Further character notes on Vislor Turlough:

(I'm still pretending this is in aid of Moggie's paper, shut up. Her birthday's coming up and I'm not digging out my long-forgotten tumblr password just to put it all on there for her.)

The Doctor almost certainly knows that he's not really an English schoolboy within a few minutes of meeting him. Turlough does a conspicuous amount of not freaking out over things like a dimensionally-transcendental transmat capsule that teleports him up to a giant Art Nouveau-style spaceship. He doesn't even bother to pretend much -- he makes a few off-handed comments about the ship's drive well within earshot of the Doctor, and knows it -- and the Doctor also doesn't really pretend to be surprised that he's not pretending. If you follow the expanded universe stuff, the place he's from is, or at least was, a fairly wealthy trading planet; they used transmat routinely, and although they didn't develop the pocket dimension stuff themselves, they had no problems with buying it off of other races who had.

Turlough also doesn't look quite right, for human. Production-wise, the actor was fairly blond to begin with, and they deliberately didn't dye his eyebrows to match his hair. The Doctor also mentions in one of the novels that, while Earth won't technically kill the kid, Turlough doesn't have such a fun time breathing in our atmosphere. He describes it as asthma with a tendency towards nausea and migraines, but he's also explaining it to the Brigadier, who sometimes needs things skewed into human terms. The root problem, as per Turlough himself, is that this planet is cold and damp and in many other respects unpleasantly sodden for someone whose species evolved in a giant desert. Whoever decided to dump him in England, of all places, had a particularly cruel sensibility.

Dumping him on Earth at all is another thing. When Turlough does eventually cough up what happened, he tells the Doctor that he was on the wrong side of a civil war, his mother was killed, and he, his father, and his infant brother were exiled. (This is after a few episodes of exasperation and demands on the Doctor's part. When Turlough finally spills, the Doctor just looks at him like, 'okay, yes, I understand why this is distressing for you, but seriously -- this is what you were so terrified of telling me?') The fact that he got out of it alive at all suggests that Turlough was fairly important to someone. You space random cannon fodder, you don't ship it across the galaxy and enroll it in public school. Most of the audio writers and novelists assume that Turlough's family was noble, wealthy, or both. Presumably they were on the side of the old regime; the brand he copped just before being shunted to boarding school matches that on a bunch of stuff at the Sarn colony, and the thing Peri's father dug up on Lanzarote, and upstart revolutions generally don't have the funding to manufacture random artifacts just to plaster their logo all over them.

(I don't think anyone ever explains how that thing, or the beacon, wound up on Earth, either. Message in a bottle, perhaps? There's a solicitor supposed to be keeping one beady eye on Turlough at school, mentioned as part of a conversation where Turlough admits glumly that the Trion have agents everywhere. Presumably some of them are trying to police this sort of thing, and some of them are trying to avoid the policemen -- the Great Game, it goes on everywhere. How typical this is, is unmentioned. Given that the Trion also apparently have physically-encoded racial memory of things like the Tractators, it's entirely possible that a talent for weaseling is literally in his DNA.)

Turlough evidently is roughly the Trion equivalent to the 18-19 year old schoolboy he's pretending to be when he first signs onto the TARDIS crew; the Doctor treats him, and defends his conduct to the Eternals in Enlightenment, as an intelligent but inexperienced and traumatized kid. The Doctor has to be judging this from his behavior, as he doesn't know where Turlough's originally from until he 'fesses up on Sarn -- Turlough mentions that he ought to go home at a couple of points, but all indications from both the series and the audios/novels is that he somehow never gets around to mentioning where that is, and the Doctor intentionally does not ask. He does give some descriptions of the environment to a few people; as mentioned above, the Doctor knows enough to know he's supposed to be living in a huge arid desert, and in Loups-Garoux he tells a girl about trees with leaves broad and thick enough to stand on. That does actually sound a lot like succulents -- desert plants on Earth like cacti and aloes have fat, heavy leaves with a hefty internal structure, because that's where they hoard water.

Despite his youth, he has (or had) the military rank of "Lieutenant Ensign Commander" in some branch or another of the Trion forces. No indication of exactly where that falls on the hierarchy, other than a ship captain demanding to know why he isn't saluting a superior officer, and Turlough giving a bitter, wiseass answer. The "Lieutenant" part suggests it's some kind of junior officer rank -- either they were really running out of people to conscript by the time he got there, or Turlough's commission was bought, as was once common practice in the various militaries of Europe.

