Time itself is in peril! The Time Lords find themselves besieged by a mysterious enemy. Vital cosmic energy is draining into a black hole, and the Doctor is their only hope. Trapped in the TARDIS, however, he’s powerless. The only way out is to break the First Law of Time to let the Doctor help himself – literally…
The Three Doctors conjures up a weird sense of nostalgia for me. It’s a story broadcast almost twenty years before I was born, featuring two Doctors who had passed away by that time too. I know that some people dislike multi-Doctor stories, but I love them and find them fascinating to see how the different incarnations of the Doctor interact with each other. As the first of its kind, this story is not perfect but it is solid nonetheless and sets the groundwork for the future multi-Doctor stories.
This is a story that focuses on the differences between Doctors and their identities, and the relationship between the different incarnations is almost comparable to walking into a room to find two younger versions of yourself there. All of your habits and tics would irritate you to the point of finding the other versions unbearable, here portrayed as the Second Doctor’s seeming obsession with his recorder and playing music, something that drives the Third Doctor round the bend. Of course, the recorder is the item that ultimately saves the day in this story, showing that these irritating habits that can still be useful. The butting of heads and different personalities cause issues throughout the stories, no more noticeable than when the Second Doctor turns up in Omega’s anti-matter palace, where the former’s personality undoes the progress his successor had made and Omega treats the Third Doctor like an imposter. This accusation leads to the retort of “Well, you are, really aren’t you?” which sparks this whole sibling rivalry between these two Doctors off again. Really, the character who cares the least about which incarnation he has by his side is the Brigadier, who states that he doesn’t matter what he looks like, so long as he gets the job done.
I think that Bob Baker and Dave Martin have done a decent enough job here with the story, even if the antimatter universe feels like throwing scientific words at the screen without doing anything really meaningful with it. I think their best work in this story is definitely the interplay between the Second and Third Doctors, where the way the two rub each other up the wrong way translates perfectly into Troughton and Pertwee’s performances. There are aspects that don’t work so well: the character of Mr Ollis for instance, doesn’t seem to serve any purpose in the story and I don’t remember him speaking – although checking the transcript, the character obviously had lines. The direction is pretty solid and I look the introduction of the organism when the Doctor and Jo pull up at the well signposted top-secret UNIT Headquarters, which is obviously to save on the cost of the effect, but works really well to show it growing by shooting Katy Manning from a low angle and moving to a high one. There are some shonky moments of CSO fringing later on, especially in Omega’s palace, and the fight with the dark side of Omega’s mind is just weird, especially when the action is slowed down.
Where this story has flaws is certainly in the character of the Brigadier, who follows up on a disappointing story in The Time Monster with a bit of an illogical development in the fact that he doesn’t seem to comprehend a single thing to the point of making him seem stupid. The Brigadier can be ignorant or disbelieving, but here I feel that the balance is completely off and that is something that irritates me – those of you who have read my previous reviews of stories featuring the Brig will know how much I love the character. Now, the concept of this story is confusing in-universe, and meeting past Doctors as well adds to this, but there are aspects of his character’s speech that feel like they should be coming out of a new companion’s mouth – they would even feel wrong coming from Jo – rather than a character who has been with the Doctor for the last three series and heading up a specialist military organisation for longer than that. This is not to do down the efforts of Nicholas Courtney, who is superb as ever and a lot of moments where I laughed out loud watching this were him reacting to things – like Doctor Tyler saying that he’d shown the pictures of the ‘space lightning’ to the “Yanks” and the other lot and the look on his face when he knows the Doctor is baffled. Courtney also adds one of the most touching moments before the supporting cast leave Omega’s anti-matter palace, the salute to the Doctors, along with calling Jo by her name rather than the more formal and usual ‘Ms. Grant’ when she doesn’t want to leave.
The Three Doctors provides us with a clear link between the Time Lords as we have previously seen them as all-powerful beings to those we encounter in The Deadly Assassin. As the Second Doctor states to the Brigadier after being told to consult with his “all-powerful superiors”, these Time Lords are vulnerable and reliant on three incarnations of the same Time Lord to save the day. Omega is defeating them singlehandedly, draining their cosmic energy, rendering Gallifrey impotent. The Chancellor is more concerned about the Time Lords breaching the First Law of Time by having the current incarnation meet his predecessors than ensuring their survival, a demonstration of double standards that would go on to dog them in a lot of future stories set on Gallifrey. The Time Lords, of course, restore the Third Doctor’s knowledge of time travel at the end of the story, as well as giving him a new demateralisation circuit, ending his exile. This is important from a production point of view as it gives the writers a chance to stretch their narrative limbs beyond bringing aliens to Earth and the Doctor carrying out missions for the Time Lords.
