Sep 27 2013 12:00pm

Classic Doctor Who: The Third Doctor’s Essential Episodes

This is where things start getting tricky. After two seasons truncated by ruthless purges of the historical record, the Third Doctor is missing nary and episode—and, hey, he’s in color! (Though some of it is restored color, from black and white prints for export to countries that didn’t yet have the more advanced technology.) What this means for the purposes of this exercise is that distilling down his many adventures into a mere five essentials is... well, it’s damned hard.

Nevertheless, here I dare to make the bold declaration that the following fives serials are simply indispensible to the new Who viewer. Oh, sure, I would have loved to have counted The Carnival of Monsters in here, since it is hugely fun and I love it. Ditto Inferno (alternate universe!), and Mind of Evil (alien emotion-sucker/prison reform allegory!) and Invasion of the Dinosaurs (this one’s pretty self-explanatory). But when it comes to essentials, and bearing in mind the five episode limit under which I currently labor, these really are the definitive and utterly necessary stories of the Third Doctor’s sovereignty.

I should probably make it clear here, by the way, that the Third Doctor is my doctor, for while he had departed the role some time before I was born, the vagaries of Australian broadcasting meant that his episodes were airing and re-airing on our televisions long into my childhood, interspersed with those of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor (yes, it was confusing). My first memory of Doctor Who is either Day of or Death to the Daleks—NOT included here, by the way; the Pertwee years were not good ones for the “Exterminate!” crowd—and I really did for real hide behind the sofa in terror... but that didn’t stop me going back for more, obviously. Kids are pretty dauntless, it seems. (Which is a good thing, or else this show might not have lasted past the first season, since that was its intended audience.)

So, what did make the grade? Well...

Played by: Jon Pertwee
First Appearance: “Episode 1” (Spearhead from Space, January 3, 1970) Last Appearance: “Part Six” (Planet of the Spiders, June 8, 1974)—with two later guest appearances in the reign of the Sixth Doctor, as well as the 1993 charity special East Enders crossover, Dimensions in Time
Episodes: 128
Serials: 24
Seasons: 5
Style:Edwardian Dandy
Catchphrase: “Reverse the polarity”

Characteristics: A refined and perfectly-elocuted gentleman of action, diplomacy and science, the Third Doctor is exiled to early-70s Earth and denied travel through both space and time by his Time Lord brethren (except when he is dispatched by his jailors on desperate missions elsewhere). But had he landed in Regency England, he would doubtless have been equally at home, soon to become all the rage among the aristocracy of the day, careering about the countryside in tricked out phaetons and curricles and such, so very patrician and gentrified is he. Dashing, dapper, authoritative and yet vulnerable withal, this Doctor is a reluctant recruit into UNIT, but also a valiant protector and an impassioned advocate for human (and occasionally alien) rights. He is also a martial arts expert, an inventor and expert linguist, which would be a much more useful talent if the TARDIS wasn’t equipped with mind-bending translation abilities. It’s still quite impressive, nonetheless.

Companions: Given the numbers the previous two Doctors had run through, it is a lovely change of pace that in his 5 seasons, comprising 24 serials and 128 episodes, this version only gave his heart to three companions/assistants. First came skeptical UNIT scientist Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw (Caroline John), then—in direct contrast—came total ninny Jo Grant (Katy Manning). And then, finally, came very probably the greatest companion ever (sorry, Zoe, Jack and Amy!), the delightful Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen). The Doctor is also very fond of his antique roadster, Bessie, making her almost an honorary companion.


1. SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE, Season 7, Episodes 1-4
Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Derek Martinus
Setting: Contemporary England
4 Episodes: “Episode 1” (January 3, 1970), “Episode 2” (January 10, 1970), “Episode 3” (January 17, 1970), “Episode 4” (January 24, 1970)

Even were this episode not landmark in so very, very many ways—the first one in color! The first with the Third Doctor! The first to kick off the UNIT years!—it would deserve a spot on this list purely for being all kinds of eeky creepy awesome. Just when the Doctor finds himself stuck on 1970 Earth as a result of the Time Lords’ strict punishment for time meddling, the alien Nestene Consciousness decides it would be a good time to invade the planet. (One can’t help but think it really didn’t think this one through.) Perpetrating this invasion with small plastic polyhedrons, mistaken for meteorites, small parts of the Consciousness animate both shop mannequins (that’s the creepy part) and authentic replicas of assorted humans—called Autons—and it is up to the Doctor to convince old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and his team of paranormal hunters, UNIT, that he is to be trusted; thereby to save the day, alongside his reluctant new cohort, the brilliant, no nonsense Dr. Liz. Oh, and bug-eyed-while-being-strangled Doctor! Simply hilarious, and worth the price of admission alone.

EXPLAINED! Time Lord biology. And possibly some questions about UNIT’s original scope and purpose that may have arisen in the minds of New Who fans.


2. THE DAEMONS, Season 8, Episodes 21-25
Written by: Guy Leopold
Directed by: Christopher Barry
Setting: Contemporary England—Devil’s End, Wiltshire
5 Episodes: “Episode One” (May 22, 1971), “Episode Two” (May 29, 1971), “Episode Three” (June 5, 1971), “Episode Four” (June 12, 1971), “Episode Five” (June 19, 1971)

There are doubtless those who will suggest that Terror of the Autons, the ninth season’s first serial, should be on this list, since it introduces us to the diabolical stylings of the Doctor’s archnemesis, the Master (Roger Delgado), the renegade Time Lord who goes on to have such a profound impact on events as the regenerations go by. But considering we’ve just had an Autons story, and plus Terror of the Autons is also where we were first saddled with the never-the-sufficiently-despised Jo, I think things Master-y are much better demonstrated in this kickass story of archaeology, black magic, religion and the big UNIT family (love you, Mike Yates!). True, it’s not exactly filled to the brim with original ideas, even back then—an alien explanation for human mythology (in this case, the Devil) wasn’t new, nor was an impenetrable dome mysteriously surrounding a small town (take that, Stephen King). Also, the Doctor acts like kind of a dick for a good part of it and the demon effects? Not good at all. Still, The Daemons is one of those serials that stick in the mind long, long after it has completed, and is also notable for the fact that the sardonic Master, villain of the last five serials and Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock, has clearly by this stage attained a popularity almost rivaling his less-megalomaniacal counterpart, given that his impending doom is considered worthy of an episode-ending cliffhanger.

EXPLAINED! Ummm… how human civilization flourished, apparently.


3. THE SEA DEVILS, Season, Episodes 9-14
Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Directed by: Michael Briant
Setting: Contemporary England, a Naval Base
4 Episodes: “Episode One” (February 26, 1972), “Episode Two” (March 4, 1972), “Episode Three” (March 11, 1972), “Episode Four” (March 18, 1972), “Episode Five” (March 25, 1972), “Episode Six” (April 1, 1972)

I concede that for anyone following this list faithfully, coming into this one without prior knowledge of the reptilian Silurians might make The Sea Devils slightly less resonant. But at the same time, while the concept of the Silurians and their “sea devil” cousins is an enduringly clever one (two intelligent species indigenous to Earth predating humanity, having lain long-dormant until being disturbed by nuclear testing and such) it would be foolish to dedicate almost half of my real estate to these related foes—and the fact is, this is the best of the limited Silurian-based stories. The Doctor and Jo pay a visit (for some reason) to the incarcerated Master on his island prison where they stumble upon (don’t they always stumble upon?) weirdness in the form of sea monsters attacking the Royal Navy. It turns out they are sentient prehistoric amphibians being called upon by the Master, with the aid of a duped human lackey, who hopes to turn them into his own personal army, and the Doctor must try to broker a peace between our race and theirs before it is too late. Action-packed, replete with a quite astonishing conclusion and notable for the trippiest, most off-the-wall musical score this side of Ladyhawke, this serial is also marks the only time during his tenure that the Third Doctor utters his catchphrase “reverse the polarity of the neuron flow”—though much polarity would go on to be reversed in subsequent episodes across several incarnations.

