Having reached its 10th year, it seems as though Doctor Who had taken the first steps toward becoming an institution. Having changed lead actors twice and shifted the focus of the show from historical to space monsters to present day Earth, the programme demonstrated that its potential really was unlimited. This anniversary year would see the return of past incarnations, setting up a future tradition. There were returning villains as well as amazing new alien species introduced. It would also be a series of sad farewells to beloved actors and regulars with the show.
Producer, Barry Letts and script editor, Terrance Dicks were old hands at this by now, with a few seasons under their belts and their ready-made ensemble, the largest overall cast of regulars in Who history. Some might just go on cruise control at this point but these gentlemen and their appointed writers provided some instant classics and an incredibly strong season.
The Three Doctors
Colourful blobs descend to Earth to try and capture the Doctor. The Time Lords back on the Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) home planet are in their own crisis as a black hole is threatening their very existence. They, too, need the Doctor’s help. But would he alone be enough? No, his past incarnations must be brought in to help himself! They manage to bring the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) over to the Third at UNIT HQ. Together, they’ll sort out everything – as soon as they’re done arguing, because of course that’s what’s going to happen. Thankfully, on the TARDIS monitor, the First Doctor (William Hartnell) is also brought in for advice and an occasional insult.
Pity poor Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), who only has a tentative grasp on these scenarios at the best of times. When confronted by this little former Doctor he remembers well, plus yet another on a monitor screen, he mentally retreats just a bit. When a giant chunk of UNIT HQ is transported to a different universe, he’s pretty sure he recognises it as Cromer (a line improved by Courtney after time spent in the coastal town during his youth).
The long lost solar engineer and famed Time Lord Omega (Stephen Thorne) is behind all this. Feeling abandoned by his race who thought he was dead, so many millennia ago, he seeks vengeance and freedom from the anti-matter universe he’s now trapped in. He also aims to have the Doctor replace him so he might escape. Thankfully, the combined craftiness of the three Doctors (plus some dumb luck) allows our heroes to vanquish the mad Time Lord and the former incarnations of the Doctor go back to their own times. As a thank you, the Time Lords do restore the Doctor’s full knowledge of how to travel through time and space and give him a new dematerialisation circuit.
It’s not an overly complex, seriously intense mood piece. It doesn’t make you rethink your place in the Whoniverse. But it is one very important thing: it’s FUN.
This was a dream come true for the fans. All three Doctors… together?! Wow. It had only been 4 years since Patrick Troughton had left the show, so he hadn’t changed a bit. The original plan was to have William Hartnell participate in person as well but his health didn’t permit it, sadly (he passed away in 1975). He instead was relegated to giving advice from a sort of stasis chamber, presented on the TARDIS monitor screen. Some derided the story for having too much humour in it. Poppycock. When you’re bringing back Troughton, you’re bringing back not only a whole different era but totally screwing with the Brig’s head. If the Second Doctor’s interactions with the Third incarnation or the Brig don’t present comedic opportunities – well, Letts, Dicks, and writers, Bob Baker and Dave Martin (aka the Bristol Boys) aren’t doing their jobs.
It was said at the time that, initially, Jon Pertwee wasn’t too happy about sharing the stage and screen with other Doctors. This was a rather unusual set of circumstances, and things were chilly at the start. But Pertwee soon warmed to Troughton and they got along fine. Indeed, their convention appearances together are cherished memories for many fans too.
Another sad fact is that the original script had Jamie McCrimmon showing up with the Second Doctor but Frazer Hines’ filming on Emmerdale prevented it. I think Emmerdale also interfered with the length of his involvement with the 20th anniversary show. Bah. But Sergeant Benton (John Levene) was handed most of Jamie’s lines throughout the production. And wasn’t it wonderful to see Troughton’s Doctor in colour?
It was the first time a past incarnation appeared on the show but obviously not the last. Troughton himself would return again for the 20th anniversary show, The Five Doctors, alongside Pertwee and Peter Davison; then again appearing opposite Colin Baker’s sixth incarnation in Season 22’s The Two Doctors (1985). The anniversary tradition carried on with a “special” in 1993 and of course the tremendous 50th anniversary, The Day of the Doctor in 2013.
Finally, with his knowledge of how to travel through time and space returned to him, the Doctor’s exile was no more and the show was no longer strictly confined to Earth…
Carnival of Monsters
The Doctor and Jo Grant aim for Metebelis Three. Shock of shocks, the Doctor misses and they end up on a ship in the Indian ocean in the early part of 20th Century Earth. This makes no sense to the Doctor. The ride gets wilder when it turns out they happen to have landed in one tiny scenario playing out for people’s viewing entertainment in a Miniscope on a distant alien planet. This alien zoo captures mindless creatures and sentient beings alike from all over the universe, exposes them to a reduction/compression field and they spend the rest of their days living for others’ amusement. It’s a form of cruel entertainment banned in most sections of the universe and of course the Doctor and Jo are right in the middle of it.
