no, but I’m sure I can learn! The show was revealed to be Doctor Who with Alan Wareing directing, who had killed me off in Casualty!” (Lisa appeared in the first two series of the show playing paramedic Sandra Mute). Unfortunately, Lisa had previously had a horse accident, and had to be tested with a horse wrangler before being involved. “They said there was nothing they couldn’t teach me in a couple of lessons”. And what about realising the role of a Cheetah person? “If you read the original script, the Cheetah People were meant to be much more human than animal. The way the physicality’s were written is beautiful. It was nothing like the way it was realised.” Due to constraints and budget, these things often happen in television and film. “Everybody couldn’t quite decide. The make-up took 3.5 hours to test and with the full head piece, I couldn’t move my head. There was lots of confusion about who was responsible for what between the costume department and props.” The final make-up came together in 4 parts: the face panels and head piece, the contact lenses and the teeth, completing the look and transforming Lisa into a cat woman.

As well as the exciting role, this serial was the last transmitted story of the classic era. Did Lisa know it was going to be the last one? “The Doctor Who thing at that point, wasn’t as cool a thing as it is now, but no, we didn’t know it was going to be the last to go out. We certainly didn’t know it was going to be the last one ever… There was a BBC strike and we were running out of time and money. It took longer to take my makeup off than to put on, so they were ripping it off my face at the end of the day – just to get finished in time. I was supposed to die with my eyes open, but because of earlier delays, they’d taken my contact lenses in and out all day, and by the time we got to shoot the scene, I couldn’t physically open my eyes – which is why I died with them closed!” So, it turns out Lisa had quite a lot on her plate without thinking about the future of Doctor Who. “Of course, the episode went out on a weekday evening opposite Coronation Street, which didn’t help – and when it became obvious it was the end of the whole series. Andrew Cartmel wrote that lovely final speech, which I think is really good – and that was that.”

We go on to talk about that famous lesbian subtext that was included between Lisa’s character Karra and Sophie Aldred’s Ace. “Rona Munro had written this Lesbian subtext which I didn’t know was there. I was too busy trying to keep my teeth in and stay on the horse!”

Survival features fun, feisty companion Ace visiting her hometown, with a modern feeling storyline that almost certainly influenced the 2005 Reboot of the show, and Lisa agrees. “It is a continuation. When you look at Rose, especially with the council estate and that environment, you can absolutely see the parallels. Russell T Davies knew what he was doing. He knows his Doctor Who. Of all the people who could have brought it back, he was the guy wasn’t he?” She’s not wrong. When Doctor Who re-launched in 2005 it became a national, and eventually global phenomenon. With similar traits to late 80’s Who, its sad to think that the show was going in the right direction, but perhaps seemingly too early. “Compared to a lot of the stories around then, it really found its feet – Sylvester really found his feet. At that time there was a certain demographic of fan who didn’t quite go for it and who were probably going to dismiss anything from that era anyway”.


We tell her that we adore Survival, and that a lot of the fan base see it for how great it is now. “I love the fact that Survival has been re-evaluated, for Rona’s sake. She must have been one of the only female writers at that time.” We discuss Jane Baker (Of the Pip and Jane pairing) who had written for the show, but that Rona was indeed one of the first women to write a Who story by herself, with only a handful of women having written for it since. “When I met Rona for the first time and told her that I had been in Survival she asked, ‘were you eaten by a cheetah?’ I said, ‘I was the cheetah!’” Rona and Lisa would go on to hang out at the Gallifrey One convention earlier this year, which we’ll touch more on later.

