A Companion With Potential by Emily Moniz 21/8/97
Nyssa of Traken is my favourite companion, in case you couldn't guess by my e-mail address. My first exposure to her was in a Missing Adventure, Goth Opera. Then, I saw Castrovalva. After that, I was hooked. Here was a young woman with intellegence, grace and poise. Here was a character with depth. Nyssa lost her entire world to the Master's plots in Logopolis. (I learned most of this in retrospect.) The Master was running about wearing her father's body. She, more than anyone else, had reason to hate him passionately. And yet, Nyssa never let that effect what she did with the Doctor and the rest of the TARDIS crew, or when she herself encountered the Master. That took courage and a great deal of self-control. Nyssa was one of the only companions who was able to control the TARDIS. No small feat, I assure you. Nyssa also was an accomplished scientist, at a very young age.
Here was a perfect foil for Davison's Doctor. Someone whose intellegence and humanity matched his own, and who had that certain spark. They knew each other instinctively. What a match it could have been! Davison has been known to say that his Doctor and Nyssa would have made the best pair out of all the companions from his era. I agree. Their performance in Arc of Infinity was extraordinary. But instead, Tegan was brought back, and Nyssa was left on Terminus. I'm surprised no one saw the possibilities the young Trakenite presented to the programme. But we'll never know. One could only imagine what the pair could have done together.
Too much, too young? by Ian Cawood 23/8/00
Like favourite Doctors, our choice of favourite companions from the series depends on what age we were when we first saw/him her, our chracters, and the personal situations we were in at the time. Doctor Who, to those who grew up with the series, was always about escapism - escaping from the safe, dull suburban worlds we lived in and going, well, anywhere - that's why it was such a success - for those of us growing up in a society with limited respect for imagination and ideas, where money seemed to be the only thing that mattered - Doctor Who offered an imaginative escape.
I was hooked before Season 18 - hell, I was born at the right time - I was scared witless by seasons 12, 13 and 14 (I remember refusing to watch Brain of Morbius just because of the title). I found 15 and 16 silly and exhilarating, but by 1979 I was 13, and getting a bit old for it, I felt. Then came season 18 - nuclear war, evolution, vampirism, time distortion, entropy - they say DW's written for the intelligent 14 year old - well, I just sat there and I boggled - I even suddenly decided to become a scientist (I changed my mind...). It looked wonderful, the characters and alien societies were so believable, Tom Baker stopped chewing the scenery and put in an extraordinary performance - and best of all the music - all wonderful swooping synths and wall-to-wall sound - I was in TV heaven (and even managed to put up with Adric).
So what's all this got to do with Nyssa, you cry? Well, she epitomised season 18 to me, and as long as she was still in the series, there was a bit of the magic still there. Why? Because she was a character - not a 'companion'. If you watch Keeper, with all its Season 18 hallmarks of a complex, distinct alien society, you realise that Nyssa is not being introduced as a companion - hell, how many companions don't speak in their opening scenes and only have one line in the whole of their debut episode? Nyssa was part of a world, one in which she was very happy, and one for which she was prepared to fight - the lines she had were fantastic - 'This Melkur has made you mad!' 'They offend the dignity of the Keeper - have them removed.' and best of all, in reply to Neman's 'you will die for this, lady' , her totally calm and focused, 'I know what I am doing'. Sarah Sutton plays her beautifully (from many years TV experience she knew the benefits of underplaying the character, allowing Nyssa to express herself through gesture, movement and expression), so when the leaving scene came, I thought - 'eh? I thought she was going to be a companion?'. Then with the death of Tremas (Anthony Ainley's finest performance by a mile), you suddenly realised that Nyssa's involvement with the Doctor was not going to be voluntary.
