No matter what you think of the quality of Pertwee's reign it must be said that the ratings for this era were superb: in fact, the final episode of The Daemons saw the programme enter the top 20 for the first time since 1965, while the first part of Planet of the Daleks reached the top 10. Strangely enough, the two most popular stories were repeats, with The Daemons and The Green Death netting over 10 million each when shown in single episode edited formats (in 1971/73 respectively). Most popular first-run though was The Three Doctors with a 10.3m/31 placing. Following this were Planet of the Daleks (9.7m/21) and Invasion of the Dinosaurs (9.6m/31).
Least successful were Inferno (5.6m/69), along with Ambassadors of Death (7.35m/62) and The Time Monster (7.38m/44). You'll notice that, apart from maybe the unfortunate Inferno, even the least successful stories of the period have respectable viewing figures/chart positions.
Much as it pains me to admit it, you could argue that Jon was the most popular Doctor, as he was the only one - including Hartnell and Tom Baker - to actually not see depleting viewing figures during his reign. In fact, every season saw him improve in the eyes of the public, apart from season 11, which, while still his second most successful, was slightly eclipsed by the publicity and hype surrounding the 10th anniversary year. It should perhaps be noted that his last two seasons were pushed slightly forward in the schedules, beginning in December and not the January of the previous three, thus capturing the Christmas family audience. The series under Pertwee's control saw it never fall out of the top 90 most-watched programmes of the day - the only actor in the role to achieve this*.
The season round-up, then, was as follows: season seven saw an increase in the lessened ratings of the Troughton era, though still caused the BBC to consider replacing the show with something else. The average rating was 7.09m, with an average chart position of 60.36. Nearly a million viewers a week extra tuned in for season eight, with averages of 8.08m/45.96. Season nine saw 8.30m/41.35, ten 8.87m/32.85 and season eleven 8.78m/38.04. Any readers attempting to draw the conclusion that the crapper he got, the more people watched him, and consequently the viewing public will watch any old shite, should not necessarily be diswayed.
* Not including Paul McGann's single-story foray into the top 20, obviously...
You know, the Pertwee years werent subtle. If you buy into the comic book mentality then they can be really good fun, but sensible plotting often went out of the window. Things happened not to serve the plots, but to serve the dynamic. With the greater reliance on the stunt group Havoc, every dying soldier or monster would have to somersault and cartwheel before gasping their last breath. Pertwee, meanwhile, went from a slightly shallow father figure to a moraliser in Carmen rollers who had really obvious stunt doubles. Considering this was the era when UNIT were most (over)used, theyre also at their weakest here, frequently denigrated and used as a handy plot device. The lead could get out of any scrape by an all-purpose sonic screwdriver, a vehicle or by beating his opponent up. The series now had a leggy dumb blonde, comedy Corporals and a boo-hiss nemesis. All it needed was for Liquid Gold to come on halfway through with a chorus of Dance Yourself Dizzy and it wouldve been a variety show. Whats more, sandwiched between the general excellence of the Troughton/Baker years then this saw the production values plummet. Horrendous CSO, questionable incidental music and silly rubbery monsters. Yes, its lightweight, yes its highly derivative and in many ways is nothing that traditional Doctor Who is actually about. But watch it with a kind eye and isnt it fun?
Spearhead From Space kicks off the five-year run, and in case you had any doubt that Who had gone to colour then the title sequence opens with neon variants of red, then blue, followed by turquoise, green, pink, yellow, orange, pink, turquoise, blue, purple, red, purple, blue, turquoise, pink and yellow... all in dizzying spirals. Do not watch this after a night down the pub or your carpet might end up a similar colour. That said, the logo used here is my favourite.
As for the story itself, it was once singled out as the only one to be shot entirely on film, a novelty now taken from it with the advent of the 1996 TV movie. Still, this dirtier, cheaper, more primitive film stock looks great, and suits the show much better than the flash of the McGann vehicle. Its also cracking good fun, moving along at a rapid pace. Derek Martinus brings some neat touches to his direction, while the Autons are original and genuinely chilling. Note that the production values are also high, except for the Nestene, which alternately resembles a toy octopus and a pulsating punani. Acting is variable okay, Tessa Shaw has only a minor role as "UNIT Officer", but doesnt she stink? Also, its weird that, despite having one of the best characters, Caroline John is stagier than the stagiest thing you can think of. Id remembered her as being so much better as Liz. Has she only got one facial expression or what? When shed done that "mock surprise" face for the millionth time I was ready to slap her.
Robert Holmess script is a little contrived and exposition-heavy, but as a reintroduction to the series it works very well indeed. By having UNIT as the focus it gives the series a whole new purpose and is probably the first story since An Unearthly Child that allows new viewers a way in. While people slag off Holmess first two scripts the scene where the cleaner overhears the Doctor talking about alien blood is so clumsy it could be in an episode of Eastenders. Its also the eras first chance to take the piss out of the Welsh, three years before The Green Death. The Brigadiers convenient info-dump of the Generals waxwork also grates.
Pertwee is oddly out of character, being subservient to the Brigadier (and, for the most morally righteous incarnation, isnt hanging around with the military a little hypocritical?) but is likeable as ever. He might not have had the greatest range, and is guilty of not trying hard enough at times, but Pertwee never gave a bad performance as such. Flat at times, maybe, but you always felt in safe hands knowing he wouldnt go over the top and embarrass you. (See The Armageddon Factor, The Twin Dilemma, The Trial of a Timelord and Ghostlight episode three for just four examples of this).
The attempt at a more realistic series is commendable, and its weird to hear a modernish pop song (Oh Well by Fleetwood Mac) for one of the few times in Who history, plus seeing a semi-nude Doctor. However, with its kipper ties and sideburns its attempts at contemporarity may now seem a little twee. Yet only the underdeveloped climax really disappoints in a story that lacks depth but is always entertaining.
The Silurians (Or Doctor Who and the Silurians to give it its bizarre onscreen title) is the Pertwee story that cries out to be a full, five-star classic yet never quite manages it. It starts off brilliantly, and has one of the best-ever climaxes in the whole series, yet is at least an episode too long. This is the major problem with the period, where 58% of the stories were six episodes or more. Fine for the slower suspensers of the Troughton era, but with the series being reworked into a fast-paced action genre it means artificial elements are grafted on in order to meet the length. The move towards the longer tales seems there to serve the budget rather than the drama. I mean, episode four of this story is very nicely done, but in terms of plot advancement then what actually happens?
On the subject of criticism, maybe the caves could do with being less like studio sets. The sequences shot on location are so much more fluid and inspired than the somewhat rigid interiors that its almost as if they were shot by two different directors. And Carey Blyton was probably on crack when he composed the incidental music. Yet generally flaws are minimal. Some dont like the realisation of the Silurians here, but I think their creepy voice and jittery body language are wonderful.
