Category Archives: third doctor

The Five Doctors

Following on from the 20th season is this remarkable anniversary special, originally broadcast to celebrate the show’s 20th year on the air. To replicate the original experience, I would have preferred to have seen the originally broadcast version, but circumstances led me unwittingly to the special edition released much later, with some of the visual and audio effects updated, so I can only comment on this version.

The Doctors meet!

The Doctors meet!

Much like The Three Doctors, the story is little more than an excuse to get the previous incarnations of the Doctor together, plucked out of time and placed inside an elaborate ancient war game. It’s a shame that Tom Baker decided to opt out and that William Hartnell was no longer alive, as this special really ought to be called “The three and a Half Doctors (plus friends)”, but that’s not as catchy. Nevertheless, it’s a delight to see Patrick Troughton (does that man not age?!), and Jon Pertwee back again, while Richard Hurndall takes over as the first Doctor, and some previously unseen footage from Shada is used to explain the fourth Doctor’s absence. Clever!

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How's that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How’s that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Despite the absentees, The Five Doctors is a glorious celebration of the show’s history, using every available cast member, reference and villain it can reasonably squeeze into its 100 minute runtime. I genuinely had no idea that a 20-year older Carole Ann Ford would return to play Susan, nor the cameos by Jamie, Zoe, Liz and Yates. And that’s on top of a bright yellow Bessie, Lethbridge-Stewart, The Master, Yetis, Cybermen and a Dalek all running around the battlefield (there’s even time to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!). It’s a smorgasbord of nostalgia, a who’s who of Who, and it’s quite amazing that it all works so well.

Turlough doesn't have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Turlough doesn’t have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Essentially, the story splits and jumps back and forth to follow each Doctor and a companion as they each take a different route up to the tower of Rassilon. This allows them some breathing space (as well as time to reminisce with old friends), but it does make the story a little scattershot, never settling in one place for very long, until a satisfying culmination towards the end. The lack of arbitrarily dramatic cliffhangers is a blessing; this is just one epic feature without cuts.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

The fifth Doctor is the anchoring point, but he spends much of the story on Gallifrey, outside of the Death Zone, where he uncovers the President’s secret plans for immortality. Yes, sadly, there is corruption on Gallifrey yet again. This is becoming an embarrassing cliché and I can’t blame the Doctor for not wanting to stick around as President. He does get a brief moment to meet his past selves, which is nicely done. You can get a good sense of how the different versions of the Doctor vary. Davison is definitely the least eccentric of the bunch, a normal and level-headed type by comparison. Pertwee and Troughton play their roles much as they ever did, despite the years in between, and Richard Hurndall does a reasonable job of approximating some of Hartnell’s performance, although it would have been more authentic if he’d fluffed his lines a few times and ended all his sentences with “hmm?”.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

The Five Doctors is hardly a masterpiece of imagination, then, but it’s nevertheless well made and a lovely tribute to the history of the show. The sort of silly-but-fun “why the hell not” exercise I can easily get behind. As it’s a one-off special, the budget would appear to have allowed for better production and visuals. One scene in particular is genuinely great, as a robot ninja busts up a legion of cybermen, teleporting around and lobbing arrows at them, causing them to explode and fall to pieces, arms and heads everywhere. Earlier, a rogue Dalek shoots itself in a hall of mirrors and within its exploded remains is its rarely-sighted grotesque embryo. Marvelous!

Total carnage.  I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan

Total carnage. I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan.

Sometimes logic has to fly out of the window, though. For instance, the second Doctor tricks the illusion of Jamie and Zoe by recalling that they shouldn’t know who he is, since their memories were wiped when they were returned to their time zones. But by the same reasoning, how would the Doctor have remembered that, as it happened almost immediately prior to his regeneration and exile on Earth. He would have had to have been pulled from the past moments before this, but there’s no indication this is the case when he turns up to visit the Brigadier. Similarly, why exactly is K-9 with Sarah Jane? Mk.I was left on Gallifrey with Leela and Mk.II was left with Romana (in a black-and-white photograph). I suppose it doesn’t matter, really; some questions are best left unanswered for the sake of a bit of fun, and this was a lot of fun. Job done.

