The Third Doctor era is very possibly the most unique that exists in the entirety of the Doctor Who franchise. Needing a shakeup to survive the departures of the main cast and the 1970s on the horizon, a plan was devised to turn Doctor Who into essentially a modern day Quatermass. The Doctor would become stranded on Earth, unable to use the TARDIS, and surrounded by UNIT and the Brigadier, figures from the previous era that had been introduced ready for this change to take place.
In many ways, the show was almost unrecognisable. With a sterner and more adult Doctor, dealing with gadgets, mad scientists and the military, the fun times of the Second Doctor were over. And yet, this era still had a cosiness to it, once it had settled down for its second season. After one season of elongated seven-episode serials that had barely any extra-terrestrial influence at all, the companion Liz Shaw was retired, as an equal to the Doctor was seen as a bad thing, and so Jo Grant was brought in along with a Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock. The fondness of this run lies here, with the Doctor, Jo and UNIT vs the Master and alien invasions, until the Master was retired from constant use to be used more sparingly, and the show began to allow occasional ventures off-world.
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Being sent on missions for the Time Lords, there were three serials where the Doctor and Jo ventured to alien worlds until the show’s tenth anniversary, where after saving his people, the Doctor was allowed freedom once more. A noteworthy event, ‘The Three Doctors’ saw not only the return of Patrick Troughton and, to a lesser extent, William Hartnell as the Second and First Doctors, but also a trip into Time Lord lore with one of the founding fathers of their society.
From there Doctor Who became business as usual, with the Master popping up once more while Daleks and Ice Warriors also returned to face the Doctor. Eventually, in Pertwee’s final season, the iconic Sarah-Jane Smith was introduced and became one of the best-loved characters of the whole show, while fan-favourites the Sontarans also made their debut.
But what of Pertwee’s Doctor himself? A James Bond-esque figure, harbouring a disdain for authority and yet a respect for the Brigadier, his gruffness was balanced with warmth and a fatherly outlook for Jo, and a friendly banter against the Master. There has never been another Doctor like the late Jon Pertwee, and it’s a testament to his performance between 1970-1974 that he’s so fondly remembered…
5) ‘Terror of the Autons’ (1971)
The Eighth season of the show launched with a highly influential story.
Not only do we see the Autons get a return appearance, and Katy Manning debuts as Jo Grant, but we also get the introduction of the Master played by Roger Delgado.
But even without the pure joy of these two iconic characters arriving in the show, it’s also just a great story. To follow the fan love for Spearhead is no mean feat, but the sequel for the Autons is a huge bit of fun that is sure to engage all fans across the four episodes.
Whether it’s the Master confronting the Doctor, the plastic chair, the troll doll or the telephone cord of doom, the story never lets up and it’s all the better for it!
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4) ‘The Mind of Evil’ (1971)
The story broadcast immediately after ‘Autons’, ‘Mind’ tends to slip under the radar of the show in general.
Stuck between that and ‘The Claws of Axos’, you’d be forgiven for being unaware of its existence entirely. And yet, it’s a brilliant piece of Who that perfectly blends the Doctor/Master dynamic, the political conspiracies of the Pertwee years and the alien threats to the planet.
Doctor Who’s first Face-Your-Fear story is one not to miss, peppered with iconic imagery and even a moment that RTD would later pay homage to in ‘Last of the Time Lords’ (2007).
3) ‘The Sea Devils’ (1972)
Acting as a sequel of sorts to ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ (1970), ‘The Sea Devils’ is clearly the superior of the two.
Having rested the Master a little after appearing in every story of season 8, this story really focuses in on the frenemy aspect of his relationship with the Doctor, from witty banter, conversation and the sword fight at the end of episode two.
Further than that, the use of the Navy in UNIT’s place allows for a very different setting for the era, thanks in no small part to the actual Navy helping with production, and a more successful yet ultimately squandered attempt from the Doctor to make peace with the Humans and Reptilia. Ignoring the god-awful music score, the story is a clear example of the quality of the era.
