Tue
Dec 28 2010 1:00pm

The Third Doctor

This is a post in the Tor.com Twelve Doctors of Christmas series. Click the link to peruse the entire series.

Third Doctor Jon PertweeThe Third Doctor is the one who was exiled on Earth during the 1970s (well, it’s not necessarily the fictional 1970s, but let’s not get into the briar patch of dating those stories). He strikes me as having adapted to his new planet, a character like John Steed in The Avengers or Adam Adamant, an authority figure (he can cow civil servants by mentioning encountering their boss at the club) who’s also a cool boho dandy. When those shirts of his were originally fashionable, they were the costume of the gentry. At the time of transmission, they were the uniform of the counterculture. On Jon Pertwee, they’re both.

This duality manifests itself in how, at one moment, he’s chiding his military liaison the Brigadier for his lack of intelligence, and at the other, chiding his companion Jo for not obeying her superior officer. At the very start of his era, he’s framed as a selfish, petulant child, with the Brigadier and scientist Liz Shaw his (flirting with each other) parents. That slight step back from authority was in line with previous interpretations of the part. But he swiftly moves forward in the format, taking the spotlight from Liz completely and becoming caustic/brotherly mates with “the Brig.” (He seems to name his “sprightly yellow roadster”—and look how much Terrance Dicks has picked into that description—after Liz, in a way which these days might constitute sexual harassment, but she never seems to notice.) The next companion, Jo Grant, is framed as his daughter/disciple rather than his keeper. But that childish streak remains, and excuses the greatest excesses of his rudeness: he’s frustrated like a toddler in a playpen at being stuck on Earth.

When the Third Doctor meets an alien, he extends a lace-cuffed hand to it, insisting to those around him that we must treat it as an equal, no matter how weird it is, while at the same time winking at the audience at how absurd the encounter is. That condescension to the norms of the mainstream audience is exactly how Roger Moore’s James Bond might approach, for example, an exotic banquet.

These dualities in the character perhaps stem from the two men in charge of the show at this point: meat and potatoes genius storyteller Terrance Dicks (the script editor), always a man of the people, and pacifist, Buddhist, intellectual Barry Letts (the producer), always looking to liberalism. These old friends allowed Jon Pertwee, an actor who’d previously hidden everything about his own personality behind silly voices, to pick and choose what he wanted to be, from across the political and social spectrum. He thus encounters the cosmic and spiritual like a hippie lord who lets the travelers stay on his estate. When Sarah Jane Smith arrives, she’s consciously framed as a feminist (“women’s lib”) character, which he seems to think is only right, and, simultaneously, a bit much, really.

Pertwee is a tremendous lead, convincing us, as all good Doctors have to, of the seriousness of everything around him, but always ready with a funny voice or (as Terrance Dicks insisted on), a “moment of charm.” The character gains the actor’s fondness for cars and tall stories. He’s the first Doctor for whom name dropping historical figures seems to be a game (and a social weapon) rather than just a statement of fact. He does in miniature what all Doctor Who does: reduces technobabble to a handful of magic phrases, delivered with a snap and verve that dares us to contradict him. He is the only Doctor to manifest the skills of “Venusian Aikido,” which generally involves him yelling “hai!,” striking poses, and sending stuntmen flying. After which he often apologises for the use of violence. He’s also one of a few Doctors who’ll grab a gun and shoot a monster dead. (No apologies for disintegrated Ogrons.) He is too dignified to run convincingly, but oh, he can saunter. He towers above the Daleks, who are not at their best in his era, and the actor has no interest in assigning added presence to them: he’s the star of this picture.

When it’s time for him to leave, the Third Doctor, wonderfully, enacts a Buddhist parable, as he faces his own fear, goes inside the mountain to confront the demons of ego, and stumbles out of a TARDIS which has found its way, gorgeously, to Earth, his former prison, which he now calls “home.” The regeneration is aided by your actual Buddhist sage/Time Lord. All this mystical stuff means that the Brigadier has to come on, rather like Graeme Chapman’s military man in Monty Python, to bring things literally down to Earth, and preserve the balance of this wonderful period in the show’s history, by muttering “here we go again.”