But whats so great about The Silurians is how it comments on an issue (in this case racism) with allegory. Aces removal of the "No Coloureds" sign in Remembrance of the Daleks is a nice touch, but far less clever. Science fiction shouldnt use literal references, if only to credit the viewers with the intelligence to work it out for themselves. Great moments abound: the eerie sound of the recall device; the Silurian on the moors; the people dying at the train station; and Pertwees finest moment as his face burns with rage at the conclusion. I love the simplicity of the monsters in the Troughton era, but having the monsters with moral ambiguities is obviously a step up in sophistication. Rather a shame though that Pertwees ethical debates with the aliens soon developed into pious preaching as the years went on. Speaking of Pertwee, he finds his footing in the role here, beginning with eccentricity and ending with righteous fury; while Caroline John also improves. The resolution may see the Doctor "fuse the control of the neutron flow" and the Brigadier (Still a three-dimensional character) blow up the Silurian base, but its so well done, and a logical extension of the plot, that it doesnt feel like the usual cop-out.
As the era would have less episodes per year and filming techniques became more advanced the amount of mistakes left onscreen became lessened. Line fluffs could be omitted; scenery falling could be retaken. Even so I still chuckle at episode one where Major Baker cant shut his briefcase and has to hold it closed as he leaves the room. One final thought: where are the female Silurians? Presumably theyd get thawed out last when the washing up needed doing.
The Ambassadors of Death is underrated, which leads us onto Inferno. You could argue that Don Houghton presaged the decline of the Pertwee years. Where up to this point the third Doctor didnt register physically (and would again be roughed up in Terror of the Autons, the bridging story between this and Houghtons The Mind of Evil) here hes given a new ability: Venusian Karate. How this childish-sounding art was learnt by the exiled Doc isnt known, but it quickly became a lazy plot device. From here it was only just moments away from the stories grinding to a halt and Pertwee shouting "Hai!" all the time. Its also notable that it was toned down (here it can result in permanent paralysis) and renamed in The Green Death to "Venusian Akido". Also note the jokey banter between Benton, The Doctor and The Brigadier originates here, as well as the sonic screwdriver being reintroduced to the series. (Its mentioned in The Silurians, but seen here for the first time since The War Games). Okay, these are seen in an acceptable, minor form, hardly detrimental, but from here they were taken and expanded on, all three eventually eroding the programmes credibility until Tom Baker took over. There are also signs of Pertwees mannerisms already becoming fixed, with a small hint of going through the motions in his performance here and there.
While the whole of season seven liberally riffed on the Quatermass serials, Inferno homages it wholesale. Combine this with camp alternate dominatrixes straight out of The Two Ronniess The Worm That Turned and you have a very colourful adventure. Its a perfect lead-in to season eight, as with its garish colours and mirrorball effects it has a more comicbook feel than the rest of the season. Its not overstated, but it is there. The notion of parallel universes is apart from one or two obscure references unique in Who, a surprisingly neglected format. While it has great merit, often its just an excuse for the regulars to ham it up.
But in case Im making this all sound bad, then its not. Despite worrying signs for the future, Inferno is outrageously good fun, and almost a classic. Houghtons scripts are always compelling, and the counter Earth scenario means Inferno fulfils its seven-episode duration better than its two forebears. And ending an episode with the destruction of Earth, even an alternate one, is a magnificent touch.
Some wonderfully eerie incidental music, reminiscent of The Prisoners The General is a standout. The exteriors all of which are excellent in season seven are again original and inspired, with Pertwee tackling the heights of a gas works.
Like David Bowie, the story perhaps revels in "Nazi chic". The Doctor refers to a "bigoted world", but no real implication to their beliefs is given. Its just surface flavouring. Mind you, given that the whole of season seven only features one non-white face then the Doctors in no position to get on the moral high ground.
The first Master story, a character so cool he can click his fingers in gloves, it throws up some odd plot developments. Like why does the Master "need" a circus owner? Just because its cool to have his Tardis arrive as a horse box? But while his presence makes the Doctor seem whiter than white in comparison (though they do share some Timelord disregard for humans in later stories) Delgado is always likeable. The incidental "Masters Theme" does get a bit wearing though. And his ability to shrink in height, build, and appearance only then to be wearing a feeble rubber mask on close-up is a talent to be reckoned with.
Jon emerges softer than before, his splendid season seven costume gone in favour of a more obvious maroon smoking jacket. The Carmen rollers have come out, too. Liz has also left, and while replacement Jo is an obvious foil for his increasing ego (there to say "Whats that mean, Doctor?" and pick locks whenever the situation calls for it) I have to admit Ive been too hard on Katy Manning in the past. I trashed her in an earlier article, but now I realise I was really just trashing Jo. For Jo is one of the dumbest, most sexist, lightweight companions ever... yet Katy makes her so believable. I may occasionally think Jo is irritating (and she does have her good points) but I rarely think, "this is an actress, playing a part". Yes, Katy does so much with so little... in fact, shes "groovy". And who else got their kit off with a Dalek? Also new is Mike Yates, a man far, far too camp to be a tough army captain. Even Jo does him over in just the first episode. And what about all these new UNIT call signs all of a sudden? "Greyhound", "Trap One", "Bluebottle", "Eagle" what was so bad about plain old "UNIT Control"?
The story itself is one big glossy cartoon, but so entertaining because of it. Its also perversely nasty, too, with plastic chairs that suffocate, daffodils that cover the nose and mouth with film; and the Master hurling a man several feet to his death with a viscous look on his face.
You could pick fault with most of the narrative, such as the exposition dealing Timelord, or fatuous minister character Brownrose (sounds like brownnose, geddit?) but its really irrelevant when it comes to enjoyment value. The (very) experimental CSO only adds to the kitsch charm, this being the only Pertwee story to see an increase in ratings week by week (the rest fluctuating).
The Mind of Evil is another great story, and say what you like about Pertwee no other Doctor has managed six above average stories in his first run. For once, money is not an issue. Director Timothy Combe allowed things to go way over budget, and all the better for it. Huge warehouses, screeching jeeps and a massive nuclear missile all add to the Bondian fun.
Complaints are often levelled against the somewhat contrived nature of the dovetailing plots. But Whos greatest achievement is often not avoiding ridiculous plots, but disguising them from the audience. Yes, things dont always add up, but who cares when youre having so much fun? One of Pertwees three best six-parters, along with The Sea Devils and The Time Monster (yes, The Time Monster. Dont worry, well come back to that later), it rarely drags and has a season seven throwback adult edge. Though Jos place in an all-male prison with no physical threat shows this was still a family show. One of the harder moments includes the Doctors left heart stopping.
Items of note include Don Houghtons wife, Pik-Sen Lim as a Chinese delegate. Here shes all honour and independence, just six years later shed be quite the opposite as Chung Su-Lee ("Chairman Mao!") in racially dubious sitcom Mind Your Language. Look out too for Yates pursing his lips and mincing the Brigadier off the screen in the first episode. The comedic elements of UNIT are already pushed almost too far even at this early stage. The UNIT extras are also quickly taking on the role of Star Trek red shirts, with only Yates and Benton surviving each full-scale massacre. Pertwee mentions three-dimensional chess for the first time, a Trek rip-off that was seen for real in Frontier In Space. And is there a Doctor Who story that Michael Sheard hasnt been in?
