TV Series

10 Unusual Families in Doctor Who

By Paul Lang

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, as the saying goes. Some of the unfortunate bunch the Doctor has met over the millennia would certainly pick different nearest and dearest if they could.

Za and Old Mother

An Unearthly Child (1963)

Life was tough in 100,000 BC for caveman Za when his dad got himself killed before passing on the secret of how to make fire. His old mother, the aptly-named Old Mother, wasn’t much help – she thought fire was too dangerous. Chuck the Doctor and his pals into the mix and there was definitely no smoke without fire. The family feud got so nasty that Za ended up knocking his old Ma unconscious. There was no happy ending for them, either – Old Mother perished when Za’s rival, Kai, bashed her with a rock.

eileen way as old mother.
Eileen Way as old mother.

The Saxons

The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (2007), The End of Time (2009-2010)

Sweet Lucy Cole no doubt thought she was onto a good thing when handsome politician Harold Saxon took a shine to her. Theirs was no ordinary marriage, though. Early on, Harold took Lucy on a romantic trip to the very end of the universe, and her head was scrambled by the bleakness of what she saw there. Harold, of course, wasn’t a human Prime Minister at all – he was the Master, the Doctor’s oldest Time Lord enemy. Broken Lucy showed no emotion when she eventually gunned down her husband on the deck of the Valiant.

alexandra moen and lucy and john simm as new prime minister harold saxon as he begins his reign of terror with the announcement of mankinds first contact with an alien race.
Alexandra Moen and Lucy and John Simm as new prime minister Harold Saxon as he begins his reign of terror with the announcement of mankind's first contact with an alien race.

The Cranleighs

Black Orchid (1982)

Botanist George Cranleigh was presumed dead after an expedition to the Amazon in 1924 went wrong. His younger brother, Charles, wasted no time in proposing to his sibling’s fiancee, Ann Talbot. The cad! Things got complicated when the Doctor, Tegan, Adric and Nyssa arrived at Cranleigh Hall for a party. Nyssa was a dead ringer for Ann, and George wasn’t dead at all – he’d been scarred and driven insane by the Kojabe tribe, and Lady Cranleigh had locked him in the attic to save face. Confused George escaped and ruined his family’s nice tea dance by taking Nyssa hostage. Lady C was devastated that her embarrassment at her son’s predicament ended up causing his death when he fell from the roof.

sarah sutton as ann, barbara murray as lady cranleigh, michael cochraine as lord cranleigh and peter davison as the doctor in the two-part adventure black orchid.
Sarah Sutton as Ann, Barbara Murray as Lady Cranleigh, Michael Cochraine as Lord Cranleigh and Peter Davison as the Doctor in the two-part adventure Black Orchid.

The Naismiths

The End of Time (2009-2010)

Most people are ridiculously pleased with their offspring, but gazillionaire Joshua Naismith took his pride in daughter Abigail one step too far. He used his wealth to buy the Infinity Gate, a device that would make Abigail immortal. Annoyingly, it was slightly banjaxed, and the only person he could find who was qualified to repair it was the Master. Bad move! He double-crossed his wealthy paymaster and used the Gate to transform everyone on Earth – including Joshua and Abigail – into copies of himself. The process was reversed, but the Naismiths ended up in prison for their part in the chaos.

tracey ifeachor as abigail naismith, david harewood as joshua naismith.
Tracey Ifeachor as Abigail Naismith, David Harewood as Joshua Naismith.

The Sardicks

A Christmas Carol (2010)

The Doctor didn’t get a warm welcome from Kazran Sardick when he fell down his chimney dressed as Santa. Sardick was a rotten old miser, but a film of him as a happy child convinced the Doctor that something must have happened to change the course of his life. The film was taken on the day young Kazran tried to see some skyfish, earning a clout round the head from his father, the equally ‘orrible Elliot, for his trouble. All the Doctor had to do was pop back in time and set the younger Sardick on the path to happiness – easier said than done with a flying sky shark, a crashing spaceship and, worst of all, Kazran’s broken heart all standing in the way.

michael gambon as kazran, laurence belcher as young kazran and matt smith as the eleventh doctor.
Michael Gambon as Kazran, Laurence Belcher as young Kazran and Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor.

The Gillyflowers

The Crimson Horror (2013)

Ada Gillyflower had always been told by her mother, a Victorian chemist named Winifred, that her blindness had been caused by her violent, drunken father. That wasn’t true, but what really happened was also horrific. Winifred was in a symbiotic relationship with a prehistoric leech she called Mr Sweet, and wanted to use his poison to kill everyone on Earth except her chosen few, who would then build a new civilisation. The Doctor, Clara, Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax foiled her plan, and furious Ada refused to forgive her mother as she lay dying. Well, who can blame her?

diana rigg as mrs gillyflower.
Diana Rigg as Mrs Gillyflower.

