Three Has Company

Review of The Three Doctors: SE (#65)

DVD Release Date:  13 Mar 12
Original Air Date:  30 Dec 1972 - 20 Jan 1973
Doctor/Companion:  Three, Jo Grant, the Brigadier
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney
Preceding StoryThe Time Monster (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story:  Carnival of Monsters (Three, Jo)

Whoever first decided the crazy idea of having all three Doctors in one story wasn't so crazy after all (I guess that's either producer Barry Letts or script editor Terrance Dicks, then) deserves an award, in my opinion. This first multi-Doctor story was precursor to many others, both on- and off-screen and I, for one, love that.

The story serves multiple purposes, too. Not only did it provide the fan service of bringing back the previous Doctors, but by the end Three had also regained his ability to leave Earth (which made subsequent story arcs easier, after so many invasion-of-Earth stories already in the can). And those social-interaction pieces of the story, at least, are plausible.

The science, on the other hand... ~sigh~ An antimatter universe? Through a black hole? No. Just... no. I think that - more than any other Doctor Who story - the "science" here is painfully awful. Most of the time, I can gloss over it, suspend my disbelief and say, "yeah, that sounds almost plausible," and roll with it. This bit, though, is egregious enough that it regularly jars me out of that mental story-space. I can get past it enough to enjoy the story, but I kind of have to work at it. I think Letts said it best when he pointed out in the commentary (see below) that "this is really science fantasy, rather than science fiction. It bears no relation really to what ... scientists think goes on in the middle of a black hole." Makes for a pretty good story, though. So let's move on to those good bits.

For me, that mostly means character moments: the appearance of Two, who immediately says of the new TARDIS interior, "I don't like it"; the way Two and Three bounce off each other and can't quite get along; Two offering someone a jelly baby (I have to wonder if Tom Baker swiped that from here); the Brigadier's comic inability to deal with two Doctors; and, of course, my all-time favorite moment for Sgt. Benton, when he first sees the inside of the TARDIS.

Of course, it's also wonderful that they were able to get William Hartnell back for a last hurrah (he died less than two-and-a-half years after The Three Doctors was originally broadcast). His part had to be done in studio, with him reading off cue cards, as his advancing dementia wouldn't allow him to remember his lines, but according to Letts, Hartnell was at least fully aware of what he was doing (and why) while he was performing. All that makes this story an even more special milestone in franchise history.

Other bits that keep this one high up on my personal list include the Brigadier (I know some who may find the performance too camp, but I enjoy the humor - not least some of the lines Courtney devised himself, such as "Three of them. I didn't know when I was well off...") and Omega. Now I've talked before about what a great adversary I think Omega is. What I particularly love about him here is his wonderful voice (Letts apparently cast actor Stephen Thorne in part because he was well-known for his work in radio) and his obvious cleverness. Aside from having been the one to make the Time Lords into Time Lords, he managed some seriously amazing feats to get the Doctor to his universe, and took barely any time to deduce that Two was not only another Time Lord, but the same Time Lord. He thus comes across as not only a bit mad, but extremely intelligent and thereby formidable.

So, despite some facets that let it down (~cough~ Gell Guards ~cough~), The Three Doctors is still quite an enjoyable romp. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it even to those fairly new to pre-Hiatus Who.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Commentary Track
Although it's something that was done for the original DVD release back in 2004, the commentary track with producer Barry Letts, Katy Manning (Jo) and Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) is still worth a listen. They have a great time taking the mickey out of it, and adding the occasional anecdote or note of praise. Just don't believe everything the commenters say about black holes and supernovae. Letts gets it mostly right at the end, but if you want the real low-down, ask me, and I can set the record straight.

Pebble Mill at One
Another holdover from the previous release, this extra is noteworthy in that it includes an interview with Patrick Troughton (Two). One thing I particularly noticed was that he didn't seem very comfortable, which matches what Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling were saying about him in the commentary for Tomb of the Cybermen.

Happy Birthday to Who
This is the making of documentary made for the Special Edition. It includes stories about where the idea originated, how they got all three actors involved (despite Hartnell's advanced ateriosclerosis, which caused his dementia and allowed him only a few lucid moments), the choice of actor for Omega, how Troughton and Pertwee got along on set, and the locations used.
 
Was Doctor Who Rubbish?
Long-time fans give strong counter-arguments to the claim that pre-Hiatus Who was rubbish. They go point by point over such classic old saws as "wobbly sets," "always set in a quarry," "bubble wrap monsters," "rubbish acting," "awful sfx," and "unemotional." It's quite well done.
 
Girls! Girls! Girls! - The 1970s
If you haven't seen the other installments of this series of extras (1960s is on The Rescue/The Romans and 1980s is on Paradise Towers),  you're missing out. With Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), and Louise Jameson (Leela) involved, this one is just as much of a cracker as the Eighties one. There's never a dull moment, as they have their own irreverent - and insightful - walk down memory lane. I quite literally laughed out loud at least once.

As I said up top, the science on which the story is based is pretty rubbish. On the other hand, having all the Doctors together at the same time is pretty brilliant. No matter how you cut it, though, the Brigadier's hit the nail on the head. "Wonderful chap. [All three] of him."

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Comments

This episode is the first time I ever saw Patrick Troughton. Pertwee will, in many ways, always be my man, and to see the two of them bouncing off each other was wonderful. Along with 'The Two Doctors,' this really got me interested in PT. And made me wish that there were more of his episodes still extant. I do love Hartnell ('The Aztecs' and 'The Romans' are two of my all-time faves.) That said, it's still hard to see WH so infirm. It's good that he was well enough to do what he did do, though.

By seaninthailand (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yes, I loved how Troughton kind of gave a performance here that is a sort of caricature of his performances when he was the lead. And it IS sad to see Hartnell this way, but it makes me happy to think that he was aware that they wanted him back, and that he was able to have a last hurrah.

Here's hoping more of Two's episodes keep mysteriously reappearing in the future!

By mrfranklin
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