Combes thoughtful camerawork comes over well, and being in black and white (only around four minutes of episode six still exist in colour) only makes things look more sophisticated. Itd probably be bright orange in colour or something. The Masters as cool as ever here, smoking cigars and reading The Financial Times. At one stage he instigates a prison riot, killing three guards and taking over the entire jail. At the end of it he merely smoothes down his suit with a "right, Doctor... now Im ready for you." Pure class. On the downside his "I would kill you now, but " is already becoming strained. Yet hes so much more well developed as a character than the Ainley and Roberts versions. He appears to show genuine concern when the Doctor is nearly dead, and his greatest fear is revealed to be Pertwee himself. He ends the story out of his sleek suit and in his less impressive black Nehru jacket.
Perhaps partly inspired by A Clockwork Orange, most of the moral implications of the story are sidestepped in favour of pyrotechnics. Some padding is inevitable in a story so long UNITs prison take-over in episode five lasts for over two and a half minutes (doesnt sound that long, but its quite lengthy in TV terms) yet is excitingly realised.
The Claws of Axos and Colony In Space are alike in many ways... both tacky, inconsequential tales that are amusing all the same. Theyre also the first real signs of fallibility in the Pertwee era, and tip the balance from recent science fiction back into science fantasy. Both also give moments where a Doctor/Master alliance and Earth betrayal seems possible... in Axos he appears to abandon Earth, in Colony he considers co-rulership of the galaxy. Okay, you know he never really means it, but even a seconds doubt adds interest to the traditionally staid good/evil relationship.
Axos gives us the somewhat childish notion of Ministers who walk around with files with "Top Secret" written on them in big letters. But it is kind of fun imagining Washington being concerned about the Master. And while Pertwees Doctor had seemed possibly less liberal up to this point, he gets this brilliant dialogue exchange with Minister Chinn: "If I could leave, I would... if only to get away from people like you. And your petty obsessions! England for the English good Heavens, man!" "I have a duty to my country." "Not to the world?" In fact, a lot of Pertwees dialogue seems above average here, even if the Masters description of his "laser gun" is a little puerile.
Some of the effects are ropy (episodes one and four having people driving in front of blue screen where they didnt have time to key in the CSO), but the pulsing, overdubbed eye and voice of Axos is chilling. The first time I saw this story I didnt think it had made much of an impact. Yet, like a girl, that evening I had two nightmares one of the three Axons surrounding the Doctor, the other of Jos aged face. The only story to give me nightmares, I guess my unconscious mind must have been quite unnerved by what is on the surface a harmless tale.
The political situation quite daringly knocking the English government is a nice touch, as is the Master being the prisoner of Axos. With even the Master prostate before it, it adds to Axoss sense of menace. Episode two contains the eras first real "extended fight in long shot", a Pertwee staple to fill out stories that dont have enough plot.
Colony has the most to say in the season, even if its social conscience is a little heavy-handed. Its also the first real story where Pertwee has a fight. Not just hand chops here, but somersaults, staff battles and all sorts. Another first is the first proper example of pious Pertwee, where, with a straight face, he gives a sermon to a glove puppet. The sonic screwdriver makes its only appearance of the season, and episodes four and five are the most padded yet.
The Dæmons was a favourite for many years, both amongst the fans and the cast and crew. Fan appeal may have waned slightly, though its still a popular tale. For me personally, its just okay, a vaguely smug concoction of Devil mythology with one of the series weakest climaxes.
Alastair Fergus and BBC3 are a little silly, though other bits are good, such as a villager accusing Pertwee of wearing a wig. Though only Roger Delgado could get away with the Devils chant scene. (It sounds like hes singing "Harry Ramsden" but it turns out to be Mary Had A Little Lamb backwards). Those who knock the McGann movie for its motorbike scenes should observe Jon doing the same in this tech-reliant adventure. Pertwees quite nasty to Jo in this one, snapping at her a couple of times, and any Doctor who could claim theres magic in the world after seeing Morris Dancers must have a screw loose. Jo gets some clanky lines ("...the end of the world...") so fair credit to Katy Manning for giving her best.
As for the "scary" Bok, hes nearly as camp as Mike Yates. "Fancy a dance, Brigadier?" are his last words. "Kind of you, Captain Yates," responds the ever-macho Brig, "I think Id rather have a pint." The Brigadier doesnt really get involved in the action until the last twelve minutes, while Yates and Benton are punch bags throughout. As has often been pointed out, the third cliffhanger is a little weird by showing The Master to be the one under threat. When Azal finally emerges it transpires hes shouty Stephen Thorne in incredibly bad CSO. Note the first really obvious stunt double for Pertwee in episode four when he falls off his bike. Its understandable as you couldnt expect the actor to do such a dangerous stunt, but when Jons back was really bad for his last season this sort of thing became more and more commonplace. Lastly, the tunnel breach of the heat barrier which is really just tinsel and smeared screen looks remarkably effective, while this is the last story where Jon doesnt physically attack someone.
Season Nine stories all have one thing in common: theyre all pants. Whether its bug eyed sea creatures with scratched lenses, an invasion of Earth by just three Daleks, or a giant pea with a silly voice then theyre all fundamentally daft stories. But dont get me wrong: theyre all wonderful, despite or because of it.
Day of the Daleks open the season, a return for the creatures after a four-year absence. Pertwee hated them, and admitted that he "squirmed through each and every one" of his Dalek tales. This was to mark a new Dalek story every year for four years, and it was certainly Pertwees best.
A note must be made about continuity. One of the delights of this era is that it is instantly accessible, so that even references to The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Evil of the Daleks were removed. Had this policy continued into the 80s, maybe the show would still be with us. On the downside, theres a slight disinterested feel from the regulars, with Pertwees constant lip-stroking a particular annoyance. While the plot is quite neat, it lacks the sophistication of the David Whitaker scripts, and the Daleks voices are far too human. Also horrific is the scene in episode two where the Doctor shoots an Ogron dead in cold blood. But hes vaporised in this more kiddie-friendly Who, so does that make it alright? Talking of Ogrons, is it just me or do their voices sound like someone whos retarded? Thats not me being in bad taste by the way, but highlighting the bad taste of the production. The "chase" sequence on the 5mph tricycle is also rank. Day of the Daleks is far from the worst Dalek story though, with at least four worse offenders.
On the plus side, Aubrey Woods is a superb scene-stealer, while its one of the few stories to feature the Doctor getting pissed. Paul Bernards direction is adequate, though some moments are quite stagy and he doesnt seem all that suited to Daleks. For a Pertwee story it lacks pace, and is curiously lacking in incidental music. The final attack draws short, as the budgetary shortcomings cannot be disguised. Oh, sorry, this was supposed to be the plus points, wasnt it? Well, a tanned Jo looks very fit and you even get to see her knickers! And one last point... did everyone really call each other "man" in the 70s?
