Some characters slip onto our TV screens quietly and sneak into our hearts slowly. We watch them develop and grow, and come to love them over time, sometimes despite very inauspicious beginnings (being eaten by a wheelie bin springs to mind).
Others make more of an impression from the get-go.
In this list, we’re celebrating some of the most memorable and impressive entrances of characters from TV shows. To make the list, a character had to be (or eventually become) a regular or frequently recurring character – no one-shot wonders here. And note this is a list for TV characters, so you won’t see any Captain Jack Sparrow or even the Borg Queen – all of these had to make their big impression on the small screen.
10. Madame Vastra and Jenny, Doctor Who
Episode: A Good Man Goes To War, Series Six
The scene: Madame Kovarian’s Marines have been on yellow alert for days, waiting for the Doctor and Rory to attack. As one of them wonders where the Doctor is, another points out that he could be anywhere in time and space, and the scene cuts to London, AD 1888, where a tall, elegantly dressed woman steps out of a carriage and goes in to greet her housekeeper…
First line: (Vastra) “Thank you Parker, I won’t be needing you again tonight.”
(Jenny) “You’re back early Ma’am. Another case cracked, I assume?”
Character-establishing moment: “How did you find him?” Jenny asks the still-cloaked figure. Vastra pulls back her hood to reveal Silurian features under her heavy veil and replies, “Stringy. But tasty all the same.” Jenny doesn’t bat an eyelid.
Why we love it: Vastra and Jenny have a knack for making an impression when they introduce themselves (a standout moment being that in The Snowmen, when Vastra cheerily introduces herself with “Good evening. I’m a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife”). But their original entrance in A Good Man Goes To War clearly sets up Vastra and Jenny’s unique spin on the Sherlock-inspired steampunk Victorian detective genre and ensures that, among the various friends and enemies encountered or introduced over the course of this episode, it’s they (and Strax) who stand out.
9. Gene Hunt, Life On Mars
Episode: Episode One, Series One
The scene: Utterly confused by everything from his clothes to his car to the disappearance of his mobile phone, Sam Tyler wanders into his office to find his desk gone, all the women gone and his request for a PC greeted by confusion as to why he wants a constable to come up. Convinced he’s drunk, his new colleagues try to get him to be a bit quieter, but it’s too late – the sounds of hacking coughing from the next room are followed by the emergence of his new boss, cigarette in his mouth, looking disgruntled, to say the least.
First line: “Word in yer shell-like, pal.”
Character-establishing moment: “[I’m] Gene Hunt, your DCI, and it’s 1973, almost dinner time. I’m ‘avin’ ‘oops.” Never have spaghetti hoops been referenced in so threatening a manner.
Why we love it: We should probably point out that spaghetti hoops are still widely available and not actually confined to the 1970s, but something about Gene Hunt’s proud proclamation that he’s having them for dinner definitely feels like a relic of another time. Stamping out his cigarette on the office floor so that he can slam Sam against the filing cabinet, Gene’s introduction immediately establishes him as the fists first, questions later Sweeney-like TV detective that he is, and while Sam may still be confused, we viewers know exactly where we are with him.
8. Aeryn Sun, Farscape
Episode: Pilot, Season One
The scene: Having been thrown through a wormhole, accidentally killed someone and ended up on a ship full of escaped prisoners, John Crichton is already not having the best day when he wakes up in a prison cell. “We can no more trust you than we can trust that,” Rygel tells him, pointing to the black-suited, helmeted figure in the corner. Fortunately, the initially robotic-looking creature pulls off her helmet and reveals herself to be a beautiful woman before attacking and straddling him – unfortunately, she’s not all that impressed with John.
First line: “What is your rank and regiment? And why are you out of uniform?”
Character-establishing moment: Aeryn’s apparent obliviousness to the thoughts clearly racing through John’s mind as she clamps her thighs around his head gives us a good early insight into her approach to life.
Why we love it: Aeryn’s introduction somehow manages to sexualise her while at the same time indicating how angry the character herself would be at the idea of being overly sexualised, which is quite a feat. But more importantly, the chemistry between her and Crichton is immediately apparent, and would be even without the thigh-clamping – though that doesn’t do it any harm.
