Welcome back to the Classic Doctor Who rewatch! We start off with a bang this week, with the first-ever anniversary special: The Three Doctors, celebrating the show’s tenth anniversary. It’s also the first multi-Doctor story, as the first three Doctors—William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee—all appear. In this story, Pertwee’s Third Doctor is faced with a difficult conundrum as a strange creature appears, causing the disappearance of a hunter and several things—and, ultimately, UNIT H! itself. Meanwhile, the Time Lords have problems of their own, as power is drained from their world into a black hole. Sensing that the two problems are related, they pluck Troughton’s Second Doctor from his timeline and send him to assist his later self, causing great consternation for the Brigadier. When that proves insufficient, Hartnell’s First Doctor is sent to join them, but due to lack of power, he can’t arrive in the flesh—rather, he is limited to appearances onscreen and via telepathy, giving advice. One by one they travel into the black hole, and find themselves in a universe of antimatter, held together by a new adversary—the ancient, vengeful Time Lord called Omega.
In addition to its firsts, this serial also represents a significant “last”: It is Hartnell’s last appearance as the Doctor, and indeed in any role. Already ill, he would succumb to arteriosclerosis two years later. His character would appear again in a future anniversary special, but played by a surrogate. I would note that this serial settles the question of whether he really is the First Doctor, as the Time Lords here refer to him as the “earliest” Doctor. The question will arise again later with the Fourth Doctor’s The Brain of Morbius, but for now, the truth is clear.
We get a new TARDIS interior, as the previous set—used only once—warped in storage, and was not favored by the production team anyway. As well, the Sonic Screwdriver is first used as a diagnostic tool, a trick common in the new series. Jelly Babies—the favored snack of the Fourth Doctor—make an early appearance. Also presaging NuWho conventions, the Doctor upgrades the Brigadier’s radio; it’s reminiscent of the “universal roaming” he will later install on the cell phones of multiple companions.
Unusually among multi-Doctor stories, all the participants arrive with knowledge of what’s going on, thanks to the Time Lords. Spinoff media has implied that they also retain more memories than is typical in such cases. Though I won’t spoil the rather clever ending, I will say that Omega—though apparently dead here—will appear again, in Arc of Infinity. The most immediately important outcome, however, is this: for his efforts here, the Time Lords repair the TARDIS, restore the Doctor’s memory, and lift his exile. At last, he is free to travel again.
In Carnival of Monsters, with Jo in tow, he takes the TARDIS on a sort of shakedown cruise, to the planet Inter Minor. Dating this serial is practically impossible, and most of my sources don’t even try. However, it bears some resemblance to the Galactic Federation period I have previously mentioned, following the end of the Earth Empire, which would place it anytime after about the 41st century. The Doctor and Jo find themselves trapped in a miniscope, a sort of technological peepshow device with the ability to miniaturize its contents and inhabitants. It isn’t spelled out, but some sort of time travel is involved, as the creatures and individuals in the miniscope are pulled from various time periods. Interestingly, one chamber of the miniscope contains a Cyberman, possibly more than one; this is their only actual appearance in the Third Doctor era (though they appear in reference a few times). In the course of escaping, the Doctor reveals that the sonic screwdriver can’t open non-electronic locks, an oversight that is later corrected. He also first mentions the planet Metebelis III, travel to which will become a running theme for the rest of his tenure. I had seen this serial before, and found it to be entertaining, but light.
The travels continue in Frontier in Space. This six-episode serial is paired with the next, creating a twelve-episode arc. It’s noteworthy for being the final appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master; though scheduled to make another appearance, sadly Delgado would die in a vehicle accident a few months later. Interestingly, had he not died, his character might have been eliminated; he had contracted to be written out in his next appearance. His death changed that, and the character was later brought back for the first of many experiences in The Deadly Assassin. To this day, his portrayal of the Master is considered by many fans to be the definitive version, and he is fondly remembered.
