Friday, January 1, 2016
Vicki, played by Maureen O'Brien, lasted 38 episodes. She made her first appearance in The Rescue and her final appearance in The Myth Makers.
The first actor to be asked to step in and replace a regular character following the departure of Carol Anne Ford's Susan it is obvious that O'Brien, like Ford, is a better actress than the character allows her to be.
Vicki is an orphan who, it turns out, has been surviving on the planet Dido with the murderer of her father. Once that little situation is sorted out in The Rescue she is all alone and takes the opportunity to flee with the TARDIS crew. And although she's initially just an obvious Susan replacement - for both the audience and the First Doctor - she gradually gets to carve out a character of her own. However the seeds for her departure are sown (accidentally, I'm sure) from the off.
She doesn't want to be treated like a child but alas that is exactly how the Doctor, Ian and Barbara treat her even as it becomes clear that she's intelligent and resourceful enough to look after herself. If anything it is Vicki that keeps The Doctor safe. She certainly keeps him calm, which is a task O'Brien found herself doing with William Hartnell too in the real world. The relationship between Vicki and the First Doctor is obviously a close one but he is not as affected by her decision to leave as he was by Susan, Ian and Barbara's choice. Perhaps he is already getting used to the fact that his fellow travellers will come and go.
Or the production team is getting used to the idea. After all Vicki's explanation of her departure happens off screen in The Myth Makers. The Doctor and she pop into the TARDIS for a chat and when they come out she's off to find Troilus. To be honest I don't think it is a particularly convincing reason to leave. Troilus is a bit wet and Vicki never struck me as the sort of character that would jump into the arms of the first man she felt for like a drowning woman clinging onto a lifebelt. Perhaps she's just grown up enough not to need a father/grandfather figure anymore? And with Steven aboard the TARDIS she won't be leaving the Doctor on his own. Still it never quite feels right to me (and Vicki won't be the last companions to be written out in a half-baked way.)
O'Brien's brilliant though in making Vicki more than just a cipher. She's got energy to burn. It is Vicki that effectively starts the revolution on Xeros by making sure that arms fall into Xeron hands. She's bored by all the sitting around and talking.
In modern Doctor Who O'Brien would have been allowed to keep her Liverpudlian* accent (which slips out in a nice throwaway line in The Crusades.) and I think with a tweak here and there should would have fitted right in.
Vicki's not often just a peril monkey. Usually she's teamed up with The Doctor, as in The Romans and The Web Planet and helping to keep him from harm. She's not a character without get up and go but there's probably not enough there to stop her from not being the most exciting part for an actor to play. In an interview from 1990 that I found here O'Brien makes it clear that Doctor Who "...was pretty unrewarding from an acting point of view...the scripts were so predictable." [Which is a bit harsh on some of the stories she worked on I think but perhaps not from her point of view.] I will take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a short interview with Maureen O'Brien done as part of Toby Hadoke's Who's Round, which can be downloaded from here
O'Brien has done a couple of Big Finish Companion Chronicles as Vicki, including the rather marvelous Frostfire, which is worth a listen if you get a chance.
Alas then Vicki is not a companion that will set Doctor Who alight, which isn't O'Brien's fault. She's very good and given the right scripts (and perhaps a little more freedom) Vicki could have been a great companion. Instead she is - like a lot of Hartnell's companions - lost in the mists of black and white history, which is a shame as she's likeable, well-played and (until the final story) having fun just having adventures with the Doctor.
*There's a few Liverpudlians in Doctor Who who've lost - or toned down - their accents: O'Brien, Liz Sladen, Tom Baker and Paul McGann spring to mind. If every planet has a north it seems that this north isn't a Scouse one.