They also don't mention where exactly he served or in what department, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say shipboard, and possibly in a technical capacity. Turlough knows or guesses an awful lot about how the various control widgets on Mawdryn's ship work, and can definitively tell the Doctor that the half-wrecked tech on Sarn is of Trion origin. He claims in one of the books not to really understand the "fourth- and fifth-dimensional physics" that make the TARDIS actually go, but he obviously has a good idea of how all the various control systems are actually hooked together, in much the same way as one can know how to build a computer whose OS one has no earthly idea how to operate; early on, the Black Guardian keeps trying to get him to pull pieces out of the console under the assumption that if he just names one, Turlough will know it when he sees it. He's the only companion I can recall who's routinely standing at the console with the Doctor, opposite side, and working things without getting very specific "no, press that button" orders, and the only one who answers 'where are we?' questions by just reading off a display instead of making the Doctor do it. At the very least, he knows where the self-test buttons are, and how to input what the Doctor tells him to do.

A couple of other people have dug the TARDIS operating manual out in emergencies, but it apparently doesn't help them much. Turlough obviously has something his background that's sufficiently analogous to temporal navigation and piloting that when the Doctor explains this stuff, at least some of it sticks. It's worth noting that, especially early on when he feels like he has to bargain for his place in the world by being useful rather than personally valuable, he never really bothers to point out that he can push TARDIS buttons without heading straight into disaster, and other people can't. It's apparently normal enough to him that he considers it a standard skill that the others are deficient in, rather than a special skill he can use to secure his spot on the crew. The Doctor seems quite comfortable having his help at the console, which is also a bit unusual -- normally he's kind of fussy about letting other people touch anything aside from the door controls and the scanner switches.

It's implied in a couple expanded universe things that Turlough knows how to fly reasonably standard small spacecraft, but never mentioned if this is a specialty or military skill where he comes from, or if he just learned to drive before he got the boot. It's unlikely he was ever trained as infantry. If there's one thing he's consistently lousy at, it's murdering people one-on-one.

If you go by the expanded universe stuff, Turlough stayed with the Doctor for quite some time. Freakshow mentions "a few months of peace" on the TARDIS post-Terminus; The Butcher of Brisbane has a three-year gap where he's with Nyssa but they're both separated from the Doctor, because out-of-synch time travel. The book Kings of Terror indicates that Turlough's been on board about a year, and they're still with Tegan at that point, but nobody has formally decided that the audios and novels happen in the same continuity, and whether either of them properly fit with the TV show, so who knows. There are also a few audios that are meant to go between  Resurrection of the Daleks and Planet of Fire, and at least one novel, Lords of the Storm, where Turlough and the Doctor are travelling alone together; Turlough is full of grumbling and smart remarks and a willingness to argue, and in general no longer at all afraid of being put ashore and left there merely for informing the Doctor that the idea he just had was unusually dangerous and mad even for him.

Technically, Kamelion is somewhere in the innards of the TARDIS all this time; I know of one novel that involves the thing, Imperial Moon, which I didn't bother finishing. There are forty pages of Jules Verne pastiche before anything even vaguely interesting happens, and I found the Doctor's characterization to be off. Something about the punctuation in his dialogue, I think. The distinction between rambling and important with many of the Doctors is down to pauses and breaks, and if you can't figure out the correct notation for the timing, then it reads like it has no real inflection -- particularly with Five, who likes to spit everything out in as few breaths as possible. YMMV, though.


  1. Thank you for writing this all down, "Arabella Flynn". This will help me a bit when I cosplay Vislor Turlough on November 23. :) I've sent for the perfect necktie and I've been listening, watching and reading all I can about the character. (I also play a fair fem!10 which I intend to do on Halloween with my father playing a version of the Master.) The suit and waistcoat isn't the right colours and not quite the right styles but I'm sure I will be able to either work with it or get something else. All I really need, for now, is a wig and a pair of dress shoes. Wish me luck. ;)

  2. Hey, just for everybody's notes, his necktie is a Cheshire Regimental. Seriously, go check it out, it's got the colors in the right order and the spacing is perfect.

  3. Oh, also! If you like more info on Vislor Turlough's life, check out "Eldrad Must Die" from Big Finish Audio. I don't know how canon it is, but it does expand on his story.

  4. I finished Imperial Moon, OP. Turlough needs hugs at the end of it. He'd gotten a crush on that girl.

    Oh, and it's "Junior Ensign Commander", not "Lieutenant Ensign Commander". See "Planet of Fire"


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