[The Third Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

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.

Episode Highlights

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.

Planet of the Spiders

So, apparently, Jon Pertwee’s final serial was supposed to conclude the Master’s story arc, but due to the death of Roger Delgado, they had to come up with a new finale. Which is a shame, firstly because he died so young, and secondly because Planet of the Spiders just isn’t very good.

Sarah Jane is remarkably chummy with Yates, considering he previously tried to erase civilisation from history!

Sarah Jane is remarkably chummy with Yates, considering he previously tried to erase civilisation from history!

Robert Sloman has gone back to his weird occult type storylines, with monks, a cult of spider-worshippers, telekinesis and chanting. Oh god, the chanting, make it stop! “Om! Om! Om!” There’s also some cringeworthy bit part performances – the police officer is awful, the colonist woman is even worse – but some of the imagery, like the spiders hanging onto people’s backs and controlling them, is effective and quite unsettling. Arachnophobes should give this a miss!

"Argh, get it off, get it off, get it off!"

“Argh, get it off, get it off, get it off!”

The conveniently useful blue crystal that the Doctor picked up from Metabelis III (The Green Death) turns out to be more important than ever, as the spiders need it to enhance their mind power and rule the Universe. Although these spiders (mutated Earth spiders from a crashed colony ship in the future) have grown and developed serious mind control abilities, the weird revelation here is that all humans have the same natural potential within them. This was written in the era when ‘ESP’ was considered a real thing, so it’s understandable, but the concept hasn’t aged well. The rules seems to arbitrarily change, too. The spiders’ energy attacks are at one point deadly, another point not, at one point deflected by certain minerals and another by innocence of mind. It’s like they’re making it up as they go. And the worst part is when the Doctor gains the ability to teleport into another room for no discernible reason. What?!

Trapped in the spider webs, waiting to be eaten.

Trapped in the spider webs, waiting to be eaten.

The plot just lumbers along unevenly. There’s far too much filler, like the car chase that turns into a flying car chase then a hovercraft chase, taking up most of an episode to do so, and ending in nothing. Conversely, the Doctor’s trip to Metabelis III is conveniently instantaneous. There’s also another instance of the Doctor being nearly killed but miraculously surviving, which is even less necessary here because of the regeneration in the final episode – why pull the same trick twice?

The Doctor confronts The Great One.

The Doctor confronts The Great One.

As usual, it’s the final moments when anything of interest happens. The Doctor bravely enters the irradiated crystal caves to confront the Great Spider, who blows itself and the mountain up (yet another explosive finish!). The abbot of the monastery turns out to be a Time Lord, in fact the Doctor’s old mentor whom he previously mentioned. He gives the Doctor some advice and also turns up at the end to give his regeneration a little push.

Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart watch in astonishment as the Doctor’s appearance changes. “Here we go again...”

Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart watch in astonishment as the Doctor’s appearance changes. “Here we go again…”

The transformation from Jon Pertwee to a fresh-faced Tom Baker is not as seamless or drawn out as his first regeneration, consisting instead of a disappointing cross-fade. Still, I was glad to see it happen at last!

The Monster of Peladon

Despite a gap of fifty years since the Doctor’s last visit, The Monster of Peladon definitely suffers from “sequelitis”, as we meet some old faces in some old settings, wander through some old caves again, uncover a plot again, and generally get bored with the whole ordeal.

Sarah Jane Smith meets Alpha Centauri. So, is that its name or its home? Or both?

Sarah Jane Smith meets Alpha Centauri. So, is that its name or its home? Or both?

There’s a communication blockage, Federation forces sent in, a plot to capture the queen, and a comic relief alien with an annoying voice – it’s like watching ‘The Phantom Menace’ but without the cool jedi fights and John Williams score. Pretty bloody dull, unfortunately. I do like a bit of world-building in sci-fi, but this was of little interest – one trip to Peladon was enough for me. Additionally, many of the alien effects don’t hold up well. The Alpha Centauri costume frequently has a visible gap under its headpiece, and at several points I could definitely see the actor’s hair sticking out from under the Ice Warrior costume. I’m not normally that picky, but I was bored.