The next Doctor kept the enormous audience that this version of the show had gathered, kept the presence and authority, but thumbed his nose at the establishment and at Earth. Regeneration means that Doctor Who can always be right for its times. Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, in his time, was the zeitgeist.


Paul Cornell is a noted novelist, comic book writer, screenwriter, and all around clever gent, but Doctor Who fans will know him best as the writer of the Hugo-nominated new series episodes, “Father’s Day,” “Human Nature,” and “The Family of Blood.” More dedicated Who fans will also be familiar with Paul’s extensive bibliography with Big Finish and as the creator of popular spin-off companion Bernice Summerfield.

This article is part of The Twelve Doctors of Christmas: ‹ previous | index | next ›
20 comments
Teresa Jusino
1. TeresaJusino
Jon Pertwee is totally my favorite of the classic Doctors (I'm in the middle of Tom Baker now, and while I like him very much, I miss Pertwee!). He's the only Doctor so far that I would absolutely trust and follow anywhere. He's a bit on the arrogant side, but I'm always sure that he knows what he's doing. Also, he had a tattoo! :) Also, HE RAN OVER A DUDE ON A HOVERCRAFT!

I was surprised by how well The Doctor worked stuck on Earth. His friendship with the Brigadier (and I always joke that their bromance wandered a bit into "more than friends" territory...the Brig does tend to stand awfully close to him on more than one occasion) was wonderful to watch develop.

I think it's interesting how you see the Brig & Liz, though. I was SO sorry that Liz got so little time, as I really liked her. But it was she and The Doctor I saw flirting with each other! It's the first time I noticed a bit of the Doctor/Companion relationship that has a bit of sexual tension, as opposed to the previous relationships which were definitely parent/child (or parent/doddering uncle). And I could hardly blame Liz! I mean, he wasn't exactly Ian Chesterton, but he had a charm and confidence that was really appealing. For the first time, it seemed like the Doctor had an intellectual equal - or, at least as much of an intellectual equal as a human can be. All the more interesting, because it WAS the 1970s, and Liz wasn't an alien woman. She was a human woman at a time when the image of a female scientist was rare.

And yes, Venusian Akido? Very amusing. :)
Paul Weimer
2. PrinceJvstin
My local PBS station, growing up, dutifully showed Tom Baker episodes. The first one I recall, and it hooked me on the series, was Pyramids of Mars.

After it finished the Baker run, it went through Peter Davidson, showing entire serials together in one night "The Doctor Who movies"

It then did an interesting thing--it went back to the First Doctor, did the couple of Second Doctor episodes they had (memorably to me, the Dominators). And then they did the Third Doctor.

The Third Doctor hooked me. A Pacifist with Venusian martial arts. Lots of episodes with the Master. And a very good finale episode.
ceebee_eebee
3. ceebee_eebee
Wonderful article, Paul. A real love letter to a magnificent, and sadly under-appreciated era of Who. Personally, I found that the element that really made the Third Doctor's run so brilliant was Roger Delgado's Master. Delgado and Pertwee's on-screen chemistry was incredible, their relationship complex and thrilling, and Delgado owned the role in ways that not even Simm could come close to duplicating. The Master-Doctor dynamic of the Third Doctor era will always be one of the highlights of Classic Who for me.
ceebee_eebee
4. That Neil Guy
Pertwee is still the definitive Doctor to me, the one against whom all others must be measured.

And, if you're interested, this is why: http://thatneilguy.blogspot.com/2008/01/who-is-doctor.html
ceebee_eebee
5. That Neil Guy
@ceebee_eebee

Yes. It's that dynamic between Pertwee and Delgado that remains lodged in my mind, that is what made me choke up and start to weep like a schoolgirl, overcome with emotion, when the Master returned in the new series. When old Professor Yana realizes who he is, and makes that declaration, well, I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
ceebee_eebee
6. Nentuaby
Hmmm. I'm a NewWho fan who's never ventured back to watch Original Recipe. You're starting to make me think I'll have to.
Joe Hagan
7. Mercwrought
Like others for me PBS showed the second and third Doctors some where after the end of the fourth. Initially for me Baker was the only Doctor; however Troughton added so much depth to the charter I could not deny that he belonged. Then it was time for Pertwee I watched many of these and found that I liked him as much as Baker but in a completely different way. After watching the three I found that my idea of the Doctor had evolved and when I watched Baker it was different. He was still the Doctor but better, and only because of the ones that came before.

