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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

What’s in a Name on ’Buffy’

By Kate O’Hare

Wednesday 19 February 2003, by Webmaster

LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - On Tuesday, Feb. 11, viewers of UPN’s "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" got to see Slayer and part-time high-school counselor Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) go on her first — and all things considered, likely last — date with her boss at Sunnydale High, Principal Robin Wood (D.B. Woodside).

Some astute viewers have noted that Wood’s name is the same as that of a Canadian author and film historian, whose many books include "Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan ... and Beyond" and "Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Classical Hollywood and Beyond."

Apparently this is a coincidence. According to Jane Espenson, who wrote the aforementioned episode, "First Date," series creator Joss Whedon came up with Wood’s surname, then chose the androgynous first name because "we didn’t know yet if the principal was going to be a man or a woman, so they came up with that, and Joss was like, ’Oh, hey, that’s the name of a famous person whom I admire, so let’s just keep that name.’"

Espenson is also pleased with the evolution of Principal Wood, who at first appeared to be just an enthusiastic high-school administrator, but was later seen to have a secret agenda.

"It’s all good," she says.

During an ambush before his dinner with Buffy, Wood revealed himself as a well-schooled, if merely human, vampire killer. Over dinner he explained that his mother, Nikki, was a Slayer, and her Watcher raised him after her death when he was four years old.

For those keeping score, Nikki was the cool, leather-coated African-American killed in a subway car by vampire Spike (James Marsters) in 1977 New York, when he appeared to be in his punked-out Billy Idol phase. The incident was dramatized in a Nov. 2000 episode called "Fool for Love," which also revealed that Spike’s snazzy leather duster was taken as a trophy.

"That evolved," Espenson says of the Wood backstory. "We didn’t know that. I would guess it was around episode nine or ten that we thought of that. It just happened to work out great. It was as if we planned it, but we had not, except possibly subconsciously."

At the end of "First Date," the shape-shifting First Evil, this season’s main nemesis, appeared to Wood in the form of his mother to tell him of Spike’s evil deed. Also for those keeping track of such things, the person playing Nikki, actress K.D. Aubert, was not the same person who fought Spike in the subway scene.

"She was a stuntwoman," says Espenson regarding the first Nikki. "She wasn’t an actress. She was cool but we really thought we needed an actress for this, as fabulous as the stuntwoman had been."