I’ve decided to do something that I hope will only occur once during this rewatch: I’m splitting this review into two parts. The reason for this is simple: Season Three is enormous. This season contains 45 episodes, the most of any season so far; as well, it contains The Daleks’ Master Plan, the longest single serial in Doctor Who history (yes, I know, Trial of a Time Lord is longer, but until I get there and watch it, I’m going to stick with the view that it’s actually four linked serials instead of one long one). I’m also taking this step because something unusual lies ahead: the First Doctor’s regeneration. The Doctor regenerates a few serials into Season Four, instead of at the end of Season Three; nothing of the sort ever happens again (the closest we come is Season 21’s The Twin Dilemma, the Sixth Doctor’s first serial). I want to include the First Doctor’s final appearances here, with Season Three, which brings us to 53 episodes for the season; therefore I think it’s best to split this lengthy review up. I’m breaking it close to the halfway mark, with The Ark (serial six for the season). So, on to part one!
The season gets off to a good start with Galaxy 4. It’s a story that has been criticized by Peter Purves, the actor who played relatively new companion Steven Taylor; he points out that the story was written for the recently-departed Ian and Barbara, then altered. As he ended up with most of the lines intended for Barbara, he comes off fairly weak. Doctor Who being a product of its time, Barbara was usually portrayed that way, though it would never fly today, and rightly so. Steven becomes a stronger and more assertive character after this serial, but I feel as though his character always wanders a bit, never really distinguishing himself. He’s a reliable everyman, but he lacks direction.
The serial’s villains, the Drahvin, fascinated me. They’re beautiful (at least by 1960s British standards), but not what they seem. We get that sort of thing today, but far more heavy-handed; when a modern villain is revealed for what it really is, it usually looks the part. The Drahvin don’t change; they’re still beautiful and human in appearance. I liked them; I continually had the feeling that they were hiding something. I feel as though they have more stories to tell, but so far, they’ve only appeared in NuWho as background villains in The Pandorica Opens. On a related note, there is a subtle anti-racist (or at least anti-prejudice) message here; the Drahvin are fair and beautiful, and the Rill are so ugly that they won’t allow anyone to look at them, but guess who are the villains? I’m not sure if it was intended that way at the time of production, but it certainly comes across now.
Doctor Who began experimenting with the order of episodes with Mission to the Unknown. It’s a single-episode serial, something that had never been done, and that never occurs again until The Five Doctors. You could say it’s the first “Doctor lite” episode, as it doesn’t include the Doctor (or the TARDIS, or the companions) at all—and in fact, it remains the only episode to feature neither Doctor nor companions. Verity Lambert’s last episode as producer, it serves as a detached prologue to The Daleks’ Master Plan, two serials later. I like that; in NuWho we get season-long story arcs frequently, but at this point in Classic Who it was unheard of. This arc doesn’t last the whole season, but it laid the groundwork for later attempts at longer continuity. Unfortunately it was never broadcast abroad, as the BBC was unable to sell it; that means its footage will likely never be recovered, as there are no foreign broadcast copies to be found. (If only we had a time machine…) The plot is brief and quick, and doesn’t accomplish much by itself; it’s not bad, just not enough. However, it did include plants which turn people into plants, which stuck out to me; the first episode I can remember watching as a child is Season 13’s The Seeds of Doom, which featured the Krynoids, plants with a similar power.
I found the third serial, The Myth Makers, to be a little boring. Maybe that’s just me; I don’t seem to enjoy the pure historicals as much. This retelling of the end of the Trojan War was well made, but flat. We trade Vicky, whose performance I enjoyed, for Katarina (no last name given, even in spinoff material as far as I can tell), whom I can hardly remember even now. Although she was with the Doctor for the equivalent of a full season, it didn’t feel that way, and her exact felt abrupt and forced. This is appropriate, as her actress was not informed of her departure prior to filming the serial. Steven comes across as moody and arrogant in this serial; generally I respect him (despite my earlier comment), but I didn’t like him here. Worth noting is the ontological paradox with the Trojan Horse; it’s the Doctor’s comments about it that lead to its creation, but he himself only knew about it from history.
The Daleks’ Master Plan, as I said, is the longest single serial in the show’s history. The show is really burning through companions at this point; Katarina, who arrived in the preceding serial, dies halfway through this one, and Sara Kingdom joins the crew and dies in the space of a few episodes. I liked Sara; she reminds me of Liz Shaw’s character under the Third Doctor. I felt as though her death was a waste of the character (which could also be said of Katarina, whose death was obviously set up for dramatic effect, but without enough prior screen time to build up to that). Incidentally, Sara is the first companion to begin as an adversary of the Doctor; we’ll get this again with Vislor Turlough (Fifth Doctor) and possibly others of whom I am not yet aware.
