Monday, 17 June 2013

Kate Stewart - Science Leads

Over the years with “Doctor Who”, there have been quite a few guest characters that make such an impression that you fervently wish they would go with the Doctor at the end of the story and become fully-fledged companions. In Classic Who, the one character who, for me, stood head and shoulders above everyone else was Professor Rumford from “The Stones of Blood”. She was a fantastically eccentric old lady who took everything in her stride and was not just a perfect foil for Tom Baker’s Doctor but also formed quite a touching relationship with K9 – her very concerned “are you alright, dear” to K9 was simply adorable.

Since the return of the show in 2005, nobody really stood out until recently. A lot of this has to do with the format – one x 45 minute episode doesn’t really give the writer much of a chance to build a character in the way 4 x 25 minute episodes could. The odd character DOES sneak through – Wilf, for instance, or maybe Brian Williams but they’re mostly in multiple episodes. For me though, the one character I SO wanted to go with the Doctor – even though it would have been completely the wrong time and thrown the following episode into total confusion – was Kate Stewart.

(Beverley Cressman in "Downtime" - courtesy

The character of Kate Stewart was known in Who fandom prior to her first televised appearance in “The Power of Three” – she was originally created by Marc Platt for the spin-off video “Downtime” where she was played by Beverley Cressman. In “Downtime”, Kate was estranged from her father and lived on a houseboat with her son, Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Interestingly, in “Downtime”, the villain of the piece was the Great Intelligence who tried to use Kate via a cult at a university to lead them to the Brigadier – who, it was thought, had something the Great Intelligence needed. This led to a reconciliation between Kate and her father. Kate was mentioned in two books – “Scales of Injustice” and “The Dying Days” and then reappeared in a second spin-off video called “Daemos Rising”. In this spin-off she joined forces with an ex UNIT agent to defeat one of the Daemons – maybe this gave her the greater insight she needed in order to really understand what her father did and the sacrifices he had to make.

I think it has to be accepted that the Kate Stewart who appeared in “The Power of Three” is the same Kate Stewart who experienced the events of “Downtime” and “Daemos Rising”. Moffat is a Who fan – he always has been – he would have known the name “Kate Stewart/Kate Lethbridge-Stewart” and, honestly, if they’d wanted to depart from the two spin-offs they would have simply changed the character’s first name. They didn’t – so effectively they’ve “canonised” them. Taking this premise to its obvious conclusion, “Downtime” and “Daemos Rising” were important steps along the road for Kate Stewart. Obviously, there was no mention of any estrangement in “The Power of Three”, therefore the reconciliation in “Downtime” was complete and, presumably, led to Kate accepting guidance from her father and, to a certain extent, following in his footsteps.

You can certainly understand why Kate decided to drop “Lethbridge” from her surname. The reverence her father received in some quarters would certainly have opened doors for her – but conversely it would have closed others. The very fact that she has risen to the position of Head of Scientific Research and also changed the essence of UNIT to a military organisation led by scientists is a huge testament to her dedication, character and determination. There’s obviously more than a bit of the old Lethbridge-Stewart steel running through her. And, believe me, UNIT most definitely needed changing. During the Third Doctor era when UNIT really came to the fore, it's basic remit was simple and understandable – to investigate and combat alien activity. And whilst this occasionally led to disagreements with the Doctor (Silurians, anyone?) and their methods sometimes resembled a bull in a china shop, at heart there was an honesty and simplicity about the organisation. Growing up in that era, I loved UNIT – it was comforting in a way to think that they were there – that loyal band of soldiers protecting us from all manner of monsters and beasties.

During the Tenth Doctor era, it seemed to have lost its way somewhat – in the name of “homeworld security” for example it had established secret prisons – and was in danger of becoming almost malevolent. UNIT had changed with the times – seeming to be more of a reflection of our somewhat corrupt, conspiracy-led society – and, for those of us who loved the old UNIT, this was rather unpleasant and remarkably difficult to watch.

How much of this change the Brigadier was aware of is unclear and, in fact, they seemed to constantly be sending him to Peru of all places – quite probably in order to keep him out of the way. I like to think that he was certainly aware of undercurrents and his mentoring of Kate may well have emphasised the need for change. So, with her father’s guidance, Kate managed to adapt UNIT – or, as she put it “dragged them along, kicking and screaming”. With Kate at the helm, the UNIT we saw in “The Power of Three” was a much more “trustworthy” organisation than it had been in recent years, so much so that that Doctor felt quite able to call on them again briefly in “The Bells of Saint John”.

“The Wedding of River Song” certainly implies that, whilst the Doctor may not have visited the Brigadier in the nursing home, he at least kept in contact via telephone. The Doctor didn’t need to look up the number of the home and the nurse who answered the phone knew who he was and who he was calling for without asking. It’s not a huge leap then to assume that both UNIT and Kate would have cropped up during their conversations. After all, what proud father would be able to resist talking about his daughter with his oldest friend? And vice versa – no doubt Kate was constantly bombarded with tales about the Doctor. This was obvious during the first scene with Kate and the Doctor in “The Power of Three”. Look at the Doctor’s face – he knew exactly who she was – and, as for Kate, her “I hoped it’d be you” was full of emotion. There she was – finally face-to-face with the dual hearted alien who had been such a loyal friend to and huge influence on her father. This “mutual admiration society” between the two continued throughout the episode – for example, even when Kate is more in the background of scenes she’s generally regarding the Doctor with a mix of awe and delight and the two of them slide into a trusting relationship with remarkable ease. How much of this emanates from the writing and how much emanates from having two consummate actors working opposite one another… we will probably never know.

The casting gods were definitely smiling down when Jemma Redgrave was cast as Kate Stewart. A very experienced actress from a highly regarded acting family, she just makes it all seem so effortless. When she’s on screen, there’s no doubt that she IS Kate Stewart – she’s one of those actresses who seems to inhabit a role – similar, in a way, to Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor. You’re hard pressed a lot of the time to know where Matt stops and the Doctor begins.

It’s very fitting that Jemma Redgrave will be bringing her considerable talents back to the screen for the 50th Anniversary Special – and I admit I was far happier upon learning that Kate Stewart would return than I was for any other announced returning character. A link to a well-loved character like the Brigadier is only right and proper during this very important year but Kate also stands as a great character in her own right. So much so that, whilst I’ll happily accept her back as a recurring character, how much better would it be to have a UNIT spin-off with Kate in charge? If we can’t have her as a full-time companion on the Tardis then let’s see her on her own show. After all, who needs Torchwood when we have UNIT?

Thanks to: 

grande-caps - for the Kate Stewart screencaps from "The Power of Three"
Shelley - beta reader extraordinaire