One of the highlights of the season, The Curse of Peladon is a po-faced, Trekkish reworking of the Ice Warriors with ridiculous supporting aliens. Yet it works, and works brilliantly. Its obviously all filmed in a studio, but Lennie Maynes direction gives it appeal, as well as the low lighting. Not only that, but Jon and Katy are on top form. The second Pertwee story to be set on an alien planet, this marks a shift away from UNIT-based stories. This is a good move, as, likeable as UNIT can be; formula obviously begins to take hold. From this point on, each one of Jons seasons would feature just two UNIT tales per year.
Five years before The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a Doctor wears Holmesian attire, a witty and quite subtle nod to The Hound of the Baskervilles inspiration. The story is also a whodunnit, which of course adds extra intrigue to events. The EU parody is wonderful, and the revelation that the Timelords were manipulating the whole thing all along is fantastic. David Troughton (the only actor in Who with a bigger lisp than Pertwees) is likeable as the king, while credit must be given to all concerned for keeping a straight face with the cheap-looking monsters. Episode three has the oldest joke in the hypnosis book and a stunt double fight in long shot (with notable difference between video and film). Aggedor, meanwhile, is a cuddly teddy bear. One last point is Jo claiming shes "all dolled up for a night on the town with Mike Yates." Surely Bentons a nicer chap and more appealing to women? It seems as if Jos a bit of a golddigger. Perhaps for the first time, shes also given a proactive role.
Probably one of the ten silliest stories of all time, The Curse of Peladon should be atrocious... but it isnt.
The Sea Devils continues the trend of "shouldnt work but it does" by stripping the plot of The Silurians down into six episodes, inserting The Master and bumping up the action content. In the midst of all this, the moral ambiguities are somewhat squeezed out, and instead theyre written as trite platitudes. Add to this overliberal use of the sonic screwdriver and some awful music by Malcolm Clarke and its a tale thats fundamentally bad, but superficially brilliant. If Who was cinema, then The Silurians would be the better film... but The Sea Devils is the better movie.
Indulgent highs include forty seconds of The Master watching The Clangers, and a totally irrelevant but amusing Doctor/Master swordfight. Its also a story that thanks to the Navys assistance you dont have to worry about the budget. The direction is so nice, and the thing is so funny, so pacy, that it carries you along and never lets up. One of the ironic things about the story is that while the Navy saw it as promotional exercise it casts them as a bunch of bloodthirsty bastards. Obviously the stock footage doesnt always contrast that well with the videotaped material, particularly episode five which takes up over 90 seconds of its runtime with the stuff. However, its clear why the other four stories in season nine are a little cheap, as this one clearly took up the major share in that years coffers. On the downside, Pertwee perhaps doesnt give 100%, a shame given that Delgados firing on all cylinders. Thats a problem with his Doctor, too: hes unvaried. You can pretty much guess how Jon will react in every situation, and even though his character goes from passionate exile to preaching granny over the five seasons, the basic archetype goes unchanged. It also has arguably the series worst-ever exposition, with Jos woeful "Silurians, wasnt it? The Brigadier was telling me... that was that race of super-reptiles that had been in hibernation for millions of years, wasnt it?" Theres also, inevitably, some padding: episode three seems to meander around the narrative without pushing it forward.
Yet taking The Master out of the formula loop that season eight became also lends the character a new freshness, vitality. Theres a greater depth to his relationship with the Doctor ("He used to be a friend of mine once... a very good friend."), and, in terms of his character, this is possibly the greatest Master story. One thing of note, however, is that while this is the peak of the "is he more popular than the third Doctor himself?" argument his sadistic streak of earlier stories has been greatly toned down.
As for the Sea Devils themselves, then two things surprise: one is that the much touted (and, dare I say it, overrated) "rising from the sea" isnt a cliffhanger; the other is how shabby they look, particularly the one on the submarine. With painted-on pupils that never move, the sub guard has one thats half scratched off. They are kind of fun, though, even if their motivation is now a justification for the story, rather than the story being a justification for their motivation. And its obvious theres only six of them.
Colonel Trenchards belief in the Master might be a little far-fetched, but isnt Clive Morton good in the part? You can really believe hes the person he plays, cant you? Maybe its a mixture of good writing and good playing that makes what could be stereotyped characters like Walker so human. Characterisation is at a premium throughout, with, sadly, only the Sea Devils themselves remaining one-dimensional.
The last two episodes are; unfortunately, not quite as good as the first four, where Jon starts sermonising and stuntmen play the Sea Devils. Theyre okay, but lack the charm of the first few, and the Doctors "I did what I had to in order to prevent a war" seems a little fatuous given that hes just committed genocide. It does, however, now put him on a par with the Brigadier, speaking of which...
After the distraction of The Mutants, arguably the eras first (slightly) below-average tale, UNIT and the Master were brought back for The Time Monster. Pertwees stories do reasonably well in fan polls. While none of his stories usually break the top ten, none of them reach the bottom ten either. In the DWM #265 poll, just three were in the bottom thirty The Monster of Peladon, The Mutants and The Time Monster. The Time Monster was just fifteen places from the bottom, and I know of very few people who like it. Even revisionist books like The Discontinuity Guide or Pocket Essentials slate it.
Postmodernism was something rarely attempted under the staid Jon Pertwee reign, and though Robert Holmess last two scripts for the period pulled this off with aplomb, The Time Monster is still derided for it. Maybe its that it lacks the real wit or panache for great self-referencing, or that it is fairly indistinct from the usual fare. For the cartoon-like Pertwee stories are already so silly that having a Brigadier who asks to have info explained to him "in words of one syllable" is worryingly close to his "Im fairly sure thats Cromer" line next story. Likewise, Jos "I know Im exceedingly dim, but would you mind explaining?" is something she could very likely say anyway. So I cant put my hand on my heart and say for certain that this is a send-up Who story... it could be a straight one with misfiring comic setpieces and hacky dialogue crowbarred in. Bentons "youre still in the soup without a ladle" appears to be self-consciously hammy dialogue, but maybe its genuinely bad dialogue.
Whichever it is, The Time Monster still entertains by breaking down the six-part format into a three, one and two-parter. Incident occurs throughout, such as UNIT soldiers in slo-mo, the merging Tardises, Jon in the time vortex and bullfighting with a Minotaur. Its an uneasy hybrid of daft comedy and traditional story, but I like it a lot.
