Sunday, 15 April 2012

DW50 Countdown - The Third Doctor (Part One)

As Doctor Who's 50th anniversary is only eight months away, let us take Bessie for a drive down Gallifreyan memory lane as we look at the Third Doctor. Great Balls of Fire!

'Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.'
                                                                              The Doctor (Jon Pertwee)

In 1970, when comic actor Jon Pertwee first became 'the New Doctor Who', the show was going through a lot of changes. Under threat of being axed, Doctor Who not only changed its leading man but also its secondary performers (companion actors Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury left with previous Doctor Troughton) and the large portion of its production staff. It's something that wouldn't happen in the show again until Matt Smith took on the mantel. The reason for its success? The scripts were perhaps better than ever, tapping into topical issues like pollution and immigration as well as telling barnstorming stories, and the decision to 'ground' the Doctor on Earth, stripped of the use of the TARDIS, gave the show a root and a host of returning characters i.e. the lovable Brigadier's band of alien-busting UNIT soldiers. However, the real reason is Pertwee's skill and command of the role.

The Third Doctor, in character, was quite a departure from his predecessors. In his frilly shirt, velvet jacket and bouffant hair, he was wildly flamboyant and preferred to stand out of the crowd. Like all Doctors, he was witty and courageous but was far more straight-faced than before -in great contrast to Doctor Two's clownish behaviour - letting the injustices of the universe play on him hard.
However, the Third Doctor's defining characteristic, setting him apart from his fellows, is how he is far more an action-hero than any other Doctor. Familiar with 'Venusian Aikido', he didn't hold back in a full-on fight with his enemies; often coming out the winner. He was also a fan of gadgets and cars; producing no end of scientifically brilliant - and handy,too! - gizmos and partaking in cascade of car chases. While he enjoyed his space-age car (known as 'the Whomobile' by fans), the Doctor's pride and joy was his old-fashioned roadster affectionately called Bessie - which he, of course, gave a few Tine Lord-y appendages to.

While Doctors One and Two surrounded themselves in a gaggle of young people, male and female, the Third Doctor preferred the company of a single young woman; cementing his state as the James Bond of Doctors. Excellent scientist Dr Liz Shaw was less a companion and more a hired assistant but was still a valuable friend. He also befriended fan-beloved intelligent, independent journalist Sarah Jane Smith - being her first Doctor - later in life. However, his longest-lasting companion was clumsy but endearing Jo Grant. Initially displeased with her attitude, the Doctor grew extremely fond of Jo; becoming visibly sad when she left him to marry Professor Jones for a life of exploring the world. Throughout his tenure, though, the Third Doctor had a comrade and, simultaneously, sparring partner in the indomitable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart; who often disagreed with the Doctor's diplomatic approach to things but had to admire his results. The two held a friendship which spanned several (of the Doctor's) lifetimes. When the Eleventh Doctor heard of his death in recent episode 'The Wedding of River Song', it comes as a massive blow to a man so used to losing friends.

Overall, while the show had been testing the waters throughout it's first decade, it leapt in full throttle during the Third Doctor's time. Introducing elements of the show that would be felt throughout the many following years; expanding on the mythos of the Time Lords, the creation of UNIT and the introduction of the Doctor's greatest enemy, the Master. However, the greatest gift these years gave to Doctor Who was the Third Doctor himself. Proving so successful he not only caused a flourish in the show's popularity in the short term but played a huge part in ensuring the show continued for another forty years and beyond.

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