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DVD Review: Doctor Who – “The Three Doctors” Special Edition

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“The Three Doctors,” written by “The Claws of Axos” writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, was the first Doctor Who storyline to assemble together a group of actors who had played The Doctor in previous incarnations. It also served as the second appearance of The Doctor’s Gallifreyan associates known as The Time Lords who appeared only briefly during Patrick Troughton’s final adventure as The Doctor in “The War Games.” More importantly, the Doctor Who production team finally got the nerve to go back to making alien planets that looked like Studio 54 by giving The Doctor’s TARDIS the power to travel in time and space at the end of this story.

The plot for this tenth anniversary story starts off with some technocolor ooze which makes anything from our fair world (or in DW’s case, England) disappear into an anti-matter universe. The universe is created by the mind of Omega, a former solar engineer and one of the most legendary Time Lords who found himself trapped inside of his own great creation: a supernova that powers the planet Gallifrey. As revenge against The Time Lords who refused to help him escape from his anti-matter universe, Omega seeks to end their existence by draining all of the energy from Gallifrey from the other side of the Supernova.

While exacting his revenge on The Time Lords, Omega goes in search of The Doctor on earth using the technicolor ooze (which Omega created) and some gel-like creatures. Sensing The Doctor would need help against Omega, The Time Lords enlist his first (William Hartnell) and second (Patrick Troughton) incarnations.

After much squabbling between the Second and Third Doctors and a brief recap to The Third Doctor’s current companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning), the ooze transports The Doctor, The Second Doctor, Sergeant Benton (John Levine), Head of UNIT HQ Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), Jo and Dr. Tyler (Rex Robinson), a scientist who was working on the origins of the techno-color ooze into Omega’s anti-matter universe. Omega’s rational for getting The Doctor? To get another Time Lord with an equally powerful mind so that he may take over as ruler of the anti-matter universe in exchange for the freedom of his friends and of The Time Lords.

Did you get all that? I hope you did.

Dudley Simpson’s music gets on my nerves sometimes. There’s a scene where Bessie arrives at UNIT HQ and he includes a freaking score that sounds like The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is apporaching. I would have liked it if 1970s Doctor Who musically sounded like “Inferno” or those last final bits of “The End of Time” after Tennant’s Doctor leaves Rose for the last time.

My mother had a slight complaint about Katy Manning in this story: “She’s always posing!” I wonder what she would have thought about Wendy Padbury in a tight catsuit in “The Mind Robber” hanging on to a seperated TARDIS console. Doctor Who’s fashion sense always tailored itself at times to the decade it aired.

When The Time Lords shut the TARDIS down in “The War Games,” I asked a question in my head: If the TARDIS is supposedly alive as evidenced in “The Doctor’s Wife” in the new series, why on earth does it need any technological machinery? I’m sure a serious Doctor Who fan could answer this question in the comments below, because I never can come up with an answer that makes sense enough for me.

I liked Laurie Webb as Mr. Ollis. He had this whole gruff outdoorsman vibe that I thought would have been better used in the story. That’s not a big deal considering he and The Brig have a hilarious sizing up of each other when they meet in Omega’s anti-matter universe. 

William Hartnell’s time in this story was brief due to the fact he was very ill at the time. However frail he was during the production, he easily belts out one of the best lines in the whole serial: “Oh, so you are my replacements. A dandy and a clown.” I suspect rewriting the line to point out that Pertwee dresses like Jimi Hendrix and Troughton dresses like Moe Howard would have meant one too many pop culture references.

Before Tom Baker stepped into the role of The Doctor in 1975, I think the prototype for his take on the character largely came from Pat Troughton; The Second Doctor’s flute playing merged into The Fourth Doctor’s love of Jelly Babies. I never got the sense he got much from Pertwee since all I recall him being into was gadgets.

Stephen Throne, who plays Omega, as explained in one of the special features of the two-disc set, had trouble figuring out how to play Omega given that he could barely see in the costume he was given. This led, as you see in the finished product, to bouts of over-the-top acting which made his character sound more menacing than he really was. Over-the-top acting is not exactly uncommon on this show and should not be a deterrent for anyone just getting into this series.

I have to admit that I am not a fan of Jon Pertwee’s take on The Doctor. Certain stories, such as “Carnival Of Monsters” which came after this, seemed to scale back to ultra-seriousness of his performance. In “The Three Doctors,” It seemed he performed the character the usual way with a nice bit of comic levity by Patrick Troughton. I oddly enough wasn’t a fan of Pat’s time on the show either, but he is always the most enjoyable thing about the multi-doctor stories. Perhaps as more Troughton releases come to DVD, I will change my mind on how I see him as The Doctor.

“The Three Doctors” seems to have one too many characters for a story that focuses on reuniting the first two doctors with the then current one. You didn’t actually need Sgt. Benton or even The Brigadier for this one. Just have Jo Grant, Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell, cut the story down to two parts and you’ll have a near perfect episode.

Producer Barry Letts, Nicholas Courtney and Katy Manning do a good job providing commentary for this story. Manning, who is often accused in some fan circles of being a bit too wacky, is a great at being an moderator without actually moderating. It’s a shame they never put Tom Baker with Katy Manning in a commentary together for one of the more sub-par Doctor Who stories.

“Happy Birthday to Who” features interviews with Katy Manning, Bob Baker, Stephen Thorne, Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. This also is worth watching considering that at the start Barry Letts laments that he wasn’t too keen on doing a multi-doctor story out of fear of it being a bit too fannish. This proves to me that these specials, as mixed a bag as they can be, are really meant for the fans who stood by the show since it’s first broadcast.

“Girls, Girls, Girls – The 1970s” features two of the three female companions of The Pertwee Era (Katy Manning and Caroline John who played Liz Shaw during Pertwee’s first season) and one who would enter the show in the middle-half of Tom Baker’s run as The Doctor (Louise Jameson who played Leela). Katy Manning dominates here as she does in the audio commentary.

“Was Doctor Who Rubbish?” the most useless feature of this two-disc set. Fourteen minutes watching random fans of the show defend against the criticism against the original series doesn’t come off as interesting on film as it does on paper (or if you are on the Internet, a fan forum or a blog post). This should have been re-done with a central focus on one of the more low quality stories (The Sensorites would be a nice start).

As if carry-overs from a previous release of this story on DVD, you wind up with a clip from a 1970s episode of Blue Peter introducing The Whomobile, a staple of the Jon Pertwee era and introduced by Pertwee himself. Another clip from a show called “Pebble Mill At One” features an interview with Pat Troughton and Bernard Wilkie, who did visual effects for the original series. You also get a trailer promo for the 40th anniversary of the series, a promo of a 1981 repeat season of Doctor Who, a photo gallery and a BBC1 trailer of the first episode of “The Three Doctors.”

“The Three Doctors,” while not one of the best of Doctor Who’s history, is a nice entry point for someone only casually familiar with the series. Be warned that there is lots of running, Studio 54 designing and loads of shouting over the course of its four parts. Hardcore fans who just wanna watch anything Doctor Who would be advised to watch this with a highly alcoholic beverage.

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About Matthew Milam

  • Dr. Syn

    How can you hate Troughton and Pertwee??