Delgado (with a large bald spot) has a fluctuating Greek accent for his first few scenes which quickly vanishes. While this is clearly the least of his performances he seems almost bored at times he still gets lots of funny lines, such as "Oh dear, what a bore he is" about Pertwees moralising. When Jon tells him hes "Mad... paranoid" he counters "Who isnt? The only difference is Im a little more honest than the rest." Its a world where, in an extension of the Masters silly rubber masks, he gets to camply lip-synch to the Brigadiers voice. His hand-clapping and exaggerated mania could be a spoof of the traditional megalomaniac, with even Jo suggesting he should call out "Curses! Foiled again!" Sadly, this sillier, less applied interpretation was to stay with Roger during his final story the following year.
The SF in the story is a mixture of fun, innovation and genuine thoughtfulness. Take the two Tardises merging in episode four. The fans were chugging their wires over that when it was ripped off for Logopolis, but its slated here because its presented not as pompous science, but as pure entertainment. The concept of interstitial time is also quite high-minded for a Pertwee story. In fact, while the childish Venusian references grate, a lot of continuity is established here, such as the Tardis telepathic circuits. Ian Collier gets the award as campest man in the series, effortlessly eclipsing Mike Yates, while any story that ends with Jo laughing at Bentons tackle has got to be worth something.
To round off coverage of this story, then an earlier version of this article suggested a video release would herald widespread reappraisal. Sadly, this hasnt turned out to be the case. Released with Colony In Space as a Master boxset, then Colony was successfully revalued by Dreamwatch magazine, the boxset being dragged down to a "5" score by their panning of Monster. Starburst did the same, heaping praise on Colony while giving a lukewarm reception to Monster, which they described as a "six-episode hotchpotch". SFX amusingly slated both, giving them two stars each, but conceding that The Time Monster was "a classic slice of camp nonsense." Finally, DWM acknowledged that The Time Monster has its worth as a post-pub favourite, though stressing the serial's uneasy mix of the camp and the serious. Described as "like a H Rider Haggard fantasy made by The Goodies", it was a variable review, albeit a more favourable one than that given to Colony. As for a reappraisal amongst the fans, then The Time Monster has yet to make its mark.
The Three Doctors is the first really cack Pertwee story. Not bad going for four seasons in, but while some may have had shaky production values before, for seasons ten and eleven its like Barry Letts had his finger on the button marked "quality control" ... and took it off.
Crap effects, shoddy sets, poor editing and Godawful CSO they all typified Jons last two years in the show. For its part, The Three Doctors has a scene thats always one of the first choices for clip shows when they want to take the piss out of the series. That Corporal who cries out "Holy Moses!" to the three Gel Guards Whos shiteist monsters has been on more Clive James productions than any other.
I first saw The Three Doctors as a repeat when I was nine. There was something mystical about it to my young imagination: it was dark, gothic, poignant, enigmatic and profound. What a shame I had to see it again and realise its a load of old arse.
At the date of its broadcast, this was the lowest point in the series history as far as production values went. How shite are those "anti-matter energy" effects? Even at the time they must have looked rubbish. What about that split screen where Troughton first appears, one of his arms a second before the rest of him? Did it cost £50 million in state of the art CGI effects? Or 50p and a roll of sellotape? You decide. And that shot where UNIT H.Q. is taken into the black hole... was it the real building they used? The Doctors new lab looks cheap and artificial, and isnt helped by the stark lighting. Even the Tardis monitor is now an old TV set stuck up on wires, while episode three gives us fourteen seconds of the police box as an empty shell with a foam back. It really is amateurish and badly made... all it needs is for shouty Stephen Thorne to come on bellowing in a spangly gold suit. Oh, hang on a minute. Apparently Brian Blessed was in the studio and asked him to tone it down a bit. Thorne as Omega built his world from anti-matter by the power of his mind. Whats in his mind Santas Grotto down Woolies? My God, its a cardboard pile of pap. Even The Tomorrow People had higher standards than this. All of a sudden the series has become a programme for two-year-olds. I for one can see no real difference between this and an edition of The Tweenies. Even the script is a pile of festering horse dung. Check out this Timelord banter: "Are you telling me were up against an adversary, a force, equal to our own?" "Equal and opposite to our own." "A force which inhabits a universe, where by definition even we cannot exist?" "Yes." Joy to the exposition! Mind you, this is not helped by Roy Purcells chronic acting.
All this could be saved if its central premise the return to the series of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton worked. Remember how good Troughton was in the role? His depth, intelligence, subtlety and charisma, not to mention sheer acting prowess? Well you wont get a reminder here, as "act like an arse" seems to be his motivation. His constant skipping and generally childish behaviour is a perfect example of the character stereotype. Still, even when Pats bad hes good, and I did have to chuckle at his "you lose" coin toss. But saddest of all is William Hartnell. Strangely, Id remembered the three Doctors standing side by side, but the reality is that Hartnell was in terrible ill health (he died three years later) and is reading from an autocue. Its hardly a dignified final appearance for this once-great actor.
Of course, this is Pertwees show, and so Troughton spends all of the part two acting second banana, while later he stands around as the plot grinds to a halt for the inevitable "crap stunt double fight" in episode three.
The Brigadier, constantly humiliated (even being outwitted by Jo at one stage) is now a one-dimensional buffoon, Courtneys much-quoted, self-penned line about Cromer a particular annoyance. Wheres Captain Yates anyway? And another anorakky observation: how does Troughton know who or what "Bessie" is when Pertwee mentions her to him in the final episode? One sole plus point is that it ends the Doctors Earth exile, though as Jon didnt really work with space stories then itd be season twelve before the show really got back on track.
Predictably, it was the most-watched Pertwee story, with the last episode just short of twelve million. This cack-handed, ham-fisted tackucopia is also a fan favourite, often breaking the top forty. Please! Even the musics rank. I can appreciate the sentiment, but this tatty smug travesty really doesnt live up to its reputation.
Carnival of Monsters marks a brief return back to first-rate Who. Its also Robert Holmess first great script, as while the Auton stories were very good their actual scripts were rough and sloppy in places. For such a traditional, conservative era this is the sole "out there" story, with a colossal imagination. Following on from The Three Doctors the production is again gaudy and second-rate; the incidental music twee, but in a strange sort of way this is actually a good thing here.
A 1926 cargo ship sailing to India, stuck in a timeloop. The classic "brick-a-brack lodged in circuit three" scene. Giant hands, Drashigs and Michael Wisher on top form as an aspiring alien politician. Its all so inventive, and this is the only Pertwee story (save for a flashback in The Mind of Evil) where we get to see a Cyberman.
As for the Drashigs, I find them quite horrifying creatures. Actually, turn the sound down and theyre not scary at all its those unearthly howls they let out that add to the fear. Sad fans know that Barry Letts commissioned and discarded a new, bouncy theme tune for the tenth anniversary. It was wiped, but not before it was heard on episode two of this story for its Australian broadcasts. I mention this here as it was included as a bonus on one episode of the video release (and Frontier In Spaces come to that). Obviously the music proper is the best, though this is a diverting novelty.
Jos a much more proactive character in this story, while Pertwee strangely suggests they leg it back to the Tardis during the first ten minutes. And thats all I have to say about it really, proving the old adage that its always harder to talk about something you like than something you dont.