With that scene and then Logopolis, Nyssa became quite unique in DW terms - the 'galactic orphan' - a character of pathos, who travelled with the Doctor, not by accident or desire for adventure, but from cruel necessity. Of course, once Bidmead left, and the programme quickly resorted to run-arounds and scary monsters, Nyssa's character became eclipsed behnd the walking script devices that were Tegan ('who wants an argument?') and Adric ('anything crap - my speciality!'). Only just occasionally, with a lot of effort from Sarah Sutton and not much help from the scripts, did we see a little of the noble alien, who had been torn away from everything she loved - the confrontation with Monarch ('what about love?'), the single-handed destruction of the android in Visitation, the anger in Arc of Infinity ('so much for your justice!'), and the compassion in Terminus (after the way the Vanir treated her - I'd have sythesised them some sulphuric acid, myself!). Best of all, the regulars seized on the few opportunities they had and created a unique friendship - that between Nyssa and Tegan, that begins in Castrovalva and clearly develops until the parting in Terminus that is one of the most moving scenes that the series ever had (even though it's rather a pity what a lot of writers on the 'net read into that relationship...). It's interesting to see how annoying Tegan becomes once Nyssa's not around to balance out her irritating traits.
Unsurprising, fan writers have proved rather fond of the character, as she offers a depth and dimension that most 'girl from earth' companions don't - Cold Fusion is probably her best, closely followed by the earlier scenes in Zeta Major but even Gary Russell manages to write fairly well for her... The Big Finish audios demonstrate how many different aspects of the character there are to play with, and it's a joy to see that Peter Davison's opinion of the charater is borne out once the Australian and the Alzarian are kept firmly silent. I still wait for the writer brave enough to subvert the format and who uses Nyssa as the protaganist - when she goes after the Master perhaps?
Season 18 was all about imagination, excitement and anticipation, and Nyssa was the most long-lived epitome of that feeling. Once she left, it all started to get a bit, well, just a bit bland really - almost a symptom of the whole show's nose-dive in the next 2 years. By the time we lost Davison, and got a pseudo-American 'screamy-girl' companion, I realised that I was too old for it after all, and DW faded out of my interest. Only with the videos, the books and the audios, have I wanted to renew my acquaintance with the series, in particular with two of the Doctors and with the Doctor's 'ward'. and I have to admit, it's 'quite... topping!'
I have a mad crush on Nyssa by George Toms 27/3/03
O.K I'll admit it; I have a childish and unrelenting crush on the pixie like character called Nyssa, played by Sarah Sutton, on the Television show Doctor Who. Said crush, will not, of course, influence this review of the character in any way. So how did Sarah Sutton create a character whose beauty was matched only by her intelligence, initiative, and strong streak of independence that made Nyssa the most memorable tragic heroine the Who family ever produced? Furthermore, why was Nyssa's, and Sutton's obvious talents so horrendously underused during her two and a bit seasons on the show?
Nyssa's debut adventure, The Keeper of Traken, sets up the character beautifully. Sutton creates a character, who, while sufficiently quirky in terms of style to be alien, is "human" enough to be recognisable to the audience. Nyssa's costume, like all those created for the Traken story, is very elegant, perfectly reflecting her high status in that particular society. It is indeed her previous comfortable and secure life on Traken that makes her successful adaptation to tragic circumstances, all the more admirable. One has to remember that Nyssa's life is completely torn apart by the actions of the supervillain, the Master (Anthony Ainley). In her own words;
"He (the Master) killed my mother. And then my father. And now the world that I grew up in..." (Logopolis)
Can you imagine it? Not only have both her parents been killed, and her home planet, the secure environment that she grew up in, been destroyed, but the perpetrator has taken on the physical appearance of her father. What a burden for one so young to take! Nyssa's reaction; merely a quivering lip, is fantastically restrained - perhaps too much so to be altogether believable, considering that no one, not even the Doctor (Peter Davison), who seems more concerned with mollycoddling Tegan (Janet Fielding), has given her much support during such a difficult time. I would refute this though, by again pointing out her alien nature - perhaps Traken grief is suffered internally, or that dramatic events in her life are occurring so frequently that there is hardly any time to stop and consider what she has lost. As if she needed any more grief, her best friend Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), subsequently dies; in this case she does show rather more emotion, perhaps a culmination of all the grief that she suffered before. It is a testament to Nyssa's strength of character, that she is able to adapt to every hurdle that she encounters. Another hurdle is placed in front of her before she departs; the lazar's disease, which could have been fatal. Ultimately, despite all the grief she would have gone through, Nyssa, always managed to bounce back stronger, with every setback she suffered.
