THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Empire of Glass
BBC
The Three Doctors

Episodes 4 The clown, the dandy, and the original (you might say).
Story No# 65
Production Code RRR
Season 10
Dates Dec. 30, 1972 -
Jan. 20, 1973

With Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, William Hartnell,
Katy Manning, Nicolas Courtney, John Levine.
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.
Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed Lennie Mayne. Produced by Barry Letts.

Synopsis: The first three Doctors are reunited to halt an energy drain that threatens the fabric of space and time.


Reviews

A Review by Keith Bennett 9/4/98

The first of what could be called a sub-genre of Doctor Who has a thought-dead Time Lord legend Omega actually still alive, living in his own world of anti-matter and attempting to revenge his people who left him for dead by means of a Black Hole. The Time Lords want the Doctor to help them, but when they find he too is in trouble, they call back his previous self, and then his self before that, to help him in his battle.

The tenth Anniversary of Doctor Who was the reason for this nostalgia trip, and the chief highlight is the wonderful interplay between Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton, plus the treat of seeing the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton going for a trip in the TARDIS, making up, somewhat, of the unfortunate situation of an unwell William Hartnell having to just be used in a few spare scenes on the scanner.

The story in general is not particularly rivetting stuff, and terribly padded at times, particularly in Episode Two, but fairly entertaining all the same, with Omega making a... reasonable mad villain. The programme's had better, but also worse.

Overall, The Three Doctors is highligted by the fun performances of its leads - and also finishing with The Doctor finally able to head off on his TARDIS travels around the universe after his exile to Earth. 6/10


Safety in Numbers by Paul X 14/7/98

Season 10 opened by celebrating the show's history featuring the first multiple Doctor story. Patrick Troughton returned as well as William Hartnell, in a much smaller role due to declining health. Omega appears for the first time planning to seek revenge on the Time Lords. The story features no real monsters except a blobby thing & a few Gell-guards w/flaming claws. The real conflict arises between the Doctor(s) & Omega. The boys of UNIT are mostly along for the ride.

Patrick Troughton really steals the show away from Pertwee, who was beginning to become a little stale after three years as the Doctor. It is easy to see why Patrick Troughton remains so popular despite the fact that the majority of his stories are missing. As in The Two Doctors, he manages to outshine the incumbent Doctor. Troughton easily slips back into his role as the eccentric-genius complementing the more traditionally-serious Pertwee. Pertwee gives a solid performance but is clearly out shined by his predecessor. Although nicely played out, their bickering wears on the nerves a bit. Hartnell's presence is a nice touch, but the viewer can't help but notice the shaky performance & gaps in dialog because of Hartnell's poor health. Still, it's great fun to see the First Doctor correcting his other two incarnations like schoolboys.

At this point in the third Doctor's reign, UNIT was relegated to a bunch of half-wits rather than a top-secret task force specialized in dealing w/extra-terrestrial phenomena. And despite some nice interaction with the second Doctor, the Brigadier does not have many good moments in this story. His obstinate denial of situations is puzzling. His characterization is way off. After all they've been through, I find the Brigadier's refusal to accept the Doctor's explanations in this story ridiculous. Benton's characterization overall is pretty well handled as he seems to accept the unbelievable situation that has befallen him, like Jamie McCrimmon during the second Doctor's tenure. Yates is absent, but nobody really notices.

Omega is a tragic victim. His anguish & thirst for revenge is believable & executed well by Stephen Thorne's booming voice. The universe he inhabits does not reflect the great power he seems to command. The fortress scenes are rather plain; the gell-guards are not realized well. The battle between the Third Doctor & the dark side of Omega's mind is particularly embarrassing. Pertwee really looks like a fragile old man in these fight sequences. However, the Troughton's manipulative baiting of Omega demonstrates the second Doctor's depth beneath his clownish exterior. The inclusion of the Second Doctor's recorder is a nice light touch, especially Troughton's dismay at its demise.

In conclusion, seeing all three actors together outweighs the negatives of some bad supporting characterizations, special effects, & sets. Because of all the multiple Doctor attention, I wouldn't call it one of Pertwee's best. In fact, I think it's probably the weakest of all the multiple Doctor adventures, which isn't necessarily a negative comment. It is probably best appreciated for it's nostalgic role in the show's history.


A Review by Leo Vance 11/11/98

If ever there was a good idea, it was to have 'all the Doctors together'. It works.

This story is virtually entirely good. At the centre is a superb performance by Patrick Troughton, well supported by Jon Pertwee. The comedy in this story makes it more like Season Eleven than Ten, but this is centrally based on Troughton. The 'dandy and a clown' exchange is truly hilarious, and William Hartnell is inspiringly good. Katy Manning for once overcomes her incompetence, and John Levene simply can't fail given a comedy role. Nor can Nicholas Courtney. His refusal to accept they're not on Earth, and that the Second Doctor has come from the past is hilarious. The byplay between Pertwee and Troughton is marvelous, and the recorder is a wonderful element of the story. The 'organism' is an excellent monster.

On the bad side, the Gallifreyans, while reasonable, fail to measure up to high standard set by the Doctors, and the Gell Guards, while no worse than-say, Arcturus from The Curse of Peladon, are a bit silly.

Generally, I think the decision to write a comedy story in 1972 was the right one. The Pertwee/Troughton interaction would have been great to see once more after 1973, but unfortunately, but for some brief scenes in The Five Doctors, it didn't happen.