Frontier In Space is effectively half of a twelve-part story, continuing into Planet of the Daleks. Space opera isnt a genre that Who is particularly suited to, though this is better than you might expect. The most expensive-looking of the season (not really a compliment, considering) it is, however, padded in the extreme. Even the first episode is a bit of a run-around to fill it out before the cliffhanger. They should have fitted a revolving door on that cell; theyre in and out of it often enough. In fact, Katy and/or Jon are placed in a cell no less than twelve times throughout the story. The writers of Groundhog Day were rumoured to have got the idea after catching this on cable.
Watching the Pertwee stories in rapid succession, and in order something Ive never done before its apparent the change in Jos character during her final season. Its nothing jarring, in fact its positive, but its as if Katy Manning asked for a slightly more confident, independent characterisation. She even mentions womens lib in episode five, a nod to the fact that her type of companion was now dated. And her scene where she resists the Masters hypnosis "Once was quite enough, thank you" shows how far shes come. Shame the same cant be said for Pertwee, who just goes around calling everyone "sir" in one of Malcolm Hulkes more obvious war parables.
Its all a bit pulp SF, a bit corny, with mentions of the dreaded "mind probe" a telling sign. And that cell chat with Pertwee talking about a giant rabbit, pink elephant and a purple horse with yellow spots is excruciating. For Roger Delgados final performance (he was sadly killed in a car crash), its not a fitting tribute. A step up from The Time Monster, perhaps, in terms of his portrayal, his Master is nevertheless as neutered and redundant as the story itself. Hes almost benevolent at times. On reflection, maybe it would have been better if hed left after The Sea Devils. One last point doesnt Delgado seem short this story? Maybe its the bigger than average sets or taller guest actors, but he barely registers physically this time around.
Im not saying Frontier is bad; far from it. But its mediocre and tired at times, a "seen-it-all-before" tale from the dog end of Jons era. Episode three sees two prisoners playing a (flimsy-looking) game of three-dimensional chess, a (conscious?) homage to the Trek that inspired the story. Its all a question of perspective really. Ive seen Frontier three times now. The first two times Jon on very obvious wires for his "space walks" didnt seem all that bad, but watched in context its something that never would have happened in seasons seven-nine. Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts had expressed a desire to leave after season nine, but were urged to stay by the BBC, pleased with their success on the show. Its this apparent decline in their interest that causes so many problems, such as Letts commissioning a model maker to construct dinosaurs for Invasion of the Dinosaurs without having seen samples first. But thats another story...
The various different spaceships are all very clearly the same sets redressed and rearranged; though they get by. The female president getting a head and neck massage from a lady in a low-cut dress is an interesting distraction in episode two, but Michael Hawkins lacks conviction as the General. Fair credit, though, he has got a ridiculous collar and hackneyed lines, so he actually does quite well considering.
The Draconians possibly in a snide dig at Pertwee cannot pronounce their Ss. But picture the scene: Malcolm Hulke creates a severe, law-conscious race... a draconian race, in other words. Imagine other aliens from the pen of Malcolm Hulke: The Daleks the Haterons; The Cybermen The Logicons; The Gel Guards The Craperons. I bet he was awake all night thinking of the name, wasnt he?
Having said all this, the set-up of Frontier never tires, and the last two episodes are actually pretty good. "Ive brought some old friends along to meet you" need I say more? The Dalek voices are again crap and tinny (almost Smash-like) and seem parodies of themselves, with even Delgado taking the piss in one of the funnier scenes. But only the badly edited, confused anti-climax really disappoints. Paul Bernard was so incensed at the poor effect of the Ogron idol that he removed it completely from the final scene, leaving the whole thing to jar badly. Where does the Master go? Its not clear at all. Worse still, even without the edit, it would still have left the six-episode plot of the Earth/Draconian war to go unresolved, as Jon takes off looking for the Daleks...
Planet of the Daleks was Terry Nations return to the series since a lengthy absence after the mid-60s. He hadnt adapted to the new decade at all, as its the same hack-written old tat he was regularly churning out for Hartnell.
People like to slag off the first episode cliffhanger, given that the Doctor was looking for the Daleks, and that the audience would know they were coming by the title. Fair enough, but he didnt know they were going to be the ones that discovered invisibility, did he? Its still a crap cliffhanger though for the lifeless way Jon looks on with a "Daleksssssssss!" Compare his acting with the multiple expressions of Troughton when he encounters them in The Evil of the Daleks... the comparison is far from favourable. But then thats Jon all over here, and hes never been lazier. Id say he was on autopilot yet he doesnt make that much effort. As he once told the Jon Pertwee Fan Club Newsletter when asked about his motivation for the character: "I dont think I went into it that deeply, to be frank." He spends the first episode in a semi-coma, though still manages to change his suit. Strangely, his "in a coma" acting is the same acting he uses for all six episodes.
One thing I hate about Who (and this might be shallow) is when they do a plastic forest with a stock recording of "jungle noise" playing in the background. But what really galls is the way Nation misheard his remit... the Producer said "Its season ten", not "the audience is aged ten". "Im qualified in space medicine"; "one of the nastiest pieces of space garbage in the ninth system" ... its all such a pulp dirge. A real Boys Own adventure for the nurseries, it has invisible Daleks, Daleks on hoverboards, Supreme Daleks (which a torch for an eye) and a (silly toy model) army of 10,000 Daleks. Somehow it still manages to be tedious. Its also very slightly anorakky, unusually for Pertwee, with a reference to the original 1964 Dalek story, which would be totally lost on about 50% of the audience.
Probably the story highlight is a close-up of Jos crotch in the first episode, the definite lowlights being Pertwees speeches. Even Kirk didnt get on his soapbox as obviously as this. Whats the moral of the story, Jon? I actually squirm with embarrassment every time I hear his courage lecture. His line about abhorring violence also smacks of hypocrisy, and in terms of his character, this is easily the worst third Doctor story. The Doctor/companion split up seems very dated now, with Jo and the Doctor not being reunited until episode four. In the same episode Jo gets hit on the back of the head by a boulder, but other than knocking her out for 70 seconds it doesnt appear to leave any lasting injury. I wont even mention Nation very obviously bastardising his own 64 Dalek script, and the completely unconvincing Jo/Latep romance.
The science is sloppy and childish, the characterisation and dialogue clichéd (for the Daleks as much as the Thals), the narrative a series of artificial "perils" threaded together. It really is a pile of poo. Opening with an MFI bed in the Tardis and polystyrene on Jons face is just one of many cringe-inducing moments.
As for the Daleks themselves, while not as guttural as their 60s heyday, they do sound more like Daleks again. Theyre wobblier and more sloppily directed than I remembered (David Maloney really knows how to have an off day, doesnt he?), though on reflection this isnt the worst Dalek story. No, that honour possibly goes to Resurrection with hindsight. Planet gets relegated to second last.
