Leela is a fictional character played by Louise Jameson in the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Leela was a companion of the Fourth Doctor and a regular in the programme from 1977 to 1978. Writer Chris Boucher named her after the Palestinian militant Leila Khaled.
The character of Leela was first conceived by producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. They wanted a companion in the mould of George Bernard Shaw's Eliza Doolittle: a bright but unsophisticated primitive who would learn from the Doctor. Writer Chris Boucher had submitted a story proposal titled The Mentor Conspiracy which featured a character named Leela which fit Hinchcliffe and Holmes's ideas.
Although The Mentor Conspiracy was not produced, Boucher reused the character of Leela for The Day God Went Mad (later renamed to The Face of Evil), seeing her as a mixture of Emma Peel from The Avengers and Leila Khaled.  Boucher was asked to write two endings to Face, one in which Leela left with the Doctor, and one in which she stayed behind. The decision to have Leela become a companion was made soon after. An oft-repeated story (also stated in the DVD commentary to The Robots of Death) is that Leela's skimpy leather outfits were very popular with the "Dads", which kept them watching the programme.
Leela first appears in the 1977 serial, The Face of Evil, where she was a warrior of the savage Sevateem tribe, who were the descendants of the crew of an Earth ship that crash landed on an unnamed planet in the far future. The name of her tribe, "Sevateem", was a corruption of "survey team". Although the Doctor at this point was content to travel alone, Leela barges into the TARDIS and continues to accompany the Doctor on his journeys.
Although Leela is a primitive, she was also highly intelligent, grasping advanced concepts easily and translating them into terms she could cope with. Despite the Doctor's attempts at "civilizing" her, however, Leela is strong-willed enough to continue in her savage ways. She usually dresses in animal skins, armed with a knife or a set of poisonous Janis thorns which she does not hesitate to use on people who threatened her, much to the Doctor's disapproval.
Although Jameson's eyes are naturally blue, as Leela she initially wore red contact lenses to make them brown. However, the contact lenses severely limited her vision, and producer Graham Williams promised her she could stop wearing them. To explain the change in-story, writer Terrance Dicks wrote a scene in the 1977 serial Horror of Fang Rock where Leela's eyes suffer "pigment dispersal" and turn blue after viewing the explosion of the Rutan ship.
In her travels with the Doctor, Leela faces killer robots, murderous homunculi, the Rutan Host, and the Sontaran invasion of the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey. It is during this final adventure, The Invasion of Time, that she meets and falls in love with Andred, a native Gallifreyan, and decides to stay behind to be with him. The first K-9 remains with her.
Tom Baker disliked Leela's character concept because he felt that she was too violent. Jameson reports that he was cold to her for the first several stories they did together. Eventually, during the filming of Horror of Fang Rock, she insisted on multiple takes of a scene in which he repeatedly entered the scene early, thereby upstaging her. After this incident, their working relationship substantially improved, because it increased his respect for her.
Leela's subsequent life on Gallifrey is not explored by the television series, although the spin-off media have done so to an extent. In the Virgin New Adventures novel Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt, Leela and Andred are expecting a child, the first naturally conceived baby on Gallifrey for millennia. Louise Jameson reprised the role of Leela for the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time, and has voiced the character in three series of audio plays for Big Finish Productions taking place on Gallifrey, alongside Lalla Ward as Romana and John Leeson as K-9. In the Gallifrey audio series, Leela acts as Romana's bodyguard, advisor and friend. During the course of the series, Andred is killed and Leela is blinded during a Gallifreyan civil war. She is still blind at the end of the third and final series of Gallifrey plays.
Leela also appears in the Companion Chronicles audio The Catalyst. This story, which is primarily a flashback to an adventure before Horror of Fang Rock, features Leela as an old woman being interrogated by the warrior Z'Nai (a race encountered by an earlier Doctor),and aging a year per day as the powers of the Time Lords no longer keep her from death. This story strongly implies that, for Leela, this is not only after the third series of Gallifrey but after the Time War of the New Series, as Leela reveals that her adopted homeworld is gone. It is also almost certain that Leela's sight has returned, as she can describe her interrogator's armour. Whether or not Leela survives this story is unknown, but this adventure may be seen as Leela's final moments, both from age and injury, as she is poised to destroy the Z'Nai for good. How Leela ends up in the custody of the Z'Nai from her condition at the end of Gallifrey series 3, remains to be seen.