In this particular case, this Miniscope is on display on the planet Inter Minor, where members of an amoral species (the outstanding Michael Wisher, Terence Lodge, and Peter Halliday) view the scope with a cold curiosity.
Even after the Doctor decides to escape his puppet masters, traveling within the Miniscope or venturing into other areas is more and more dangerous with creatures like the giant, carnviorous Drashigs ambling around their environment. The Doctor finally manages to extricate himself from the machine and work with the morally questionable operator of the machine, Vorg (the wonderful Leslie Dwyer), to free the beings inside, returning them to their times and places.
I’ve long considered Robert Holmes to be the Steven Moffat of classic Doctor Who. Whenever Holmes would step in to deliver a script, by and large, it was a cracking good story. Always powerful and imaginative. Carnival of Monsters is no different. How on earth does he think of these things? This truly is one of the finest stories of the Pertwee era and one of the best examples of what this show is capable of. I’ll forgive the Drashig puppetry as it was a noble effort but the set design for the interior of the Miniscope was wonderful in its detail and construction.
And as always, Holmes’ side characters are a joy, as he pumps them full of life, and layers of complexity.
Frontier in Space
In the 26th Century, there’s a war brewing between humanity and the noble Draconian Empire. But there are outside influences at work, trying to spark a bloody conflict. This is what the Doctor and Jo stumble into. What follows is them trying their level best to not only survive both sides but find out who’s behind the plot to encourage war. The story will see action on Earth, Draconia, and the planet of the Ogrons before it’s done.
The Master (Roger Delgado) is but one piece of the puzzle, assuming the part of a government official to further his ends. The Doctor and Jo are his prisoners for a lengthy time, as we see more jail cells and escapes in their immediate future. The Ogrons — dim witted muscle for hire are yet another piece of the puzzle in this space opera. While most won’t believe the Doctor’s claims of a plot, he eventually wins over the Prince of Draconia (Peter Birrel). Together, they eventually manage to get word out to the proper authorities and thwart the scheme.
But even though the Doctor and co. win the day on the Ogron home world, the true architects of the plan are revealed: Daleks. In the ensuing scuffle to leave the planet, the Doctor is badly wounded. He manages to enter the TARDIS, barely reaching the telepathic circuits, sending out a distress call to the Time Lords before collapsing. The end?
This was a magnificent and ambitious story on many levels. A grand space opera that introduced one of the most beautiful alien species ever in the history of Doctor Who, the Draconians, along with their vast, galactic empire. It’s a shame we would never see them again in the show, but they shall never be forgotten. The amazing make up and half masks helped sell the liveliness of the over all natural look. We got a sparing glimpse at their homeworld, and their customs and it left fans wanting more.
This was, sadly, the final appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master, as he died soon after in a car accident in Turkey. Delgado was an important part of the Doctor Who ensemble at the time and it was an early indicator that the old crew’s days were numbered. It was said that Letts and Dicks had wanted to end the Master’s era with a huge final confrontation with the Doctor, reportedly The Final Game, but it was not to be. As final appearances go, this was a fine one, as he was at his best. Although Jo did finally manage to resist his hypnotism in this final go round – a nice call back to their first appearance in Terror of the Autons (1971).
Even though this was a 6-parter, it held together pretty well for its bulk. Whenever things started to slow down, they added another surprise, such as bringing in the Master in episode 3. In the end, this serial turned out to be merely the first half of the overall story, as it dove tailed right into the next one…
Planet of the Daleks
Picking up immediately after Frontier in Space, having put the TARDIS in flight and sending off an emergency telepathic message to the Time Lords, the Doctor collapses and Jo is on her own. They land on the planet Spiridon and Jo goes for help while the Doctor recovers. Jo meets a party of Thals from Skaro, enemies of the Daleks, who are also wandering the jungle environs.
Spiridon has a native race that can bend light rays around themselves and are thus invisible. The Daleks have come here to learn their secrets and have an army of 10,000 Daleks in cold storage deep under the planet’s surface waiting to be thawed out and gain the power of invisibility! (A particularly effective cliffhanger.) Soon, the Doctor enters the fray and he and Jo, working with the Thals, have to find a way to stop the Dalek army cold.
The first time I saw this story, some 30 odd years ago, it wasn’t presented in the best fashion. Most of it wasn’t in colour and I believe the film had seen better days. It affected my reaction to the story, but that’s to be expected when you don’t see a show at its best (or indeed how it was intended to be viewed). But when I finally got the DVD, I had a much greater appreciation for the tale. Seeing a piece of film or video in its best condition always helps the situation.
First, the colour. Wow. Seeing this in black and white is kind of a crime. Just the Doctor’s outfit alone…! I think this may be the only time we see the glorious dark purple velvet jacket on light purple frilly shirt ensemble. Add to this the lush green jungle, yellow astronaut suits of the Thals, and the electric purple/blue furs of the Spiridons when they bundle up against the cold at night – man, oh man, this was an explosion of colour.