7. Six, Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Episode: Miniseries, Part One
The scene: Our introduction to the re-imagined world of Battlestar Galactica opens with some basic information accompanied by an eerie soundtrack and a dark gunmetal aesthetic. We’re told that the Cylons were created by man, and that they rebelled. We see Cylon specifications and a couple of distinctly robotic, clearly mechanical Centurions walk in. And then a different model appears. A woman in blood-red and killer boots with a shock of blonde hair walks confidently between the Centurions and peers into the shocked human ambassador’s face, asking him…
First line: “Are you alive?”
Character-establishing moment: Six proceeds to distract the man from his impending doom with a major make-out session before telling him, “It has begun.” Sex and death all in one tall, red-clad bundle.
Why we love it: Six’s primary weapon is her sexuality and that much is obvious from her first scene – but she is also powerful, confident, ruthless and philosophical. It couldn’t be clearer that the Cylons is this reimagined series would be very different from their reptilian and robotic 1970s forebears.
6. Julius Caesar, Spartacus: War Of The Damned
Episode: Wolves At The Gate
The scene: While Crassus’ annoying son Tiberius tries to impress his father with his non-existent military skills, a much more important character is waiting in the hall – twenty-something Gaius Julius Caesar. With a goatee and shaggy blond hair reminiscent of Patrick Swayze in Point Break.
First line: “Am I to be kept waiting entire f*cking day?”
Character-establishing moment: Not a patient man, Caesar beats up a couple of Crassus’ slaves for no particular reason, and merely looks up with a cocky grin as Crassus walks in.
Why we love it: Most TV depictions of Julius Caesar focus on the end of his life, with Caesar a powerful general and elder statesman, but who ends his life vulnerable and alone, betrayed by some of those closest to him. It’s incredibly refreshing to see the younger Caesar on screen, the man who fled from a dictator, was kidnapped by pirates and may or may not have had an affair with the king of Bithynia. Granted, the hair and goatee are ridiculously inaccurate historically-speaking, but they effectively convey something of Caesar’s wild and rebellious character to the audience, and help him to stand out among Crassus’ straight-laced Roman household.
5. Michonne, The Walking Dead
Episode: Beside The Dying Fire, Season Two
The scene: Separated from the others and fleeing for her life, Andrea looks to be toast when the walker attacking her abruptly loses its head to the katana of a hooded figure dragging along two armless, captured walkers in chains.
First line: (Michonne doesn’t get any lines until Season Three’s opening episode, Seed, but when it eventually comes it’s “What are you doing out here?”).
Character-establishing moment: Is it the beheading of the walker or the reveal that she has two armless walkers on chains that she’s dragging around with her? We’re gonna go with armless walkers in chains. Gruesome and awesome all at once.
Why we love it: What we love about this entrance is that it’s a kick-ass entrance for an awesome female character which doesn’t need to sexualise her to make an impact. It’s just a shame that Danai Gurira hadn’t yet been cast at the time of filming, which is why unfortunately the only person of colour on this list is literally faceless in their opening. (It’s a sad truth that you’re more likely to get an awesome introduction in a TV series if you’re a white man). The fact that the character still manages to make an impact without removing her hood speaks to just how awesome an entrance this is.
4. Tommy Shelby, Peaky Blinders
Episode: Episode One, Series One
The scene: A man in a flat cap rides a horse through the back streets of Birmingham while around him children run and hide, terrified. Two extremely nervous-looking Chinese locals approach, the man telling him “This is her.”
First line: “The girl ‘oo tells fortunes?”
Character-establishing moment: Tommy has the girl blow red dust into the horse’s face, and makes sure everyone within earshot knows exactly which horse it is and fervently believes that the horse can’t lose when it races later in the week. As viewers already suspect, it’s all a show to get people to place their bets on the horse.
Why we love it: It’s hard to think of a better introduction to Tommy Shelby and his reputation that these opening shots of him as pure cowboy, riding a horse through suddenly-deserted streets – and showing off his smarts and his modus operandi as he subtly manipulates everyone around him. And then Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand comes on and it couldn’t be clearer just who this guy is and what he does. Not many characters could pull off being a cowboy/gangster in early twentieth-century Birmingham and make it look so effortlessly cool, but Cillian Murphy’s Tommy does it with ease.