While Davros was flogged to death, its clear that at this point in the series they were crying out for him. Its nice to see independent Daleks, but when theyre as stock and formulaic as this they desperately need something to pep them up. How ironic that their creator should be the writer who least understood them. Though post-David Whitaker they would never again seem as good.
And so, The Green Death. First a word on race in Doctor Who. Always terrible when it came to representation of ethnic minorities, the Pertwee years were just as bad as any. Terror of the Autons saw a monosyllabic black strongman, while The Mind of Evil had a silent, sunglasses-decked chauffeur. Frontier In Space contained a West Indian newsreader with a thick Jamaican accent and Madhav Sharma as an Asian political prisoner credited only with the name "Patel". Apparently India is working on its own version of Doctor Who, all full of bowler-hatted Englishmen named "Smith". And thats not to mention Cotton in The Mutants. So The Green Death is seen as the worst of all, a chance to place the middleclass superior attitude of the Doctor into a patronising regional stereotype of Wales. Actually, its perhaps not as bad as its reputation would attest, with Professor Jones being one of the most likeable characters, and the word "boyo" only being said four times (once by Pertwee), which is hardly the "every given opportunity" that the Discontinuity Guide purports.
As for the story itself, its very much a mixture of the good and the bad. First, the bad:
The Time Warrior kicks off Jons final season with some considerable style. The sets, performances and lighting never come over as fully convincing, yet with Robert Holmess script this is partway the point... a Doctor Who story fully aware of its own artificiality as a television programme. Tapped perfectly into this mentality is David Daker in wig and false beard, gloriously hamming up his mock Shakespearean dialogue. Hes hilarious, and describing Pertwee as "is this Doctor a long shank rascal with a mighty nose?" is the funniest line of the era bar none. Theres plenty more, of which "Fetch me that scabby-faced stoat from his burrow" is just one example.
The Time Warrior is of course a story of firsts. It introduces the overrated diamond logo, but also the best-ever title sequence, only rivalled by Troughtons. It also gives us Sarah Jane Smith, instantly making an impact; even if her somewhat artificial womens lib rhetoric does make her one of the most dated and irritating companions at this stage. Finally, it names the Doctors home planet. The fact that "Gallifrey" is given as a throwaway reference in episode two goes to show how distinctly unanorakky the series still was. If JN-T were producer then hed have made a whole interlinked season about it.
As for the Sontarans, for me theyve never really clicked in Who. Theyre okay, but easily interchangeable with any other monster race. The Sontaran Experiment was perfunctory two-parter, while The Invasion of Time saw another two Sontaran episodes tagged on to the end of a six-parter. Worries about them being underwritten werent dispelled when Holmes returned to them for the first time for The Two Doctors. There they were entirely superfluous to the plot, making The Time Warrior the only story where they were used satisfyingly. Linx is also by far the best physical depiction of the creatures. As befits the somewhat superhuman incarnation of the third Doctor, hes already met and has wide knowledge of the Sontarans, despite this being their debut. Listen out too for Linx musing over a Gallifrey invasion - something they would do five years later.
Some claim the story to be a disappointing season opener, and certainly its low-key. However, I think this says more about fan resistance to comedy in the series, rather than any other merits it may lack.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs, a much maligned story, maintains a reasonable quality, until that quality grinds to a halt with Death to the Daleks. Ive never really understood the concept of a story where the villains are the ones in danger. I mean, Death to the Daleks? What next, seven shades of shit out the Cybermen? A kick up the arse for the Zarbi?
A typical Terry Nation script, opening with a power drain on the Tardis, the first episode is also heavily weighted towards the "shock" appearance of the Daleks at the climax. The most remarkable thing about this draggy episode is what would be, were it not for the following story, the worst example of a stunt double in the series (1458 minutes in, Anorak fans!)
However, the difference between Death To and Planet is that, while still pants, this time its generally enjoyable pants. Duncan Lamont and John Abineri make the most of their hacky lines, though as for Joy Harrison get some acting lessons for Gods sake! In terms of the regulars, then Jon seems to be giving a bit more of an effort now hes got a new girl to impress; while the increasingly twittish Sarah gets all in a panic during the first episode. Not out of concern for the Doctor, but because shes got blood on her fingers. Strangely, she gets left to one side, with Bellal substitute companion for exploring the city of the Exxilons. (Though she thinks shes seen it in Pyramids of Mars).
Storywise, then weve had powerless Daleks before (in the ironically named The Power of the Daleks), where they used stealth to grow in strength. Here they just build mechanical guns and take over within twenty minutes of screentime. Their new lick of paint is nice, though the voices are again too thin and human sounding. And having agitated Daleks that cant stay still is a good touch, though draws attention to the dummy one that just sits there at the back. The second half of the tale gives us the childish triumvirate of Bellal, the root (an old bike indicator light on strings) and an ahead-of-its-time version of The Crystal Maze. The scene with the electronically charged floor is remarkably similar to that of the chess game in The Five Doctors. Was Terrance Dicks homaging it, or just ripping it off? Carey Blytons score is the worst incidental music in a Pertwee story, and the whole thing is pretty uninspiring, with any merit the era once had stretched to breaking point. The self-destructing Dalek is silly, and a story where I got the most entertainment from the lines "Doctor, I think you should come now" "Yes, alright, nearly finished" has to be lacking something. As with Planet, the whole thing is strictly for the under-5s, with the Dalek spaceship even having building blocks for its controls.
Jons era had a fair track record for sequels. Both his first two stories were remade as fast-paced action adventure tales. The Monster of Peladon actually reverses this trend by converting a fairly snappy four-parter into a laborious six episodes. Monster was requested from up high in the BBC, who wanted to see Peladon as a saga. For "saga" Brian Hayles obviously read "the exact same story" even Terry Nation doesnt take the piss this much.
One of the twists of the original was the Ice Warriors being revealed as the good guys. Here it goes back on that for a double twist: "You thought they were bad but then they were good but now theyre bad again." Sorry, doesnt work really, does it? Neither do the references to the real-life miners strike, which are too silly and unfocussed to bother with.
Having gotten away with daft aliens last time, the production team overstep the mark, including the miners with hair like racoons (wheres Alpha Centuris mouth by the way? How does it eat and speak?) and the Ice Warriors look silly in colour. As for Eckersley, Eckerslike would be a more appropriate name for one of the more banal characters.
Sarah again spends most of the story apart from the Doctor, getting pushed into dead-end subplots that go nowhere. Its clear watching season eleven again that she didnt really click until Tom joined, and that the writers didnt really know what to do with her. Like all of the season, the whole thing is done on the cheap, so that only three main sets make up the story.
Probably the most notable thing about it is 2314 minutes into episode four where Terry Walsh puts a grey rug on his head for the most obvious stunt double ever. And after being used as a bomb detector, gas exploder and dehypnotiser, its weird seeing the sonic screwdriver being used for its actual purpose this story. Best bit has to be the end credits to the fourth week, which have a cool-sounding explosion running under them. But you can see how tired and despondent the production team was getting by the sheer number of sloppy mistakes. A hole in a door thats been burnt through appears and disappears, you can see the boots on Aggedor when he dies, and Pertwee even sings his "Venusian Lullaby" out of tune.
