Leela and Louise
Leela is one of my favorite companions, but for my first post, I wanted to shift my focus to the actress who portrayed her, Louise Jameson. When we talk about feminism in Classic Who, we usually talk about what happens on screen, but what happens behind the scenes is important as well.
Louise fought hard to make Leela into the character we know and love by going beyond knowing the character to defend and advocate for her. In the beginning, Louise was given scripts originally written for Sarah Jane Smith, with little altered to accommodate the change in companion beyond the character name. When she saw something that she considered out-of-character for Leela, she objected to it. “…I spent most of the time saying, ‘No, Leela doesn’t scream actually - no, she’s not going to sprain her ankle here.’ I was forever crossing out ‘Leela screams,’” she said in one interview, and in another, “I became very centred on Leela and I knew what she’d say and how she would behave under a given situation.” And though she was the new actress on a show dominated by men in nearly every aspect of production (and disliked by Tom Baker, who hadn’t wanted a new companion), she got the writers to make changes.
As a result of Louise’s efforts, Leela became a stronger, more consistent character, a distinct individual different from any of the companions who came before her. I have a huge amount of respect for the courage, conviction, and persistence that must have been needed to make that happen.