Nyssa was the most intelligent, non time lord female companion the show has produced. Nyssa was perhaps, scientist first, explorer second; look at her excitement upon discovering the alien equipment aboard Monarch's ship (Four to Doomsday),or the gritty determination she showed in trying to create the weapon in The Visitation and compare this to the disgruntled look she appears to have when carrying the zero cabinet through the forest on Castrovalva and her "euch" reaction when falling into the river on the same planet. Nyssa doesn't seem to appreciate looking for Tegan in Amsterdam, or later chasing after Omega like a headless chicken (Arc of Infinity). No, Nyssa is not a hands dirty, charge in regardless of the dangers (the approach often favoured by strong female characters) kind of girl - she prefers the more sensible, cautious approach. Note how she spends the majority of Earthshock in the relative safety of the TARDIS, while others take on the more "heroic" duties. This is not to say that Nyssa is a coward, far from it; not only has she braved great hardships in her life but there are numerous examples of Nyssa acting with courage, a good example of her bravery is when she goes back to the TARDIS alone during The Visitation in order to create a weapon for the Doctor to use against an android. Nyssa is extremely practical when required; she is able to use a weapon if necessary and as the Doctor (Tom Baker) says;
"Tremas, remind me never to get in an argument with your daughter!"
Nyssa undertakes practical challenges that require intelligence; removing the zero room doors with the sonic screwdriver or building a weapon in her room from scratch for example, with great aplomb. Nyssa shows her strong sense of initiative and independence on many occasion. What the Doctor dismisses as desperate plea for help, when she contacts him via the Cloister bell to help her find Tremas, I view as strongly wilful act. Look how she manipulates inferior creatures like Neeman to her advantage. It must not be forgotten that Nyssa leaves the TARDIS to help to cure a group of lazars; hardly a safe, cosy occupation, but she is sufficiently strong willed, battle hardened and experienced to flourish in this potentially dangerous environment.
The one criticism I would have of Nyssa, and this can't be attributed to the actress, is that she sometimes doesn't play a significant role in events, often playing second fiddle to a different character development. The reason for this I believe, was the fact that at this time, the TARDIS was overpopulated. The timing of Nyssa's debut was unfortunate; Adric was already well established and Sutton didn't really get a chance to stamp her authority on the show, the immediate arrival of Janet Fielding's Tegan, and then Peter Davison's Doctor Who, put the character of Nyssa onto the back-burner after only two adventures. A case of the forgotten middle child syndrome definitely affected the development of Nyssa, who often remained in the background while Tegan and the new Doctor dominated screen time. Despite producing the best performance in Four to Doomsday, Nyssa is given very little to do. Nyssa doesn't appear at all in Kinda (due to Sutton's holiday) but when she returns in The Visitation she spends most of the story inside the TARDIS, likewise in Earthshock. Even , the story designed to give actress Sarah Sutton a lot to do, focuses more on Nyssa's twin double than Nyssa herself. This trend continues into her final season, Nyssa's weakest season in my opinion, with the exceptions being The Arc of Infinity where Tegan is removed for a while, and her final outing Terminus, where she was naturally allocated more screen time.
Unfortunately, later into her Doctor Who career, Sutton's character fades further into the background, until her outstanding final adventure, where the viewer is treated to, with a sense of regret, Nyssa's unrealised potential. Look how amazing this character would have been with more screen time.
The greatest honour I can bestow on Sarah Sutton is, however, that she is able to create such a memorable and distinguished character, despite the lack of screen time, which puts Nyssa up amongst the best Doctor Who companions of all time. If more care and time had been taken over the character, Nyssa, the tragic heroine from Traken, who lost everything but always kept her head held high, would surely have been one of the great female sci-fi characters. Yes, that I firmly believe!