To be honest, even though the target age is again toddlers, and it craps over the memory of the original, I didnt mind this one so much on second viewing. Maybe I was just in a good mood. Or maybe thats what gets The Three Doctors the honour of worst Jon Pertwee story... Monster is expectedly lacklustre, yet the Doctors promised so much...
While Colin got the high-profile sacking, both Hartnell and Pertwee were replaced over pay disputes, effectively given the push. Can you believe Jon had the nerve to ask for more money after season eleven? Instead they did the right thing, got rid of an increasingly tired central performance and brought in the energy of Tom Baker, making a financial saving into the bargain.
So it is that Jon (who wears a crystal throughout his entire last season what next, Doctor Who buys some joss sticks and herbal remedies?) gets to leave in Barry Lettss Buddhist parable. The Doctor must rid himself of ego, and theres no greater ego than Pertwees. When it comes to send offs, then Jons was the least spectacular of the first five Doctors. However, Planet of the Spiders is still a good wholesome romp that more than transcends its limitations.
You know, Im terrified of spiders. Horrible things. Though I cant say that fear extends to rubber ones on strings, (over) enthusiastically voiced by Ysanne "Alpha Centuri" Churchman and Maureen Morris. Theres also some iffy CSO on show but nothing that bad. In many ways this could complete the storys status as a tribute to the era.
The Brigadier is again a bumbling simpleton, though the scene where we accidentally discover about "Doris from Brighton" is very funny. Even the silly bit where Benton discusses coffee tips made me laugh. Mike Yates, sporting long hair, flowing tweeds and possibly make-up, is trying to find himself at a Buddhist monastery. Face it, Mike youre gay. Its the 70s; its nothing to be ashamed of. Such character development is a great though, yet its a shame he never made it up with Benton.
John Dearth is a great presence as Lupton, fuelling the (untrue) myth that the story was originally written for The Master. (Had he not been killed, Roger Delgado would have had a final yet different story in the same slot. His widow, Kismet, voices one of the spiders here).
Bearing in mind that Roger Moore, not Connery, was James Bond during the Pertwee years, then episode two famously contains a very, very silly albeit entertaining multi-vehicle chase sequence that is drawn out for over eleven minutes. Jon gets some funny lines, like "Much as I admire your stoic acceptance of the inevitable I would appreciate it if youd shut up for a moment"; and Sarah seems to be coming into her own at last. As with The Sea Devils, another iconic moment isnt used as a cliffhanger. The revelation that Sarah has a spider on her back is left over until the final part, with Tommy under attack being brought forward to climax episode five. Some of the Metebelis two-legs (Im thinking mainly the Rick James-rivalling Jenny Laird here) are ropy on the old acting front, though perhaps not as bad as remembered. Even so, when Pertwee remarks "this is getting monotonous" after another escape/capture you do have to agree, even just a little. For an increasingly boring characterisation that "never tells lies" and constantly calls people "old chap", Jon breaks through any shortcomings by giving us some depth for his final outing. The "Is that fear I can feel in your mind?" scene with the Great One is a particular standout.
Kevin Lindsay doing the old "grasshopper" bit seems suspect; though John Kane is wonderful as Tommy. Sarahs "youre normal" line after his learning difficulties have been removed is dodgy, though his performance more than compensates. In terms of the narrative, then it can easily be taken to bits. For a start, sadly, Luptons role becomes completely redundant, as he is emasculated by the spiders and sidelined, then killed. Tommy, too, while a great character, is completely superfluous. You can argue that such things are there as flavouring, and that the core of the story is the Doctors facing of his greatest fear. However, its hard to shake the feeling that given one or two extra drafts Planet of the Spiders could have gone from being just a good story into a great one.
It has to be said that season eleven was by far Jons weakest. What started out as a fresh take on the show quickly became stale due to a limited set of parameters, both in stories and in central performance. His successor held the role for seven years and never bored, largely due to the variety of his portrayal and in the subject matter. Sadly, it has to be said that 1974 left Jon looking like an elderly dog that needed taking to the vets and putting down.
One of the biggest flaws with the writing of the Pertwee era is the disregard for satisfying climaxes. Coincidence, contrivance and deus et machina all combine together to defeat any resolution that might grow naturally out of the plot. In order of screening, heres the worst of the bunch:
Spearhead From Space: "Now, Missss Sssssshaw, Ive got a boxxxx with ssssssome wiressssss on it, thatll sssssstop thossssssssse Autonsssssssssss."; Terror of the Autons: After plotting to bring the Nestene to Earth for four episodes, criminal genius the Master changes his mind in one second flat after the Doctor asks him "Do you really think that thing will distinguisssssssh between you and ussssss?" Together they reverse the polarity to overcome the menace; The Claws of Axos: Places the Axons in a timeloop, but boosts power to the Tardis to escape from it himself; The Daemons: Azal tries to destroy the Doctor, but when Jo steps into save him, he disintegrates as a result of her self sacrifice gesture. What a cop-out. The Sea Devils: Despite claiming to have reversed something or other in eight stories, The Sea Devils was the only time outside of The Five Doctors where Jon got to "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow." This can largely be forgiven here, though, for a good, albeit predictable, ending which allows The Master to escape. Frontier In Space: The crappest ending of all, as a big run-around (Was Mike Reid directing by shouting out "G-g-g-g-go!"?) is made even worse by the chop-happy editing. The political situation built up over the last six episodes is completely discarded as Jon goes in pursuit of the Daleks, while its doubly sad as this was to be Roger Delgados final appearance, making it twice the anti-climax. The Time Warrior: Linx gets conveniently shot in the back of the neck, causing him to accidentally destroy his own spaceship. Meanwhile, the Doctor has rigged a box with some buttons on it to return scientists back to the present. Invasion of the Dinosaurs: "Hes reversed the polarity!" Need I say more? The Monster of Peladon: Helps the situation by using a teleporting statue to murder three Ice Warriors in cold blood. This isnt the actual climax of this story, but I kept falling asleep through this one so I guess itll do.
In many ways the Pertwee years are anathema to what Doctor Who is really all about. A superficially bad tempered, yet always respectful man, who calls others "sir", moralises to the point of tedium and uses violence to overcome his foes. Barry Lettss liberal values were good for the programme, but forced, thus disrespecting the intelligence of his audience. And for a liberal, then why was his Doctor the most violent of all? Not only is this a problem ethically, but any dramatic potential is negated by a Doctor who is physically stronger than his foes, particularly in his conflicts with the Master. However, while definitely the weakest era of the first four Doctors, taken on its own terms the period is actually very, very enjoyable. So much so that, even bearing in mind the huge drop in quality for his last two seasons, I get to award Jons time on the show: