The Three Doctors

Michael Bryant

Michael is the Director of Vada Magazine. In his spare time he is a massive geek who obsesses over retro video games, Doctor Who and A Song of Ice and Fire.
Michael Bryant

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I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but I’m quite the fan of Doctor Who… No, really, not even once you say? Oh well fair enough, hmm. Well this year sees the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, and as one might imagine for anything that’s been around for 50 years, there will be quite the celebration. With that in mind I thought I would look back at the previous anniversary editions. The good, the bad, the animated and the cross over with EastEnders. No, seriously.

The Three Doctors

The Three Doctors – 1972/3 (The Bad)

In 1972 Doctor Who had reached its first milestone and with that in mind, the producer of the day, Barry Letts decided that it would be a good hook for the beginning of the tenth season to have a multi-Doctor story, a notion he had previously thought too ‘fannish’ to include. The resulting serial would include a return of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor and William Hartnell’s First Doctor.

The anniversary would delve into the show’s growing mythology that had seldom been explored previously. The Time Lords had only appeared fleetingly before, most prominently in Troughton’s swan song ‘The War Games’ where they were depicted as almost god-like in their power. At the end of that serial they had exiled the Doctor to Earth, a very clever BBC cost cutting method that meant serials would not need to be films on expensive sets to recreate alien planets. This also meant that the money saved could be spent on filming in colour.

The serial would feature a deadly black hole draining all of the energy from Gallifrey whilst simultaneously attacking UNIT headquarters and the Doctor on Earth with a crackling red blob, pulling everything away and into an anti-matter universe. The Time Lords decide they have no other choice than to pull the Doctor out of his earlier time streams to aid himself.

The serial is a wonderful bit of early fan-fiction come to life. But it did suffer from problems in production that travelled to the screen. William Hartnell had been forced to leave Doctor Who in 1966 after being in the role for three years due to his ailing health. He had remained a fan of the show in private but had often expressed his disappointment at later serials in the media. The script was originally written to include all three Doctor’s equally, re-writes were needed when it became apparent that Hartnell’s health meant he would only be able to appear heavily in one episode. Unfortunately, during a meeting with Hartnell’s wife Heather, she informed the production team that even this would be too much for the ailing actor.

The re-writes meant that William Hartnell would only record for one day as the First Doctor and all of his scenes would be pre-recorded and played on the Tardis view screen. Despite persistent fan rumours, these scenes were recorded in the studio and not in Hartnell’s shed. It meant that the only time the three actors were together was the publicity photo shoot. Despite his limited appearance, Hartnell still got the best line “Oh, so you’re my replacements – a dandy and a clown”.

Troughton and Pertwee would lead the action and it is this aspect of the serial that works best. The two Doctors constantly bicker and argue in an attempt to one up each other. Together they try to resolve the black hole crisis, learning that the energy blob on Earth is a gateway to an anti-matter universe. On arrival, the Doctors meet Omega, one of the founders of Time Lord society who was accidentally sucked into a black hole and trapped in a new universe. Over time he learnt to control everything but desperately sought a way to return to our universe and seek revenge on the Time Lords who abandoned him.

I shan’t give away the story’s conclusion because I would like you to watch it. But I think it would be obvious to say that the Doctors defeat Omega. Once beaten, with Gallifrey saved, the Time Lords return the Doctor’s ability to travel through time and space at will. This allowed the production team the chance to open the show back up again and the Third Doctor went onward bound into space, launching the show for its next ten years.