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Doctor Who's Nyssa: My Favorite Companion (Profile and Episode Guide)

Nyssa from "Black Orchid" (my photomanip)

Nyssa from "Black Orchid" (my photomanip)

Nyssa: Yea or Nay?

Looking for Big Finish Reviews?

See below for my mini-reviews and ratings of EVERY Nyssa / Sarah Sutton Big Finish Audio Play!

A Gifted Scientist

Nyssa arrived just before the Peter Davison / Fifth Doctor era began in 1981. Alas, she was often overshadowed by the bickering of her fellow companions and the Doctor. She had a quiet grace, stubbornness, and stoicism that were easy to overlook amidst Five's noisy, dysfunctional TARDIS family.

Nevertheless, the character made a strong impression on me as a girl. Here was a young woman — a teenager, when the Doctor first took her aboard — a fairy princess who seemed to have stepped out of Midsummer Night's Dream, but who was really a scientist and engineer, smart and capable and self-reliant.

Our first glimpse of Nyssa was in Keeper of Traken, stunning guards and bribing sentries to help the Doctor and his companions escape, spouting off technobabble and jury-rigging an electronic whatsit to thwart the Master and help extricate the Doctor from a tight spot. It was the first of several times that Nyssa's role was to construct gadgets and get things done while the Doctor was in the clutches of the villain.

When she was brought back as a regular companion for the Fourth Doctor's final episode, I was deeply moved by young Nyssa staring at the TARDIS viewscreen, watching her world disappear behind the creeping black tendrils of matter-devouring entropy. It was one of those classic Who moments that stayed with me.

Nyssa: "Adric...I can't see Traken. I can't even see Metulla Orionsis. The Master killed my stepmother, and then my father, and now the world that I grew up in— blotted out forever."

Actress Sarah Sutton, tied for youngest Who actor at age 18, sold this moment of unimaginable loss convincingly with a voice that shook and steel-gray eyes that did not weep or look away. The Master hadn't merely killed her father; he'd taken over Tremas' body. In subsequent stories, Nyssa kept having to face her father's murderer staring out through her father's eyes.

It was a moving introduction to this serious girl who faced almost as much loss as recent Doctors without dwelling on angst or drawing attention to her grief. There was further heartbreak ahead: she witnessed the most memorable death of any classic Who companion, losing the friend who had been at her side when Traken was destroyed. Big Finish audio episodes piled on more angst, making her suffer greatly on several occasions for her association with the Doctor.

During happier times, Nyssa had a delightful "odd couple" dynamic with Tegan, the abrasive, unlearned but plucky Australian air stewardess who had blundered into the TARDIS while trying to call a garage to help her change a flat tire. Their friendship is the only strong bond between two female characters that I can remember in classic Who.

Fan Video: Fun Homage to Nyssa & Tegan

Classic Who: "Castrovalva"

An Alien Orphan

Sadly, many writers did not know what to do with Nyssa's character, sometimes shoving her in the freezer for whole episodes. There was only one story, Arc of Infinity, in which she had a chance to demonstrate what Peter Davison believed: that Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor worked well together. Nyssa could back up the Doctor with her own scientific skills and expertise, assist in TARDIS repairs, serve as copilot or eyes and ears, and incapacitate the guards (!) when the Doctor was being too pacifistic for his own good. She was also an aristocratic young lady with enough dignity and presence to tell off the entire High Council of Gallifrey when she argued eloquently for the Doctor's life.

Nyssa's costuming, once it broke free of producer John Nathan Turner's bizarre "one character, one costume" rule, was a bit of a mess. She started out as the fairy princess, but soon changed to a more practical, elegant maroon velvet outfit with pants and long-sleeved doublet. After fan complaints that she was too covered up, she was briefly shoved into a godawful short dress that Davison's wife said looked like a deck chair, then rocked an oh-so-eighties but functional Space Babe in Moon Boots ensemble for an episode, and finally... well, to make fans happy, she stripped down to near-undies for her last story under the flimsy pretext that she was dying of Lazar's Disease and feverish. Sarah Sutton was beautiful, a tiny, etherial woman with a dancer's poise, but it was a disservice to the character to relegate her to eye candy.