Noble woman by Joe Ford 28/10/03
Funny how companions age isn't it? When they first blasted onto our screens the Ace's and Tegan's of this world were treated as the most deftly written and entertaining of characters, pluckily written and snappily acted. Quieter companions like Nyssa were written off as 'dull' and 'bland' compared to their contemporary's hysterics. After all it's far more dramatic to have Tegan screaming and bitchin' than to have Nyssa thinking things through and acting rationally. Strangely though, of recent years people have started to open their eyes, Tegan is not seen as the mature woman she was supposed to be but a bit of a moany child and Ace is practically reviled... given her work on Big Finish Nyssa has finally come to light as one of the better Doctor Who companions of the 80's.
I have always been a huge Nyssa fan, she has always been the only Davison companion I can stomach for any length of time (aside from Peri but she was only in two of his stories so she doesn't really count). It is probably one of the reasons I enjoy season 19 so much more than 20 or 21.
Although she was (sort of) consistently written I still firmly believe that Nyssa had a lot of potential that was wasted. The audios are going to some lengths to rectify this but her character has such an audacious beginning it is a shame none of that potential was tapped. Her father was killed by the Master, and her stepmother and then her entire home planet. If this had been under Andrew Cartmel's script editorship this would have had some fall out, there would (and should) have been a story where Nyssa is the 'bad guy' and hatches a plot to ensnare the Master and make him pay for what he has done. Instead she sees him and screams out "That face I hate it!", dramatic definitely but hardly acceptable as dealing with the issue. Instead we get Time-Flight which ignores the atrocities he has thrust on Nyssa in favour of its daft budget-bursting plot. A shame, this COULD have been the best Davison story ever, an acting showcase for Sarah Sutton and Davison as he has to try and stop her killing the Master.
But I'm not here to moan (much, I mean this is me and I am talking about a Davison companion) because Nyssa proved quite a treat to watch. Like Peri, she is not a companion you expect great things from so when she steps into the limelight (or manages to drown out Tegan's wailings) she is capable of great things. If you watch Sarah Sutton in all her scenes she is always acting even when the camera (and the script, far too regularly) has forgotten her. If she's in the background she's always doing something and she has a special talent to find some subtext in Eric Saward script edited dialogue and plays it for all it's worth. I love her "Of course not Doctor" in Earthshock as she smirks at Tegan in response to his little tantrum. Or her own little moan in Castrovalva "I said IF! You taught me about if remember!"
Quiet and contemplative, she could often bring some gravity to her stories. Seeing the adventures through Nyssa's innocent eyes could prove quite a treat. Watch in Castrovalva as she wakes up and smiles at Tegan asleep in bed and looks out the window in awe, proving the beauty of the planet much more than the budget can. Earthshock is all muscle and no heart until the Cybermen attack the TARDIS and Nyssa's horrified reaction to Kyle's death finally brings home the shocking events of the story. Her mature reaction to being forced to kill the Android in The Visitation remains quietly compelling today. Listen up Eric, your writing is so much better when you're giving Nyssa intelligent things to do compared to your bitchin' dialogue (which now just seems childish and predictable).
When the writers could be bothered Nyssa and Tegan could be quite a formidable combination. This female united front was far too often ignored and they were split up and forced to fight alone but the more intimate moments they share actually work (and soften up the Aussie considerably). Castrovalva is a definite winner for this reason, the two of them practically hold up the first two episodes, assured writing from Bidmead and underplayed performances keeps the tension high and the laughs coming. All the stuff around Event One and getting the Doctor to Castrovalva in the Zero Cabinet is some of their best material. They hug in The Visitation, genuinely sad that will no longer have adventures together (real character development... swoon!) and charming scenes such as Tegan teaching her the Charleston in Black Orchid and Nyssa's digs at Tegan in Mawdryn Undead ("Like you did into the TARDIS on the Barnett by-pass?") show just how accustomed they get to living together. It is good to have some female blood in the show and these two really work together, it adds to their character (especially Tegan) when they're given time together.
