|The Radio Times cover announcing|
Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor (1970)
To be honest, Season Seven aside, I had never been a huge fan of the Third Doctor's era. I thought it was too simplistic, too action-oriented, with Pertwee delivering an interpretation of the Doctor that felt too cozy and less complicated than other Doctors. I had always loved Pertwee's first season due to the quality of the stories and its attempt to create a more adult, sophisticated and morally complex tone. But everything after it had struck me as child-like in comparison.
Having now watched all of the Pertwee era in order, I find my opinion was completely and totally wrong-headed, and it's now become one of my favourite eras. My feeling on Season Seven remains unchanged, it's still perhaps the greatest single season of stories in Doctor Who's history, but whereas I had always lamented the fact that the series didn't retain this approach, I now see how untenable that would have been in the long run. The stories of the seventh season stand out as dark, adult, morally complex adventures, but another four years of that would have been stifling and frankly would have become dreary pretty quickly.
I find Season Eight to be wildly uneven, full of great moments and a lively, fun spirit. But it's also hampered by stories that never quite gel, with only The Mind of Evil an unqualified success. The additions of the Master and Jo Grant are the great successes of this season. Roger Delgado's performance is never less than stellar, and he proves such an immediately compelling and charming foil to Pertwee's Doctor that he instantly makes the character resonate as the supreme nemesis he's meant to be. Even in stories that don't measure up, where he's hatching the same plan or making the same mistakes, Delgado is just so fun to watch that it doesn't matter.
As for Jo Grant, while I never found the character's flighty scatter-brained qualities to be as charming as others, I can't deny that the transformation of her character from ditzy girl with more guts than sense into resourceful and principled woman to be well-defined and extremely well-performed by Katy Manning. Additionally, her chemistry with Jon Pertwee was a sight to behold. After Jo Grant, for the rest of Doctor Who, the ideal TARDIS crew remained the Doctor and a young woman. In the 1960s, that had never been the norm, and Liz Shaw had been part of the larger UNIT framework. Jo Grant established that norm, and a lot of that was from the close bond that Manning and Pertwee shared and brought to the foreground.The production team also succeeded in making the Brigadier and UNIT into the fan favourites they remain to this day, even if they sometimes don't quite master the delicate balance of making them funny without reducing them to buffoons.
The remaining seasons of the Pertwee era go from strength to strength, the tenth anniversary season in particular being superb, with three of the five stories being genuine classics.
|The Third Doctor menaced by some famous foes,|
from the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special (1973).
And that consistency came from the production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. Together, they brought stability and consistency to a series that, for much of its history, had been plagued with chaos and uncertainty. Letts was skilled at creating efficiencies in production and storytelling that capitalized on the programmes' strengths while keeping things mostly in budget and under control. He was quick (often too quick) to embrace new technologies and techniques that could add production value to the series, and created a safe and comfortable atmosphere for people to do their best work.
Dicks, a veteran of the chaos that plagued the series near the end of the Troughton era, knew exactly what kinds of pitfalls he wanted to avoid. He knew which writers he could rely upon to create workable, exciting and intriguing stories within the means of the programme (Robert Holmes and Malcolm Hulke being the best examples). But he also nurtured new talent that required greater guidance, such as Bob Baker and Dave Martin, the Bristol Boys, whose inexperience often resulted in big concepts and shaky plotting. Dicks' practice of always doing the final drafts of every script resulted in remarkable consistency of tone and style, and his mastery of structure allowed him to make the best of troublesome scripts and instances where writers perhaps didn't always manage to fit their story within the structure of the series.
All of this results in an era that feels incredibly of a piece. The Hartnell and Troughton eras run all over the map, with numerous peaks and valleys as different production teams try different approaches. The Pertwee era feels almost like one long consistent story. It's not self-conscious about this, of course, but you can't escape this feeling. The result of this remarkable consistency made it hard for me to pick five stories to choose as the best of the era. There are standouts, of course, but there are a lot more candidates to choose from as well. Frontier in Space is a favourite, and so it only narrowly edged out Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Mind of Evil, The Curse of Peladon, etc. Picking the three worst was remarkably easy, however, because they stand out like sore thumbs in this era.
|From L to R: Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks|
It's an era that remains remarkably easy to watch and enjoy, to sink into on a rainy afternoon. And that's really what Doctor Who is built for. After Pertwee, Letts and Dicks' departure, Doctor Who would change slightly once again, embracing a new tone and heading deeper into space, building upon the success of the Pertwee era to reach new heights and solidify the opinion that the 1970s would be the golden age of the programme.
Best Third Doctor Stories: Inferno, The Green Death, Carnival of Monsters, Spearhead from Space, Frontier in Space
Worst: The Mutants, The Time Monster, The Monster of Peladon