All in all, this is a great story. Also, it has the magical it, that lifts it from great to classic for me. 10/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/5/99

As a celebratory story, The Three Doctors serves its purpose well. It reunites the Doctors, although William Hartnell is effectively sidelined from the beginning, due to ill health. Patrick Troughton steals the show, a lot of this being due to the comic nature of his Doctor, and the banter with Jon Pertwee works well also.

Stephen Thorne is also worthy of mention here, with his portrayal of Omega as a bitter and vengeful being, largely through voice alone. The fight inside Omega`s mind is also nicely realised, mainly because of the visuals here.

Unfortunately,the depiction of UNIT is terrible, for a start Mike Yates doesn`t feature at all, and secondly The Brigadier is reduced to little more than a charicature. Katy Manning`s Jo Grant doesn`t fare much better either, often being overshadowed by Troughton and Pertwee. The inclusion of Mr Ollis seems unnecessary, and the Gallifreyans also are at odds as to what had been seen previously.

Worst of all, however must be the depiction of the Gel Guards, who seem too cumbersome, and are visually unthreatening to pose any real danger. Another fault also has to the script. The Doctor has been in tighter scrapes than this before and pulled through, so why did it take three incarnations to get him out of this one. Despite all this, it is difficult not to like The Three Doctors, and it is worth watching for the Troughton/Pertwee interplay, and to see the Doctor`s exile lifted.


A Review by Lance McKinley 26/6/00

A classic, this story nevertheless gets slammed a bit for its silly jelly glob bad guys and exceptionally (even for Doctor Who) hokey plot. However, to focus on these aspects is to miss what makes this story a classic, as evidenced by the story's title. The verbal dueling and jabbing between the 2nd and the 3rd Doctors, with the Brig occasionally jumping in to shout his exasperation at the whole thing, is what makes this story so good. I particularly like how the 2nd Doctor seems to take such pleasure in needling the Brig, even more so than the 3rd. It is a pleasure to see the 2nd Doctor in action again. Indeed, Patrick Troughton had a nasty trick of stealing the show whenever invited back, and he doesn't give Pertwee's Doctor a moment's rest in this story. It was unfortunate that William Hartnell could not participate beyond a couple of taped scenes due to his declining health. The 1st Doctor would, of course, have quickly put his later incarnations in their place so much better in person, though he still succeeds even from a video monitor. Anyway, although this is Doctor Who at its cheesiest, it is also Doctor Who at its best, letting the characters play off each other so hilariously rather than worrying about big sets and nice laser effects.


Looking forward, looking back by Andrew Wixon 14/11/01

Is it The Three Doctors already? Dearie me, two months to (re)view the first nine-and-a-bit years of the series, how time flies. But one advantage of doing the quasi-Time Team bit is that you do get a small but palpable nostalgic buzz out of stories like this one. Crucially though, The Three Doctors isn't dependent on continuity and past glories for its own success.

The story works on a number of levels. First of all, it's just a rollicking good yarn, told extremely well. Something interesting is never more than a few minutes away - whether that be a good joke, or an explosion, or a startling plot development. A couple of things mark it out as special - an attack directed at UNIT and the Time Lords themselves, for one, and subtle things like Benton (his best role) and the Brig actually going off on an adventure for another. Solid performances all round don't hurt either - and Stephen Thorne's Omega is several notches up from solid, his howl at discovering his corroded state chilled my spine. So what if Omega's creations (who on Earth decided to call them Gell Guards...?) are a bit rubbish and we're back in the quarry for most of the location shoot, that's what we expect of Doctor Who.

Then, of course, there are the glances back at the heritage of the series. Of course Billy Hartnell's incapacity is a flaw here, but the story is strong enough to overcome this problem (unlike in The Five Doctors, with its' simplistic 'quest' narrative). It sounds silly but I was delighted to see Patrick Troughton back again: he slips the story into a capacious pocket and runs off with it, reminding me why I like him so much more than Pertwee. He manages to be funny and likeable and clearly a formidable opponent at the same time and provides most of the jokes - my favourite probably being Omega's baffled 'Are you sure you and he are of the same intelligence?' There are nearly all the Pertwee standards here too, apart from the Officious Civil Servant - we've got the Army, the Evil Time Lord, the Government Installation, the Scientist Out Of His Depth, and the Yokel.

But The Three Doctors looks ahead, too. The lifting of the exile paves the way for the series to resume its peripatetic format, albeit with the maturity and sophistication instilled into it by Letts and Dicks. The storyline itself reflects the cartoony space opera of much of Pertwee's last two years in the role. And, regrettably, this is the story that irrevocably destroys the Brigadier as a serious character. It also marks the Doctor's first excursion into the realm of 'hideous technicolour velvets' to quote another, wiser reviewer.

But these are mere quibbles. This is an enjoyable celebratory reunion, but also works as a 'proper' DW story - and that makes it the best of its kind, as well as the first. Many happy returns.


The first reunion show by Tim Roll-Pickering 9/4/02

In a nice touch, the story which begins the Doctor's exile to Earth starts off with a poacher discovering a strange object coming to Earth whilst the end of the story which ends the exile sees a gamekeeper coming to Earth! There's thus an interesting symmetry in this story which provides for many contrasts, most notably between Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton's different styles of acting.