3. Spike, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Episode: School Hard, Season Two
The scene: “It’s no biggie,” Xander tries to reassure Buffy about the upcoming Parent/Teacher night. “As long as nothing really bad happens between now and then you’ll be fine!” “Why did you say that? Now something bad is gonna happen!” Buffy protests. Xander tries to convince himself and the girls that “maybe this time it’ll be different,” but then we cut to night: rock music blaring, a black car smashes down the ‘Welcome To Sunnydale’ sign and a black-booted, black-leather-coated figure in full vamp face with a cigarette hanging from his lips steps out and says, with some satisfaction,
First line: “Home, sweet home.”
Character-establishing moment: All of it, really – but the character is further fleshed out later in the episode, when we see his cockiness (and even his vamp face) fall away to be replaced with loving concern as his sickly girlfriend Drusilla glides into the scene.
Why we love it: The vampires in Buffy’s first season were serviceable enough – Darla particularly impressed with her own role-reversing entrance in the pilot, the Master was ooky and fairly creepy, and of course the Anointed One was even creepier because he was a creepy child and those never stop being all kinds of wrong. But none of them really made much of an impression beyond providing suitably unpleasant antagonists for Buffy to kill. Spike and Drusilla brought cool-but-scary-and-evil vampires to the Buffyverse, providing antagonists we loved to watch for their own sake, even while cheering Buffy on as she fought them. Between the music, the outfit and the smashed sign, Spike’s entrance effectively communicates his cool/evil character in less than a minute of screen-time.
2. Castiel, Supernatural
Episode: Lazarus Rising, Season Four
The scene: In an abandoned building covered in anti-evil-thing symbols, armed with every weapon to kill every type of creature they know of, Dean and Bobby summon the mysterious ‘Castiel’ who pulled Dean out of Hell. And who is late. Suddenly, the light bulbs explode, the doors open and a man dressed like Constantine calmly walks in through the ensuing chaos and glittering sparks, Dean and Bobby’s gunfire having about as much effect as it would on Superman. Stabbing him just makes him look mildly perplexed.
First line: “I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition.”
Character-establishing moment: “I’m an angel of the Lord.” Dean doesn’t believe it, of course, but then a flash of lightening reveals huge black shadow-wings spread across the walls and the mythology of Supernatural is changed forever.
Why we love it: In this one scene, not only is the nature of angels in the Supernaturalverse established – powerful, ruthless and positively eerie – so is the character of Castiel, the eternally slightly befuddled, always well-meaning but simultaneously massively destructive angel (he’s already burned Pamela’s eyes out), trying (and failing) to convince Dean that “good things do happen”.
1. President Bartlet, The West Wing
Episode: Pilot, Season One
The scene: Josh has insulted a woman from the Christian right on national television, and now a group have come by to try to get him fired. They are in the middle of a row over the order of the Ten Commandments with Toby, causing one man to say angrily, “Then what’s the first Commandment?”
First line: “I am the Lord your God; thou shalt worship no other god before me!”
Character-establishing moment: Mr Van Dyke, undeterred, pleads with the President that surely, if a child can buy pornography on the street for five dollars, that’s too high a price to pay for free speech. No, Bartlet, tells him, but adds “I do think five dollars is too high a price to pay for pornography.” Earlier in the episode we learned that Bartlet was a liberal Catholic; here we start to understand him as a person and his approach to his religion, as he condemns the Christian right while defending his grand-daughter’s right to express her feelings on a woman’s right to choose. Just before he makes a really corny speech about a little girl and a tomato, but we won’t hold that against him.
Why we love it: OK, we admit, there’s a bit of writerly manipulation going on here – no activist member of the Christian right would really forget what the first Commandment is. And unlike Castiel, who actually has the goods to back up his claims, Bartlet’s opening statement doesn’t refer literally to himself. But it still goes down as one of the most gloriously over the top entrances of a TV character in history. After this beginning, we’re hardly surprised when Bartlet goes on to take down hypocrisy wherever he sees it and yell at God in Latin.
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