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2) ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ (1974)
Hitting the latter end of Pertwee’s run, ‘Dinosaurs’ is possibly the last ‘conventional’ story of his. On Earth, with UNIT, helping combat an invasion and mad human schemes. The angle it takes, however, is a very interesting one.
There’s the mad scientist plot with the weird spaceship on the side, but equally we have some laughable Dinosaur puppets that you can’t help but love, while Mike Yates gets a gripping development in his character.
And even if the internal espionage and deceptive, bizarre time schemes don’t take your fancy, we get the Doctor fighting a Pterodactyl with a mop, the Whomobile and the utter joy of part one.
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1) ‘Carnival of Monsters’ (1973)
There’s just something so perfect about ‘Carnival of Monsters’.
In many ways an unusual Third Doctor story, it’s the first one for the show reverting back to its roots and it’s a whole lot of fun. There’s a lot to love here, from the Drashigs and Ian Marter in a role before Harry Sullivan, to the OTT Vorg and the tiny people scurrying around the machine.
It’s a perfect representation of the classic series: Robert Holmes, utterly iconic cliffhangers (Doctor Who and the Hand of DOOM!), a cheap looking monster and laughable CSO. A brilliant way to spend your time.
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5) ‘Colony in Space’ (1971)
While it makes the list, ‘Colony’ is not as bad as most of the fandom believes it is.
There are great performances from Pertwee and Delgado, and a lovely robot, but equally that doesn’t save it. A typical classic Who quarry for the first alien planet in colour is a choice but in line with the drab greyness of the serial as a whole. Silver robots, colourless sets, grey aliens and even a metallic costume for the Master…
It’s noteworthy that nine stories into this new format for the show, the writers are already thinking up ways to send the Doctor into space once again. Not an overly offensive story, just a bit of a drab and dull one unfortunately.
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4) ‘The Green Death’ (1973)
Here comes the hot take. The fandom as a whole really holds this one in high esteem, but it doesn’t do it for me.
It has all the makings of a perfect story and to many it is. But I just don’t gel with the narrative as a whole. The Nut Hutch stuff drags out and it was a mistake to spend half an episode just in a boat surrounded by maggots.
Admittedly this one has some great moments, such as the Doctor’s excursion to Metebelis III in part one, his disguises in part four, and once BOSS enters the scene it picks up. But for the most part it’s just a little unenjoyable.
The maggots and flies don’t look great despite being effective, and Mike’s entire story in this feels a little out of nowhere, although retroactively is improved through ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’. Still, despite the middle segment really not being for me and not being a story I can binge, Jo’s storyline is beautiful and the entire ending with the wedding is heartbreaking with that last shot of Bessie, even if the marriage comes a little quick. Not an awful story (and considering its placement on this list, a testament to this era) and has some great moments, but one that is overrated and placed on a pedestal it doesn’t quite deserve.
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3) ‘Death to the Daleks’ (1974)
Famously the all-time favourite story of voice of the Daleks, Nick Briggs, ‘Death’ is the most unconventional of all Jon Pertwee stories.
Gone is UNIT, Jo, the Master, and the comforts of Earth. Instead, we’re on another barren world with a Human science team and some creatures that resemble the Jawas from Star Wars. This is not a very good story and really tests your patience over the four-episode runtime.
The Daleks really are wasted on the concept, just making new weapons rather than being forced into an alliance, and the aforementioned Exxilons make little to no impact bar Belal, who acts more as the companion in this story than Sarah-Jane. Team that with a weird sacrificial plotline, a weird snake robot. and a weak ending and it’s easy to bully. However, it does get points for a lovely Dalek design and possibly one of the best ‘bad’ cliffhangers of the entire show at the end of part three.
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2) ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ (1970)
For years, my least favourite Third Doctor there was. Indeed, Season 7 overall has never been one I’m fond of, but a recent rewatch has opened my eyes a little to this one.