EXPLAINED! “Reverse the jelly baby of the neutron flow,” uttered in “The Almost People” (06.06). And Vastra, maybe?


4. THE GREEN DEATH, Season 10, Episodes 21-26
Written by: Robert Sloman
Directed by: Michael Briant
Setting: Contemporary Wales—the mining town of Llanfairfach
6 Episodes: “Episode One” (May 19, 1973), “Episode Two” (May 26, 1973), “Episode Three” (June 2, 1973), “Episode Four” (June 9, 1973), “Episode Five” (June 16, 1973), “Episode Six” (June 23, 1973)

This story could be the most stultifying of The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve-style awful and I would probably still have included it here, because it sees the blessed departure of that unrelenting ditz, Jo. Oh, I know plenty of people like her, and some even suggest that the Doctor’s feelings towards this airhead ran more towards the Rose-like than the times allowed him to express, but be that as it may—and I doubt it; the Doctor was still a very paternal figure in this guise—I feel very strongly that her decision to turn in her UNIT badge in order to marry an environmental crusader was very good news for the show. And, in fact, I hardly feel the need to slap her at all when watching this! (Possibly because I know it’s her last?) The reason this episode requires an environmental crusader, by the way? Chemical poisoning! Turning miners green and then killing them (hence the title), creating giant maggots, and then there’s a whole super-computer thing too… basically, this is another Doctor Who progress=disaster episode, but it is done so thoughtfully, so excitingly, and with scenes of such captivating emotion, that it escapes the burdens of its overplayed environmental message. I am also pretty sure this episode is the reason I love Mutant Monsters Attack! movies. Yet another reason to be grateful to Doctor Who.


5. THE TIME WARRIOR, Season 11, Episodes 1-4
Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Alan Bromly
Setting: Contemporary and Medieval England
4 Episodes: “Part One” (December 15, 1973), “Part Two” (December 22, 1973), “Part Three” (December 29, 1973), “Part Four” (January 5, 1974)

It was really about time some canny civilian noticed what UNIT has been up to, and how lucky we are that that person was intrepid journalist Sarah Jane Smith! Smart as a whip but eternally pleasant along with it, Sarah goes undercover to investigate a conclave of Britain’s top scientists, being held in a research facility for some unknown reason. That reason turns out to be that several of their colleagues have gone missing, which we soon learn is because they have been transported to the 12th-C by a Sontaran warrior, whose crashed ship is in need of repair. But while he is in the neighborhood, he first claims Earth for his Empire and becomes a weapons dealer, promising advanced tech to a medieval criminal and his merry band of ruffians. There are so many reasons to love this episode: it is a fun, if relatively straightforward, historical, which had been rare throughout Doctor’s exile. (His time travel ban has been lifted here, by the way.) It first gives us the Sontarans; perhaps my favorite of the Doctor’s alien foes, they are just so... single-minded. It also has crackling dialogue and a quite thrilling last act. But above all, it brings us Sarah Jane Smith for the first time. And that really is essential viewing.

EXPLAINED! The planet of the Time Lords is named Gallifrey. And Strax!


So, just how wrong did I get it? Was not including Planet of the Spiders a mistake? But what should I have replaced to make room for it? And do we really want to give people even more reason to fear arachnids than they do now? Wasn’t my damaged childhood enough of a triumph for that story? Looking forward to your thoughts...

