To celebrate Doctor Who’s 54th anniversary, today we bring you a special three part blog remembering the genius of the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee.
I am thrilled to say that we have two additional contributors to the blog, each bringing their own perspective on the Third Doctor’s era. First up, I’ll be sharing what it was like to discover the Pertwee era as a fan born more than a decade after Pertwee handed over the reins to Tom Baker, and the indelible impact he had on my understanding of Doctor Who. Our first guest writer is my good friend Simon Meade, who wrote an excellent piece on the Troughton era, and shares what it was like to watch the Pertwee era when originally broadcast.
Last, and certainly not least, it is my privilege and pleasure to share a short contribution from none less than John Levene, the man who as Sergeant Benton worked alongside Pertwee’s Doctor during the entirety of his five seasons. Simon and myself are very grateful for John taking the time to share his memories of working alongside Jon, and hope you enjoy what he has to say!
Dan Stafford on discovering the Pertwee era in the nineties
It is funny to reflect that while Genesis of the Daleks was the first Doctor Who adventure I remember watching, and Tomb of the Cybermen was the story that made me fall in love with the series, before I ever watched a story I felt I already had a good idea who Doctor Who was – and he was Jon Pertwee!
Before I ever properly watched a Doctor Who adventure, my impressions of the Doctor were largely shaped by my earlier glimpses of Pertwee’s adventures. Tom Baker may well be ‘the first face this face saw’, but I am almost certain that the first question I asked my dad when watching Genesis of the Daleks, is why he wasn’t Pertwee’s Doctor!
By the time I was born the series had already been on hiatus, and I was a mere three years old when it was put on permanent hiatus. While I have no recollection whatsoever of my dad watching the Sylvester McCoy era, I do remember him watching repeats of John Pertwee’s adventures on UK Gold. I never watched complete stories – I was much too young for that! I do have very fixed memories however – The Green Death stuck in my mind, perhaps for the obvious reason that people glowing green and giant maggots are easy for four year olds to remember!
I also remember sections of other episodes, that I was only to learn their story titles later – the Master arriving in Atlantis in The Time Monster being one example, as I recall my dad pointing out how the Master’s TARDIS was different to the Doctor’s! I also had a loose sense of the UNIT family, as one of the adventures my dad watched was The Three Doctors. Oddly enough, while I remember the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton vividly from that adventure, I wasn’t able to process that there was another Doctor besides Jon Pertwee in the story.
I think the main reason I remember the Pertwee adventures so much is that he was my dad’s own favourite. Oddly enough, we never owned many of Pertwee’s adventures on VHS – in part because dad had recorded quite a few from UK Gold, but I imagine because there was the equal challenge of finding the limited stocks of VHS supplies in Belfast. I never really got a full picture of the Pertwee era as a result. The only story we had from his first season was his very first – not that I am complaining, for Spearhead from Spaceis a deservedly excellent story! I was very frustrated however that we didn’t own Inferno, having caught snippets of it on UK Gold, and heard dad enthusing about it – and also carrying something of a torch for the lovely Caroline John!
I believe we only bought two other Pertwee adventures on VHS, and I had very little to sample from his era, leaving me somewhat blank in my understanding of it. An example of how bad it was is that I had a better impression of what Sergeant Benton was like from his appearance in Robot rather than his more limited role in Day of the Daleks.
It took more than a decade before I was able to appreciate his era properly, as the BBC began releasing the classic era on DVD, and I found myself with some disposable income after working in the Civil Service! While my first investment, The Claws of Axos, was a bit of a disappointment for me, I am glad that I persevered as many stories from the Pertwee era proved to be hidden gems. Season 7 in particular does not have a single bad story, and it was a delight to discover adventures such as The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death for the first time.
What struck me in particular were adventures such as Colony in Space and The Mutants. Adventures that didn’t really stand out when reading the synopses, but which were enjoyable on the strength of Pertwee’s exceptional performances. I was able to appreciate anew what I must have picked up on subconsciously as a toddler. His charm, his fondness for science, and his command of the situation – all in that marvellously dandified style and unmissable canary yellow car!