The idea of several different incarnations of the Doctor coming together to fight a great menace may now seem like an obvious move that has at times been done to death but this is the very first of the reunions and it's a surprise that it took so many ideas for the idea to finally make it onscreen. Whilst William Hartnell's contribution is extremely limited and thus comes across as an old man at the end of his life (as Hartnell indeed was and also how his Doctor was last seen in The Tenth Planet), Patrick Troughton returns to the part as though he never left it and at times even outshines Jon Pertwee. Unfortunately Jo thus has less to do in the story, whilst UNIT is used for a few action sequences before the headquarters is transported to the anti-matter world. However both the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton get to demonstrate their strengths without the support of their men and so both characters shine strongly, even though the Brigadier's slowness to accept that he has been transported to an entirely different universe is a little hard to accept given the number of extraordinary events he has by now witnessed.

Stephen Thorne brings to Omega an immensely strong presence, making the character seem all the more real when he discovers how he has become truly trapped, whilst the Time Lords come across as powerful enough to make the threat truly all great. Both Laurie Webb (Ollis) and Rex Robinson (Tyler) give good performances showing how even advanced Earth science cannot comprehend what is going on but more simple survival methods work.

However the story is let down heavily by the special effects. The idea of a jelly like entity that can form itself into anything is a good one on paper but just fails to work as either a primitive video effect or as man in a blob suit. The monsters thus look cheap and unconvincing and this is a real letdown for such a strong story. If the story were made today then CGI could easily make the blobs far more realistic whilst still resembling the design of Omega's citadel. As it stands however the story has dated extremely poorly.

Scriptwise, the tale is strong, packing in so much that there is little padding or time for any weaknesses in the plot to be exposed. There's little depth in the story or exploration of the consequences of the three different Doctors all meeting one another but this does not matter what is essentially an almost pantomime reunion of the Doctors, originally broadcast in a post-Christmas period. It is an appropriately upbeat story that ends the Doctor's exile whilst at the same time telling a good tale. 8/10


A Review by Terrence Keenan 3/5/02

This is an odd story to review. I hadn't seen it in ages. Didn't remember much except that it involved Omega and all three TV Doctors.

Notes from the viewing:

  1. UNIT is really played for comedy this time, especially the Brig, which is a shame. Nick Courtney is buffoonish and unbelievable. John Levene, normally the comic relief, actually gets treated better.
  2. Jo is inconsistent and quite annoying in this. Her scream really grates on the nerves.
  3. Stephen Thorne was wise to play Omega very OTT. He's your typical raving maniac. Interesting twist of fate for him.
  4. Troughton was good fun, his bantering with Pertwee is the highlight. However, despite his line reading, I thought that Hartnell quietly stole the show from his fellow Doctors in his limited appearances.
  5. The fight with the Mr Sin prototype was surreal. Is that what a battle of wills is supposed to look like?
  6. I try not to criticize DW special effects, but the antimatter organism was really cheesy. The gel guards weren't much better either, but we won't hold it against the show. The UNIT HQ going down the black hole was a true LOL moment.
  7. The Bessie theme was just bad. The rest of the music was typical Pertwee tuneless synth stuff.
The Verdict?

It's an anniversary, so I'm willing to be more lenient. The Docs are all good, although Jon gets upstaged by both his predecessors. Not bad, but it could have been much better.


"So you're my replacements, a dandy and a clown!" by Joe Ford 8/12/02

There are many great things about The Three Doctors which I must mention. The very idea of bringing the three Doctors together to fight an evil foe is ingenious, and a sure ratings puller. Patrick Troughton is on such form that he steals the rug from everybody else. The story of Omega and his influence on Time Lord society is very interesting and continues the Jon Pertwee era tradition of filling in the blanks to some of the shows roots. And Stephen Thorne is majestic as Omega, a powerful voice holding together a complicated character.

Unforntunately all this good work goes for nought because The Three Doctors is lumbered with possibly the worst production the show has ever had. The mind boggles because this should be the budget breaker of the year but instead we have the excellent production values of Carnival of Monsters and Frontier in Space and a real shoddy leftovers production for this story. Bob Baker and Dave Martin have written a good script that, with the right budget, could have been one of the best. Unfortunately we have flat location work, wobbly sets and FX that wouldn't pass in a children's schools programme!

The Gell gaurds. Ahem. What the hell were they all about? Was the designer on speed? I know they only had a limited time and resources to build these monsters but these really are crap. And why do they make a noise as if they have bad indigestion? Every time they appear I burst out laughing... especially when that wooden UNIT guard exclaims "Holy Moses!" When the Pertwee era gave us delights such as Silurians, Mutants and Sea Devils there is no excuse for such a lapse, especially in the anniversary story.

We've come a stage now where UNIT headquarters is just one room. The Doctor lab... hmm and even that isn't the most sophisticated of sets. The bubbly corridors of Omega's palace are laughable too and even the TARDIS is pretty creaky this time around. And the location work... just another quarry, how marvellous but it's just so featureless and dull and filmed without and sense of excitement.

I'd say the first episode is the worst, it is so bland in a way that only people who know the Pertwee format inside out can experience. The Brigadier is such a half-wit these days so that even Sargeant Benton has more of a head on him! When Troughton finally arrives I was so glad, his acidic comments and breathless action up the ante considerably. The inclusion of Hartnell at this stage was prtobably a mistake because you can tell how obviously slotted into the plot his filmed bits are. It is, of course, lovely to have him back but I would have preferred him to be more in thick of things arguing loads with Troughton but alas, health prevents it.

This is perhaps the ultimate story where its very success is held up by the charisma of the actors involved. How they kept a straight face whilst being marched around by the Gell Gaurds is credit to them all! It is the dramatic third and fourth episodes which impress the most with some more information about the Time Lords' early days and Omega's involvement with the time travel experiements. These scenes with Troughton and Pertwee bouncing off each other with particular relish are superb.