Next time: The Fourth Doctor—The Sad Clown

Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

1. Fenric25
Another good selection of episodes, though I do disagree with you on a few points (I quite like Jo, for instance, though I will admit that Liz and Sarah Jane are far better characters). My personal top five Pertwee-era episodes: 1. Inferno (surprised it didn't make the list, it's one of the best Who stories of all time and was the top Pertwee episode in the 200 poll for Doctor Who Magazine) 2. The Green Death (those maggots have creeped me out for years, no matter how cheap they may look) 3. Spearhead from Space (love the Autons) 4. Frontier in Space (not perfect by all means but I'm a sucker for space opera and I love the Master and the Draconians. Also nice to see a woman president of Earth) 5. Carnival of Monsters (some bizarre sets, ideas, outfits, and some lovely dialogue courtesy of Robert Holmes) Can't wait to see what your choices for the Tom Baker era are, so difficult to narrow it down to five...
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
I suppose you could have dropped The Daemons for Planet of the Spiders. The Master is pretty well covered in The Sea Devils and I'm not really sure I buy The Daemons as all that essential. And for me, the best part of The Sea Devils is the Master watching the Clangers and trying to work out their language. You start to see him as more of a counterpart to the Doctor than just another villain.

I'm not aware of Three appearing in any episodes during the era of the Sixth Doctor. He was in the serial The Five Doctors, which was during Peter Davison's tenure, not Colin Baker's. And other than Dimensions in Time, I don't know of any other appearance.
Matt Stoumbaugh
3. LazerWulf
Is it just me, or does that Sea Devil kinda look like Jar Jar Binks?
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
Here's where we part company, for I adore Jo Grant. Sure, she was a little clumsy and scatterbrained, but she could be very resourceful when she needed to be, she had the biggest heart of any companion ever, and she exemplified courage in the sense the Doctor defined it in "Planet of the Daleks" -- being afraid but doing what you have to do anyway. She never hesitated to put herself in harm's way to help the Doctor or anyone else in need, and she saved the Doctor's life probably as often as he saved hers -- even if sometimes he wasn't really in danger, like when she fearlessly charged Aggedor, the Monster of Peladon, when she thought it was attacking the Doctor. Heck, in "The Daemons," it was her capacity for love and selflessness that literally saved the world. Everyone else was just mucking about futilely with heat barriers and stone chaps with wings, but she singlehandedly defeated the monster and prevented the destruction of Earth simply by being who she was, someone who'd never hesitate to risk herself for the sake of others. She was perhaps the only classic companion who single-handedly saved the Earth without the Doctor contributing anything to speak of, and nobody even thanked her for it. That's always frustrated me.

I also felt she had a wonderful, loving relationship with the Doctor -- not romantic, to be sure, but a very close father-daughter kind of bond. They really cared profoundly for each other, and you could see how much it hurt the Doctor when she left. Certainly Sarah Jane was a great companion, worthy of the title of the Doctor's best friend, but Jo was more like family.
Del C
5. del
Has anybody besides Dan Brown considered writing a story called "Angels and Daemons"? Don't blink!
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
Jo could be annoying, but I never found her that bad. Of the companions from Liz to Ace (the ones I know best), I'd put her in the middle of the pack, ahead not only of obvious choices like Adric and Mel, but also Tegan, Leela and even her immediate predecessor, Liz. Liz was such a terrible stereotype of the cold female scientist (which worked fine for Alt!Liz in Inferno) and almost never seemed to have any of the knowledge that should have gone along with her 8000 degrees. Jo and Three had a chemistry that is matched only rarely among Doctors and companions.
7. Lynne Stringer
I didn't think much of The Daemons, even when I was five (I still find it dull, apart from Nicholas Courtney's wonderfully memorable line!). I have never been that fond of the Sea Devils, either, but I agree wholeheartedly with the rest, especially Time Warrior. Not only was it an interesting and engaging story written well, it introduced one of my favourite companions and one of my favourite alien races!
8. RobinM
I started classic who with 4 in jr. high and followed along to the end of 7 in high school. Our local PBS station "started over" the following summer with 3 . I think of Pertwee's Doctor as the one with the car and the perfect hair. He was the most posh secret agenty of all the incarnations so far he's fun. I can't remember the name but it's the evil mirror universe episode. The mannicans are extra creepy in Spearhead but the best part is when the Doctor wants to keep the car he stole from the hospital parking lot.
Beccy Higman
9. Jazzlet
'Stone chappy, fire at will'? or something like ...