Nyssa's strong moral convictions matched the Doctor's. Small wonder that she, like Romana, chose to leave the TARDIS for a cause worthy of the Doctor himself: to fight a plague that Nyssa herself had barely survived.

Nyssa only appeared in thirteen classic Who TV stories, a season and a half. But thanks to 15 years of Big Finish audio plays, an actress whose uncanny voice has barely aged in 30 years, and her biggest cheerleader, the Fifth Doctor himself, Nyssa has blossomed into a popular and complex Who companion, with 40+ episodes (most of them 4-parters) under her belt as of April 2014.

Nyssa's Farewell: A Fitting End

Nyssa Appearances: TV Episode Guide Seasons 18-19

EpisodeSeason / YearSummary

The Keeper of Traken

Season 18 / 1981

An old enemy threatens the idyllic world of Traken. Nyssa (originally cast only for this episode) and her father join the Doctor to defeat him.


Season 18 / 1981

Final episode of the Fourth Doctor; the Master tries to take control of the universe and nearly destroys it. Memorable Nyssa angst.


Season 19 / 1982

After Adric is captured, Nyssa and Tegan help a confused Fifth Doctor through a difficult regeneration. Great story.

Four to Doomsday

Season 19 / 1982

A somewhat patchy "aliens planning to take over Earth" episode with some good moments, but one can tell this was Davison's first episode to be filmed. The cast isn't quite clicking yet.


Season 19 / 1982

A fan-acclaimed, eerie tale of possession and a serpent in Eden; Tegan gets a chance to shine, but Nyssa is stashed in the TARDIS for the entire story. Grr.

The Visitation

Season 19 / 1982

Decent period story; everybody else runs around while the Doctor sends Nyssa back to the TARDIS to build a gadget that will help save their asses.

Black Orchid

Season 19 / 1982

Charming Agatha Christie style 1920s mystery in which the Doctor plays cricket, Nyssa and Tegan play flappers, and Adric stuffs his face. Sutton does double duty as Ann Talbot.


Season 19 / 1982

An excellent Cyberman story with a memorable ending that traumatized a generation of fans. Adric wasn't popular, but what a sendoff.


Season 19 / 1982

I liked this story as a kid because it had Concordes in it. It also has REALLY bad FX and the Master at his most campy. But at least Nyssa gets to throw a rock and be possessed?

Season Twenty Trilogy

Classic Who TV Season 20

Peter Davison pleaded to keep Nyssa on the show when the TV exec sword of Damocles began to wobble over her head, but eventually he lost the fight. Nyssa of Traken was cut loose from the TARDIS midway through Season 20.

I think Nyssa's final four stories have some of her best moments (although Terminus is a bit draggy, despite having some interesting guest characters and space pirates with amazing 80s hair).

Even better, Big Finish has shoehorned a suite of fantastic new audio episodes into the continuity of Season 20, taking advantage of the different combinations of companions that year.

Doctor Who TV Episode Guide: Nyssa's Last Season

EpisodeSeason / YearSummary

Arc of Infinity

Season 20 / 1983

The Doctor and Nyssa take on the High Council of Gallifrey, Colin Baker shoots his predecessor, and Tegan takes a trip to Amsterdam and somehow lands back on the TARDIS.


Season 20 / 1983

The Mara makes Tegan's life hell again. One of the best stories of the Five era, and Team Nerd gets a bit of a swansong.

Mawdryn Undead

Season 20 / 1983

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart returns and reminds us why we love him, Turlough strikes a rotten deal with a man wearing a dead bird on his head, and some creepy-ass aliens give the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan a Timey-Wimey runaround.


Season 20 / 1983

The first of many grimdark Fifth Doctor episodes, a bit clunky, but it's Nyssa's farewell story. Whimper.


Season 20 / 1983

Nyssa is NOT in this episode, but it's the end of the Black Guardian trilogy. More importantly, the Big Finish older!Nyssa episodes pick up after this story ends.