Of course, Lisa then went on to portray Bernice Summerfield in her very own audio series, 20 years ago this year. How does it compare working in audio compared to TV? “I love creating characters. Audio gives you more freedom. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t really matter how old you are… Acting, though, is a group sport, it’s like playing. It isn’t called a play for nothing!” When Big finish began, they had no Doctor Who rights and couldn’t get them because the BBC didn’t give out the license. They wanted something Who-related to create stories for fans and plucked Benny straight from the Virgin New Adventures novels. Virgin had just lost the rights to the show because of the release of Doctor Who’s TV Movie and had given Benny her own solo novel range, making her perfect for audio adventures. So what was it like recording the first Bernice audio story? (Oh no it isn’t! By Paul Cornell and adapted for audio by Jacqueline Rayner)

“After my initial audition with the chaps from Big Finish (Jason Haigh-Ellery, Gary Russell and Nick Briggs) I wasn’t too sure what I was in for. I’d been used to BBC Radio drama – and I had a feeling this might just be a few fan boys, in their front room with a Casio Recorder. The first studio they used was in a damp basement in Elephant & Castle – with a single microphone and a man with a DAT machine in the corner – then, of course – the cast turned up, and they were brilliant – including, of course, Mark Gatiss, and there was Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier) – playing my cat!

I hadn’t particularly high hopes – but it wasn’t until I heard the final product, having been brilliantly edited by Alistair Lock – that I realised how good it was going to be. Needless to say – we moved studios after that! Digital recording was very much in its infancy in those days – but it sounded great. Obviously, the standards have got higher and higher over the years, and I think it’s fair to say, Benny’s fan base has expanded somewhat as well. It was a job I thought would last a couple of weeks, and that was it – I hadn’t even told my then agent I was doing it. I was slightly surprised when I was suddenly ‘launched’ by Big Finish, with a succession of interviews and presentations at conventions… I was suddenly introduced to a new world I never knew existed.”


How did Lisa prepare for the role of this iconic character? “I didn’t do my homework” She laughs, “I didn’t read any of the books – mainly because the character was so well drawn in the scripts.” We begin chatting about the transition of the character from the books, and how that was developed. “We must mention Jacqueline Rayner (Doctor Who author) here.” Lisa gushes. “She did such a brilliant job at adapting those books, as she had to take the Doctor out, as Big Finish didn’t have the rights at that time. She had to adapt it to make the character of Bernice central. Not an easy job. The moment you read her you realise she’s fun, clever and funny.” And what is it that she thinks makes the character so popular? “She’s not a superhero, and I think that’s her strength. She’s just a normal human being. She has ‘agency’ – a term I heard recently from Simon Guerrier. When she’s in trouble, she gets herself out of trouble. She’s not stupid, she has knowledge and she’s instinctive, but also – I think she’s quite good company.” We all agree that there is a certain relatability to the character that makes her exciting even without connections to the Who universe.

Bernice has had adventures with the seventh and eighth Doctors as well as unbound universe Doctor, David Warner. She seems to work brilliantly with all of them, and Lisa explains why. “I’ve worked with Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and now David Warner, and the character works with every single Doctor! She has a very convincing relationship with every Doctor because she takes every one of them at face value, won’t be afraid to challenge them – but will equally admit when she gets things wrong. She’s not a feminist icon, she’s not an icon, she’s somebody that people can relate to. She’s an ordinary person in extraordinary situations.” An archaeologist from the 26th century, Bernice meets the seventh Doctor and Ace on the planet Heaven, and subsequently began travelling with them in the continued new adventures books until Virgin Publishing lost the license. There’s a very big difference between Benny’s adventures and Doctor Who adventures though. “It’s much more adult, and if she’s in with the Doctor, we have to go back to Doctor Who rules…”


It’s also important to note that Bernice is officially the longest running Doctor Who companion, having adventures and continuous stories since 1992. In fact, in terms of audio dramas, she’s the longest running continual lead in an audio, ever! “And she’s never even been on television!” Lisa says, exasperated. “Sometimes I feel like, I’ve got the invitation but never quite get invited to the party. You get celebrations and anniversaries of the show, and she’s never mentioned! She wasn’t even mentioned in Night of The Doctor.” She did, however, make an appearance in official Twelfth Doctor Book The Big Bang Generation (2015). “I said to Gary (Russell, author of the book), ‘Oh it’s only because you couldn’t use River Song’, and he said ‘no, I’ve included Benny at Steven Moffat’s request!’ I always wish I’d had the balls to go up to Steven and say ‘I dare you. Put her in one episode, just one episode!” It does seem a shame that she hasn’t been seen on-screen and appreciated by the wider fan base, even though she’s been canonised officially on page.