It is fitting that the very last complete Doctor Who adventure I watched on DVD (until Philip Morris’s marvellous and miraculous recovery of The Enemy of the World) was the recolourised The Mind of Evil. This story demonstrates just how fortunate we are, in contrast to the Hartnell and Troughton eras, that we are able to enjoy Pertwee’s tenure in its entirety. There is enough richness and variety in his five seasons as the Doctor to delight and entertain fans of any era of the show. I know that some will find his style old-fashioned, perhaps even patronising. I personally find his gentlemanly charm very endearing, and it is for good reason that he’s a close second behind Tom Baker in my favourite Doctors.
Simon Meade on watching the Pertwee era in the Seventies
3rd January 1970 – Doctor Who returned to our screens, and pre-transmission 7 year-old me was still sad and a little confused that “my Doctor”, Patrick Troughton, was going to change into a different person.
How was this new bloke going to be as much fun, and the stories as exciting, especially as my idol Jamie had also gone? It just wasn’t going to be the same.
And indeed it wasn’t, as episode one of Spearhead From Space exploded onto our screens in colour, with a mesmerising new title sequence, and 25 minutes later as the end credits came up I was pretty sure I’d keep watching the new fella – he intrigued me!
The ‘new fella’ of course was Jon Pertwee, who promptly proceeded to make the role his own across the brilliant season 7, followed by four more years of more than enough scares, thrills and spills to keep this young viewer well and truly hooked.
The success of the Pertwee era was down to an amazing pool of talent on and off screen. Accompanying The Doctor, his companions Liz Shaw, Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith were all captivating, thanks to the delightful trio of Caroline John, Katy Manning and Elisabeth Sladen.
Then there was the brilliant Roger Delgado, the original Master (and for me the best) and the wonderful U.N.I.T ‘family’ of Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin and John Levene breathing life into Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates and Sgt Benton, making them three-dimensional, human beings that we actually cared about.
Producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, and an amazing team of writers such as Robert Holmes, Malcolm Hulke, Brian Hayles, Terry Nation, Don Houghton, Robert Sloman, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, delivered five seasons of adventures of such high standard, that the era is still referred to by many as a true ‘golden age’ of Doctor Who.
However, enough of the nostalgic reminiscing, because although I had the great pleasure of meeting Jon Pertwee at a couple of DWAS conventions in 1977 and 1978, what was he really like?
We’re delighted that for this 54th anniversary, John Levene has asked us to share this with you…
John Levene on working alongside Jon Pertwee
To describe the joy of working with Mr Jon “The Doctor” Pertwee for five years on the show, and then our enduring friendship for a further 30 years, was emotionally overwhelming. Also I cannot deny the fact that I think of him very often, as people from all walks of life continually ask me how glorious it must have been, to be so close to a friend and a companion and a confidante like Jon Pertwee.
In truth, he took the mantle of being my surrogate father. He saw my pain and the huge effort it took for me to keep up with anyone with any form of intellect. And Jon, had it all. What he achieved with a multitude of voices and characters he devised, invented and performed, the ultimate variety artist. Radio, tv, films, he was so talented, and so very generous, with advice on most things you might ask him about.
Acting opposite him, on location or in the studio, was simply mesmerising for a young man like me. And of course the bonus for me was, unlike so many, Jon took to me, my character and my reliability, and I became a firm, firm, friend of his, and there were many evenings, and weekends, I would drive Jon to all of his cabarets or beauty contests, where we may be judges. Jon taught me how to perform in front of a large audience. He shared his life stories on those long lengthy drives to all parts of this splendid paradise on earth, called Great Britain. We shared all of our deepest thoughts, our feelings, this all adds up to a unique and unforgettable friendship.
With his influence over those splendid days, making Doctor Who, and the close friendship with our leading lady Katy Manning, along of course with the others in the cast, that genius of casting, such as Roger Delgado, the Doctor’s nemesis, The Master, all in all God shone his light on me, in a way that I could never have dreamed of.
So to all of the good people I have met over my 50 years connection with the series, Jon was the highlight of all of that. He was good to me, he was kind to me, he shared his thoughts with me, that’s why I love Jon Pertwee.
God bless all of you fans, and thank you for giving us this extra life. We love you for it.
I am very grateful to John Levene for his permission to share this piece, and to Simon Meade for arranging this with John.
John Levene’s personal website is: www.john-levene.com
You can also follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/John_Levene
Simon Meade co-runs The Ark in Space, a place for Classic Who chat
And for chat about all 52+ years of Doctor Who, there’s