Omega is an intriguing character, and I think he is largely well played by Stephen Thorne, up until the point where there are two Doctors in his anti-matter universe, where he becomes a ranting and raving madman. Omega is a fascinating character, a character who is fundamentally important to the Time Lords’ position in the galaxy and ability to travel through time, and one that the Third Doctor states should be venerated amongst the Time Lords. The Doctor states that Omega is a hero of his, something that would be revisited in a bit more detail in the Big Finish audio play Omega. I really love the reveal that Omega’s body has been destroyed by his continued stay in the antimatter universe and think that this is one of the most effective moments in this story.
Ah, there you are! I seem to be stuck up here. So you’re my replacements. Humph. A dandy and a clown. Have you done anything?The First Doctor
The presence of two other actors playing the Doctor means that Jon Pertwee has to fall into the straight man role playing opposite the lighter Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell’s cameos where he dispenses nuggets of wisdom or liaises with the Time Lords. It is clear to see why he might have been frustrated with the way that the story goes for his Doctor, but I think that it allows Pertwee to demonstrate the more paternal and responsible side of the Doctor, whilst allowing Troughton to be a bit more of an agent of chaos without the demands of carrying the story. Patrick Troughton is great, even if his character is a bit different to how he appears during his era, but it is nice to see how he interacts with his future and past selves as well as Benton and the Brigadier. It’s sad that we don’t get to see all three Doctors on set at the same time, but understandable considering William Hartnell’s declining health at this time, but even just a brief moment when the day has been saved at the end. His voice of wisdom is important though to keeping his successors in line, and Hartnell does give off a sense of frustration and impatience which feels perfectly in keeping with his First Doctor.
Verdict: Whilst not quite the quintessential multi-Doctor story, The Three Doctors gets a lot right, paying respect to the show’s past whilst also giving the show a way forwards. 8/10
Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), William Hartnell (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Stephen Thorne (Omega), Rex Robinson (Doctor Tyler), Roy Purcell (President of the Council), Laurie Webb (Mr. Ollis), Clyde Pollitt (Chancellor), Graham Leaman (Time Lord), Patricia Prior (Mrs Ollis) & Denys Palmer (Corporal Palmer).
Writer: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Director: Lennie Mayne
Behind the Scenes
- The working title for this story was The Black Hole.
- The story celebrates the start of the tenth season of Doctor Who. It was broadcast between 30th December 1972 and 20th January 1973, with the actual tenth anniversary falling in the gap between Seasons 10 and 11.
- This is the first multi-Doctor story, establishing that the Doctor could meet his previous incarnations. It is notable for being William Hartnell’s final acting performance, which was limited to pre-recorded appearances on the TARDIS video screens. Hartnell was suffering from arteriosclerosis, which meant that his wife insisted that he could not have a more physical role in the story, and Hartnell would pass away two years later.
- The First Doctor would be played by Richard Hurndall in The Five Doctors and David Bradley in Twice Upon A Time.
- This story is notable for depicting the first time that the Brigadier and Benton enter the TARDIS, as well as ending the Third Doctor’s period of exile on Earth. This would result in the gradual phasing out of UNIT and stories set on 20th Century Earth.
- The first time that the First and Second Doctors appeared in colour.
- Troughton and Pertwee did not get along initially during production of this story, in part due to difference in acting style – Troughton favoured ad libs whilst Pertwee wanted to stick to the script as written. The two would later become close friends.
- The story was originally supposed to include Jamie, however, Frazer Hines was committed to Emmerdale, and so his lines were given to Benton. There were thoughts of having a brief cameo in which Jamie calls the Second Doctor back to his own timeline, but this was ultimately scrapped as Hines was unable to be released from the soap opera. There were thoughts about having Zoe in the story, but Pertwee was concerned that too many returning characters would be distracting.
- This story marks the first appearance of a new TARDIS console room set after the one used in The Time Monster warped in storage and was unpopular with Barry Letts. This console room was designed by Roger Liminton.
- Stephen Thorne previously appeared as Azal in The Daemons. He would go on to appear as an Ogron in Frontier in Space and Eldrad in The Hand of Fear.
- Rex Robinson would appear in two further stories directed by Lennie Mayne, The Monster of Peladon and The Hand of Fear. He was married to Patricia Prior, who played Mrs Ollis in this story.
- Roy Purcell had previously appeared as Chief Prison Officer Powers in The Mind of Evil.
- Clyde Pollitt previously played the Third Time Lord in The War Games. It is often speculated that he plays the same character in The Three Doctors, Chancellor Socra.
- Graham Leaman makes his fifth and final appearance in Doctor Who in this story. He had previously played the Controller in The Macra Terror, Price in Fury from the Deep, the Grand Marshall in The Seeds of Death and a Time Lord in Colony in Space.
I really like the Second Doctor’s entrance into the TARDIS and that whole scene is a lot of fun.
Jo, it’s all quite simple – I am he and he is me!
And we are all together, coo coo cachoo?
It’s a song by The Beatles.
Really? How does it go?
Oh, please be quiet!
Previous Third Doctor review: The Time Monster