There have been a handful of multi-Doctor stories over the years, so it is difficult to imagine how amazing it must have seemed the first time it happened. More importantly, although it might seem like the most natural idea in the world for a celebration of Doctor Who, it is a fundamentally weird and tricky idea.
The problem is that there are not three Doctors at this point. There is just one. William Hartnell was just the Doctor. Then he was “renewed” and Patrick Troughton was the Doctor. His appearance was forced to change by the Time Lords, and then Jon Pertwee was the Doctor. Three actors, but the same man. What we might not have noticed, because it has all happened so gradually, is that these three actors have ended up playing very different characters, from the same starting point of an alien in a blue box. We like to talk about what qualities make the Doctor the Doctor, but the unpalatable truth is that there is far less similarity between these three characters as there are between different captains of the Enterprise, or different versions of James Bond. These are three different kinds of madmen in a box, and the third madman hardly uses his box any more. Instead he occasionally has a magic wand.
So there is something distinctly odd going on here. It is much more difficult to sell these three characters as the same man than it will be for, say, David Tennant and Matt Smith in The Day of the Doctor. There have never been three more different interpretations of the Doctor as Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee. And the most different of those three is Pertwee. Making it much more problematical for us to understand these three Doctors as the same person is how they spend the whole story bickering, without tempering that with those key moments of recognising their fundamental similarities that we will eventually enjoy in later multi-Doctor stories.
The first thing to notice is the original Doctor doesn’t really return here. There was never such a person as the First Doctor, except retrospectively, and in the first of his attempted returns he is a patrician bossy boots, like an old professor who is cleverer than the other two and has all the answers. The ailing Hartnell battles bravely to imbue his lines with some character while he reads them off his cue cards, and it sort of works if you consider him to be an early-days Hartnell Doctor, although why the other two would have any interest in listening to that man is puzzling. His Doctor was only an arrogant know-it-all for a very small percentage of his era. Vicki in particular helped him to learn how to be a chuckling anarchist. And here’s where we get to odd-man-out Pertwee in comparison with the other two. One factor that linked the first two Doctors that the third lacks is that both of them at their best have been anarchic forces of nature. Three is generally an establishment bully.
We therefore get to the root cause of why Three needs One and Two here. He has been very effective at colluding with the military to blow up alien threats, and fight his Moriarty. One and Two were almost never that person. Three can march into a situation and impose his personality, taking the wind out of the sails of anyone who stands in his path with a snide remark about a politician in a gentleman’s club or something. Where his approach falls flat is when his bully boy tactics won’t work, and our best example of that has been Azal. Faced with a god-like enemy he couldn’t blow up or bully, he was an abject failure, and it took his brilliant companion to save him. In The Three Doctors he is facing the ultimate god-like enemy, a god of his own people who is omnipotent within his own created universe. Three is ill-equipped to do anything about Omega.
He needs Troughton’s Doctor. Two never marched in and bullied his Hobson/Robsons. He sneakily subverted their control. Look how he takes Klieg to pieces, skirting around the edges of the situation and occasionally taking centre stage to pop his ego. Look how he dismantles Tobias Vaughan and then builds him back up again as an ally. Both One and Two were information gatherers, entering a new world, finding out how it works and what everyone is up to, before stepping out of the shadows to make a difference. Three repeatedly faces an enemy on his own turf, and talks loudly at it. So when Two starts feeling out the situation, Three is baffled. Have a look at this quote, and it’s quite a substantial one because there’s a lot of important stuff going on here:
TWO: I say, you mean all you’ve got to do is think of a thing, rub your magic lamp over there and shally me gally me zoop, there it is? That’s jolly clever. That’s jolly clever.
OMEGA: Are you sure that you and he are of the same intelligence?
TWO: You couldn’t run me up a quick recorder, could you? It’s a little thing about this long with holes in. I’ve lost mine, you see.
OMEGA: I will tell you of the task that lies before you.
TWO: It’s not much to ask, a small recorder!
THREE: Please, ignore him. Just ignore him. He’s incorrigibly frivolous.
TWO: Just because you’re not musical!
THREE: Please! Will you stop interrupting? Continue.
OMEGA: Continue? While you play stupid childish games? You face annihilation, do you know that? You, your entire race, your precious terrestrials, everything, and what do you do? Huh? You wrangle and babble of pipes!
TWO: It’s not a pipe!
THREE: What the hell do you think you’re trying to do?
TWO: Testing the limits of his self control. They’re not very good, are they.
THREE: No. No, they’re not, but it’ll be dangerous if you push him too far.
TWO: We’ll have to risk that. That temper is his only weakness.
