Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Third Doctor

Well with the last episode of Planet of the Spiders comes an end to the Third Doctor's era.

It's been entertaining revisiting the Third Doctor's era.

When I first crossed the line from someone who enjoyed watching Doctor Who on the television to proper geekdom it was the stories of the Third Doctor that I saw the most of initially. They were available as much copied pirate VHS tapes from Australian television. I remember enjoying seeing stories I'd never seen before. That feeling has stuck with me, with a couple of exceptions, throughout the re-watch.

Jon Pertwee's Doctor is comfortable. Yes, he can be a curmudgeon. Yes, he is an embarrassing name dropper, a patronising git & all a little too establishment for his own good. He complains about his exile on Earth, yet hobnobs with Sir 'Tubby' Rowlands down at the club and in some ways the Third Doctor's era is a bit too chummy for it's own good.

However he's also a fine, upstanding citizen of the Universe. Not afraid to take on the naysayers, nitpickers and little Hitler's of the British civil service - or their intergalatic equivalents. He's always looking for the peaceful solution or the right way out. It's a bit of a cliche to call him a 'James Bond' Doctor but with his Venusian martial arts and love of fast cars (and other modes of transport) he is probably the most actionering of the Doctors. He does a fine line to in righteous indignation.

It's a lovely performance from Pertwee, who was best known for being a comedian when he got the part but Pertwee refuses to play it anything but straight - at least until he goes all disguise crazy in 'The Green Death'. Pertwee's Doctor is also probably the least alien Doctor until David Tennant's, which is reflected in the Doctorishness of Professor Cliff Jones. Could you pick which one was the Timelord in 'The Green Death'? That's not a criticism, it's just a fact. The Third Doctor is a straight down the line English chap as much as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, despite the complaints.

Pertwee's three 'official' assistants: Liz Shaw, Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith all have their strengths and weaknesses.

Caroline John does her best with Liz Shaw but the character doesn't get a chance because the super-scientist can't compete with the Doctor and she is quickly reduced to asking the kind of informational questions that any assistant could ask. Her sudden disappearance at the start of Season Eight seems right actually.

Katy Manning's Jo Grant is all emotions, energy & instinctive action. She's stupidly stupid on a few occassions and Katy Manning can be a tad hammy on occassion but Jo Grant works with the Third Doctor, who it seems has fallen a little in love with her by the time she departs in The Green Death. She's at her best in 'The Curse of Peladon' imo.

Sarah Jane Smith always feels like a Fourth Doctor companion to me. Liz Sladen brings so much to the part that you can see why she's still playing Sarah Jane nearly 40 years later. She's proper fiesty, intelligent and proper brave. The kind of brave that understands that she's scared but needs to carry on regardless. She's a breath of fresh air in Season 11.

You can't talk about the Third Doctor without UNIT. They go together like cheese and marmite. Whilst UNIT's militariness seems to vary from story to story: sometimes their ineptness stretches credulity a wee bit, whilst on other occassions they really look like a proper international military outfit.

All of this is held together by the magnificent Nicholas Courtney, who makes the Brigadier real. He's not an idiot, although his thinking is sometimes constrained by his military training. He doesn't always toe the line but is trapped by his place in the system & is - in many ways - without the contacts the Doctor has. UNIT is an international force but he's pushed around because he and his men are from the UK military. You'd certainly want the Brigadier on your side when push comes to shove.

Both Richard Franklin, as Captain Yates and John Levene, as Sargeant Benton give fine support as the two other UNIT regulars. The Season 10-11 Yates story is one of the most interesting storylines given to a companion, it almost feels like the sort of thing New Who would do, rather than Classic Who. I always wanted to know what happened to Captain Yates.

I suppose one should say that the final regular of the Pertwee years is Roger Delgardo's Master. Used too often in Season 8 he still has a certain panache that other Masters lack. Delgardo is wonderful in the part and keeps the character's tendency to hammery under strict control. It's a great creation, although I still like my theory that actually the Master and the Doctor are keeping each other entertained and there's no serious intention to kill each other. It's more a Time Lord game than anything else.

There are some dud stories in the Pertwee era: Claws of Axos, Colony in Space, Frontier in Space, Planet of the Bloody Daleks and Death to the Daleks and there are too many six parters, which have a tendency to padding & dragging.

However there's a strong arguement to be made that Season 7 is the best Season of Doctor Who in the series history. Four stories. A cracking, fast paced introduction in Spearhead from Space and then three cracking stories with villains who aren't doing evil for the sake of doing evil. All three stories have depth and ideas to get your teeth into. Season 7 is a peak of Doctor Who. If you haven't watched the stories, you should.

The other 'best of' Pertwee's are: The Mind of Evil, The Daemons, The Curse of Peladon, The Three Doctors, The Green Death, The Time Warrior, The Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Planet of the Spiders. Of those Invasion of the Dinosaurs was the real surprise. I'll admit to having been put off by the dodgy dinosaurs in the past. Don't let that happen to you. It's a good story.

The Third Doctor/Jon Pertwee bought Doctor Who back into the public consciousness in a big way and built a solid platform for Tom Baker to build on. It's well worth revisiting.

1 comment:

  1. He's only 'establishment' if you take him at face value. The Doctor lies, remember.

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