Delta and the Chimeron Princess

Delta and the Bannermen (1987)

The Shangri-La holiday camp in Wales had a very unusual holidaymaker in 1959. Delta, the last of her race, was hiding out there with the only surviving Chimeron egg, which she had to keep safe from a genocidal death squad. The egg hatched, revealing the squidgy, green slime baby within – giving the Doctor’s friend Mel quite a scare. Delta fed the unusual offspring a special jelly to accelerate her growth, and she was soon almost adult-sized. Meanwhile, local lad Billy had taken a shine to Delta, and was also necking the special jelly so he could become a Chimeron, which was a bit of a leap of faith on his part. Luckily it worked – Billy turned slightly green, put on some Chimeron clobber and took off with his new missus to start repopulating the Chimeron homeworld. Eew, icky!

carley joseph as the chimeron princess and belinda mayne and delta.
Carley Joseph as the Chimeron Princess and Belinda Mayne and Delta.

The As

The Happiness Patrol (1988)

Helen A, ruler of Terra Alpha, didn’t seem like a particularly easy woman to live with. For a start, she demanded total happiness from all her subjects on pain of death, and this included her long-suffering husband, Joseph. People on Terra Alpha didn’t have surnames, just letters to show how important they were. Helen was Helen A, but Joseph was only Joseph C, which was quite a gap whichever way you look at it. Joseph seemed loyal enough to his wife, until the Doctor turned up and everything started to go pear-shaped – he was last seen doing a runner in Helen A’s private shuttle accompanied by a gentleman friend, Gilbert M, with whom he presumably lived happily ever after.

sheila hancock as helen a and ronald fraser as joseph c.
Sheila Hancock as Helen A and Ronald Fraser as Joseph C.

The Ponds

The Eleventh Hour (2010)–The Angels Take Manhattan (2012)

It’s a tale as old as time – boy meets girl, girl runs off with Time Lord, girl snogs Time Lord, Time Lord bursts out of cake at boy’s stag do, girl and boy travel with Time Lord, boy gets killed by a Silurian and eaten by a crack in time, boy comes back as an Auton and kills girl, boy stands guard over girl while she lies dead in the Pandorica for two thousand years, boy and girl both come back to life and get married, boy and girl travel with Time Lord again, girl gets pregnant, girl gives birth to her own childhood best friend, who then grows up and marries Time Lord, boy and girl nearly get divorced but are kidnapped by Dalek puppets instead, boy and girl jump off a building then, finally, get sent back in time where they live a long and happy life before dying of old age.

karen gillan as amy pond, arthur darvill as rory williams and alex kingston as river song in a good man goes to war (2011).
Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams and Alex Kingston as River Song in A Good Man Goes to War (2011).

Hanne, Erik and Trine

It Takes You Away (2018)

Soon after arriving in a remote part of Norway, the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan found a blind teenager called Hanne, who’d been abandoned in a log cabin by her feckless father, Erik. He’d made them up sticks and moved there when his wife Trine had died, and Hanne couldn’t work out why he’d have abandoned her there. Erik had actually travelled through a portal to a parallel universe where his late wife still seemed to be very much alive, and was scared he’d never see her again if he returned to Hanne. The parallel world was the work of the Solitract, a sentient universe trying to assemble a kind of family of its own for company, by offering people the chance to be reunited with versions of their late loved ones. But Hanne wasn’t fooled by the copy once she learnt of her father’s whereabouts – she rejected her “mother” and was sent back to her own universe, while Erik realised the best place for his family was back home, in Oslo.

christian rubeck as erik and lisa stokke as trine.
Christian Rubeck as Erik and Lisa Stokke as Trine.

Family ties

This isn’t a definitive list of the dysfunctional families encountered by the Doctor. Others include:

  • The Slitheen, large, green interplanetary scavengers who took one look at Earth and decided to blow it up for scrap! Read more about their money-grabbing schemes here. (Their slightly orangey cousins, the Blathereen, are worth keeping an eye on as well.)
  • The Family of Blood, another lot whose excessive pride in their progeny was their undoing. They planned to steal the Doctor’s powers of regeneration so Son of Mine could live forever. Which he did, sort of – the Doctor left him as a scarecrow, watching over England’s fields for eternity. Find out more about their exploits here.
  • Romulus and Remus Sylvest, two brainy space twins who were kidnapped by a giant slug and made to do hard maths.
  • Ace, who took a shine to baby Audrey Dudman when she met her in 1943, only to realise she would grow up into the mother she despised!
  • And let’s not forget the Whos, who made their poor son, Doctor, sleep in a barn all on his own when he was little. No wonder he did a bunk!

Missed It Takes You Away or would like to watch it again? You can catch up with the current series On Demand at BBC iPlayer (UK) or BBC America (US). For other regions, visit the Watch page to find out where to catch up in your territory.

More on TV Series

More From Read and Watch

from the store

More from the store