It’s that time again! This week in our classic Doctor Who rewatch, we say goodbye to another version of the Doctor, as the Third Doctor becomes the Fourth. Let’s get started!
Having said farewell to three-season companion Jo Grant (now Jo Jones), the Doctor begins the season back at UNIT and working alone in The Time Warrior. It begins as a UNIT story, but ends up as a pseudohistorical, taking place in the late twelfth to late thirteenth centuries. Based on several suggestions in different, sources, it appears to be no earlier than 1190 AD, and no later than 1273 AD. The serial introduces both a new companion and a new foe: On the one hand, the Doctor faces off for the first time against the Sontarans, the warrior race best known in NuWho for disgraced nurse (and fan favorite) Strax. On the other hand, he has the help of fan-favorite companion Sarah Jane Smith, who bluffs her way into the middle of this case. The Sontaran in question, Linx, is stranded in the past, and using a knockoff version of time travel to kidnap modern scientists and make them repair his fallen ship. Meanwhile, he’s also giving advanced weapons to the locals, thus threatening to upset the course of history. When he accidentally scoops up Sarah Jane as well, the Doctor follows to put an end to his plan.
It’s a bit jarring to me to see Sarah Jane so young—by her own admission, she’s twenty-three years old at this time. My most recent experiences with her are in NuWho, and also in occasional episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, where of course she’s decades older. Still, as companions go—and after three years with Jo—she’s a breath of fresh air, though she doesn’t know yet what to make of the Doctor. Also notable in this episode: For the first time, the Doctor’s homeworld is given a name. That name, as we all know, is Gallifrey—and the rest, as they say, is history. Interestingly, it was first named in print shortly before this serial was released, but both uses seem to have resulted from the same decision rather than one prompting the other.
Sarah and the Doctor return to 1970s London in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. They land in the middle of a crisis: Dinosaurs have been appearing at random and causing havoc, resulting in martial law (enforced partly by UNIT) and the evacuation of the city. It’s all part of the plan, though, for the secret conspiracy known as Operation Golden Age; they want to regress Earth through time to a pre-human state, saving only their own selected group of people (who secretly believe they are on sleeper ships to a new planet) to repopulate. I wasn’t impressed with that plan; it’s both ambitious and pointless, as the level of work involved to let modern humans survive in a prehistoric world would prohibit the creation of the utopia they seek. But, what do I know?
Mike Yates makes his penultimate appearance here, and it’s a whopper: haunted by his experiences in The Green Death, he betrays UNIT and, indeed, the world, by aiding the conspirators. However, due to the factors that led to his damaged state of mind, he is allowed to exit quietly on a medical discharge rather than criminal charges. We’ll see him one more time, in the season finale. On the technology front, the Doctor’s second car, known among fans as the Whomobile, makes its first appearance; this hovercraft-like vehicle was actually the property of Jon Pertwee, and left the show with him. It’s a very James Bond type of vehicle, and I wish it had appeared more often; we’ll only see it twice, both in this season.
There are environmental themes here, as in The Green Death; but here, the message seems to be that environmental causes can be taken too far. We also see time-travel as a theme again; the Doctor, as a Time Lord, demonstrates some immunity to manipulation of time, as he is not frozen by the time field. This is consistent with how the First Doctor wasn’t visibly affected by the Time Destructor in The Daleks’ Master Plan, though at that time it wasn’t clear whether he suffered any aging or not. One more thing: London has the politest looters in history apparently. Not a single thing was damaged!
Giving in to the Doctor’s persuasion at the end of Invasion of the Dinosaurs (a very NuWho thing for him to do, much more common with Ten and Eleven), Sarah Jane consents to travel with him in Death to the Daleks. They travel to the planet Exxilon in approximately the year 2600 AD. It’s a vague date, but we do believe it occurs after the early wars between Earth and the Daleks—that is, after most of the Dalek stories we’ve seen so far. (They should possess time travel, but we don’t see it in use here.) Here, a living city drains the power of every ship in range, including the TARDIS. It’s a similar thought to the setting of NuWho’s The Doctor’s Wife, though unlike House, this city doesn’t consumer TARDISes, just their power. Interestingly, it drains the power from the Daleks’ weapons, but not their machines in general; this is handwaved by the statement that they operate using psychokinetic power—telekinesis—but this seems odd given that their clearly-electric vocalizers and headlamps still work. At any rate, this version doesn’t seem to last long in Dalek history, as later iterations use more conventional sources of power.