I learnt what 'serendipity' meant from the Green Death.

Three was my Doctor, I was considered old enough to watch Dr Who by then, rather than being shooed out of the room if noticed by The Boys - and I always was as there was always something that frightened me into making a noise.
10. jerec84
Yeah, well, I'm gonna go write my own Classic Doctor Who list, with blackjack, and hookers, and Carnival of Monsters.
Christopher Bennett
11. ChristopherLBennett
@9: The Brigadier's famous line from "The Daemons" is, "Chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid." And the latter sentence is actually the name of Nicholas Courtney's autobiography.
Beccy Higman
12. Jazzlet
@11 thanks, I don't have the memory for these things, I rmember I loved them, but not the detail of what I loved.
13. pilgrimsoul
Jon Pertwee was my first and adored doctor. Loved the Brigader, too. Nicholas Courtney could have been stodge personified, but gave the B some charming cool.
14. Eugene R.
Let me add my name to the list of Jo Grant fans. "Ditz" may not be the proper term to describe someone who departs the show by marrying a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and going on to promote environmental and humanitarian causes.

And why haul out the whole "Jo vs. Sarah" argument, anyway? They made nice on The Sarah Jane Adventures, and who are we to disagree? Plus, when it comes down to it, the best Third Doctor companion is Sergeant Benton. Deal with it, John Nathan-Turner!
Amanda Holling
15. amandaholling
I have a big old soft spot for "Doctor Who and the Silurians," so I'd have swapped out...something?...and put it on the list. But you've done a great job picking the essentials of Jon Pertwee's era!
16. Brian Mac
This is an unenviable task, because I could certainly make an argument that "The Silurians" and "Inferno" are both essential episodes, but I'd also want to limit it to just one from Pertwee's first season. As tough a call as it is, I think I'd go with "Inferno" over "Spearhead," but only by a whisker.

That allows me to insert "Terror of the Autons" as the episode featuring the Master, because he's just so very Master-y in that story, cold-bloodedly murdering people who get in his way, and escaping at the end when nobody thinks he could.

I think the only clunker you've got in here is "The Daemons." Classic lines or not, I just never bought the Master as somebody to go dabbling in magic and raising old gods in order to seize power, as opposed to just doing it on his own.

No consideration for "The Three Doctors"? I know that multi-Doctor stories are generally not very good from a plot perspective, but "The Three Doctors" is probably the best of the ones we have, and it did set up a lot of Time Lord mythology, as well as lifting the Doctor's exile.
alastair chadwin
17. a-j
I would have put in 'The Claws of Axos' if only for the few scenes when the Doctor seems to be genuinely tempted to abandon Earth to an unpleasant fate if it means getting his freedom back. And one of Peladon stories perhaps? Haven't seen them for years, but remember loving them at the time.
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
Jo Grant is the main reason why I was always less than impressed with Rose Tyler, because they're basically the same character, except transposed from the 1970s to the 2000s.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
19. caedocyon
I haven't seen all his episodes, which is ridiculous because Third is one of my favorite Doctors. However, Inferno is definitely on my list (just great all around), and so is The Mind of Evil (okay, yes, mostly for the bit where the Master invades the Doctor's personal space, tries to kill him, panics when he thinks he's succeeded, and practically kisses him when he turns out to have survived).
Christopher Bennett
20. ChristopherLBennett
@18: Except that Jo generally didn't get the appreciation she deserved (see my earlier comments re: "The Daemons") whereas Rose was showered with admiration.

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