Doctor Who: The Three Doctors Review
A mysterious creature is attacking UNIT and vapourising everything in its path. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) has to call on the Time Lords for help. The Time Lords, who are having their energy drained by a black hole, have to violate their own First Law of Time and call upon the Doctor’s two previous incarnations to help him…
By all accounts, the idea of joining together the then three actors who had played Doctor Who was one that frequently came up, often suggested by members of the public. The series’ tenth season was due to begin at the end of 1972 and producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks decided to go ahead with the idea – the first of rather too many occasions where the programme was to celebrate its own past. Hartnell and Troughton both agreed to take part. However, Hartnell was suffering badly from arteriosclerosis and could neither walk nor remember his lines. Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s scripts had to be rewritten so that Hartnell made brief appearances on the TARDIS’s monitor screen (the First Doctor being stuck in a time eddy). With Hartnell sidelined, the bulk of the story is carried by Pertwee and Troughton, who tackle the story’s problem from differing angles. While Doctor Three and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) disappear into an anti-matter world, Doctor Two, the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sergeant Benton (John Levene) battle the enemy from UNIT HQ. The frequently argumentative interplay between Doctor Three and Doctor Two, “the dandy and the clown”, is a treat. Hartnell only appears in prefilmed extracts, reading his lines from cue cards, but somehow this seriously ill man (he died three years later) manages to conjure up the authority that he showed in his three years in the role. Nicholas Courtney gets some good dialogue, some of them adlibbed. Katy Manning, who gets to run around in a very 70s blue coat and minidress, had a powerful impact on many adolescent male minds, but nowadays comes over as an irritant more than anything. Stephen Thorne had previously played Azal in The Daemons and here plays another villain, renegade Time Lord Omega. Thorne is the tradition of actors with distinctive voices acting either behind heavy make-up or masks. On the minus side, the Gell Guards are pretty silly and the antimatter monster is an obvious video effect.
Back in 1972, the prospect of all three doctors appearing together was all very exciting, especially for eight-year-old fans like myself who were too young to have watched Hartnell and Troughton first time round. Nowadays, The Three Doctors is best seen as an enjoyable romp, lacking the depth (or darkness) of the very best Doctor Who stories but still keeping the viewer entertained for four episodes.
As usual, this TV series was shot on a mixture of videotape for the interiors and 16mm film for the exteriors. The video material looks very good indeed, bright and sharp…possibly too sharp, as some edge enhancement is visible in places. The film material is softer, somewhat duller in colouring, and grainier. However, I’ve no doubt that this is the best that could be done, given the limitations of the source material. For further information on the restoration, go here..
The soundtrack is in mono, as it was at the time of broadcast. There’s nothing really to say here, except it’s a typically professional job by the BBC sound department, cleaned up somewhat by the restoration team. Subtitles are available, as usual, for the feature and the commentary, as well as typically informative informational subtitles provided by Richard Molesworth. This time round, they incorporate a fair number of quotes and ends with a dedication to the memories of Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell. There are the usual six chapter stops per episode. The DVD is encoded for both Regions 2 and 4.
On to the extras, of which there are quite a few, though nothing specially made this time apart from the commentary. This takes place between Barry Letts, Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney. As usual with cast commentaries, this is heavier on anecdotes than on technical bits and pieces (which are of course available elsewhere on this disc). Manning’s little-girlisms quickly become annoying.
The rest of the extras are found footage, but quite substantially long found footage. Pebble Mill at One was a BBC1 afternoon TV programme of the time (live from the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham at one o’clock, hence the title). This extract, lasting 20:45, comes from early 1973, shortly after the first broadcast of The Three Doctors. Firstly there’s an interview with Bernard Wilkie from the special effects department. Then Patrick Troughton comes on. He’s in good form, but there’s a sense that he’s playing the Doctor again – where the real Troughton was, only his friends and family presumably knew. Then there’s a return to Wilkie, and a special effects demonstration that doesn’t quite work. The perils of live TV…
At the Panopticon convention in 1993, Jon Pertwee took the stage, later joined by Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney. On this DVD is video footage of the event, runnig 29:46 and split into five chapters. It’s quite noticeable how well the three can work the crowd of fans, and how much rapport they have. It’s also noticeable that Pertwee seems barely to have aged at all, Manning has a little, and Courtney a lot though his voice is unmistakeable.
A Doctor Who DVD would be nothing without an extract from Blue Peter, and so here it is. This footage (13:40) comes from late 1973 and features Peter Purves, John Noakes and Lesley Judd. Purves takes centre stage, first introducing Jon Pertwee as he drives into the studio in the Whomobile, the custom-made car that featured a couple of times in the 1973-74 season. Then Purves introduces a brief retrospective of the series on its tenth anniversary, including a sizeable clip of himself in Episode Four of The Daleks’ Master Plan from 1965. There are quite a few other extracts, including at least three from episodes now lost, including that one from 1965. (Perhaps a search of the Blue Peter archives might be in order.) Looking at the frequently muddy and grainy clips shown here is a testament to the good work the Restoration Team has done on recent DVD and VHS releases.
In 1990, the now-defunct satellite broadcaster BSB held a Doctor Who weekend, during which The Three Doctors was repeated. Footage from this broadcast (10:16) appears here, during which there are interviews with Terrance Dicks, Nicholas Courtney (not looking quite so old as he does in 1993), Bob Baker and Dave Martin discussing the serial. Baker and Martin go on to discuss the invention of K9, which for me at least started the series’s decline. The interviewer of the latter two is none other than latter-day Who producer John Nathan-Turner, minus his trademark beard.
The ”40th anniversary celebration” (3:00) is a compilation of clips from all eight doctors, cut to what’s best described as a dance remix of the theme tune. Fun, especially if you can identify which stories all the clips came from – I got most of them – but really just a one-watch item. This item appears to have replaced “TARDIS-Cam #5”, which apparently shows the TARDIS in the sea accompanied by a school of whales. The latter is listed in a few places (including the BBFC website) as being on this DVD, but it isn’t. The extra we do have may also explain why the packaging and the disc bears a PG certificate, as nothing currently logged on the BBFC site has anything other than a U.
There’s an off-air audio recording of a BBC trailer for the first episode of The Three Doctors with reconstructed visuals (0:48). It’s clearly part of a longer trailer as it highlights “two new series returning to BBC1 tomorrow”, the other being The Basil Brush Show. Another trailer is the one for the “Five Faces of Doctor Who” repeat season from 1981 (4:08), during which The Three Doctors was repeated. If you own the Carnival of Monsters DVD you will already have this. Finally, there’s a self-navigating stills gallery. There do not appear to be any Easter eggs on this disc. Limited quantities of the DVD come in a gift box which also contains a model of Bessie, the Doctor’s vintage car.
And that’s it. The Three Doctors was an obvious choice to mark the series’ fortieth anniversary, being released a day after the actual date. Possibly because it was an earlier disc put back in the schedule, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the extras-stuffed later packages (there are no specially-made documentaries this time), there’s certainly plenty to be going on with here.