Of course it is Snakedance and Black Orchid that remain Nyssa's best TV stories, two classics that ensure the last daughter of Traken is given some good material and for Sutton to prove just how good she is. Snakedance gives her the chance to act as the sole companion and she bounces off of Davison superbly, a sequence with the two of them strolling through the caves trying to figure out the Great Crystal being breathlessly exciting. Her chemistry with Chela is also good, the three of them sharing some cherishable 'sexist' moments in the last episode "Thank you but it wasn't necessary!" she says prudently! Given the chance to do a bit of investigating and trying to get the Doctor out of jail AND protecting Tegan we get to see lots of often hidden facets to Nyssa's character.
Black Orchid is my favourite Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton story. She is just wonderful in her dual role as Nyssa and Ann; the direction complements her performance and the story winds up being much more than just a charming period piece. Sutton plays up Ann's prudish attitude making her one to watch, a different sort of aristocracy to Nyssa proving just how much characterisation she puts into the character. What's more you get to see Nyssa have some fun; bemused at cricket, dancing with her doppelganger's prospective husband and poking fun at Adric ("You pig!"). It is so nice to see that the usually stoic and commendably serious Nyssa also has a terrific sense of humour.
Terminus ends Nyssa's days on a sour note, a non-atmospheric nightmare of a story that dares to suggest she was just a helpless wench. She screams and moans and is lumbered with some horribly forced dialogue ("What is this terrible place?"). However her leaving scene is exceptional, such a strong emotional moment for her character I was quite shocked when I realised how much I was going to miss her (especially as season 20 continued!). Those tears on her face feel genuine, Davison's sad reaction to her kiss and Tegan's distressed reaction... they all feel real and make me cross they couldn't come across this affectionately more often!). Nevertheless, it works and for that I'm glad, leaving to help others in terrible situation feels very Nyssa.
Of course this is not the end of Nyssa's adventures as Big Finish have dragged Sarah Sutton back into the realms of acting for some brilliant performances in the fifth Doctor audios. Her first handful of stories were disappointing, Nyssa seemed to be written for as a Tegan substitute, taking on the role of the endless moaner. Land of the Dead was particularly bad in this regard but over time they have come to grips with her character and stories such as Spare Parts and Creatures of Beauty throw new light over Nyssa and start to uncover some of that hidden potential. Spare Parts especially as she considers leaving the Doctor to help the people of Mondas, sharply reminding him of Adric's death at the hands of the Cybermen. Nyssa thinks for herself, she acts on her own beliefs and won't be stopped by anyone... not even the Doctor. I love that sort of plucky individuality in women.
It is a shame that Nyssa will never be well remembered, she was far too subdued to rub shoulders with the greats and is ignored in favour the louder companions (you know who) but for this fan she was an experiment that worked due to the outstanding performances by Sarah Sutton and for providing a uneven era with its better moments. Nyssa worked for me, passionate, intelligent and thoughtful. Yes I would very much like to travel with her. Plus she's kind of hot in a cutey way, isn't she? My mate informs me of this!
Nyssa, last survivor of a dying planet and the only survivor of a plagued three years in the show. Thank you for making it almost palatable for me darling!
A Review by Terrence Keenan 27/12/03
Nyssa seems to be a companion that sidesteps lots of criticism. Why? Possibly because she wanted to travel in the TARDIS. Possibly because she was Peter Davison's favorite companion.
If it were up to me, she would have never been seen again after The Keeper of Traken.
Why, you ask?
She's boring, that's why. Yes, boring.
I mean, they create this interesting character who has had her entire life turned completely upside down to the point where a maniac is wearing her father's body and her homeworld has been annihilated.... AND THE PRODUCTION TEAM DOES NOTHING WITH IT. AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sorry, lost control.
