My last Who review left us with the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, just after the The Tomb Of The Cybermen (Story 037) from 1967 during Season Five. The Second Doctor would go on to have more adventures, mainly through Space and less through Time into and through the end of Season Six in the Summer of 1969. But the times and TV was changing as the decade came to an end. There was a definite youth movement in the UK and color was becoming a necessity. So, the program would become colorized and younger at the same time. The color production would cause the series to produce fewer episodes per season and the new Doctor, Jon Pertwee, would helm more years than either of his predecessors. The Third Doctor is a bit younger (age 51 at the start of his run) and would have many more action-based adventures himself – instead of being surrounded by the actions of his companions as were the previous Doctors.
Now available in a Special Edition release is Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (Story 065) from December 1972 at the beginning of Season Ten. The series was celebrating its Tenth Anniversary and they decided to tell a grand scale story that brings in all three Doctors up to that point. This is my first experience with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor and I felt like I had lots of catching up to do when Episode One starts. Luckily my knowledge of current Doctor Who continuity fills in some of the gaps. But this Doctor has a completely different feel than the previous stories. The Third Doctor has been exiled to Earth and he is working with a United Nations organization called UNIT. The exile has offered the series something it was lacking before – a steady use of similar sets that aren’t the TARDIS. As they transitioned to color, this was an important point in order to keep the budgets down. The filming is the first thing I noticed as the show started – the interiors are still shot on the same video but most of the exteriors appear to be shot on film and the colors are noticeably more washed out.
The plot to get all three Doctors together is ridiculous at best and unexplainable at its worst. There’s an energy blob that is transporting folks to another dimension in a black hole in our universe. At the same time, the Time Lords are having their energy drained to this black hole universe. In a last ditch effort to save themselves, the Time Lords break the First Law Of Time and send back the Second Doctor to the current time. I’m never good trying to follow time-travel stories but having multiple Doctors together is beyond my understanding of how the regenerations work. There is a good chemistry between Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton. But their powers are not enough to figure out how to stop the blob.
The Time Lords attempt to send the First Doctor, William Hartnell. At this time, Hartnell is too old to be running around in any anti-matter universe, he could barely remember his lines 10 years previous when he was the star. Here he appears on a video screen – conveniently trapped in some transport between worlds. To appease the fans, our eldest Doctor appears at least once in each four episodes to give a key piece of information from his video screen.
The other addition to the cast is Jo (Katy Manning) as his latest companion. She’s right along the line of companions from this time period. She’s a sexy blonde that is fiercely loyal to the Doctor – not wanting to leave his side. She doesn’t seem completely like the ditzy blonde that some companions have been; there’s a tougher edge to her when the action starts. She’s not just there screaming when monsters are chasing them. But she does serve the purpose to keep asking “What is happening?” and “Can you explain this so I can understand?” It’s a convenient crutch for the writers so they can quickly have the Doctor explain a scientific point in the story but it’s also annoying.
Based on the advice of the First Doctor, the Second and Third Doctors along with Jo and a couple members of UNIT allow the TARDIS to be sucked into the blob and transported to the anti-matter universe. If you have believe the flimsy scientific explanations up to this point, then you probably won’t argue with their explanations. But I found this too hard to swallow and the writers should have just relied on blind faith of the viewers instead of constantly trying to explain how these universes were existing. While in the anti-matter universe, the Doctors meet the adversary, Lord Omega (pronounced here as the off-putting “Oh-meh-gah”).
Here the back story gets even more convoluted and one hopes that there won’t be further need to know this info. Lord Omega was once a Time Lord who apparently was the one who caused the supernova that gave the Time Lords their powers. He was thought to be dead but has existed in this anti-matter universe since the big explosion. His time in the anti-matter universe has driven him insane and now he’s trying to make the Doctors stay and keep the anti-matter universe running smoothly. Sounds kinda like just running the factory – oil things maybe, turn a few dials, etc. But as he tries to escape to our universe he finds that his body no longer exists. In a quick change of heart, he then just wants the Doctors to stay and keep him company for eternity.
The anti-matter world is destroyed in a clever manner that includes the Second Doctor’s recorder. It’s a payoff that comes far too late for those of us who can’t grasp the combination of time travel with other versions of the same self and travel between matter and anti-matter universes. But all is restored and with the anti-matter world gone, the Doctors can all be returned to their proper times. The benefit for the Third Doctor is that his exile has been lifted. As the 10th Season enters 1973, the Doctor is free to travel through time and space.
Overall, this production lacks the action of some of the stories in this same time period. The convoluted plot requires too much explanation and takes up too much time talking instead of getting to the anti-matter universe. It’s only by the fourth and final episode that the action really seems to begin. I enjoyed seeing the Doctor’s world in color finally but the transitions between film and video was still hard to follow. William Hartnell’s failing health takes away from what would have been a special moment to see all of the Doctors together on the screen. He would never play the Doctor again – dying in 1975. But his video appearances are canned and don’t have the feeling of interaction with his other selves. As a catalyst to future stories, I do feel that I’m now caught up with the Doctor and Jo and ready to see where the next adventures take them. Fire up the TARDIS.
The new DVD release comes with a host of extras that make up for the confusing story. There is a commentary with Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and one of the producers – Barry Letts. There’s a new “Making Of” special that is very thorough. Also included in the extras are few trailers from 1972 and the reairing in 1981 and Jon Pertwee showing off his Whomobile. The best of the specials here is probably a light but interesting feature called “Girls, Girls, Girls – The 1970s” on his companions Jo, Liz, and Leela. These extras are important additions to the understanding of the Doctor Who Universe. Just dropped in on these episodes and you feel like you are catching up the whole time. But once immersed correctly, you just learn to go along for the ride because you can’t ever control where it goes.