The character definitely has similarities with on-screen character River Song, who also happens to be an archaeologist with a diary. “When River turned up, Steven Moffat did admit to a very big Benny fan at a convention recently that Benny was the inspiration. But I always say they diverge hugely as characters. Other than archaeology, and the diary, there’s nothing to compare the two characters at all.” Her tone changes again to exasperated but light hearted. “When she first turned up I was quietly seething in my armchair. ‘I’ve been slogging my guts out for years you could have at least…’ But then it became obvious that it was a very, very different character indeed.” We divulge that we’re not huge River Song fans, but that the character is loved by many. But what is it then, that makes Benny and her story maintain such longevity? “We’ve had 20 years to flesh her out. Paul Cornell created such a great character, which means she can live on for so long.”

Benny’s adventures were Big Finish’s first audio outing, and proved that there was still a huge market for Doctor Who and it’s spin offs. “Big Finish did prove that there was still a market, an appetite, a huge appetite. I went to Gallifrey One in 1999, when it was 250 people attending. Now look at it!”


Lisa tells us the story of where she was when the show came back. “When it came back in 2005, my partner and I happened to be at Heathrow and they had put it up on the flight arrivals board! When other new series have started, they’ve even lit up the London Eye blue and I thought how the hell did this happen? I was against Coronation Street 16 years ago and now this, what’s going on?!” A truly phenomenal time then for fans of the classic series and the audio books, who so desperately wanted the show to return. And it’s a good job it did, or we wouldn’t even be here conducting this interview!

“Rose was like yesterday.” Lisa mutters in shock. “What I have noticed about fandom now is that there are more girls. When I went to conventions 12 years ago, you’d find 3 middle aged women and that was it.” And, as we’ve proved on The Time Ladies, there are hundreds of female who fans out there. Why does she think this is nowadays? “You could argue that when there’s a younger Doctor it changes the dynamic they have with the companions, which I’ve always been cautious about. The ‘will-they-won’t-they’ changes the relationship between them, and the responsibility of the Doctor to be the moral guardian. It muddies the pool a bit. I personally, as a child never felt any attraction towards the Doctor.” She laughs heartily. “There was an eccentricity to all the Doctors in those days. So you could argue that, in changing that- it was an interesting move, and brought in more female Doctor Who fans. The end game of that though is that because there are more female Doctor Who fans, it opens the door to a lot more options, which is what we’ve got now.”

And, as we finish up the interview, there is one last thing that Lisa wants to touch on. The subject being America’s biggest Doctor Who convention: Gallifrey One’s ‘Gallifrey Waits No More’ all female panel which took place in February 2018. “I was at Gallifrey One and as you probably know, there was a panel which turned into a sort of ‘Me Too’ confessional.” ‘Me Too’ is a global movement fighting against sexual harassment and assault, encouraging victims to tell their stories with the hashtag #MeToo. Various female Doctor Who alumni, on stage – recounted their own experiences of sexual harassment, and it quickly went viral in the community. So what was the panel originally supposed to be about? “It was meant to be about a female Doctor. ‘Gallifrey waits no more for a female Doctor!’” she explains. “But it very quickly became a panel about something completely different, about women working in the industry. It’s very difficult to comment on because some of the stories were very harrowing, some weren’t so harrowing. I hate this word ‘empower’ because it’s not very helpful.” She goes on. “You should just be yourself and do your job without having to play a game of being powerful. I was very conscious that the stories that had come out on the internet didn’t really convey the fact that none of these stories related to anything that anyone had experienced on the Doctor Who set or in the Doctor Who world.” Which is, indeed a very important point. Nobody on stage had experienced sexual harassment or abuse on the Doctor Who set, which is an incredible testament to the show and its morals, and something we’re very happy to report.