By no means is it good, but perhaps it’s not as horrendous as I once believed. Regardless, the story really tests patience. From a stock human villain, the side-lining of Liz, and barely using the titular Ambassadors, this story stretches the seven-episode runtime to impressive degrees.
Apparently, a carry-over from the Troughton years, it’s hard to see how this would have worked in that format, while even here it’s a bad episode. Frequent uses of the CSO technique allow for some psychedelic scenes in part six and that’s the most exciting part of the whole thing. Bar a few fun moments such as UNIT launching an attack through Bessie and the Doctor’s retrieval of Mars Probe 7, this is yet another story that is held in higher esteems than it deserves, even if the part four cliff-hanger really engrains on your mind.
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1) ‘Planet of the Daleks’ (1973)
There was a real issue with Terry Nation copying his debut script ‘The Daleks’ throughout his time on the show. And like that story, the most carbon copy edition makes the worst list.
Not only does the existence of this story squander the ending of ‘Frontier in Space’ and the last moments of Roger Delgado as the Master, but the six episodes feel like an insult to your patience.
Part one offers the illusion of a decent story, from the Doctor’s half-episode coma (a reoccurring theme in the Pertwee years) and Jo’s meeting of the Thals, but almost immediately that intrigue is crushed by the time you end Part two. From there it gets worse. After an admittedly fun and innovative escape from the Dalek lair and molten ice, the story completely forgets that the concept of plot exists, and the cast just sit around for an episode and a half doing nothing bar talking and looking at floating blue fur coats.
Once it actually remembers it needs a conclusion, the elongated nothing-ness of the preceding episodes force a very rushed conclusion to the point where you feel the story hasn’t even truly concluded by the time the credits roll. With part six forced to deal with two episodes worth of wrap up, the whole thing truly feels like a waste. A waste of time, the talents of the actors and an utterly brilliant Dalek design. At least the Doctor’s speech to Codal is nice?
Finally, the comics are more accessible for this Doctor so they can finally join the expanded-media party recommendations.
Best Comic: Heralds of Destruction
Titan Comics’ one foray into the Pertwee years and it’s a certified win.
Written by Paul Cornell, Heralds completely subverts the story midway through, revealing the Master as an ally to the team this time. There’s also a brief foray into the ‘70s-core’ mind of Jo, the surprise return of a past villain used to brilliant effect, and even a small examination of the Third Doctor’s character in the final part. Pick it up.
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Best Audios: The Annihilators / The Sacrifice of Jo Grant
Two brilliant audios that are impossible to choose from! While Annihilators is a very recent release, Nick Briggs crafts a love letter to season seven and the characters of the Third Doctor, Liz Shaw and the Brigadier; while Tim Treloar, Daisy Ashford and Jon Culshaw perfectly honour the legacy of the late original actors. Meanwhile the debut of Michael Troughton as the Second Doctor is an utterly lovely addition to proceedings and allows for a modern day ‘Three Doctors’ dynamic between the Doctors.
Sacrifice, meanwhile, is the true finale to the Doctor and Jo’s dynamic. While ‘Green Death’ might have been her departure, this is their goodbye. An older Jo travelling back in time and meeting up with her Doctor allows for an hour of beautiful examination of the two characters, especially since Jo has met a future Doctor at this point (the Eleventh). Just to hear the Doctor tell Jo he was proud of her will tug on the heartstrings, and Treloar really delivers as if Jon Pertwee rose from the grave to give one last performance opposite Katy Manning. Beautiful stuff, and there’s even the lovely moment of Kate talking with her father.
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Best Book: Last of the Gaderene
Gadarene is a love letter.
Written by Mark Gatiss, self-acclaimed Pertwee-years lover, we get what so could have been a TV episode.
The Master, Jo, UNIT, an alien invasion and the Third Doctor, all in a village at the height of summer; it reads as a novelisation of a lost TV script from 1971, if you discount the Doctor’s brief foray to an alien world at the start…