So Two is pushing Omega’s buttons and looking for a weakness, while getting his enemy to underestimate him at the same time. Look how Omega doubts that the two Doctors are “of the same intelligence”. He’s right, of course, but not in the way he thinks. Two is far superior. Three has lost an important ability, perhaps diminished by his time stuck on Earth, and he just doesn’t understand the game Two is playing. Three’s approach is a bull in a china shop. He challenges Omega to a battle of the mind, and pays the price for his arrogance, losing comprehensively. He can’t bully a god. Luckily Two is around to save him from total destruction, and One is there to pop up from time to time and get the other two to actually work together, when their methods are apparently incompatible.
Ultimately, the resolution comes from a union of these Doctors’ approaches, working out what to do with the accidental gadget, and working out how to trick Omega. This marks a huge turning point. The Doctor has forgotten how to be the anarchist in a box, but he learns from his past and is granted his future, his exile at an end. We look back, while we look forwards to the future. A universe of possibilities awaits. RP
The view from across the pond:
Well, we’re coming in to the final stretch here at the Junkyard. It’s the week we discuss the multi-Doctor stories. These were the big ones, those most memorable stories that brought together some of our favorite past Doctors with the current one. And it all started when the series was celebrating its 10 year anniversary with The Three Doctors.
To create a story where Jon Pertwee shares the limelight with the former stars of the series, there needed to be a threat; something big and vast and deadly. So of course, it would have to be big enough to impact the Time Lords and we could get to see a little more of Gallifrey. It would appear that even the Time Lords understand that the Doctor is one of those clever sorts who can save the day, even if they don’t reward him with the secrets of the TARDIS until after he’s saved them. (One might have assumed that would have been more helpful than pulling his former selves out of time to work together! Although, I guess since the Second Doctor was there, he would not have forgotten how to use the TARDIS so they must have felt they were covered!) And just who or what is this threat? Stephen Thorne! Well, Omega, but let’s be honest, Omega wouldn’t be that intimidating if not for the voice of Thorne. And what a voice it is! Powerful and commanding and just a bit mad! Omega wants to return to our universe having been abandoned in an antimatter one. The one caveat is that to come back will destroy everything, which makes it slightly inconvenient. (Why his appearance in the antimatter universe, being an entity of matter, didn’t blow that universe up, one may never know, but as I’ve said before… who needs logic? As we know, it merely enables us to be wrong with authority!)
Now what really makes The Three Doctors stand out is not the villain or even the logic of the series (find it where you may…), but the interactions of the Doctor, the Doctor and the Doctor. When you put the Doctors together, the banter is marvelous. The chemistry of any individual Doctor with his audience is automatically magnificent: he’s the hero and we look up to him. He’s exciting and silly and fun and brilliant… and what? There’s going to be more than one of him? Effectively, this is a formula using exponents and the level of fun can be figured on the high side. (Something like Awesome2 * Fantastic2 * Magnificence2 = OMG, which sounds a bit like Omega anyway…) Then we can add to that by putting the Brigadier and Sgt. Benton in the mix and give them their first taste of what the interior of the TARDIS is like; always a joy to behold. Professor Tyler (Rex Robinson) brings still more enjoyment to the story as a very likeable one-story companion who is largely out of his depth as much as Jo Grant, and company. (See, even scientists struggle with the logic in the Doctor Who universe!) And, last but far from least, Jo Grant offers one more layer: she wears clothing that have to be seen to be believed!
Time Lords and Gallifreyan legends, multi-Doctor interaction, great cast… check, check and check. How about new abilities? Check! The Doctor can make telepathic “contact” with his former selves to bring each other up to date so we don’t have to waste time on exposition or any silly uses of the line “I’ll explain later”. The effect is hilarious. And with this story, the Doctor’s exile on earth can end and we can start to get away from all the earth-bound, UNIT stories. A precursor to what will come, as much as the second Doctor offering the Brigadier a jelly baby, this story laid the groundwork for the future multi-Doctor stories. And while I’ve often complained about the titles of many episodes, The Three Doctors does what it says on the tin and gives the audience exactly what they hoped for. There’s no surprise to it, but it also gives us an episode we can’t wait to see. William Hartnell was too ill to have much time on screen but what he did get, he proved that he was and will always be, the First Doctor. Patrick Troughton is as mischievous as he ever was and his interplay with Jon Pertwee defined their relationship perfectly. He may be the clown, but he’s no fool and I still say, the show would not still be going strong if not for his ability to transform it after that first regeneration. And Jon Pertwee, the then-current Doctor, the dandy… the one to make it safe for all of us and get his friends back home. Truly a great 10th anniversary with the best hero(es) in the universe. Wonderful chap… all of them. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Carnival of Monsters