Doctor Who, asides from being an important and influential science-fiction/fantasy television
programme has, for the past three decades, been an important source of exposure for one
of Britain's most sorely-neglected minority groups, a group which whilst existing on
the fringes of society nevertheless serves to enrich all our lives. That group is,
of course, the noble Cow.
The importance that Cows have had in the history of the United Kingdom cannot be
over-stressed; after his defeat in battle, it was a cow which restores Excalibur to
King Arthur; similarly, Robert the Bruce was given renewed courage after his defeat by
the sight of a cow determinedly spinning a web across the mouth of a cave in which he was
hiding. King Charles II hid on top of a cow to escape Cromwell's troopers, and, more
recently, it was the threat of cows being deployed as weapons of war which brought
the conflict in the Gulf to a mercifully quick conclusion. In true Doctor Who style,
your favourite television programme has, on several occasions paid tribute to the aching
debt owed by this fair isle to its cows.
The earliest appearance by a cow in Doctor Who is also the saddest; it is in "The
Crusades", when, as is well-documented, Douglas Camfield elected to shoot part of a
shot through the rib-cage of a decomposing cow's carcass. Whilst we, of course, prefer to
see our cows magnificently alive and sturdily patrolling England's green and pleasant
lands, this little episode serves as a terse reminder that cows do, in fact, die.
We are fortunate then that the second appearance of some cows in Doctor Who is a
thoroughly delightful one. It is in "The Invasion", and we are privileged to witness
not just one but TWO scenes involving cows, one in episode one and one in part eight.
Episode one, of course, does not exist, but eight does, and in the closing minutes,
as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe search for the invisible TARDIS, some cows are visibly
wandering around in the background. Especially significant is the fact that as the end
titles begin to roll, a cow is the last member of the cast seen in The Invasion, as
befits the status of the noble beast.
Following a brief bovine appearance in part one of "Planet of the Spiders", the
next story to concern us here is "Image of the Fendahl" which features by far
the largest part played by a cow in Doctor Who. In fact, this story is graced by the
presence of at least five cows, who are in fact instrumental to the plot as this
dialogue extract bears witness:
DOCTOR (To A Cow): Hello...(THE COW DOES NOT REPLY)...Excuse me, but which of you
ladies happens to be operating a time scanner (PAUSE)...mmm? (THE COW REMAINS ENIGMATICALLY
This is the closest that a cow has ever come to having a line of dialogue; it seems a
shame Chris Boucher who wrote "Fendahl" could not have provided a line, since it
would not only have simplified the Doctor's task in the context of the story, but
necessitated the cow being credited at the end of the episode; although "Spotlight" has a
comprehensive guide to cows currently working in film, television and theatre, they
(unfortunately) tend to look the same, which proves a great hindrance to compilers of
Cow Episode Guides such as Your Humble Narrator.
The Tom Baker error seemed to be inextricably linked with cows. It is a great shame
that Shada was never finished, as the location footage where Skagra's spacecraft
landed shows several cows to be present. The Doctor also mentions them by name.
No overview of cows in Doctor Who would be complete without mentioning the parts
various...erm...parts of cows have played in the series. From "The Enemy of the
World" when the arrested Denes is given a rather fine fillet steak to eat, via
Mike Yates' rather fetching suede jacket from "Planet of the Spiders" to Janet
Fielding's "Frontios" mini-skirt, various parts of cows have served
Doctor Who as admirably as the noble creatures themselves.
Don't have a cow for dinner, man, put one in Doctor Who instead.
Previously published in Think Tank issue 24 (August 1991), incorporating revisions in issues 25 and 28.