I can't bring myself to dislike The Three Doctors even though the production does try my patience. It has a good heart, the performances are all very well and the script is quite solid. You shouldn't listen to me anyway, Simon watched this with me and loved every second of it. He told me I was on critical overload again. It's a sort of pantomime story (lots of fantastical elements) so rather fittingly it has a pantomime production. Unfortunately it isn't a good pantomime production. And that's a pity.


A Review by Will Berridge 5/3/03

I can recall being positively enraptured at my first opportunity to view this at the tender age of ten. Pertwee was my favourite Doctor, on the basis my mum told me he was the best, and so I mostly bought videos with him in. (He’s gone down four places in the rankings since then.) Seeing him in an anniversary story, which at the time I rather naively assumed were good by definition, along with Troughton, Hartnell and the whole UNIT crew together, was enough to keep me excited throughout four episodes without paying to much attention to the plotline.

Which is just as well, because if you take away Troughton and Pertwee’s magnificent interplay (especially when the recorder comes up) what remains is a pretty shoddy story. In fact the whole first two episodes consist of the many regulars faffing around with some red blobs and the writers trying to take the mickey out of the UNIT characters. A character’s irrelevance to the plot has never been made so painfully evident as when the Brigadier desperately states ‘Yes, but is there anything UNIT can do?’. With nothing constructive for the Brig to achieve, Baker and Martin decide to send him up completely, most notably with his ‘Liberty Hall, Dr Tyler, Liberty Hall!’ remark. He seems to be unable to accept anything that happens in the whole story, trying to substitute explanations that fit the somewhat limited scope of him imagination –‘I’m fairly sure that’s Cromer…’ (It’s not a beach! It’s a QUARRY!),‘so that’s what you’ve been doing with UNIT funds all these years’, and most stubbornly, ‘you’ve been tinkering around with that infernal machine of yours again, that’s what’s caused it’. In reference to the last quote, the Brig seems to view that Doctor and the TARDIS rather as my dad views me and our new television. He doesn’t understand it one bit, so if something goes wrong it’s the result of the person who does ‘tinkering around with it’. Hmmph. It’s not that I don’t mind military figures being caricatured as pompous numbskulls - but so long as it only happens once or twice an episode. And for someone in charge of a taskforce investigating alien intelligences, you might expect the Brig to have a slightly higher credulity threshold.

Benton is treated just as badly in this story, with his eagerness to try and blast a blob of anti-matter to pieces, despite the Doctor’s constant assertion this will achieve precisely nothing, and the fact he has already had recourse to that famous line ‘our weapons our useless’. It’s clear that not being able to shoot anything, all alien races being immune to bullets, is causing the poor bloke to have an identity crisis. In the end he resorts to throwing a piece of chewing gum at it, which causes enough trouble. It’s conceivable that, since the Doctor was getting his freedom to roam time and space again at the end of this adventure, the writers decided the Brig and Benton weren’t going to be used much more and hence their characterisation could go down the tubes, just to demonstrate how keen the Doctor would be to get away from these morons. A pity, because Nick Courtney rose above this stereotyping in many of his later appearances, most notably Battlefield.

Jo Grant again is painful to watch, especially in her ‘Oh no I want to stay with you Doctor’ moments. If these bits were well written or acted, they might work. But they’re not.

Things pick up in Episodes 3 and 4, Omega turning out to be a suitably psychopathic, egotistical and tragic villain brought to life by lots of pained wailing and yelling of ‘I can destroy, therefore I am!’ from Stephen Thorne. But his pet ‘Gell guards’ rank somewhere just above Erato and just below the Ergon in the credibility ratings. And it seems a little curious that the Doctor, and 450 year old Time Lord of supposedly massive intellect, can only describe them as ‘some kind of very powerful organism-thing’. (Well, he did only graduate from Prydon academy with 51% at the second attempt- maybe the first paper was on anti-matter). At least the Brig seems more at home in Episode 3 (‘We’ll take the place by storm. Full scale assault with all the resources available.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘That, Mr Ollis, means you and me.’) but the combined function of all the regulars in the narrative still only seems to be (a) providing light entertainment (b) giving the Doctors someone to rescue. Sadly Episode 3 climaxes in the least convincing ‘mental battle’ scenes in the show’s history, as the Doctor tussles with a peculiarly dressed Hobgoblin, Omega claims he is about to destroy him, and then, after the cliffhanger, changes his mind.

However, the Doctor was always the best thing about the show, so the fact this story has three of him makes up for most of these deficiencies. Even William Hartnell, stuck on a TV monitor and having to turn to his right and squint before every line, is at his crotchety best. His deliver of the line ‘so you’re my replacements! A dandy and a clown!’, and subsequent expression on faces of Pertwee and Troughton, is inspired. Just concentrate on these three and ignore everything else. 7/10.


Three Doctors - just give us the Doctors, and leave the rest please by Steve Cassidy 21/3/04

Why is there something highly amusing about two old men squabbling?

This is the highlight in the pedestrian Three Doctors - the verbal interplay between Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton. The chemistry between the two veteran actors is superb and reinforces the suggestion I have had nagging away at me for years - that the Doctor wouldn't get on with himself. Ditch the Carnaby Street companions, I say, just put Troughton and Pertwee in the TARDIS, and then watch the ratings soar.

The rest of the adventure doesn't quite live up to the pairing of the two entertaining thesps. The UNIT family and their cue cards is very much in evidence here, and we visit yet another Dorset quarry doubling as an alien planet. The plot, that of the Time Lords power being drained by an ancient legend who refused to lie down and die is intriguing but we are just asked to accept so much - the whole of UNIT HQ dragged through a 'timebridge' to an alien planet. Of course as this is a gimmick set of adventures we have to squeeze alot of Dr Who iconography in as well ie 'Bessie', the Brigadier etc. The Brigadier is at his best when he is used sparingly - here we overdose on Lethbridge Stewart introducing him into the TARDIS interior and letting him roam around Omega's day-glo HQ.

And that is another thing about this adventure - it has dated horribly. Omega's palace looks like something out of Selfridge's 'Christmas Grotto' 1972. And the production design all around just looks awful - but I suspect it even looked garish back then. The Gell guards look like something put together by sixformers bored in an art class and the 'dark side' of Omega looks like a midget who escaped from a tatoo parlour.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but I expected more. I don't really care about Lucasfilm effects - just give me a good script and a scenario that I can believe in. There are some very good points to The Three Doctors. The story isn't bad - an old Time Lord legend trying to drain the powers of Gallifrey because of bitterness and loneliness. In fact I rather liked Omega, he was a power-crazed meglomaniac - but you could understand why. Millions of years trapped on a planet of his own creation has driven him mad. And although Stephen Thorne as Omega has been derided by some but I rather liked the pantomine villain quality of this character. The way he is all swishing robes and mad rantings. I suppose he had to be OTT to hold his own gainst Troughton and Pertwee.

Another plus point is William Hartnell. Thankfully he is used sparingly as he is stuck in a time-loop. When he does appear on the TARDIS monitor his entry is accompanied a twinkling music - like a beatific Uncle Remus. His famous line of "so you are my replacements... a dandy and a clown" gets a big laugh mainly due to the looks of indignation from Pertwee and Troughton. It's a shame it is obvious he is reading from cue cards - but is good to see Bill Hartnell again.

All in all, this is an entertaining interlude but not a great one. It languishes on my video shelf and only occasionally is watched. For me there is too much of the UNIT family and not enough meat on the bone. Where it does work is in the dialogue between two of the most popular Doctors, the impish Troughton and the uptight Jon Pertwee. Personally I would have been happy to just have the pair locked in the TARDIS control room and arguing for four episodes. I don't need elaborate special effects, bomb lobbing cell guards or 'space corridors'.

Just give me two eccentric old men hamming it up to the ceiling and I'll be very happy.


A Review by Rob Matthews 26/3/04

Might be odd for a Letts/Pertwee indifference-monkey like myself, but I must fess up to a certain liking for The Three Doctors.

Well, that's no crime, you may say - who amongst us doesn't enjoy the 'a dandy and a clown' stuff and Pat Troughton saying 'I told you he had no self-control'? Aha, but here's the twist: what I really like about The Three Doctors, even moreso than the bickering of the three Doctors themselves is... gasp!... it's story!!

There's a whole slew of provisos that come with that statement, of course; I'm not about to claim that it's some kind of classic or even a major personal favourite. I mean, it's flabby and lumbered with Petwee era-isms like missing poachers and a buffoonish Brigadier. And frankly I doubt I'd shell out twenty quid to own it on DVD. But on its own terms as the dated TV serial it is, I like what's at the core.

Long story short, attempting for once to be brief, it's Doctor Who's definitive take on the martyr concept.

In that seminal semiotic thickness-fest The Unfolding Text there's a comparison made between the Doctor's 'Could you then kill that child?' speech and a similiar moral poser out of Dostoievsky (or however its spelled): If the price to pay for a perfect world was the torturing to death of a single man, could you really do that to the poor bugger? (I'm paraphrasing).

Well, here it's Omega who takes the role of our nominal poor bugger, sacrificed for the good of his society; and not to torture and death, but to the torture of an eternal living death. Abandoned and presumed dead by his people, who've gone on to become possibly the most powerful civilisation in all the universe, he's lumbered with an eternal existence in a total self-referential world with only himself and the occasional chair or sack of jelly he conjures up for company. They say hell is other people, but I betcha Omega would beg to differ: Hell is himself, and it's left him so hollow in spirit that he is in fact literally hollow - a crazy-looking costume walking around with nothing physically left of him inside. It's a really striking moment when his mask is lifted, my favourite non-bickering-Doctor moment of the story, and as it stands the 'ballad of Omega' is IMO quite a stark expressionistic rendering of sheer solipsistic despair.

Course, it's one thing to talk about expressionsim and philosophical conundra, and quite another to hold back the chuckles when the Gel guards first jiggle across the UNIT car park saying 'wobba-wobba! Wobba-Wobba!'. Were this not a multi-Doctor story with that inbuilt 'Troughtwee' factor there'd probably also be a few yawns to stifle along the way. But here's what I think - The Three Doctors is very much children's Doctor Who. Season 7, as was pointed out by Mike Morris once, was a period of Doctor Who ahead of its time in terms of its more adult and textured approach, and really after that the Perwee years are the 'growing pain' years of Doctor Who, their tone veering from story to story between the outright kids' show of the black-and-white days and the more considered approaches of scribes like Malcolm Hulke and Robert Holmes.

Amidst this, The Three Doctors drops firmly, like a stone in fact, into the kids' show bracket. It's cheerfully childish and pantomime-like in terms of design - you almost suspect there was a failed plan to produce Gel Guard sweeties, so edible do they look; Omega's palace is a sort of Aladdin's cave affair, and the control room set representing the Time Lord world (not yet 'Gallifrey', remember) is all upbeat dayglo colours, a world away from the haunted house look of The Deadly Assassin a few years later.