Caves of Androzani

Season 21 / 1984

Nyssa has a 3-second cameo in the Fifth Doctor's last episode. Big Finish's "Circular Time" story and a few older!Nyssa episodes tie into this story.

List of Nyssa & Five Big Finish Episodes (As of fall 2014)

Sarah Sutton's Big Finish Doctor Who episodes as of fall 2014. Amazing: Sarah was in only 12 TV episodes, but 44 full-length audio episodes! (Own collage)

Sarah Sutton's Big Finish Doctor Who episodes as of fall 2014. Amazing: Sarah was in only 12 TV episodes, but 44 full-length audio episodes! (Own collage)

Big Finish Audio: Where to Start

I suggest three or four of: Primeval, The Game, Circular Time (patchy quality, but you absolutely MUST hear the "Winter" chapter, plus it's cheap), Children of Seth (with Tegan!), 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men, and/or 1001 Nights.

Then you'll be ready for the disturbing masterpiece, Spare Parts. (After which you may want to cleanse the palette with the Pythonesque Castle of Fear.)

Alternatively, you may want to dive into Big Finish's imaginative older!Nyssa story arc. I strongly recommend Cobwebs, Cradle of the Snake and Emerald Tiger.

"Circular Time": 4 in 1

A BF Classic: "Spare Parts"

Big Finish Audio: Five & Nyssa

Meet one of the most awesome, unsung Doctor/ Companion combos ever, whom I affectionately call TEAM NERD.

Starting in the year 2000, actress Sarah Sutton signed on with Big Finish to reprise the role of Nyssa alongside Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor. Over twenty years before, he had argued that his Doctor and Nyssa would make an excellent team, and I'm so delighted that we've finally gotten to see, er, hear what he had in mind. Shippers have fun imagining behind-the-scenes sparks between "Nyssa and Fivey," but frankly, I appreciate having a Doctor and an intelligent female companion who care deeply for one another but are simply good friends, trusting and respecting one another's abilities.

Smart, dedicated, and courageous, they battle evil across the universe WITH SCIENCE. Some of their character study stories are quite moving and heartwrenching dramas. Continuity-wise, all these stories are supposed to happen in the gap between TV season 19 and 20, when Tegan was left back on Earth at the end of "Time Flight." It's getting increasingly difficult to justify why the Doctor and Nyssa don't have the synergy in TV season 20 that they've developed in Big Finish stories, but we're enjoying Team Nerd too much to care.

Sorry, Tegan. I'd wager that you had no idea when you were stranded at Heathrow that the Doctor and your best friend had years of adventures together before they caught up with you again.

Big Finish Audio Episodes Guide: Five & Nyssa

Episode / Rating (out of 5)Episode # / SeasonSummary

The Land of the Dead (**)

(Big Finish #4) 2000

Atmospheric story featuring the Doctor and Nyssa in Alaska, our first glimpse of Team Nerd kicking ass. Somewhat marred by ethnic stereotypes.

Winter for the Adept (***)

(Big Finish #10) 2000

Thriller / ghost story with Peter Jurasik (Londo of Babylon 5 guest-starring); Nyssa oddly acerbic. Fun, but the psychic daisy chain and villains are a bit contrived.

The Mutant Phase (*)

(Big Finish #15) 2000

Nyssa's first meeting with the Daleks. Part of a larger multi-Doctor BF story arc. Timey-wimey ending and flat guest characters didn't grab me.

Primeval (****)

(Big Finish #26) 2001

One of my favorites, very Nyssa-centric. She falls ill, and the Doctor takes her to Traken's past looking for a physician. How far will he go to save her?

Spare Parts (*****)

(Big Finish #34) 2002

A justly-acclaimed Big Finish masterpiece. Powerful, chilling dystopia: I never expected a Cyberman origin story to feel this modern (or this disturbing).

Creatures of Beauty (****)

(Big Finish #44) 2003

A masterly, unorthodox tale in which the narrative is presented out of order to let you piece together different points of view. Daring story but highly unsettling, turning a critical eye on the Doctor's flaws. Brutal in spots.