This story is a bit of a base-under-siege in reverse; here, it’s the Doctor, his allies, and even the Daleks that are doing the besieging. Along the way, he helps the native Exxilons, who long ago lost most of their civilization and culture. The city produces numerous traps; notably, it creates artificial “antibodies” for security, a concept that will be later reused in NuWho for both the Tesselecta (Let’s Kill Hitler, et al.) and the Daleks themselves (Into the Dalek).
We revisit old friends in The Monster of Peladon. This is the last television story to take place on Peladon, and the last to feature the Ice Warriors until NuWho series seven’s Cold War, but both would appear in various spinoff media. It is fifty years after the Doctor’s last trip to Peladon, placing it in 3935 by that reckoning. The planet is now a Galactic Federation member in good standing, and the Federation is at war with Galaxy 5 (not clearly defined here, but a later novel establishes it as a terrorist organization). The Federation needs Peladon’s trisilicate mineral for the war effort, prompting the plot here. Peladon is now in the hands of Thalira, the daughter of the previous King Peladon; and Alpha Centauri is still around, though promoted to the post of Federation ambassador to Peladon. (Why they need embassies to their member worlds is beyond me.)
In the previous story, the Ice Warriors were mistakenly thought to be the villains; here, they actually are. To be fair, the group in question don’t represent the Ice Warriors as a whole; the bulk of the race is still holding to its pacifist ways, as mentioned before. This splinter group, however, can cause enough damage on its own. There are minor themes of sexual equality here, as well, as Sarah tries to persuade the queen to stand up to the men in her court; she utters the famous line, “There’s nothing only about being a girl.
And now, we come to the end for the Third Doctor. In Planet of the Spiders, having returned to Earth, he is summoned by Mike Yates to the Buddhist monastery where Yates has been recovering. Yates has become aware of something odd about a cult-like group that meets in the basement; and he is right. The cult summons an entity that they cannot control: an intelligent spider from the planet Metebelis III. Unknown to the Doctor, it’s his fault: his theft of the blue crystal on his recent visit to the planet has prompted the spiders to take action.
Random, but noteworthy in this serial: The Brigadier first mentions Doris, the woman he will eventually marry (his second wife, and stepmother to Kate). Mike Yates makes his final appearance, and redeems himself, though he is not reinstated. The Doctor again spends some time in a coma, but recovers quickly. The Metebelis crystal is returned by Jo to the Doctor via the mail; it will appear again with the Eleventh Doctor in Hide, where it enhances Emma Grayling’s powers much as it does here with the Eight Legs (though not fatally). We get a chase scene between Bessie and the Whomobile! Oddly, the Doctor isn’t driving either one; he’s piloting a gyrocopter. This serial is weird, what can I say. It’s also the final appearance of the Whomobile.
Finally, the regeneration. It’s called regeneration for the first time here; the term is still with us today. Like the Tenth Doctor after him, the Doctor absorbs a lethal amount of radiation, but takes some time to die. He’s preceded in regeneration by K’anpo Rimpoche, the abbot of the monastery, who reveals himself to be a Time Lord known to the Doctor as the Hermit; he was once the Doctor’s teacher, his guru, in the Doctor’s youth on Gallifrey. He’s a consummate regenerator, choosing his own appearance and even projecting it as a separate entity beforehand; the Doctor will learn something of this trick himself. His presence here makes this the only dual-regeneration episode (involving the Doctor at least) in the series’ history. K’anpo also aids the Doctor by triggering his regeneration inside UNIT headquarters; this is most likely the first instance of the transfer of regeneration energy, though we don’t actually see the energy here. The Doctor himself will do the same in his later life, for River Song, for the TARDIS itself, and—shockingly—for Davros, the creator of the Daleks. It seems to work well, here, as the regeneration is unusually smooth and calm.
Next time: Back to my own childhood, as we meet the Fourth Doctor! See you there.
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.