Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Three Doctors - "So you're my replacements -- a dandy and a clown!"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Three Doctors - Index

Season 10, Story 1 (Complete Series Story # 65) | Previous - Next | Index

This story was a huge treat for me when I first saw it (some ten or more years after it debuted) -- it was my first opportunity to see Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell in action. At the time, I didn't have so much as a VHS of the Doctors before Pertwee, and their stories were never shown by the PBS stations in my area. Sure, I'd read the Target novelizations and seen pictures, but I wanted to see them in action.

Troughton and Pertwee via The Daily Drew

I've watched it a couple times over the years, but apart from the banter between Pertwee and Troughton ("Let's toss a coin." "What would be the point?"), Omega being the Big Bad, and Hartnell's famous identification of his successors as a dandy and a clown in his brief appearance, not much of the story stuck in mind. Watching it again now, in the run up to whatever Moffatt's got in mind for the 50th anniversary, I'm wondering if it will provide any clues about what to expect should they decide to work around the First Law of Time again. Can't help but wonder if we'll be treated more clambering about in quarries, an all too-familiar scene from these old stories, as I'm reminded by the Doctor and Jo's arrival in the anti-matter universe. I can't say I was blown away, it's a shame Hartnell was too ill to participate fully, but it did leave me wanting more, and that's a good thing.

One of the more winning moments for the long-time fan includes Troughton's Two offering the Brigadier a jelly baby, a habit Four would famously resume, on the occasion of the Brigadier's first look at the inside of the TARDIS. Benton's reaction a little earlier is a classic example of a first-timer's exposure to the bigger-on-the-inside phenomenon, indignant at the Doctor's prompting for the typical reaction, he says, "Well, that's obvious, isnt' it." Katy Manning's Jo may not crack many fans list of top companions, but she's fun here, and you lowbrow wolf-whistlers will get your fill of her getaway sticks. (The DVD extras include an interview with Pertwee, Manning, and Courtney at Panopticon '93 where you get a definite sense this cast had great chemistry, even if one of them made sure the chemistry was fortified by at least three pints on their lunch breaks.)

If you're a fan of the series and haven't seen all the old stories yet, this should be near the top of your to-do list. Certainly ahead of The Two Doctors, the Colin Baker-era return of Patrick Troughton but I'll watch The Five Doctors again before venturing an opinion which should be the higher priority.

Omega gives this story some contextual heft; we learn that his feat of engineering is what allowed the Gallifreyans to harness enough energy to travel in time. Somewhat comically, we also see the dark side of his mind manifest as a grotesque in a bit of hand-to-hand combat with Three. There hasn't been a Doctor before or since Pertwee who could mix it up like that ... Venusian judo style.

Hartnell in The Three Doctors via blogcritics.org

"I shudder to think what you'll do without me." That's the last line Hartnell would utter as the Doctor. Frail though he was, I think there's still a bit of mischievous twinkle in his eye that let's us know he knew the Doctor would be fine. It's very much to his credit that 50 years after he created the role, we're still watching it.

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