Why We Love Jo Grant
The way her character is written, directed, and performed all add to her sense of relatability, humanity, and realness
In 1971, a brand-new companion joined the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and the UNIT gang – Josephine “Jo” Grant. From her first adventure alongside the Doctor, Katy Manning’s excellent portrayal of Jo Grant has charmed viewers and has left her time in the TARDIS as a much-loved memory. However, despite the fact that Jo Grant first graced our screens over fifty years ago, her character is enduring, still much loved, and left a lasting impact on the show.
The first aspect of Jo Grant is her relatability, and her character which built a rapport with her audience. ABBA once sang: “I am just a girl, one among the others, nothing much to say….” Indeed, Jo Grant is just an ordinary young woman. Like many of the Doctor’s companions, Jo is indeed blessed with natural beauty, but is still wonderfully normal. Former companions of the Doctor were often middle-class individuals in middle-class professions. For example: Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) were teachers, Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury) and Liz Shaw (Caroline John) were scientists, and Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) was a middle-class Victorian lady. Jo Grant was none of those.
Jo was hardly an unintelligent character but appears to be a character with few qualifications and initially joins the Doctor in UNIT as his assistant. Jo Grant is a much more relatable character. After all, how many viewers of Doctor Who would have personally known any teachers or scientists? Jo Grant’s “girl-next-door” charm made her an endearing compliment to the Third Doctor. This increased level of relatability surely influenced future much-loved companions such as Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant), Ace (Sophie Aldred), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), and Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) – also very ordinary, normal individuals with that similar sparkle Katy Manning did such an excellent job of portraying.
Despite her evident lack of high-level qualifications, Jo Grant is not the “yes girl” that some view her to be. Often, Jo Grant’s successor, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), was seen to be the first true feminist character in Doctor Who. To an extent, this is true. Sarah Jane was indeed bold enough to preach feminist theory to the Queen of Peladon (Nina Thomas). Elisabeth Sladen was a true icon of Doctor Who and her later spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures. However, Jo Grant does not allow herself to be brow-beaten by the men around her. Jo enters a man’s military world when she joins UNIT; she works alongside strong individuals such as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin). She quite often rebukes these individuals when they behave in an overly confident manner or dismiss her contribution to a mission. Whilst it appears that they view her as a mere “girl”, Katy Manning’s performance portrays Jo as stubborn, strong, and brave.
Jo Grant does not just trot behind the Doctor like an eager puppy; Jo makes valid contributions to missions and often provides the answer to the questions the Doctor is looking to answer. This is well portrayed in the Big Finish Production Masterful in which Jo ‘appears’. In order to get herself thinking properly, she gets shape-shifting android Kamelion (Jon Culshaw) to transmogrify into the Third Doctor. When this is done, she asks a number of questions to which “the Doctor” responds saying things like “good observation, Jo” which encourages her to think further and search for the facts. Jo does not ask for things to be handed to her on a plate and is certainly a useful ally of the Doctor. It is also important to note that she uses her initiative and intelligence to make the correct choices. Despite being told by UNIT and the Doctor to not follow them to the circus site where they suspect the Master (Roger Delgado) is hiding (in The Terror of the Autons), she does follow the Doctor and ends up being invaluable in securing his release. Compared to Sarah Jane, viewers may believe that Liz Shaw and Jo Grant just carried the Doctor’s test tubes and made the tea – but this is evidently just not true. Jo Grant was an incredibly strong companion.
In addition to Katy Manning’s ability to perform as a relatable character, her first foray into space is an interesting moment to analyse. She steps out of the TARDIS onto her first alien planet in Colony in Space. During the sixty years of Doctor Who, many companions have stepped through the doors of the TARDIS, starry-eyed and excited. Nervous but ready and willing to take that leap. Jo Grant, on the other hand, is incredibly reluctant and tries to convince the Doctor to take her home. Some may view this as a sign of weakness – particularly compared to how some of the Doctor’s companions appear to have embraced space-time travel quickly and without reluctance. It is important to note, though, that this just adds to Jo Grant’s relatable nature. Although we, the viewer, may wish we had the confidence of Rose Tyler with how she embraces space-time travel, it is far more likely that we would react much more like Jo Grant! This particular moment in Colony in Space is a credit to Katy Manning; she performs the scene with great restraint. Rather than overreacting, she keeps her decorum. She expresses her nerves well to the Doctor, not whining but letting her views and concerns be known. Katy Manning’s moderation and avoidance of over-acting in this scene makes it believable, relatable, and makes us respect her character even more.