Queen Amidala of the Naboo. No, wait, I mean Queen Thalira of Peladon!

Queen Amidala of the Naboo. No, wait, I mean Queen Thalira of Peladon!

This story does turn a group of Ice Warriors back into villains, however, successfully flip-flopping expectations. Having watched ‘Cold War’ at the weekend, it’s fun to compare the new depiction of the Ice Warriors with the old ones. It’s difficult to reconcile their old appearance with the armour suit in the new series, particularly when their leader (in the slim version of the costume with the Darth Vader helmet) gets killed by a stab wound to the belly. Hmm?

The Ice Warrior's leader, Lord Helmet. There's a bulbous CGI face under there, honestly!

The Ice Warrior’s leader, Lord Helmet. There’s a bulbous CGI face under there, honestly!

Evading death this time is the Doctor, who escapes an explosion and brain damage, and is thought to be killed at least twice before miraculously revealing the opposite. I think it’s fine for the Doctor to have a lucky escape now and again, but when it happens twice in one story, it’s pushing it.

The 'monster' of Peladon is little more than smoke and mirrors, intended to cause a state of alert amongst the superstitious miners. Oh, also it kills people. Lots of people. Actually, there's quite a lot of deaths in this one.

The ‘monster’ of Peladon is little more than smoke and mirrors, intended to cause a state of alert amongst the superstitious miners. Oh, also it kills people. Lots of people. Actually, there’s quite a lot of deaths in this one.

Overall, then, this wasn’t particularly interesting, and six parts was too long to spend in a setting that outstayed its welcome already. I do hope the next story is a good one, as it would be a shame if the third Doctor’s adventures ended on a downer.

Death to the Daleks

Terry Nation returns to write this four-part story. I wasn’t expecting much from it and it didn’t deliver much either, so there’s not much to tell.

"We built this city on rock and..." well, just rock.

“We built this city on rock and…” well, just rock.

With the Tardis’ power drained, a Marine Space Corps ship’s power drained, and the Daleks’ power drained, it’s soon apparent that something on this planet is draining power. There’s a mysterious race of zealous inhabitants on the planet, protecting an equally mysterious temple. In fact, the Daleks play only a minor role in the story, serving as little more than motivation to get away more quickly.

The Daleks are powerless against the humans... for a very brief time.

The Daleks are powerless against the humans… for a very brief time.

Daleks being powerless and having to rely on others’ help could have been fascinating and dramatic, putting them in a new situation and forcing them to realise the benefits of mutual understanding and help. But that doesn’t happen here. They quickly replace their failed laser weapons with ballistic gun attachments and that’s it, they’re in charge again, ordering the natives and the marines around and threatening to destroy everything. What a wasted opportunity.

While forced to dig for a rare chemical, the natives and the Daleks are attacked by one of the city's defence mechanisms, a snake... root... thing.

While forced to dig for a rare chemical, the natives and the Daleks are attacked by one of the city’s defence mechanisms, a snake… root… thing.

On the other hand, all the things about the natives and their temple are actually interesting concepts. The temple is a giant living city, a computer that gained self-awareness many generations ago and is now worshipped as their god. The natives, Exxilons, are well-designed creatures, with stone coloured faces and bodies that resemble rocks. The last couple of episodes feature the Doctor and his new Exxilon friend trying to outwit a series of trials and tests inside the temple, while Daleks give chase. These tests a bit pathetic, however, and include the world’s most simple maze puzzle and a tiny electrified hopscotch board.

The Doctor and his Exxilon friend face the trials inside the temple.

The Doctor and his Exxilon friend face the trials inside the temple.

Ultimately, the Doctor destroys the temple’s circuitry, while the humans outside blow it up with explosives. I would have thought one would have been enough. With the remaining explosives, the Space Corp captain brings death to the Daleks (ahh!) by blowing up their ship as they try to leave.

Another explosive finish, then, but a mediocre serial overall.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

An evacuated London, prehistoric monsters rampaging around, conspiracies, time travel, a ‘space mission’ and a mad plot to wipe out humanity and start over again… Invasion of the Dinosaurs throws everything but the kitchen sink into this six-part story, and it does so very successfully.