The Game (****)

(Big Finish #66) 2005

The Doctor and Nyssa get embroiled in a deadly planetary pasttime. William Russell (played Ian, first Doctor companion) guest stars as a flaky old diplomat.

Circular Time (****)

(Big Finish #91) 2007

Four mini-episodes; first three may not be to everyone's taste, but the last one, "Winter," is an amazing head trip and one of the most moving, gutpunching bits of classic Who nostalgia ever. It made me tear up.

Renaissance of the Daleks (*)

(Big Finish #93) 2007

Meh. Some interesting ethical questions about restoring alternate timelines, but this is a patchy Dalek story to skip unless you're feeling completist.

Return to the Web Planet (***)

(Bonus Release VI)

Lightweight, one-hour vintage Who adventure with unusual aliens, a simple plot, appealling guest characters and a few good Nyssa & Five bits; basic but a nice break from grimmer stories.

The Haunting of Thomas Brewster (****)

(Big Finish #107) 2008

An unusual, atmospheric ghost story set in Victorian London, with Brewster as Oliver Twist to the Doctor and Nyssa's Holmes and Watson. I loved this.

The Boy That Time Forgot (**)

(Big Finish #110) 2008

Bizarre premise that has some fans frothing at a partial retcon. Don't read reviews or you'll be spoiled for a story that's surprisingly moving by the end. On odd days I love it; on even days I think it's too odd.

Time Reef & A Perfect World (**)

(Big Finish #113) 2008

An eerie, phantom world-in-a-bubble with Homeric heroes in space, and a half-hour alternate timeline story to tie off the Brewster thead before the Doctor strangles him.

Castle of Fear (***)

(Big Finish #127) 2009

Monty Pythonesque, yet a surprisingly good story, the first of the popular episodes set in Stockbridge.

The Eternal Summer (***)

(Big Finish #128) 2009

Another great Stockbridge story with the Doctor and Nyssa living alternate lives in a quaint English Village where time stands still.

Plague of the Daleks (***)

(Big Finish #129) 2009

Stockbridge's distant future as a historical site is troubled by zombies, Daleks and annoying tourists. Surprisingly strong story with the Doctor and Nyssa separated and working independently to deal with horrific dangers.

The Demons of Red Lodge (**)

(Big Finish #142) 2010

4 separate stories like Circular Time, with a horror theme. BF was experimenting with these; some are more successful than others.

1001 Nights (***)

(Big Finish #168) 2012

Nyssa gets to be Scheherazade; Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir of DS9) gets to be the Sultan, and BF spins out another magical 4-mini-story montage. I enjoyed all of these, even yet another Nyssa!Possessed story.

1963: Fanfare for the Common Men (*****)

(Big Finish #178) 2013

Big Finish at its best. Remember "John Smith & the Common Men" whom the Doctor's granddaughter was bopping to in the very first Dr. Who episode? Here they are!

Moonflesh (***)

(Big Finish #185) 2014

Good solid period story, nothing too deep, a bit like Black Orchid with more aliens. And again with the indigenous stereotypes. Nyssa's being gutsy.

Tomb Ship (***)

(Big Finish #186) 2014

Raiders of the Lost Ark crossed with Mommie Dearest. I liked the screwed-up tomb raider family in this; it's like evil Lara Croft at 80.

Masquerade (****)

(Big Finish #187) 2014

One of those amazing period piece Doctor Whos that turns out to be something else entirely. In this case, a NIGHTMARE. Listen for the Doctor's heartfelt scream... gaaah. Imaginative, exciting, and genuinely terrifying in spots, but the ending is unsatisfying (intentionally so).

Team Nyssa & Tegan

Other Team Five Audio

Team Nerd (the Doctor & Nyssa) get the lion's share of Big Finish episodes, but occasionally BF manages to round up other combinations of actors to reprise their roles from the Fifth Doctor years.

Some of these stories are adapted from scripts that were planned for TV but never materialized, while others are original BF stories inserted into the continuity arcs of various television seasons.

The Short Trips episodes are 15-minute-long stories each read by a single actor, bundled into an 8-story collection with different Doctors and companions.

