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Caroline John obituary

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Obituary: Caroline John: Actor best known for her role as Dr Elizabeth Shaw in Doctor Who

The actor Caroline John, who has died aged 71, was best known for defending Earth from alien invasion alongside Jon Pertwee's Doctor in the first colour series of Doctor Who, broadcast in 1970. As Dr Elizabeth Shaw, she provided brains, cool-headed intelligence and maturity where once the Doctor's female companions had screamed and asked questions.

John was born in York, one of eight children. Her father was an actor who was instrumental in the creation of the Belgrade theatre in Coventry, and her mother had been a dancer. She originally wanted to dance herself, but eventually trained as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama, in London. After graduating, she landed a job with the Royal Court theatre before doing rep in Ipswich, Oxford and Sheffield. In the late 1960s, during a four-year stint with Laurence Olivier's National Theatre company (she was Ophelia in the first professional production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), she met the actor Geoffrey Beevers, whom she married in June 1970.

In 1969 Doctor Who was in the process of being revamped after running for six years. The producer of the programme, Derrick Sherwin, decided to eschew spacefaring whimsy for a style closer to the more adult Quatermass serials of the 1950s. Pertwee's dignified Doctor was assisted by the no-nonsense military outfit UNIT, and an intelligent scientist sidekick - albeit a glamorous one who also got involved in action sequences - was an appropriate addition.

John made her debut in Spearhead from Space (1970) - fighting the Autons, who resembled murderous shop-window dummies - and bowed out in one of the series' classics, Inferno, set partially on a parallel Earth (which allowed her to play an unusually severe, jack-booted and militaristic version of her character). The series' new producer, Barry Letts, decided to phase Shaw out in favour of a more traditional assistant, but John had already decided to leave as she was pregnant with her first child. She reprised the character in a series of straight-to-video spin-offs in the 1990s and more recently, for the audio company Big Finish, for which she made her last recording as Liz in January 2012.

She prospered in the theatre after Doctor Who, collaborating with the Stephen Joseph theatre, in Scarborough, and with the Orange Tree theatre, Richmond-on-Thames. For the latter, she played in His Majesty in 1992; Silas Marner (adapted and directed by Beevers) in 1998; Happy Birthday Dear Alice in 2002; and Lorca's Dona Rosita in 2004. Her other credits included The Master Builder (opposite Timothy West, for English Touring Theatre, 1999) and Death of a Salesman (Compass Theatre company, 2001).

In 2004 John played Estragon in Waiting for Godot at a workshop at the Ulysses theatre, in Zagreb, Croatia, alongside Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and Amanda Plummer. Lynn Redgrave's one-woman play Nightingale (New End theatre, 2006) was given to John to perform as "a thank you for a lifetime of friendship".

On television, John worked with her husband in both A Very British Coup (1988) and Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989). She appeared regularly in Harry Enfield's Television Programme (1990) as the housekeeper of the sparring Tory and Labour politicians Freddie and Jack. Her other credits included The Hound of the Baskervilles (1982), opposite Tom Baker, and The House of Eliott (1994). She also appeared in the film Love Actually (2003).

She is survived by Beevers, their daughter, Daisy, who is also an actor, and their sons, Ben and Tom.

Caroline Frances John, actor, born 19 September 1940; died 5 June 2012

Captions: John and Jon Pertwee in the Doctor Who episode The Ambassadors of Death

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hadoke, Toby (2012-06-21). Caroline John obituary. The Guardian p. 41.
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Caroline John obituary | url= | work=The Guardian | pages=41 | date=2012-06-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 May 2024 }}</ref>
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