For no reason whatsoever, the Doctor uses a new car. What it lacks in the charm of Bessie, it makes up for in futuristic coolness. I want it.

For no reason whatsoever, the Doctor uses a new car. What it lacks in the charm of Bessie, it makes up for in futuristic coolness. I want it.

From the eerie set-up, to the first monstrous attack and through every twist of the plot, I was engaged and entertained. I honestly would not have expected Captain Yates to have been in on the conspiracy, but the UNIT side characters have never been particularly fleshed out before. The whole time-reversal concept was excellent and unexpected, the fake space mission even better. The different elements of the plot hang together really well.

Captain Yates betrays UNIT!

Captain Yates betrays UNIT!

The trouble is, frankly, the dinosaurs look awful. Yes, I know it was 1974, but I guess Jurassic Park has spoiled me, so whenever I hear a T-Rex that doesn’t sound like a cross between a lion, a cow and a foghorn, it’s just wrong. Particularly when it wobbles about like a little rubber puppet, and is voiced by someone going “rawrrr!!”. To be fair, some of the other dinos look pretty good, and they cleverly make use of a variety of techniques to integrate them into the scenes, including blue-screen compositing and miniature street sets. I would rather a story not try to outreach its technical grasp, but in this case I do appreciate the effort that went into it and it didn’t spoil the story for me.

"Raawrr, I'm a big scary dinosaur!!"

“Raawrr, I’m a big scary dinosaur!!”

Despite the wobbly dinosaurs, then, this was easily one of my favourite serials so far. One of those rare occasions where six episodes didn’t drag.

The Time Warrior

It’s been a while since we’ve had a historical episode. The middle ages are the setting for The Time Warrior, and the anachronistic arrival of a crashed Sontaran warrior threatens to contaminate history. Luckily, the Sontaran happens to snatch a few present day scientists back through time, which gets the Doctor’s attention.

Professor Rubeish helps the Doctor rescue the other kidnapped scientists.

Professor Rubeish helps the Doctor rescue the other kidnapped scientists.

Few stories lately have dealt with historical events, and even fewer with the consequences of meddling with them, so this one was interesting. Naturally, you get a load of knights saying things like “you speak in strange tongues, star warrior”, and calling the Doctor a wizard, which is fun. But it also asks serious questions like what would actually happen if medieval people had access to weapons that could kill so easily – would we be sophisticated enough as a society to handle that responsibility? The period characters are portrayed as fools, so the answer would seem to be “no”. Fortunately, the Doctor is able to destroy the Sontaran’s ship, and the explosion takes out the castle and the weapons too. Lots of stories lately seem to feature explosive endings, it’s becoming a theme!

The Doctor plans an assault on Irongron's castle.

The Doctor plans an assault on Irongron’s castle.

I’m familiar with the modern version of the Sontarans, but I was very surprised by how little they’ve changed. The head, the face, the voice and the mannerisms are all basically the same. They’re not evil, as such, just single-minded and amused by warmongering. There is only one of them in this story, but one is enough to provide a worthy foe for the Doctor and his new travelling companion.

Make-up and prosthetics may have improved in 30 years, but this Sontaran looks remarkably similar to the modern ones.

Make-up and prosthetics may have improved in 30 years, but this Sontaran looks remarkably similar to the modern ones.

Yes, Sarah Jane Smith joins the Doctor’s travels for the first time in this story. A journalist who accidentally stows away on the Tardis, she is a refreshing change from Jo, actually challenging the Doctor and, for a while, even thinking he is the villain of the piece! I already like her, so that’s a good start.

Sarah Jane Smith questions the Doctor.

Sarah Jane Smith questions the Doctor.

A couple of noteworthy mentions here. Firstly, the Doctor mentions to the Sontaran that his home planet is Gallifrey – I believe this is the first spoken reference of this name (first I’ve noticed, anyway). Secondly, this story features a brand new title sequence with a more familiar (to me) “time tunnel” graphic, and a brand new logo. It’s very nice. Same old music, though.