And yet within that context... well, in it's own way this is the junior Deadly Assassin. Inasmuch as, it's the first sighting a rotten apple in the Time Lord barrel. It's the first inkling we get that the all-powerful all-benevolent wizards of The War Games have had to pay a price for their power. There's certainly still no question that they're the good guys at this point, but Bob Baker and Dave Martin provide the show's first manifestation of doubt as to whether a civilisation that appears above reproach, pain or any mere human concerns (even death itself, it was suggested in The War Games) could actually be so. It's a first inevitable hint of an 'adult' cynicism cracking the children's show ethos, a first movement in the trajectory towards the brilliant irreverent masterstrokes of Robert Holmes and the similiarly conceived - yet much more badly received by fans - 'paranoid downers' of Eric Saward (or 'fat Eric' as a recent reviewer dubbed him, Dorothy Parker-like). Omega's like an Edvard Munch painting rendered in the colour palette of a Mr Men book.

Hmm, so is that what I like about it, then? It's a lot of fun and has childish trimmings but it shows signs of being edgy, inquisitive and suspicious of anyone who'd claim to have created a paradise without attendant pain?

I suppose so. Pessimism or not, that sounds like Doctor Who in a nutshell to me.


A Review of the DVD by Andrew McCaffrey 11/5/04

I like The Three Doctors, flawed though it is. It's overall just rompy escapism, rather than the hard-edged drama we saw during Pertwee's first year, but at this season, that's mostly what we expect. The serial gets a big boost from its cast. Not just the other two Doctors, but Stephen Thorne who puts serious gravitas into his villainous Omega. The Three Doctors isn't quite sure what it wants to be. Omega's story feels almost gothic in substance, while the comic relief portions almost override everything else. Mix that together with all the padding, and you're left with a bit of a mess, albeit a well-meaning, entertaining one.

It's fitting that a story ending with the Doctor regaining his freedom is primarily concerned with a tragic figure attempting to grasp his own. It's a shame Omega doesn't get a good chunk of screen-time until episode three; he's the best thing here. The Time Lords' great power coming at the cost of one man's imprisonment and torment. One man making a sacrifice, to set his people up above the very Gods. That and his Catch-22 dilemma make for enthralling viewing. Thorne plays it perfectly, giving Omega a dark, sad anger -- full of power and menace. It's a pity that all this great storytelling comes in the middle of "...that's Cromer out there..." and the constantly belching Gel Guards.

Troughton easily steals every scene he appears in. ("This is a show Jon Pertwee stole from Pat Troughton. He's stealin' it back.") Between accidentally breaking the Brigadier's radio and subtly probing the limits of Omega's self-control, he shows himself to be the ultimate Doctor -- always entertaining and always in command. Points off for not showing us him briefing the UN Security Council... That would have been a hoot! William Hartnell is charming. Fan of Hartnell's Doctor that I am, it's great to see him back for one final adventure. Sadly, because of his health, it's more nostalgia that I feel rather than genuine enthusiasm, but he's still a lot of fun in his brief appearances.

The script, which seems excited at the epic story of Omega's fall, feels oddly tired at other points. Tedious and awkward are the scenes of the Time Lords watching the proceedings from their distant world. The argument for allowing the Doctor meet his other selves boils down to "I must!" and counter arguments are dissuaded with "On the contrary, blah blah blah, I must!" Not exactly Socrates' Apology. There's also some plot sloppiness. For example, at the end of episode three, the Time Lords suddenly know a lot more then they did before, without explanation as to how.

The science in this serial is, well, at least they tried to make it sound scientific. But I think even the most scientific-illiterate would realize grass doesn't grow underneath buildings and black holes don't go around sucking in and farting out Mr. Holises...

The rest of the script seems to consist of nothing but padding: corridor running (which Tyler even comments on being a waste of time), people being captured, and the never-ending farewell scene, which is undercut when they're reunited moments later (although Nick Courtney's performance in those minutes instantly forgives the mockery his character underwent in the rest of the serial).

"This is a place. Just like any other place," states Pertwee, looking around at a rock quarry, which indeed looks like every other place he visited. For being the tenth anniversary special, outside of the guest stars the serial doesn't look very special. The battle sequences in episode one aren't effectively directed. This is a long way from Ambassadors of Death's fight scenes. The UNIT troops don't even bother taking cover; they just stand right out in the open. Barry Letts rightly criticizes the sets on Omega's world for being too pantomime. The cheaply made sets look exactly like cheaply made sets. If only they could have shot Omega's throne room on location in some run-down castle...

As for the DVD extras, I've not been a huge fan of some of the fluff that gets put on these discs, but I must admit to being tickled this time. The Pebble Mill piece is hilarious. The production notes are great, with a lot of focus on earlier script drafts/ideas ("Deathworld" seems more interesting than what we got). Even the commentary (often the weakest link on these DVDs) sparkles. The best formula seems to be a mix of production crew and actors, and that heuristic is true again. Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney's anecdotes and clowning are amusing, and Barry Letts' dry comments are always informative. But one thing: couldn't we have had Terrence Dicks on the commentary track too?