Now, I understand that in Logopolis, the big concern was giving the 4th Dcotor an exit, but the production team knew Nyssa was staying aboard. They could have explored the whole Traken angle a bit more. Alas, instead we have her moving on as if Traken never went buh-bye. In most of her stories, she comes off as a tenth rate Romana clone with none of the style, verve, wit or haughtiness. She's not even a Zoe light.
So, what is Nyssa remembered for by your humble critic?
Cringeworthy dialogue in Arc of Infinity. That hideous brown trouser suit. The tutu. The emotional range of a walnut, except for when she needed to cry because the script dictated it. Hanging out in her underwear on Terminus. Being in desperate need of a personality transplant. Not doing a bloody thing in Earthshock until the very end. Doing goodness knows what with the sonic screwdriver on Deva Loka. Whining a lot. Fainting a couple of times. And not much more.
I wish I could say something nice about Sara Sutton's acting, but I can't.
And so, little Nyssa, championed by many, is not a favorite of mine. I'll take Tegan Jovanka any day. The "mouth on legs" may cause the occasional f-bomb diatribe at the telly, but she's never boring.
Which is Nyssa's mortal sin....
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 5/3/04
A lot of the criticism levelled at Nyssa isn`t really justified. More often than not, it is the fault of the writers for not making her a stronger personality. The biggest change she goes through is the aftermath of the destruction of Traken, and this results in a steely resolve and quiet determination, coupled with a great scientific mind, that makes Nyssa underrated. Unlike her fellow companions she doesn`t bicker, and looks for the best in everyone. As far as the audio range goes, Nyssa has gone through a slight renaissance thanks to the development of dormant psychic abilities. So obviously there is still room for yet greater characterisation.
GREATEST MOMENT: Her destruction of the android in The Visitation.
The Underappreciated Companion by Tim McCree 2/2/05
Throughout its twenty-six year run, Doctor Who has had many companions come and go through the TARDIS doors, most of them being attractive women. I have followed the fandom of many of these companions over the years. You have your Sarah Jane fans, Tegan fans, Ace fans, etc. However, I have noticed that one companion does not seem to be getting the recognition she so richly deserves, that companion is none other than Nyssa of Traken.
That's right, I said Nyssa of Traken!
As most Doctor Who fans probably know, Nyssa, played by the very lovely and talented Sarah Sutton, was introduced in the eighteenth season story, Keeper of Traken. This was Tom Baker's second-to-last story. At that time, no one was sure whether Nyssa would continue with the show after that story was over. However, producer John Nathan-Turner decided that the character would remain as a companion. His reason being that since Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), who had played the Doctor for the longest time in the show's run, was leaving, Mr. Nathan-Turner wanted a few companions around to ease the transition into the next Doctor. We already had Adric, and Tegan was introduced in Tom Baker's last story, Logopolis, and then Nyssa was brought back and added to the group at the end of the second episode of Logopolis. So when Peter Davison became the Fifth Doctor at the start of Season Nineteen, we had a group of established companions surrounding him.
However, this became a problem, because many of the show's writers felt that the TARDIS was too crowded. It was hard to split up the action and the dialogue with the Doctor and three companions. Initially, the writers planned to write Nyssa off the show in Four To Doomsday, the second story of Season Nineteen, however, Peter Davison objected to this. He saw potential in the Nyssa character and convinced Mr. Nathan-Turner not to drop Nyssa. Subsequently, it was Adric who ended up getting written off the show, being killed off at the end of Earthshock, later in the season.
I've read a few interviews in which Peter Davison has stated that Nyssa was his favourite companion and that he felt the relationship between the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa was not developed as well as it should have been. Well, I tend to agree with Mr. Davison on this one. I feel that the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa could have developed into the same kind of character rapport that the Third Doctor and Jo Grant had back in the early 1970's. However, the problem was that aside from Arc Of Infinity (the opening story of Season Twenty), the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa were never alone, Tegan was always there to steal the limelight. Now don't get me wrong, Tegan was okay. I grew to like her later on, once she stopped whining and being a moron all the time (had it been me and Tegan had pulled that stunt she did in Four To Doomsday, trying to take the TARDIS, I would have booted her out the nearest airlock). However, it seems that Tegan got more airtime at the expense of Nyssa, and that is a shame. We never got to see just how far the rapport between the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa could be taken. At least the writers gave Nyssa a good exit by having her stay on Terminus and help find a treatment for Lazar's Disease. I have no doubt that she eventually succeeded in doing so. Aside from a memory cameo in Peter Davison's last story, Caves of Androzani, this would be Nyssa's last appearance on the show.
