I just read of the passing of Maggie Stables, and had to write something about such a wonderful member of the Doctor Who family. Those among you who have never had the pleasure of listening to a Big Finish audio play may not know who she was, but those who did will know how great a voice actress she was. She was absolutely among the best actors in Big Finish’s stable, and her primary role as Evelyn Smythe is easily among the most memorable of any characters in Doctor Who.
When I first saw the Sixth Doctor, I thought he was kind of funny. He was such a jerk to Peri that I couldn’t help but laugh, though I found him to be a bit one-note. The writing during his time on the show didn’t do him justice, and I read after the fact that he and the writers had a big plan in mind for his character, that he would soften and become warmer over time. This kind of ambition was really interesting, and Colin Baker finally had the opportunity to try that in his audio plays. Maggie Stables was a huge part of why Colin Baker is now one of the more memorable Doctors in the show’s history.
Evelyn Smythe was an older companion, which is something we hadn’t seen before, and she was the perfect counterbalance to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. In the same way Sarah Jane forced the Fourth Doctor to be more human, Evelyn Smythe was able to bring out all the goodness in the Sixth Doctor. She wouldn’t take a single bit of his bullshit, and it made the Doctor a better person because of it. Maggie Stables completely killed it every time she was in a story. In the same way that Jenna Coleman now is able to carry entire episodes on the strength of her performance, Maggie Stables could do the exact same thing with her voice alone.
I’ve only actually heard about half of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn audio plays, but I would already put her in my top ten favorite companions in the history of the franchise. Even in episodes that didn’t have a lot going for them, Stables was perfect. There were a few classics in the bunch, too, including “The Spectre of Lanyon Moor” (where the Sixth Doctor meets the Brig for the first time) and “Jubilee,” which would later be changed and adapted to become “Dalek,” a TV story that a lot of people seem to think is great. Having heard the original, I can’t help but see “Dalek” as a hollow imitation.
It seems that we’re saying goodbye to great people from Doctor Who far too often nowadays, and I’m afraid that there are a lot of Whovians out there who just aren’t aware of how great Maggie Stables was. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I’ve heard nothing but good things about her as a person, and can vouch for the quality of her work myself. I’m so glad that I have so many hours left of Evelyn Smythe to hear for the very first time, and very sad that there will never be anymore. When I think “Sixth Doctor,” I think “Evelyn Smythe,” and I don’t see that ever changing. Thanks for all of your wonderful work, Ms. Stables.