The Master is seen to be employing a group of Ogrons to disrupt relations between Earth and Draconia (the frontier in the title is the “neutral zone” between those two powers) in the year 2450. (For once we can be precise, as the year is seen onscreen in a display of time coordinates.) He nearly succeeds; but it is not until near the end of the serial that his true masters in this venture are revealed: the Daleks. It’s a complex setup for this era of the show; and though it isn’t stated, I find it likely that the Time Lords influenced the Doctor’s arrival at this place and time, for the purpose of defusing the situation.
Noteworthy in this story: A new sonic screwdriver, more utilitarian than the last, is introduced, and will be used until its destruction under the Fifth Doctor. It can’t remove bolts, another oversight that will later be corrected (and indeed, contradicts what we’ve seen in The Underwater Menace). The Doctor references a previous trip to Draconia, but that trip has not been seen onscreen. He is shot in the head by the Master before the end of the serial, but survives without regeneration; he will begin the next serial still wounded. The scene of the Master, having imprisoned the Doctor, relaxing while reading The War of the Worlds gets a small echo in the 1996 movie, when the Doctor, having charge of the Master’s remains, relaxes and reads The Time Machine. The Master escapes at the end, but we don’t know to where; it will be some time before we see him again.
Planet of the Daleks picks up immediately. Injured, the Doctor manages to send a telepathic signal to the Time Lords before falling into a healing coma; they assume control of the TARDIS from afar and direct it to the planet Spiridon in the same time period. Later, the Doctor will reveal that he pointed the Time Lords to that world, having become aware that the Daleks are staging there for a conquest. While the Doctor rests, Jo exits the TARDIS to explore, and is infected by a Spiridonian illness, then captured.
In another sense, this story serves as a sequel to the first appearance of the Daleks, season one’s The Daleks. The Daleks’ ancestral enemy, the Thals, make their first appearance since that story; having advanced technologically, they have followed the Daleks to Spiridon in an attempt to stop them. The native population, though subjugated by the Daleks, are also involved, and seeking their freedom. They have something valuable to the Daleks: invisibility technology. (Fortunately, the Daleks seem to have lost the technology in their defeat here, as it never resurfaces.) The Daleks have also developed gravity disks that allow them to hover; this technology will later be incorporated into their casings. Despite the obvious advances, there is evidence that this story is still fairly early in Dalek history; they do not appear to possess time travel, and their alleged “largest army in history” is only ten thousand units.
There are a lot of parallels between this story and The Daleks, which should come as no surprise, as this is Terry Nation’s first contribution to the series in several years. As well, given that the Third Doctor era served as a soft reboot of the series, this serial does the same for the Daleks (their previous appearance, Day of the Daleks, was regarded by cast and crew as something of a disappointment). Here, we also get a hint that Jo may be leaving soon, as she tells the Doctor rather sadly that the only planet she wants to see is Earth.
We wrap up with The Green Death, thus bookending the season with UNIT stories. The Doctor and Jo return to Earth and deal with an environmental crisis at the Welsh town of Llanfairfach; hear, a coal mine-turned-petroleum plant has been dumping chemicals which are toxic to humans, and which also produce large, mutated maggots. There are strong environmentalist themes here; Jo even falls for an environmentalist scientist, Cliff Jones, whom she will marry. As such, she decides to leave both the Doctor and UNIT. Meanwhile, the Doctor at last travels—alone—to Metebelis III, and brings back a blue crystal which will later be the source of much grief. The villain here is another supercomputer with megalomania, similar to WOTAN in The War Machines, and with similar aspirations; this computer, called BOSS, later brainwashes Mike Yates of UNIT, causing ongoing disaster that will not be resolved until next season. For a laugh, we get to see the Doctor in drag, a la Mrs. Doubtfire, if less convincingly.
It’s a quiet ending to a busy season, both for the audience and for the Doctor, as Jo’s exit leaves him saddened. I imagine that audiences at the time must have wondered what would become of the Doctor; after all, Jo was one of the few threads binding him to Earth. We’ll find out next season. See you there.
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.