It was not until the original Past Doctor Adventures novels and Audio Adventures came along in the late 1990's that Nyssa would appear again. I have read a few of these books and they are very good (unfortunately, I have not been able to acquire any of the Audio Adventures, I understand that a few were set in the period between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity, when just the Doctor and Nyssa were in the TARDIS, anyone know how I can get a hold of these?) The writers of the novels have much more freedom to explore the characters than could be done on the show. A few of the novels have explored the character of Nyssa in interesting ways. Examples include:
"Janie got a gun" by Thomas Cookson 3/4/18
It was in the elegant The Keeper of Traken that we met Nyssa. Daughter of Tremas, latest in line of the benevolent governors of Traken. A fairytale world held together by innocence and goodness.
Nyssa was shrewd and resourceful, and helped the Doctor defeat the Master's attempt to conquer and corrupt her utopian world. At least for a time. Ordinarily that'd be the last we saw of Nyssa and her story would've ended happily. But JNT felt Nyssa worked so well with the current TARDIS team that she was swiftly made a companion.
Ideally, JNT could've had Traken established as a recurring 'guest star' planet. But instead, cruelly, the opposite happened. From the moment the Master came to Traken, Nyssa's world became truly cursed and she became fated to be the last of her kind. Nyssa's very much defined by her world of sheltered goodness, where evil can usually be trusted to be rendered calcified. But also one of contradictions where Traken's supposedly peaceful society becomes almost too easily moved to take up arms against the Doctor.
It's a robust, gated society of strict rules and rituals, yet the Master finds his way in, and effectively uses the world's tight security to stifle the Doctor. The Master here is simply malicious. Like Iago, he manipulates and plays with people's perceptions, feeding them poisonous doubts that turn them into monstrous versions of themselves. It's unclear what Cassia was tempted by. Concerned fears for her husband? Pitying the Melkur? Or is she just hypnotised into following a morally confused cause?
Nyssa is delivered and literally dumped on the Doctor by the Watcher at random out of producer's fiat. But her presence provides the emotional impact of the Master's stealing of Tremas' form. Ultimately, Traken's disintegration leaves Nyssa with the TARDIS as her only home.
Castrovalva felt overly twee compared to Logopolis' shattering horror and heartache. It was written as a chase story where our heroes are pursued across the cosmos by the Master from the outset. Perhaps done to explain Tegan's becoming a permanent TARDIS resident. But this affords no time or chance for Nyssa's emotional repercussions over the destruction of her world.
Like Amy Pond, Nyssa becomes constantly defined as a victim. Her family murdered, her world destroyed, constantly taunted by their sadistic killer. The Master even uses her father's likeness to trick her into betraying the Doctor, using his control bracelet to make her attack her friends, thus making her instrumental in helping him bring Logopolis to ruin.
That's an horrific ordeal, and the punishment continues. She watches the Fourth Doctor die, then Adric. She's constantly victimised and degraded throughout Terminus' seven gates of hell. She never has any cathartic moment of rising up against her adversity, or of fighting back.
Nyssa ideally should've come off as an embittered, tragic, haunted figure, driven and committed toward justice. Instead she comes off as rather bland and insipid. Being a lily-white fairytale princess, perhaps Nyssa didn't have the strongest engagement with JNT's soap sensibilities, being so removed from that genre.
Big Finish has done much to rectify Nyssa's wasted potential. But their audio adventures succeed so well at making the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa work and grow strongly as characters, that they virtually constitute an alternate timeline irreconcilable with the televised Season 20 meant to follow. I can't see how the firey, fighting, brave Nyssa of Plague of the Daleks could regress into the timid, fearful submissive victim of Terminus.