I guess what I see is that each of these Doctors found their stride and no matter who was your Doctor each has a place as a Doctor. Even though I never cared for Davison (probably because he replaced my favorite) when showed up for the children in need special I was thrilled, and his daughter playing a Doctor clone made me unbelievably happy. Even McGann has his place they each bring something to the part that just adds to the legend.

My only worry is that like all shows there is a limit of how far things can go. The bad guys can only get so bad before they all are trying to destroy the universe. Dr Who has an advantage over other shows where the concepts can be so different and the locations so diverse, however I fear that we are approaching it once more and they must do something before we get a another 20+ year hiatus. That would be a tragedy.
Sandi Kallas
8. Sandikal
This is the Dr. Who I remember from my childhood.
ceebee_eebee
9. Jazzlet
"Stone chappie, fire at will"

Classic.

I barely remember Troughton from the first time round, mainly because I spent so much time hiding behind the sofa, I do remember Jamie though. Pertwee was really my first doctor as I actually managed to watch the whole programme, well with the exception of some of the Planet of the Spiders ones. Jo used to annoy me enormously, I thought she was very wet and an embarrassment to women everywhere.

One of the worst things about the electricity cuts we had as a result of the Winter of Discontent was missing the end of the programmes, so missing the cliff hanger. Although at least I did get most of the programme, some of my school mates only got the cliff hanger and had to be caught up on Monday morning.
Erick Chase
10. TheMarchChase
I had the pleasure of meeting Pertwee at a SciFi convention in the late 80s. A great story teller, speaker and genuinely friendly person. One of the best Doctors.
Abdel Masdoua
11. TheDarkOne
Jon Pertwee is a fantastic Doctor, and I really enjoyed what I saw of him saw far.
ceebee_eebee
12. George Ivanoff
Jon Pertwee was, is and probably always will be, my favourite. Tennant came close, but Pertwee still wins out for me.
Rose Fox
13. rosefox
Pertwee was "my Doctor" in a peculiar way: I read a couple of dozen novelizations before I ever saw an episode. By chance, most of the novelizations I had were from the Jo-and-the-Brigadier era. So this is the Doctor I know best (and I quickly learned that Terrance Dicks's name on a book jacket meant I was in for a treat) and yet much of what you say about Pertwee's portrayal of him is new to me. I love getting this perspective. Thank you for capturing it so well!

Two corrections: Isn't it "Venusian karate", not aikido? And I'm quite sure Chapman's first name is spelled Graham.
ceebee_eebee
14. Frostfox
He was my Doctor, I never had any interest in any other until Eccleston.

FF
Emmet O'Brien
15. EmmetAOBrien
I have recently come across a rather cool fan-made Third Doctor anime on youtube which people reading here who like anime might appreciate; still a work-in-progress, here's a link to the trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPCrGsya1ZI

(I have no connection to this project other than thinking it's impressive.)
ceebee_eebee
16. Craig Oxbrow
That reminds me, which came first, the Brigadier or Chapman's "Stop that, it's silly"?
ceebee_eebee
17. Claude Parish

Pertwee! My first Doctor! See how tall he was?
ceebee_eebee
18. Eugene R.
For me, the definitive Pertwee line was from "The Five Doctors" episode where, on re-meeting Sarah Jane and seeing her surprise at the "return" of his old looks, the Doctor waves at his face and says "Still thinking of me after I became all teeth and curls?", both summarizing the wonderful Tom Baker Doctor and chiding with gentle humor at the same time.
Jacy Clark
19. Amalisa
Love Jon Pertwee. Always have. Always will. :)
ceebee_eebee
20. Jim 11
I was definitely not expecting to like Three very much (I like the geekier, awkward Doctors, like Two and Eleven), but he grabbed my attention from his first episode when he made a daring escape in a wheelchair, stole an outfit with a cape and an old-fashioned car, and picked the equally awesome Liz as a companion (I wish she had stuck around longer; she's amazing). And as much as I like the idea of the Doctor as a technical pacifist, I have to admit the sheer amount of judo-chopping that goes on is a bonus.

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