I’m fascinated with the history of the human race, and also of the Daleks. This serial takes place in the year 4000, and clearly the Daleks are very advanced and widespread already. The Doctor refers back to the Dalek invasion of Earth in the 2100s; and we know that within a millennium, a number of other significant events will happen, including the birth of Jack Harkness.
Episode 7, The Feast of Steven, was definitely intended to be comedic, with encounters with Charlie Chaplin and Bing Crosby. I find it interesting, because those kind of comical encounters with historical figures becomes normal canon in the new series; notably, you have Vincent Van Gogh (Vincent and the Doctor), Elizabeth I (Day of the Doctor), Queen Victoria (Tooth and Claw), William Shakespeare (The Shakespeare Code), and Winston Churchill (Victory of the Daleks, et al). It’s a Christmas episode—the first Christmas special!—and was omitted from all international broadcasts. Like Mission to the Unknown, it is most likely lost forever due to no copies being sold. It also contains the only overt onscreen breaking of the fourth wall, with the Doctor’s Christmas toast to the viewers.
The Monk makes his return in this serial, and does better for himself than in his previous appearance. He’s clearly intelligent, but so very clearly outmatched by the Doctor, who runs circles around him every time they meet. He’s also very naïve about the Daleks, which I take as clear evidence that despite being time travellers, the Time Lords were ignorant of the Time War before it started. Time Lord views on linear time are a funny thing. The Monk plays second fiddle here to Mavic Chen, the ostensible leader of Earth and its possessions; Chen is a truly despicable character, and I recall comparing him to the bastard offspring of Jabba the Hutt and a used-car salesman (an analogy that’s insulting to everyone involved).
One last thing: This is the first occurrence of the Daleks’ penchant for superweapons, especially those that deal with the passage of time. Here they have created—and later they employ—the Time Destructor, which ages everything within its radius to the point of destruction. It’s responsible for the deaths of Sara Kingdom and everyone else on the planet Kembel, including the Daleks who deployed it; the Doctor himself suffers its effects, but survives due to his Time Lord physiology. It does seem to have no effect on the TARDIS, or on Steven, who is safely inside. We see this penchant for superweapons again in the atrocities of the Time War, and in the Reality Bomb (The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End).
I’m not very familiar with the history visited in The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, and much of it was lost on me. It was interesting to see that the Doctor’s knowledge base was still in its infancy here; in the new series, he seems to know nearly everything needed in any given situation, but here, he’s still learning, as evidenced by his excitement at learning germ theory from the apothecary, Charles Preslin. It helps to reiterate that by Time Lord standards, he’s really young here. The TARDIS crew changes again in this story—Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet joins the crew under unlikely circumstances, in which we had just left her great-grandmother to die (although clearly she survived). But thanks to the TARDIS’s intelligence, which won’t fully be explored until NuWho, the coincidence can be handwaved. Also notably, the Doctor here says that he can’t go back to his own planet, but doesn’t say why; and of course, we STILL don’t have a full answer to that question. It’s the first vague hint that relations between him and his people are troubled.
Finally, there’s The Ark, in which humans have fled the destruction of Earth on a large spacegoing ark; along the way, they’ve encountered another race, the Monoids, who now travel with them. Right from the start, Dodo shows that she is an active and impulsive companion; she disregards any possibility of environmental hazards, and rushes out of the TARDIS against Steven’s objections—ironic, since this is the first time anyone ever expressed any concern in that direction. Later, the crew uses the TARDIS to jump forward to a later time in the Ark’s history, and deal with a second generation of humans and monoids. For a show about time travel, surprisingly few episodes use it as a plot mechanism—usually the TARDIS arrives, the crew does their thing, and they leave. We’ll see time travel used again, though to a lesser degree, in Pyramids of Mars, where the Fourth Doctor uses it to investigate the results of Sutekh’s actions. For now, though, the Monoids stuck out to me; they’re deeper than the average villain, as they’re relatively small-time characters who let a little power go to their heads—but they’re not inherently evil. In addition, they experience a minor civil war even while dealing with the Doctor—not your standard villainy at all.
Whew, that’s a lot of ground to cover. To Be Continued in Part II!
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below. Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.