Colour picture wasn’t the only change to Doctor Who for its seventh season. In fact, far bigger was the change to Earth-based stories and a stronger emphasis on story arcs and recurring characters. Some of these quite successfully showed that you could still have exciting adventures and alien threats without actually leaving home, while others demanded a larger canvas to work and suffered as a result. Still, one benefit to the Earth-based stories was the regular presence of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, the most entertaining recurring character to appear on the show so far. The arrival of the Master also did a lot to improve the eighth and ninth seasons, although he did become overused and something of a crutch.
I think the third Doctor’s era started to get quite stale. The rota of companions didn’t really change enough, with the rather bland Jo Grant sticking around for too long. Even when his exile was ended, the Doctor still stayed with UNIT. Another problem I had with some of these was the sheer length of some of the serials. The four-parters were mostly fine, but some of the six-(or seven!)parters were just drawn out tedium, particularly in the early serials where every story seemed to feature the same setup (science facility goes wrong, creatures appear, corrupt leader denies everything, etcetera, etcetera.). Really, it fell to the Doctor himself to carry these stories, and this was done with mixed success.
Thoughts on the Third Doctor
I would have to describe Jon Pertwee’s Doctor as predominantly “grumpy”. This is partly down to the situation the character found himself in, exiled and surrounded by fools, and thankfully his character loosened up a bit once he had free reign again. But even then, he was not a joyful, playful type at all. He was very stern, very authoritative, overly confident in his abilities to the point of arrogance, and often quite patronising. Even when he was trying to be nice, he had this way of making his friends feel like children who couldn’t possibly understand.
There were some superficial similarities with the previous incarnation, and in Spearhead from Space, he was actually quite funny and nice – but then he did spend much of that story unconscious. There were also moments throughout his five seasons where he opened up a little. Jo certainly brought out the lighter side in him now and again, when he might reminisce and tell a little story, or say something inspirational. There’s no doubt this was a clever man, burdened with centuries of knowledge and feeling rather weary for it, but he just wasn’t alien enough. He was, basically, a normal grumpy man, but he knew how to fight. Venusian Akido – very useful.
There were very few moments of comic relief or silliness on the Doctor’s part, and I think that’s a shame, because when it did happen, Jon Pertwee was very good at it. Even so, I thought his acting in general was good and convincing, and for that reason I would still put his character above William Hartnell’s version. So, if we’re going to do one of those order of preference things, so far mine is as follows:
Patrick Troughton > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell.
Picking out my favourite serials from Jon Pertwee’s run has been pretty easy, really. The quality of stories is not as consistent as with previous series, so the good ones spring to mind quite readily. Also, there are no more missing episodes to worry about, everything is complete and on equal footing (some missing colour aside). These are my top picks:
Spearhead from Space (4 parts)
A short story with a fresh style, and the best of the third doctor’s character.
Inferno (7 parts)
A little long, but plays with the parallel universe concept to excellent effect.
Day of the Daleks (4 parts)
A thought-provoking time travel story that uses the Daleks well.
The Time Monster (6 parts)
Potentially hokey but goes full-on insane brilliant.
The Three Doctors (4 parts)
Contrived setup but easily excusable because it’s lots of fun and Troughton is a delight.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs (6 parts)
Ropey effects aside, this is a really good plot, well thought out.