It must be pointed out that, even though this is a 6-part story, it really does move along. There are so many moving parts: inspiring talks via the Doctor; Spiridons against Thals; Thals against Daleks; Daleks enslaving Spiridons; close calls with bombs; locating bombs; moving bombs; deadly plants; infections – you name it.
You also get a great guest cast with some faces you’d seen before and will again in classic Who, such as Bernard Horsefall (Taron, who’d later portray Chancellor Goth in The Deadly Assassin), and Prentis Hancock (Vaber, who also appeared in Planet of Evil as Salamar, amongst others). There was much care taken in bringing these characters to life, especially in the quiet moments, the down time. In some stories, padding results in another run down a corridor but when they take that time and use it to its best advantage, it really does make a huge difference in crafting a nice story.
At the end of the serial, a young lad named Latep (Alan Tucker) wants Jo to came back to Skaro with him. Note: with some other producers, this hastily built romance would have had us see the last of Jo right there, even though it was never really clear how Jo felt about him. But no, she turned him down and when they get back to the TARDIS, she’d like to just head home. She wasn’t ready to leave. Yet.
The Green Death
Never have maggots been so popular. Or big! There are mysterious deaths at a nearby mining camp that’s in close proximity to a huge oil installation called Global Chemicals. Hmmm.
Jo rushes off to investigate with the Brigidier while the Doctor finally takes his long desired trip to the beautiful and wonderful Metebelis Three – where he’s repeatedly attacked and all he got to show for it is a lousy blue crystal. He quickly returns and meets the gang at Global Chemicals, gets the runaround from Stevens (Jerome Willis), a high placed stooge, and heads to the mine. Aye, there are problems at the mine, possible sabotage but definitely glowing green slime at the bottom and giant maggots, as one might never guess. Global Chemicals is of no help to the miners’ needs during disaster after disaster. But living at a nearby communion, “lovingly” referred to as “The Nut-hutch”, is Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevin), an ecologist who’s brilliant in his use of fungus and quite the attractive young man, which surprises Jo, who thought, for all his accomplishments, he’d have been much older.
Jones makes a good ally with his commune family of protestors, in distracting the guards at Global while the Doctor and UNIT infiltrate – sending Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) in to work from the inside, while the Doctor uses stealth and snoops.
The real threat behind Global is a megalomaniacal super computer called BOSS, who’s mind-controlling the employees. Meanwhile, more and more of the super irradiated maggots are hatching from eggs, biting, infecting, and killing people. Jo is spending a lot of time with Jones – and yes, truly falling in love with him – and accidentally spills some of his fungus on an experiment. Jones is upset, Jo is crushed, but it turns out to be a happy accident. Serendipity, pure and simple!
The Doctor and UNIT grab as much of the curative fungus as they can to drive around the mine site and scatter it around to kill the maggots. The Doctor then heads off to Global to confront the BOSS, the super computer planning to link up with all computers around the world, spreading his influence…
There’s a huge party at the Nut-hutch to celebrate the victory, where Jo and Jones announce they’re getting married. The Doctor gives Jo his blessing and the Metebelis Three crystal as a wedding gift, but quietly slips out of the festivities and drives off alone into the sunset.
It’s another very well done send off for a companion, thanks to Letts, Dicks, and writer Robert Sloman. A very Quatermass type story, with much warmth. The giant maggots were such an unusual, slimy, effective threat, combined with the sterile, cold-hearted feel of the BOSS, brilliantly displayed visually with a voice modulated line jumping around on a circular board as it spoke. Very effective presentation there.
Once again, a 6-part story that used its down time exceedingly well. You get to go inside the Nut-hutch and see how well matched Jo and Cliff are. Their chemistry is great. In fact, for a time, the two were engaged in real life. She even told the Doctor that Jones reminded him of a younger version of him. Inside, the Doctor is shaken and upset at the news that Jo would be leaving him, although he covers it well enough at the time.
There have been times in the classic version of the show, where a certain incarnation of the Doctor has felt certain things toward certain companions. Sometimes it’s a paternal feeling; sometimes, it’s a teacher/student relationship; or just a great warmth toward them. But we are talking about an alien being who we forget is largely detached from society at times in certain situations. Some have clearly stated that they thought the Third Doctor was in love with Jo. I don’t think it’s quite that simple. It’s not usually the way a Time Lord is hard-wired. I think Missy, of all people, gave the topic a rather crude and insulting but effectively truthful account later on in The Magician’s Apprentice (2015). Just think how long it took Ian and Barbara to soften up the First Doctor to even have patience and some acceptance for humans.
No, I think Pertwee’s time with Jo maybe awoke possibilities and questions within himself that only really came to his attention when he lost her for good. But now, that door was opened a crack. Future seasons involving the Fourth Doctor with Sarah Jane and, further down the line, the Tenth Doctor with Rose bore that out. But that’s another story for another time. For now, the old team was really breaking up.
NEXT TIME: No, don’t cry. While there’s life, there’s —