Summer 2014 saw a "Five Doctor" box set with two 4-part stories reuniting Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan for the first time.

Then there are the older!Nyssa stories with Tegan and Turlough — yes, really! — see below.

Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and Other Companions and/or Doctors

If I haven't rated it, I haven't heard it yet. But HANG ON! The best is yet to come!


The Darkening Eye (CC #14) ****

Nyssa, Adric, Tegan between TV "Black Orchid" and "Earthshock"

Narrated by Sarah Sutton, who does surprisingly credible imitations of Tegan, the Doctor and Adric; this is a creepy story with a lot of character study and fodder for both Nyssa/Tegan AND Nyssa/Five shippers.

The Elite (Lost Stories #10) **

Nyssa & Tegan after TV "Arc of Infinity"

A trip to a garden planet lands them in yet another dystopia with a totalitarian religion and brainwashing -- and Nyssa gets a nasty dose of the latter. I'm getting burned out on grimdark Eric Saward settings, but other reviewers like this one.

Hexagora (Lost Stories #16) ***

Nyssa & Tegan after TV "Arc of Infinity"

Imaginative SF romp combining Tudor England, alien abductions, political intrigue, sentient insects, the Doctor's closest shave with marital bliss since The Aztecs, and the inimitable Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan of Blake's 7).

The Children of Seth (Lost Stories #17) ****

Nyssa & Tegan after TV "Arc of Infinity"

Guest stars David Warner AND Honor Blackman in a convincingly well-developed alien society built on propaganda and intrigue.

Psychodrome (5th Dr Box Set) ****

Adric, Nyssa & Tegan after "Castrovalva"

Team Five thrown into a psychological holodeck, fascinating premise. We get to see each of them through the others' eyes.

Iterations of I (5th Doctor Box Set) ***

Adric, Nyssa & Tegan after "Black Orchid"

A more straightforward ghost story giving Adric & Tegan more chances to shine. Math geeky and retro 80s tech!

The Five Companions (subscription only) ****

Nyssa, Ian, Steven, Sara Kingdom, Polly get their own side adventure with Five right smack dab in the middle of "The Five Doctors," when the recall device taking Five to the capitol goes a bit wonky.

Utterly gratuitous fanservice that made me grin from ear to ear (Ian compliments Nyssa's scientific skills! So cute!) but I wish the Daleks weren't so loud.

The Light at the End ****

Doctors 4-8, Leela, Nyssa, Peri, Ace, Charley, and TONS of brief cameos (other companions and even other Doctors)

This is the 50th anniversary special for classic Who fans! As with the Five Doctors, the Doctors get more of a spotlight than their companions, but Nyssa gets to be clever, compassionate, and also the one who inadvertently screws up and kills everybody. No, really, listen closely. It's her fault!

The Deep (Short Trips #1) ***

A "Team Nerd" story read by Peter Davison

Nyssa tries to fix the chameleon circuit and turns the TARDIS into a space whale. I love typing that. :D

Seven to One (Short Trips #3)

"Team Nerd" makes a cameo, read by Nicholas Briggs

Haven't bought it yet; it sounds like a fun mashup of seven classic companions and their Doctors.

The Lions of Trafalgar (Short Trips #4)

Nyssa & Tegan after "Arc," read by Peter Davison

The Doctor's on top of Nelson's column, and the lions are trying to eat the tourists. WTF?!

Smoke & Mirrors (Destiny of the Doctor #5)

Nyssa, Adric, Tegan after "Visitation," read by Janet Fielding

Team Five travel back to meet Harry Houdini. Master alert!

Sometimes, You Can Go Back

My Favorite BF Episode

Big Finish's Older!Nyssa

Mark Strickson, Turlough's actor, was tired of recording Big Finish episodes all by his lonesome or just with Peter Davison. He yearned to get his entire Team Five back together: Turlough, Tegan, Nyssa and the Doctor.

Problem: Nyssa and Turlough only overlapped for two television episodes, during which time Turlough was under the Black Guardian's control and trying to kill the Doctor.