Anyone who follows Katy Manning or has met her knows just how positive and bubbly she is. Perhaps Katy’s own personality comes out in Jo Grant. She is a warm and bubbly individual who deeply cares for others around her, looks for the best in everyone, and does all she can to help. Jo is independently minded and can be stubborn when faced with sexism or an individual who doubts her ability. But these judgements do not make Jo bitter or jaded – her kindness and willingness to engage with people often makes people calmer around her, the Doctor, and in any tricky situations. Two situations are called to mind, in The Colony in Space, it is remarkable how quickly Jo befriends a female colonist, and in The Daemons, it is interesting that she stops local men at a pub in Devil’s End from having a physical altercation with the Doctor.
On this subject of the Doctor, Jo really does care for the Doctor. With the exception of Sarah Jane Smith, perhaps we do not even see this level of Doctor-Companion care until the introduction of Rose Tyler in 2005. For sure, the scenes in The Christmas Invasion where Rose Tyler looks after an extremely sick Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) as he sleeps, are reminiscent of where Jo strokes the Doctor’s brow gently as he rests in bed in The Mind of Evil. However, the wonderful platonic nature of Jo’s relationship with the Doctor is what makes her particularly special. Romantic relationships between the Doctor and a companion have divided the fan-base in recent years. Perhaps part of Jo Grant’s appeal (and also Sarah Jane Smith’s appeal) is the platonic nature of the friendship. Other notable occasions include the scene in The Daemons where it briefly appears that the Doctor freezes to death – Jo is distraught but refuses to give up on him.
Talking about this special relationship, it would not be right to write an article about Jo Grant without discussing the very special friendship between Katy Manning, Jon Pertwee, and Roger Delgado. Their friendships really do make this era of Doctor Who extra-special viewing. There is real emotion in their interactions. Whilst most actors are reported to have worked well together on the set of Doctor Who with some lifelong friendships and special memories created, there is an appreciation for just how special Manning, Pertwee, and Delgado made the show. When Jo decides it is finally time to leave the Doctor in The Green Death, the Doctor is genuinely sad.
The First Doctor (William Hartnell) rarely showed empathetic emotions towards his companions exits. He was evidently moved as he left Susan Foreman, his granddaughter, (Carole Ann Ford) on earth in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but with other companion exits, including those of Ian and Barbara, he showed frustration and selfish upset. Similarly, with the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), his companions leaving the TARDIS, particularly in The War Games, were not particularly emotionally charged (probably due to his worry about being on trial). Jo’s exit was the first time the Doctor seemed genuinely disappointed, moved, and upset about one of his companions choosing to move on. These emotional exits continued in the future of Doctor Who, with characters such as Sarah Jane Smith, Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding), and Peri Brown causing the Doctor some upset at their departure. This trend also continued into the revived post-2005 series, but it could be argued it started with Jo Grant. Indeed, it would be absurd to not acknowledge that the real-life friendships did not play a part in the emotions we see at the end of The Green Death.
It would be impossible to finish without mentioning her comeback in The Sarah Jane Adventures in The Death of the Doctor. Alongside Sarah Jane Smith, Jo Grant (now Jo Jones) meets the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) in defeating the rogue Shansheeth who wanted him dead. Jo’s growth as an individual is astounding. She is still the same loveable Jo, her rather clumsy entrance to the Doctor’s “funeral” and her insistence on calling anything, human or alien, “gorgeous!” just makes us love her more and more. Jo grows into a globetrotting superhero, protesting across the world for human rights and climate awareness. She is a product of her time with the Doctor – the Third Doctor’s era was after all one of the most politically and socially aware eras written. Jo grows from a beautifully timid individual to a strong matriarchal figure who still retains that air of kindness, care, and generosity.
There is an emotional moment where Jo discusses with the Eleventh Doctor why he never visited her again. He says that during the end of his past life, his Tenth, he visited all his companions (we see some of these interactions during The End of Time – Part Two) and that he was “so proud”. This tiny little scene in a children’s spin-off of the main show broke hearts and rewrote cannon regarding the Doctor’s relationship with past companions and how he keeps track of them. Jo forms an excellent bond with Sarah Jane and greatly enjoys her reunion with the Doctor before being content to return to her life of activism. Her growth is incredible across the series, and Katy Manning’s sensitive performance forty years after she first joined Doctor Who just made the fanbase yearn for more Jo Jones.
It is fair to say that Katy Manning is an excellent actor and an absolute credit to the history of Doctor Who. She is an absolute treasure. The way her character is written, directed, and performed all add to her sense of relatability, humanity, and realness. In so many ways, it appears that Jo Grant and Katy Manning are alike in their kindness, care, and love for the world. Jo was a trailblazer in the way Doctor Who companions supported the Doctor and certainly set a precedent for how future companions were treated. It is hoped by members of the fandom, the writer of this article included, that Katy will return to the show soon. And that is why we love Jo Grant.
Written by Joshua Nicholson