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Review of The Doctors Revisited - Third Doctor

Third month, Third Doctor. (Yes, I'm a bit behind the curve.) For those unfamiliar with Jon Pertwee's incarnation of the Doctor, there are a few surprises in store.

I've talked before about the changes that accompanied Three's arrival on the scene. His overall demeanor and situation are among the biggest of those. In contrast to his predecessor, he's the first "action hero" Doctor, with his Venusian Aikido and love of vehicles that go fast. Further, he's suddenly stuck on Earth in the '70s, and has a "day job" as the scientific advisor for UNIT.

Personality-wise, he's also quite a change from Two. Suddenly less of a clown, he begins this life straight-backed, serious, authoritarian, difficult, and bad-temepered, to quote some of the words used by interviewees (who included Steven Moffat, Caro Skinner, David Tennant, Camille Coduri, Hugh Bonneville, Adam Garcia, Richard Franklin, and John Barrowman). Though he's forcibly associating closely with humans, I think the Third Doctor is in a way the most distinctly alien yet, based on his interactions with those around him. As Moffat put it, Three sees humans as "a fairly convenient species if you want some tea" or "reasonably competent pets," but he blatantly "regards himself as hugely superior to them." That's pretty much Pertwee's Doctor in a nutshell.

As the retrospective moves on to Three's Companions, it's noted that for the first time, Who really had an ensemble cast (though no one here mentioned the commonly-used description of them as "the UNIT family"). Along with more traditional (though non-traveling) Companions Dr. Liz Shaw (a wonderful, adult character who seems sadly less well-known) and Jo Grant (the more stereotypical "naïve, wide-eyed girl in a short skirt"), the Doctor was frequently joined on these adventures by UNIT officers. First and foremost is the incomparable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, brilliantly played by Nicholas Courtney, who prevented him from being the totally boring stuffed shirt he could've been. Joining the Brigadier were Sgt. Benton and Capt. Yates. The military backdrop gave this era a unique feel, and this Doctor the recurring opportunity to rail against the "military mind."

Then we get into the "Famous Foes" portion, and we find something that characterizes the Third Doctor's era even more than UNIT: the Master. No one is better as the Master than the original, and I can't help but love Tennant's description of him as a "smooth, oleaginous Master. Roger Delgado just oozed this kind of deathly charm." Despite the fact that the Master was always developing "plans of wildly varying size and sanity" (as Moffat put it), he was an effective foil for the Third Doctor, and the guests outline their own opinions on why he worked so well.

The other recurring villain mentioned here is the Autons. They seem to work well as an avatar of fear, especially as the '70s is when plastic was really becoming ubiquitous (it seems obvious to me that this is where Moffat got the idea to make the ordinary frightening). And although we may not have heard them called by name, they've made their mark in post-Hiatus Who as well - they're the adversaries in Rose as well as the reason the two-thousand-year vigil of The Last Centurion was possible.

Three's reign was thus unique in several ways, and Pertwee was extremely popular at the time. He got less prickly (though no less pompous) as his tenure progressed, and really helped make sure the show maintained - and even grew - its popularity. "Fan wisdom" about the quality of this era has reportedly run from one extreme to the other, depending on what year you asked, but my own opinion is that most of the Third Doctor's stories are generally fun. If you've never seen one, I recommend you give them a try; there are certainly worse places to start than Terror of the Autons, which is what aired following this special. Besides, knowing that Pertwee was a real-life secret agent years before landing the role adds an extra dimension of cool to his Doctor. Pretty awesome.

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Comments

I liked the documentary they had on BBC America. In agreement with you on all of these points. Have not actually seen "Spearhead from Space." I have so many to watch, but I'm taking it slowly, because I want to enjoy them.

Did you see the recently published two part interview with Pertwee in "Doctor Who Magazine?" It was given shortly before his death and I thought it was pretty good. I enjoyed it.

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I don't get DWM, so I haven't read the interview, but I've read other articles about it. I love some of the revelations about his previous career! :D

By mrfranklin

Hi Marcia,

I haven't finished it all yet, but I will get back to you. He discussed his time in the war, as well as his love of fast things. He was quite emotional in the interview. It was before he died. He very fond of Roger Delgado and talked about his first love, a lady named Kip. I've already forgotten some of what I've read. I hate when I do that! Too much information entering my brain. :-) I will look it back up and finish what I didn't read yet.

He also didn't like when the interviewers asked for his autograph. :-) You could tell he thought that was nonsense!

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I think it's hard to toe the line between professionalism and fandom when one is interviewing someone one admires. :)

By mrfranklin
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