Doctor Who: Why Does the Doctor Never Come Face to Face with Susan Twist?

Her face might be everywhere, but he never looks directly at it.

Doctor Who screengrab from The Devil's Chord - the Doctor and Ruby and the tea lady
Photo: BBC

First things first: yes, that is her real name, or at least the one that she’s gone by professionally since 1980 (you can check the end credits on previous shows). Susan Twist is indeed the actor who has made a cameo appearance in every episode of Doctor Who this series, as well as the 2023 Christmas special and anniversary adventure “Wild Blue Yonder”. 

That fact is worth establishing because “Susan Twist” is a ridiculously fun name for a Doctor Who actor to have. That’s because the show’s first season in 1963 introduced a 15-year-old character named Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter. Susan was left behind on 22nd century Earth after falling in love with a local boy, and was told by the Doctor in 1964 episode “Flashpoint” that one day he would come back (though if he did, we never saw him do it). 

‘The Susan Twist’ sounds so much like a ready-made title for a Doctor Who serial that when showrunner Russell T Davies saw the name on the “Wild Blue Yonder” cast list, he must have hooted with joy. A Susan Twist! In Doctor Who! What larks.

From that point onwards, larks – or a carefully strategized plot point, whatever you want to call it – ensued. After playing Sir Isaac Newton’s housekeeper Mrs Merridew in the second 60th anniversary special, Twist has made a range of cameos including: a Steeleye Span fan requesting a song from Ruby’s band in “The Church on Ruby Road”, the comms officer on the abandoned baby farm in “Space Babies”, a tea lady at Abbey Road studios in “The Devil’s Chord”, the avatar for the automated Villengard ambulance in “Boom”, a hiker Ruby meets on a Welsh clifftop in “73 Yards” and the mother of airhead bigot Lindy Pepper-Bean in “Dot and Bubble”. 

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We’ve seen this kind of thing before on Doctor Who of course. In series six, Madame Kovarian kept popping up in front of the duplicate Amy Pond to indicate that the real Amy was out there somewhere having been kidnapped and kept captive by Kovarian. In series seven, Clara stepped into the time winds and popped up as echo versions of herself throughout the Doctor’s timeline. 

Twist is due to appear as “The Portrait” in episode six “Rogue” and is also on the cast list for series 14’s two-part finale “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” and “Empire of Death”. Keep an eye out for her in those, and in particular, make note of whether the Doctor ever looks directly at her while in the same room.

At the time of writing, the Doctor has only interacted with a living, breathing Susan Twist cameo character once, but a bit of neat panto choreography ensures that the pair never come face to face. In “The Devil’s Chord”, the Doctor and Ruby buy two cups of tea from a character played by Twist. All the time the Doctor is facing the camera, she’s facing away from it, and when he turns to face her, she turns away from him. (Check for yourself around the 10 minute mark.)

The only other time the Doctor’s been in the same room with a Twist character was at the pub gig in “The Church on Ruby Road”, when they had no interaction. In every other encounter, the Twist cameo has been a pre-recorded video (“Space Babies”, “Dot and Bubble”) or AI avatar (“Boom”). In “Space Babies”, both the Doctor and Ruby were distracted by the malfunctioning spaceship at the precise moment that Twist’s character began to speak on the video. And in “73 Yards”, only Ruby saw and spoke to the hiker played by Twist in her suspended timeline – an event which Ruby still has a vague memory of according to her double-take in “Dot and Bubble”. 

So, why does the TARDIS keep bringing the Doctor to planets and places where a Susan Twist cameo is never far away? And what happens if the Doctor and a Susan Twist character ever actually look at each other? A long-lost family reunion, or something…else?

Doctor Who series 14 continues with “Rogue” on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and Disney+.

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