The History of Zoe Machen, the Ghost in the Machine

I first developed an abiding appreciation for the name Zoe whilst watching classic Patrick Troughton-era Doctor Who. The actress who played the clever little engenue, Wendy Padbury, was spritely, sweet and adorable, and made a strong impression on me for many reasons, not least of which was her amazing bottom. Curvy assets aside, however, the trio of Zoe Herriot, Jamie McCrimmon and the Doctor remains one of my all-time favourite adventure teams to this day. Their chemistry and ability to expose plot without looking completely hopeless was almost revolutionary for its day, and Zoe, though not immune to the BBC screaming companion syndrome, at least carried herself a little better than most of her forebears, and was a more useful p.o.v. character than Vicki, Dodo, Victoria or even Susan had been.

So when I started writing songs, I had to try my hand at writing a cheeky little love song to Zoe, whom I fancied was my ideal girl. I actually wrote a couple of tunes in this vein, including one I’d dedicated (at the time) to a girl I was dating who was pretty nearly everything Zoe wasn’t, but then, the point of Zoe was that she was every girl rolled into one, and always a different facet to show you with each meeting. I’ve met few girls who weren’t really a lot like that, when you got to know them well enough.

I also started writing her into my early Link fiction, cleverly renaming her Zoe Padbury, and described her as The Most Amazing Woman Ever. She was two parts Zoe Herriot, two parts Emma Peel, and a splash of Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, with the wit, sassiness and resourcefulness of all three combined. Hard not to crush on a character like that, really.

Oddly enough, I didn’t really start writing her properly until I reimagined her for my first series of graphic novels, in a story called The Gas Mask Chronicles, where she would meet with a terrible accident, crippling her friend Bran, emotionally scarring her other companions, and killing her in the process. Her personality (soul?) actually becomes trapped in the virtual world, based on their favourite comicbook characters, that they had been playing in, and she remains there until years later, when she tries to help her friends survive a series of misadventures instigated by a bitterly twisted Bran, whom they still think is their friend.

This was the first time I’d dared to imagine her closer to Zoe Herriot’s original age, which was supposed to be teen aged, and it got me thinking about what Zoe might have been like as a child, which years later led me to creating the Zoe cartoon character, whom I branded Zoe Machen.


Zoe is still one of my favourite creations, and I often fantasize about bringing her back as a webcomic series and a line of holiday greeting cards, the way she always wanted. She resides in my computer these days, occasionally giving my wife and I all manner of technical trouble, the feisty little ghost in my machine, but she’ll always be my first daughter, and the girl of my dreams.


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