Review Extras. Things may which amuse only me, but I'm including anyway:

  1. Omega has great powers. In his domain, everything is possible, because he can make things jump in and out of the frame like he's a student film director.
  2. Omega claims that the Doctors must eventually wear masks such as his. A pity they never did that. Can you imagine Troughton clowning with that big headdress on? Comedy gold!
  3. Despite the fact that the anti-matter thing ate all of Mr. Hollis, only his screaming face appears on the photographic slide; presumably, this was the closest part of him to the cosmic-ray detector device. Lucky for him it wasn't his butt that was closest. They'd still be trying to identify it.
  4. The thought-transference stuff meant switching the camera quickly between shots of Pertwee and Troughton. It goes so fast that it almost looks like subliminal advertising. And I can tell you that after watching these scenes, I was strangely hungry for a giant nose.
  5. In all of Troughton's three post-War Games appearances, he's involved in a plot that has him running around yelping about Time Lords. Given that they weren't even formally introduced until his final episode, this has always struck me as being slightly wrong somehow...


A Review by Finn Clark 6/7/06

The Three Doctors is a load of old tat, according to conventional wisdom. However some people say the same about The Five Doctors and the entire Pertwee era. Personally I think it's a genuinely strong story. It has great characters and some of Doctor Who's best comedy... in all seriousness, I laughed more at The Three Doctors than I did at City of Death. Gellguards aside, what's not to like? Admittedly it looks silly, but we're Doctor Who fans. We should be able to see past that.

The reason to watch episodes 1-3 is the comedy between the regulars, who are fantastic. Dr Tyler and Sam Whatsit don't add much (although I loved Sam's last line at the end of episode four), but they don't matter. The Three Doctors knows who its stars are and cuts back everything else to maximise their screen time.

Troughton doesn't exactly underplay his role, but that wasn't his specialty in the 1960s either. The always-impressive Nicholas Courtney makes good lines look fantastic... this is famously the Brigadier's "I'm pretty sure that's Cromer" story, but somehow he actually avoids looking like an idiot. He's wrong, but for character-based reasons rather than plain stupidity. Nick Courtney gives us a man who's always found the Doctor trying but is now discovering that Troughton could give even Pertwee lessons in stretching your patience. The Doctors work together wonderfully, of course. Troughton and Pertwee were both masters of comic acting, while there's a freshness to their scenes since their Doctors had never previously had to operate in anything like this kind of relationship.

William Hartnell is okay. Sadly the poor man's condition meant that he had to read his lines off a cue card and only appear on a monitor, which simplified the plot but means that his Doctor has none of the force and power of which Hartnell was perfectly capable. He also looks strange on the TARDIS scanner. He's orange. He gets a good line or two, but as a performance it's pretty sad compared to his usual standards.

Benton makes a good companion, incidentally. Like Jo Grant, the character has an endearing "I may not be very bright but I'm doing my best" earnestness about him. I'm also glad that Richard Franklin took time off to direct a play, because Captain Yates was the one UNIT regular who hadn't met Troughton and he might have diluted the byplay.

The story's other big plus is Omega, who's a wonderful creation. I'm tempted to call him Doctor Who's finest villain, a Shakespearian figure of tragedy and complexity. The Master and often even Davros are simply evil. They appear in better stories than poor Omega, but they're rent-a-baddies who can be inserted into a random script and left to get on with their latest Plan For World Domination. However I wasn't kidding when I called Omega Shakespearian. He's like Prospero's deranged twin, if he'd been stranded on his island for ten million years. We feel his tragedy. He earns our sympathy even when we realise that he's become a ranting monster intent on destroying everything.

Omega's story is the most iconic in Doctor Who's mythology, but he's not just an eye-catching high concept. The character has depth and complexity too. Stephen Thorne manages to fit a surprising amount of naturalism into a performance that's necessarily full of declamation, theatricality and over-the-top ranting. Compare with Season Sixteen's godawful Pirate Captain for instance. You never doubt the power, grandeur and insanity of the man, but at the same time he feels real. His childishness extends beyond those temper tantrums. When he's thwarted, he almost cries! I love the way Stephen Thorne puts a crack in his voice at that point. I now want to rewatch Arc of Infinity, especially Davison's performance as Omega in its final episode, and those aren't words you'll hear too often. He even has a personification of the dark side of his mind! On top of that part four's revelation is a great SF twist, giving Omega yet another black irony.

The obvious comparison with The Three Doctors is The Wizard of Oz (but this time there really isn't a man behind the curtain, ho ho), but I'm going to suggest The Tempest. Both stories are about an exiled king-in-waiting who becomes a wizard and creates a magical storm to summon his usurpers to his island. Both are full of magic, or at least the Doctor Who technobabble equivalent. Both are more interested in character and theatricality than plot.

The Gallifrey scenes are okay. In episode one they're ghastly, pissing away any grandeur the story might have had with horrible technobabbly dialogue and po-faced uncomprehending delivery, but things improve in later episodes when we can see how much trouble they're in. Incidentally two of the three actors credited here as Time Lords had also played such parts previously. Clyde Pollitt was in The War Games and Graham Leaman was in Colony in Space. The better-known example of The Deadly Assassin's Chancellor Goth also being in The War Games was just a coincidence, Bernard Horsfall being one of David Maloney's favourite actors. All four of his Doctor Who roles were in Maloney-directed stories! However it seems clear that here Lennie Mayne was deliberately casting former Time Lords.

We see some minor traditions of multi-Doctor stories.