So what are Lisa’s thoughts on the Me Too movement? “I haven’t experienced anything personally to be able to say ‘Me Too’. There are certainly many different interpretations and levels of offence. but as the quote says– ‘the past is a foreign country , they do things differently there’ – and certainly in terms of historic cases – though it’s not justification – people just took some of the behaviour as the norm. It depends on how easily you are offended, and what level the ‘offence’. In terms of equal opportunity for actresses though – as I said earlier on in the panel, Doctor Who and science fiction have served female characters well over the years. I think if you’re going to be an actress in any genre this is the one. In terms of the ‘new’ Doctor – The Doctor, as a character, will always have the same traits, the same moral compass, and isn’t known for throwing his muscles around. So really, It doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or a man playing the character.”

“They’ve always existed: Vicki, Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane.” She goes on to add. “They’re all strong female characters. You could argue against some of them, but they are there. They weren’t always just screaming girls. I don’t think Bonnie [Langford] was very well served, but it got better with Ace.” It’s always hard to examine characters from such a long time ago, mostly because they are products of their time. In some ways, Doctor Who was always ahead of the game with its women, but not always. “I can’t stand when things are too politicised. It alienates people. It’s important to have well written drama that isn’t too polemic – or there’s an inevitable backlash. You’re never going to convert anyone by bashing them over the head with ‘messages’. Intelligent, well written, relatable drama, is the key. There were a lot of comments in the panel saying ‘isn’t it a pity that we haven’t got… And I was thinking, ‘well actually you are talking about Ace’, I wanted to bring up Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane, Leela and Romana – even Benny. Again, I have a slight issue with the words ‘strong woman’. Why don’t you just call them women – or just… people? You get weak women, you get strong women. You get weak men, you get strong men. It’s an individual thing. If they’re a well written, observed and truthful character, that’s the bottom line.”

Doctor Who has now significantly stepped up its game in terms of equality, and have finally cast a female Doctor. There’s been some backlash though, with lots of people saying the role should stay male. What are her thoughts on this? “Change is always a challenge. They did the same to Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. This particular fandom have a sense of ownership and entitlement and you get it with most fandoms. I listened to Matt Smith’s desert island discs and he said he almost turned it down! After he’d said yes, somebody apparently said to him in the street ‘just don’t ruin it’. Everything creative is subjective, you can’t please all people all the time. You can’t play to a demographic, otherwise you end up with an end product that’s very bland. In terms of the Doctor being a woman – well – why not? As I said earlier – the Doctor’s essential character won’t change – and I think, as with most Doctors in the past – she’ll just be reflecting the spirit of her age.” Doctor Who has always been one to take risks, and probably wouldn’t have lasted over 50 years without doing so.


Going back to the Gallifrey One panel, Lisa says, “They were talking about the Bechdel test saying, ‘isn’t it a pity we don’t have a character like this…’ and making a list of traits. Ironically, James Goss had written a recent article talking about how many points of the test Benny as a character had passed. I had to put my hand up and say ‘she does exist, and I’ve been playing her for the last 20 years and GUESS WHAT? She was created by a man!” It’s clear to see that Lisa is massively passionate about Bernice, her legacy and how she fits in with the rest of Doctor Who. With 2018 being her 20th anniversary year of audios with Big Finish, is there anything she wants to add? “I’m now past my mid 50s and thank god for audio, because there’s not much else of interest on offer unfortunately after a certain age. It’s been proven that Bernice can survive away from the Doctor Who world, and she’s stayed around since. Big Finish have always stuck with Bernice Summerfield, and I’m so grateful that they have.”

With a call to the studio, Lisa is whisked away by the Big Finish team, ready to carry on her many adventures in space and time. Here’s to another 20 years, Benny.

We recently partnered with Big Finish to launch a competition for a new Bernice Summerfield writer! The winner will have their short story read by Lisa Bowerman as part of the Bernice Summerfield short stories anthology, In Time. Keep your eyes peeled on our social media channels for the winner announcement.