Nyssa was arguably Davison's most likable companion, with hints of a warm relationship with her Doctor. Perhaps she was a chauvinistic idea of what young girls should be; i.e., pretty, dainty, quiet, submissive, selfless. Essentially, she's Romana without the supercilious haughtiness. But she's also studious and pragmatic and was a role model to female fans interested in science.
She's the essential mediator who softened the fractious Davison team dynamic, being the one none of the others had a problem with. But being the nicest companion, she was often the choice one to sideline. She was swamped with too many other companions, smothering her potential and development. Especially since she was the least belligerent about making her kittenish presence felt.
Behind-the-scenes paperwork demonstrates how JNT really went to work on lengthy companion biographies, writing enthusiastically about what they'd hopefully bring to the series. But his companions were combatitive and problematic by design. Conceived to bring conflict to the TARDIS ensemble, which often rendered stories shrill and unpleasant. Nonetheless I'd hate to condemn his work as a waste. It did produce some gem moments in Kinda or Enlightenment.
But, concerning Nyssa, I don't think JNT even gave her a biography, because JNT wasn't the one who created her. She was essentially Johnny Byrne's creation and never intended as more than a guest character. The problem with Nyssa probably comes down to Johnny Byrne being the only writer who understood her. Hence why in Arc of Infinity we see how furiously vengeful Nyssa can be about protecting the Doctor, as he's all she has left.
In Time-Flight, when Nyssa encounters again the villain responsible for destroying all she holds dear, being still unremorseful, she barely even bats an eyelid at his presence. Unfortunately Time-Flight had been submitted long before Tom Baker left. After Eric Saward completed Earthshock's shotgun workload, he didn't have enough time to get the now dusty, shambolic Time-Flight script into a workable state.
Basically the writers, when working from companion biographies, had virtually nothing for Nyssa and too much for the other companions. She was underdeveloped whilst they were excessively overdeveloped.
Had Tegan left early on, it might've freed up time to focus on Nyssa's bond with the Doctor and her emotional fallout from losing her world. After all, the crucial moment of Logopolis is when Nyssa takes her place by the dying Doctor. In some ways, the Doctor's negligence had caused Traken to be destroyed. But the point is, if Nyssa can forgive him, then so can we.
We might've also even seen further hints of a possibile romance between her and Adric, which we glimpsed in The Keeper of Traken when they worked on the orb together. Or perhaps a crushing sense that it can't happen now because Nyssa's too bereaved and worried about her own fragile mental state to consider a romantic relationship. That heartache and sense of lost chances would've struck a nice but sore emotional chord with adolescents and would've characterised Nyssa as a tender, romantic heart who ultimately abides by her mind first.
Had Logopolis ended the show, the Master's last impression would be as a foe so terrible he was undefeated, who killed our beloved Fourth Doctor and remains still out there. Having him leave a traumatic impression we'd never forget. His escape provides affirmation of why the Doctor must rise again, because the fight goes on, and the legend goes on.
But ideally, the Master's next return should've been saved for Nyssa's farewell story. Where there'd be a final reckoning as she finally avenges herself upon him. Where he realises he'd underestimated what Nyssa was capable of when she's determined to see justice done. Nyssa finally understanding where her world's justice failed to stop him and how to make sure it never happens again.
Alas JNT was too fond of the Master and his appeal to convention goers to think Nyssa's story counted even half as much. JNT produced the show, assuming the support of zealous fans would always be there, taken for granted. As though crafting such punch-the-air moments to make the Davison era heroes admirable and championable to a wider viewership simply weren't needed.
So the Master kept operating in the belief that Davison's Doctor and his companions were weak, easy, pathetic prey he could repeatedly menace and taunt as often as he wished without retribution. This should've proven his fatal mistake. Instead under JNT, the Davison dynamic seemed set up to completely prove him right.