I know several readers will be surprised to see this Jon Pertwee classic so high, above such notable classics as The Enemy of the World or Terror of the Zygons. This is less due to the challenge that you get with the best of Doctor Who (That it’s all brilliant, and it’s like being asked which of your children you like best …) and more due to the fact that it’s a bit, well, crazy! Bright, garish, and very much a product of the 1970s, I didn’t expect to enjoy this adventure at all, which is why I didn’t bother watching the VHS version my dad had recorded off UK Gold back in the early 90s.
Roundly pilloried for its ambitious use of CGI, The Green Death is one of the finest adventures to feature in the U.N.I.T era of Doctor Who, and in many ways marks the beginning of the end of that era. As with many of the Doctor’s adventures of that time, the focus is on an earthbound activity that has potentially catastrophic implications for the planet. Interestingly, this story is very akin to Season 7 finale Inferno, in that there is no alien menace in this adventure, only the ‘enemy’ of human greed and ambition.
Back in 1973, a bright spark at the BBC suddenly realised that Doctor Who had reached a significant milestone – its tenth season. To mark the occasion, the producers took the bold step to write a story featuring every one of the Doctor’s incarnations, and the resulting story was entitled exactly what it was: The Three Doctors.
Of all the ‘multi-doctor’ stories, I believe that this one is the best. Unlike The Five Doctors it is not overly self-referential, instead telling quite a good story; unlike The Two Doctors it is clear and cohesive, and reasonably well told! It has to be said that, in my view, it is the participation of the Doctor’s first three incarnations in one story that makes what might have been a quite ordinary U.N.I.T. adventure into a truly great one, and one that is a pleasure to enjoy.
At the beginning of this story the Doctor is still trapped on earth; but having found a variety of different ways to circumvent the BBC’s restriction (or rather, dressing up in different ways sending the Doctor off on missions for the Timelords) the BBC finally gave up and decided it was time to let the Doctor off his leash. The narrative device to restore the Doctor’s freedom was for Gallifrey itself to come under attack from an unknown source, requiring the help of the Doctor to overcome it. When it transpires he requires the assistance of another Timelord, the High Council decide there is only one other person they can spare – the Doctor’s past self!
The villain of the piece is one of the original Timelords – a chap called Omega who harnessed the power of a star near Gallifrey, creating the conditions in which the Timelords would be able to travel in time. He himself was thought lost in the resultant supernova, but had in fact been sucked into a parallel anti-matter universe. The force of his will enables the world to exist, but he cannot escape it without someone else willing it to exist. He is therefore seized of two purposes – to destroy the Timelords (who he felt abandoned him) and to bring to himself another Timelord to take his place and enable him to return to the matter universe.
The Three Doctors does require you to shrug your shoulders and go along for the ride – but it is an extremely enjoyable ride! The scenes between Pertwee and Troughton are genuinely funny rather than forced, leaving it only a pity that Hartnell was so unwell that he could not participate as fully as one otherwise would have hoped, appearing instead in pre-recorded scenes from the TARDIS monitor. It also feels like the beginning of the end for the U.N.I.T. family – at the end of this story the Doctor is given his freedom by the Timelords in gratitude for defeating Omega. As The Brigadier and Benton depart to ‘mop things up’ while the Doctor prepares the TARDIS for take-off, one rather senses that the dismemberment of the U.N.I.T. family, which would start in the season finale The Green Death was already taking place.
The Three Doctors is by no means the most complicated Doctor Who you will ever watch – but it is good fun, easy to follow, and features some extremely enjoyable acting – not least from the three leading men. As the Brigadier famously remarks: “Wonderful chaps. All of them.”
Next time: A savage introduction to a new companion, facing against a schizophrenic computer
As readers of my earlier post on Frontier in Space will note, I am not entirely persuaded that the Season 10 effort to produce a 12 part epic to rival The Daleks Master Plan really worked. For all that however, Planet of the Daleks is an entirely enjoyable Dalek adventure in its own right.
We join the fray with the TARDIS arriving on the planet Spiridon, the Doctor unconscious following his encounter with the Master in the previous adventure, having used the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits to request the assistance of the Timelords. It transpires that somewhere on the planet Spiridon there is a Dalek taskforce of 10,000 Daleks just waiting to be revived and led to assault the galaxy. The Timelords, in their usual cheerful manner, decide that the best thing to do is to send the Doctor to solve the problem!
The story sees the Doctor and Jo team up with an expeditionary team of Thals (making their first appearance since the Daleks’ first appearance in the eponymous William Hartnell story) to defeat the Dalek force. An added twist is the presence of the Spiridons themselves, an entirely invisible alien species, who are being threatened into helping the Daleks to learn their art of invisibility. Most collaborate, but Jo is helped in her adventures by a friendly Spiridon named Weston who ensures she survives in the jungle.
This is by no means a complicated story, and is best enjoyed if you sit back and enjoy the ride. Undoubtedly it would have benefited had it been a faster paced four parter that stood alone, rather than the second part of an epic twelve part adventure. But it still makes for thoroughly enjoyable viewing, and as ever the Daleks fail to disappoint.
A very poignant note from this story is that for most of it the Doctor and Jo spend the adventure apart from one another, each convinced that the other has been killed. Their relief in finding the other alive is very genuine, and paves the way for the pathos of Jo’s farewell in the next serial The Green Death. It was another important marker towards the end of Pertwee’s time in the role.
The producers of Doctor Who really decided to push the boat out in the show’s 10th season. After featuring all three doctors in the eponymous serial, and giving the Doctor back complete control of his TARDIS, they commissioned what effectively comprised a twelve part space epic to rival The Daleks’ Master Plan. The second six episodes would form the next serial, Planet of the Daleks, while the first six formed Frontier in Space.
Depending upon your viewpoint, this was either a bold and courageous move, or lunacy. The problem it leaves for viewers like myself, born a decade after the original airdate, is that it is (just) possible to enjoy Planet of the Daleks as a standalone episode. Frontier in Space however does not end satisfactorily without then moving on to the next serial – making it a very long stretch to commit to!
That said, this story has all of the charm that I most enjoy and appreciate in the Pertwee era. Six episodes gives you the time to learn to appreciate the characters and to immerse yourself in the story. In this case, the Doctor arrives in the future to discover that someone is trying to manipulate two galactic empires, those of Earth and Draconia, into commencing a war. Strong parallels of course to the mistrust at that time caused by the Cold War, all of which are evident in the production values, and Pertwee’s Doctor does a marvellous job of acting as the would-be peacemaker between the two factions to highlight their true enemies.
And ‘enemies’ is indeed the appropriate word – because although the Doctor’s best enemy the Master is directly responsible for using Ogrons (returning after their previous appearance in Day of the Daleks, and a brief cameo in Carnival of Monsters) to impersonate attacks by humans and Draconians, he is in fact in league with the Ogrons’ true masters – the Daleks. Their reveal in episode 6 is indeed one of the stellar reveals in the whole of the classic series.
Along the way, there is all of the action, confusion, and general mayhem you come to expect from a six-part Pertwee adventure, and as ever it is impossible not to enjoy any scene featuring Roger Delgado and Jon Pertwee. It is therefore the greatest pity that the last we see of Delgado as the Master before his untimely death, is for him to shoot the Doctor with a stun bolt and disappear into the background. As I lamented in my review for Planet of the Spiders, Delgado deserved a much more appropriate swansong to his time in the role.
Frontier in Space is a great story, with plenty of action, and lots of ambiguous moral choices for the discerning viewer to chew over. It is only a pity that to properly enjoy it you need to set aside the time to watch the following serial soon afterwards.