A love letter to the Third Doctor era
Guest contributor Harry Beckett on the Jon Pertwee era.
The Third Doctor epoch was a winning formula; viewers loved the newfangled set-up, the recurring allies and the introduction of the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master. In 2013 it’s still beloved by many fans, myself most certainly included. I think the inclusion of UNIT; the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce was a real breakthrough as it gave the Doctor a reason to stay on Earth after his exile. Had the Pertwee years just consisted of episodic adventures in which the Third Doctor had no real ties, I would have been disappointed. The Doctor’s curious laboratory tucked into the corner of UNIT really feels like his home, with the TARDIS rendered impotent due to the High Council of Time Lord’s intervention on it. Jo Grant is perhaps my favourite companion; her kooky mannerisms and oft-seen clumsiness are really what made her stand out from the other stereotyped damsel-in-distress women. She wasn’t a streetwise, knowledgeable and, for want of a better term, feisty individual, she was Jo: lovely, sweet, human Jo. UNIT, the Master, Jo and the Earth setting are the real reasons why the Third Doctor era worked.
The Doctor and Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart’s relationship has always been one that was regularly on the rocks. As much as both men had utmost respect for one another they often clashed on many things. An air strike would the Brig’s preferred weapon whilst the Doctor’s was, and is the power of words, the ability to subdue an enemy just by talking them down (although Venusian aikido helped occasionally but only in self-defence or dire situations). The pair had a working relationship that you often wished was further explored, as they both seemed to want to be out-of-office friends. But since it’s most uncommon and unlikely that they’d be spotted down the pub together, the Brigadier and the Doctor remained strictly colleagues.
Captain Mike Yates.
The classic series was always far too busy to stop and think about love interests but briefly it did. In the first part of The Curse of Peladon Jo grouses about missing a date with Captain Mike Yates, one of UNIT’s many servicemen. Yates and Grant’s romance was hinted but never really explored and much like Ian and Barbara, the First Doctor’s time-travelling teachers, you really wanted something to come of their subtle love.
Sergeant John Benton.
Sergeant John Benton, or as he’s later named, Regimental Sergeant Major Benton and Mike Yates were the two UNIT soldiers that were the most prominent out of the flocks of uniformed officers seen in the show. Benton, to me, is the least memorable but a quick look back at his finer stories (The Claws of Axos, The Three Doctors) shows that he was a valuable member of UNIT. Fleetingly, he flirted with Jo and Sarah Jane but like his colleague, Yates, his philandering never rose to anything substantial.
The Master was the Doctor’s Moriarty; his yin to his yang; his Apple to his Microsoft, the bad similes go on. Everywhere the Doctor goes the Master is always closely behind him, urging death and pain on the good Time Lord. Unfortunately what the Master never realizes is that the Doctor completes him. A dead Doctor to the Master would render the latter useless, his life’s goal completed leaving him nothing to do. This is always the reason why the Master is so willing to allow the Doctor to go free, because he knows once the Doctor is gone he’ll be twiddling his thumbs through to the next regeneration. The Third Doctor era is a prime example of when the Master and the Doctor were good old-fashioned sparring partners. Each treated the other with respect but still plotted their downfall or incarceration. Roger Delgado and Jon Pertwee were also very close friends in real life, brothers to a certain extent, much like the Master and the Doctor. The reason for the closeness between the two characters is because of the actors’ bosom friendship and it’s obviously much harder to play mortal enemies when you’re having a laugh together off-screen (although Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton managed to pull it off). I love the Third Doctor and the Delgado Master; they were close but permanently at each other’s throats. Without the Master, the Third Doctor epoch would be very little indeed.
The Doctor has had many companions that really only suited a certain incarnation, friends that worked better with one Doctor and not the other (to me, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric didn’t work with the Fourth Doctor but I’ll put it down to not enough screen time). Jo Grant was really a piece of the Third Doctor himself. Her bubbly, can-do, optimistic attitude to things was infectious and in my opinion, it seems Katy Manning hardly had to act. All she needed to do was just play herself. In The Sarah Jane Adventures Jo returned and it was like a day hadn’t passed between The Green Death and Death of the Doctor. I really think Jo is a standout companion, one that is often overlooked. Just take a look at some of her better stories (I’d suggest, The Sea Devils, The Three Doctors or Planet of the Daleks) and you’ll really see what I mean.
The Third Doctor era is one I hold with exceptionally high regard. It pulled Doctor Who off the safe path and injected the show with something new that really worked. Jon Pertwee was an enthusiastic but serious actor that brought a refreshing sense of aristocracy to the Doctor (his previous incarnation, Patrick Troughton’s bumbling Second Doctor was quite ham-handed but still effective) whilst Katy Manning lit up every scene with Jo’s outward buoyancy. Roger Delgado had a real chemistry with Jon Pertwee; the pair worked well off each other and the late Nicholas Courtney performed magnificently as the pompous but kind-hearted Brigadier. Doctor Who from 1971 to 1973 was when the show was in its heyday, lest we forget.
Honourable Mention: Season 7 and Season 11.
This article is a love letter to the Third Doctor era as a whole and I have failed to mention the short couple of series when Caroline John and Elisabeth Sladen filled the role of companion. Sarah Jane is my favourite Fourth Doctor comrade, and she is certainly in my top five assistants out of the entire show whilst Liz Shaw faded from memory almost instantly although I hear great things of the late Caroline John. I think Season 11 is a fantastic run, a solid string of episodes going from The Time Warrior – a sublime pseudo-historical adventure – to Planet of the Spiders, a heart-breaking farewell to one of the greatest Doctors Doctor Who has ever seen. Season 7 is also not without it’s charm (the only real dud being The Ambassadors of Death and the main flaw in that was the fact it was overlong) – Spearhead from Space was a stunning premiere, Doctor Who and the Silurians: one of the true classic stories with heart, Inferno: see this heart-felt ode.
To me, Doctor Who has really never been better.