Solution: Timey-wimey, of course! Well, not really, but it's been two days since Terminus for Tegan and friends, whereas fifty years have passed for Nyssa (who, conveniently, ages at a slower rate than humans, so she looks exactly like Sarah Sutton does now. Or did, until the writers started tinkering, because oh no, we can't have an older woman aboard the TARDIS; that's just crazy talk!)

Continuity-wise, all these episodes get squeezed in after the TV episode Enlightenment, once Turlough is his own man and before Tegan leaves the TARDIS for good.

I love the additional backstory added to Nyssa's character. I just wish there had been a scene or two addressing how Nyssa & Tegan's friendship may have altered now that Nyssa is of an age to be Tegan's mom rather than her little sister. But the audio stories acknowledge their special bond beautifully, and there's some sweet moments between them.

Team Nerd is back, too, with the Doctor and Nyssa playing off each other like old friends. Even Nyssa and Turlough begin to click with one another. This foursome allows for a lot of interesting mixing and matching, since they have a habit of splitting into pairs and finding double the trouble!

There's a few clunkers in the older!Nyssa arc, but also a ton of excellent stories that improve upon but never forget the classic Who era that spawned this team.

Big Finish Audio: Older!Nyssa Episode Guide

EpisodeNumber / YearSummary

Cobwebs (****)

Main Series #136 (2010)

Timey Wimey, a plague, and a tight adventure set on a sinister research station: introducing older!Nyssa.

The Whispering Forest (***)

Main Series #137 (2010)

Classic SF: The Doctor & friends must help the superstitious descendents of an ancient spaceship crashed on an alien world.

The Cradle of the Snake (*****)

Main Series #138 (2010)

The return of the Mara with a side helping of awesome: this time, everybody gets a turn at being possessed! It's always fun when the nicest characters turn evil. :D

Heroes of Sontar (****)

Main Series #146 (2011)

I initially disliked this story with the cast acting like caricatures plus the dumbest Sontarans in the universe, but this farce has grown on me. Sense of humor required?

Kiss of Death (**)

Main Series #147 (2011)

Turlough's past catches up with him. A very predictable "old girlfriend" plot.

Rat Trap (*)

Main Series #148 (2011)

Rats and Nyssa compromising her ethics make me hate this with a passion. A pity, as it happens to be set in Stockbridge.

The Emerald Tiger (*****)

Main Series #159 (2012)

MUCH better. Set in colonial India, it's Indiana Jones meets Who crossed with the Jungle Book, H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and native Hindu mythology. All the Who regulars are awesome in this.

The Jupiter Conjunction (***)

Main Series #160 (2012)

Classic science fiction premise, imaginative worldbuilding inside a comet being used as a freighter. Five's manner of dealing with loss at the end sets him apart from later Doctors.

The Butcher of Brisbane (****)

Main Series #161 (2012)

Nyssa & Turlough team up for an awesome prequel to the Talons of Weng Chiang and -- EEEEEEK, Nyssa, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

Eldrad Must Die! (**)

Main Series #172 (2013)

A bit draggy; this is 3 parts stretched to 4, a lot of Hand of Fear fanservice. Not the best, but I enjoyed Turlough's headtrips with the Doctor, Tegan & Nyssa playing different roles.

The Lady of Mercia (***)

Main Series #173 (2013)

Fun classic Who historical adventure throwing Tegan back into 10th century England; the Queen and she are fab. Oddly pasted-on ending, but I enjoyed this slightly Xena-esque story.

Prisoners of Fate (****)

Main Series #174 (2013)

Wow, what a story. My eyes water just typing the episode name. Many loose ends in older!Nyssa's story are tied up. Painfully. Others are introduced. Better Timey-Wimey than the TV series, and a remarkable villain.

Interview with Nyssa's Actress: Sarah Sutton (Who starting 5:00)

For Further Reading


Tim Bradley on November 26, 2014:

I love Nyssa/Sarah Sutton so much!

Nyssa is my favourite 'Doctor Who' companion and I love her Big Finish/TV stories.

I've met Sarah lots of times at conventions and am one of her biggest fans.

I'm so pleased there's this web page about Nyssa/Sarah. Thank you for writing it. Tim.

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