  1. Bessie will get teleported along with the 3rd Doctor.
  2. One of the Doctors will get trapped on a TV screen, thus freeing up story space for the others.
  3. It's always the latest incarnation who does the actual investigation. He's still the hero. His predecessors are just colourful guest stars.
I adore the Gellguards. The weird multicoloured blob is freaky enough to look effective, but the Gellguards are hilarious. You'd think you were watching a Graham Williams story. For a man who so obviously loves theatricality and impressive costumes, Omega has a mysterious tendency to make goofy monsters. Scarily the Ergon was an improvement! Admittedly the Gellguards look pretty in close-up, with the colours on that bubbly oil slick surface, but in motion... oh my. It's the way they bounce as they wobble forwards.

However on the plus side, the singularity technobabble makes sense! The laws of physics really do go peculiar at the heart of a black hole, so it's not unreasonable for Omega to be exploiting those peculiar properties... especially since those are the exact forces he'd harnessed aeons ago to create the Time Lords.

I also love part one's cliffhanger. The Doctors know what they have to do as soon as Hartnell tells them about the bridge, but they mess around with comedy coin-tossing and we think it's just a bit of fun... until Pertwee walks outside and LETS THE MONSTER EAT HIM.

The Doctor's exile being rescinded is a nice touch, but it would have been more meaningful if by then he hadn't had full control over the TARDIS anyway. Season Seven's production team played fair with the Doctor's exile, but by the time of The Time Monster the TARDIS was seemingly as free as a bird. Had they still been taking that seriously, the production team might have realised that they missed an opportunity in this story. Troughton presumably didn't have Pertwee's memory blocks. They could have had comedy with one Doctor being reliant on the other to fly his own TARDIS, or possibly even stealing back his knowledge of temporal physics through telepathic contact with his previous self.

Like The Five Doctors, this story is underrated. It looks and feels like glittery nonsense, but it has Omega, a great cast and some of Doctor Who's best comedy. Admittedly the story doesn't move quickly, but that was the format under Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts. Even the good Pertwee-era stories can be tortoise-like. Seriously, I was impressed.


Celebrating Ten Years in Style by Michael Hickerson 7/7/10

Like it or not, The Three Doctors is the template for all other multi-Doctor stories during the classic series run. The basic plot is we've got some colossal threat to the universe that requires the First Law of Time to be set aside and the Doctor to encounter his various other selves in an attempt to join forces and thwart the foe.

I recently listened to the audio version of the Target novelization for The Three Doctors and I think I finally figured out why a lot of fans loved the story so much back in the day. In the hands of Terrance Dicks, the story becomes a sweeping epic, full of planets with purple skies and UNIT headquarters under attack from jelly blob creatures made of anti-matter. There are sequences where the jelly blob men stalk through the sewers underneath UNIT headquarters, multiplying rapidly and there are others when the universe Omega creates inside the singularity dims, lightens and shakes based on his moods. Dicks is working with the limitless budget of the imagination as well as the ability to not have to pad out certain moments in the story with lots of endless chasing down corridors. It still tells the same basic story, but it tightens it up a good deal and makes it seem like an epic celebration of a decade of Doctor Who.

If only that had carried over to what we get on-screen.

It's not that The Three Doctors is a bad story. But I have to imagine a huge chunk of fans who grew up only on the novelization were sorely disappointed when it was repeated in 1983 and later released on VHS.

The story finds the Time Lords forced to reunite the Doctor with his former selves because a mysterious black hole is draining away the energy of the universe. Due to his failing health, William Hartnell only appears in limited, pre-filmed inserts on the TARDIS scanner, offering advice and encouragement when the second and third Doctor can't stop bickering long enough to do what needs to be done. Both Doctors, along with Jo Grant, the Brigadier and Benton, are transported inside the black hole along with UNIT HQ, Bessie and a few other random stragglers who have the misfortune to cross paths with the blob monsters (who look wholly unconvincing in the upgraded DVD picture).

In the black hole, they meet Omega, the man who gave the Time Lords the power to travel through time. Omega was presumed dead and has lived inside the black hole all these millenia and isn't too happy about it. He targeted the Doctor due to his exile on Earth, thinking his fellow Time Lord would join forces with him to escape and rule the Time Lords.

As an anniversary story, The Three Doctors is full of the greatest hits from the era it was produced as well as the series as a whole. UNIT is in full force, ineffectively taking on the blob monsters with every weapon they can find. Omega's domain is clearly a quarry and there's lots of chasing up and down corridors in Omega's domain. At one point the DVD commentary becomes almost un-listenable as Katy Manning decides she's bored with the sound effects used for the blob men in the serial and decides to insert her own as they run and up and down corridors. It's pretty embarrassing, not just for Manning but also for those of us at home.

It's reported that Pertwee was concerned that by having a reunion of the previous Doctors, the emphasis would shift away from his Doctor. Producer Barry Letts assured him this wouldn't happen and while the third Doctor does have the most lines and is the focus of the story, it's Patrick Troughton who steals the show. He shines in every scene he's in for the entire story, easily slipping back into his Time Lord persona with ease. It's easy to see why so many fans still love Troughton and why he's such an influence on every Doctor who's played the role in the past thirty years, despite a significant number of his stories missing from the BBC archives.

At this point in the Pertwee era, the production team is running like an well-oiled machine and, while that's good, it doesn't necessarily mean they're pushing the envelope like they did in earlier seasons. The slow descent of UNIT from a crack military team to comic relief is painfully evident. (It's not as bad as Planet of the Spiders, but compare the Brigadier here to the one we see in The Silurians and you'll see what I mean).

All that said, it's still a fun story if only to see Patrick Troughton. It's a greatest hits for an era and a show and it's easily the better of the two multi-Doctor anniversary stories.