Doctor Who complete reviews: The Three Doctors
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
The first multiple-Doctor story proves ambitious beyond its means...
They say it’s your birthday. Well, it’s Macca’s birthday too, yeah. That means that Macca must have a birthday for every time that his White Album song is played all over the world.
Birthdays though aren’t half as fun as they used to be. These days, a birthday is just a sign of getting older, and to make matters worse, each one comes around with ever-increasing speed. Far better were the days in which you had birthdays as a kid. Happy days. And even Doctor Who got in on the act with its 10th season opener.
The Three Doctors boasts all the hallmarks of a traditional birthday celebration. And why not? The show had reached 10 seasons, and in 1973, it had reached a milestone 10-year anniversary. Quite an achievement for a show about a loopy old man travelling through time and space in a police box. So, to kick off the 10th season, The Three Doctors ticked all the boxes when it came to celebrating birthdays…
- Relatives present? Check. Not only is the familiar team of Jo, The Brig and Benton present and correct, The Third Doctor is joined by the equivalent of the naughty uncle (The Second Doctor) and the granddad (The First Doctor). OK, so Yates is too busy presumably lighting joss sticks and reading Golden Age pamphlets, but there’s very much a family feel to The Three Doctors, just like when all your relatives gathered at your 10th birthday party.
- Jelly? Check. The blobby jelly monsters sent by Omega to fetch The Doctor resemble your average bowl of jelly. Even the inside of Omega’s world looks like the aftermath of a strawberry trifle shootout in the BBC studios.
- Magician? Shalumy-galumy-zoop – it’s Omega! A man that can will a whole world into being. If that’s not magic then what is? Omega’s trickery makes The Great Soprendo look like a clueless schoolboy.
- The present that you always wanted? Check. Finally, The Doctor gets the dematerialisation circuit that he always wanted after helping to defeat Omega. It’s the moment that he’s dreamt of for many a time since he got exiled to Earth.
"Enjoyable though it is, there’s still a few nagging elements that could have been corrected before The Three Doctors went before the cameras"
So The Three Doctors is very much a celebration where everything pretty much comes together for everybody’s favourite Time Lord. For the viewer though (or at least this viewer), The Three Doctors isn’t exactly the celebration of a lifetime. Enjoyable though it is, there’s still a few nagging elements that could have been corrected before it went before the cameras.
In fact, for such a milestone, The Three Doctors, for all its returning Doctors, is oddly low-key. There’s definitely none of the huge-scale celebration of The Stolen Earth /Journey’s End or The Pandorica Opens /The Big Bang, both of which boasted returning companions and monsters respectively.
The Three Doctors, by contrast, starts out with The Doctor being terrorised by a crackling lump of TOTP jelly. Quite why The Doctor has to call upon the help of the Time Lords in the first place is a bit of a puzzle. After all, The Doctor’s been pitted against far deadlier threats than the fizzing lump of goo. The Master. The Daleks. The Cybermen. At any point, The Doctor could have gulped in terror, scuttled to the TARDIS and activated the Time Lord hotline. Fair enough, the TOTP blob does have a habit of dematerialising anything that crosses its path, but it just strikes me that The Doctor could surely come up with a cunning plan to banish the life form back to its own point of origin.
Unfortunately, the budget’s not enough to do the story justice. As it is, The Doctor’s either paying a visit to a run-down old farm on a wet November day – or he’s transported to – dah dah! A Quarry! No self-respecting Doctor Who celebration should be without a quarry though, let's face it – but given Omega’s power and ability to conjure chairs out of nowhere, you would have thought that he could have turned his world into a lush, green oasis. Or a funfair. Or a sandy beach. But no – he decides that only a quarry will do. The novelisation from Uncle Terrance does dwell upon this, as at one point, The Doctor and Omega chat momentarily in the fresh surroundings of a paradise. But sadly, there wasn’t enough money in the kitty to transport this idea to the TV.
"It’s a shame – the budget just doesn’t do the big ideas justice"
I actually hate going on about budget. When all is said and done, great Doctor Who stories are all about ideas and concepts. Horror Of Fang Rock is a classic example of a brilliant story that doesn’t lean on big budget sets or monsters. But sadly, The Three Doctors’ script does boast some big ideas that don’t translate well to screen. The interior sets look terribly fake. The Time Lord planet now resembles a Crackerjack call centre. Omega’s domain looks terribly false. And the Gell Guards just fail completely. Never has a monster looked more silly than the Gell Guards, overgrown blobby jelly babies that sound like a slowed down version of Bill And Ben The Flowerpot Men. It’s a shame – the budget just doesn’t do the big ideas justice. Even Lennie Mayne’s direction is less impressive than his outstanding work on The Curse Of Peladon. Batman angles do not an alien world make.
There aren’t that many supporting characters on display either. Apart from Omega, there’s a couple of blokes who look as if they wandered in from different shows altogether. Dr Tyler looks like he was looking for an Open University studio and then got roped in at the last minute to help The Doctor and Jo. Tyler doesn’t really get much to do. He does make a futile escape attempt in episode two after landing by mistake on Omega’s world. But beyond that, he’s either trapped in a cell or bumbling about like a fifth wheel while The Doctors and the UNIT family talk shop in the TARDIS.
Even worse is Mr Ollis. I always thought he was called Mr Hollis – but no, it’s Ollis. Maybe this is how farmers call themselves, with their “Oooh-arr” Farmer Barlemow accents. Maybe someone called Henderson becomes Enderson. Or someone called Hickman calls himself Ickman. Whatever. Ollis though does absolutely bugger all for the whole story, gurning and pottering away in the background like one of those odd Antiques Roadshow people who try and get their ugly mug on the telly. It’s not as if Ollis contributes anything substantial to the story – he just chips in with the occasional grunt if that. Despite looking like a 100-year-old Mick Hucknall, Ollis proves to be one of the least memorable supporting characters in Who. Ever.
"Omega is basically a man with a big metal bucket on his head, storming about his jelly factory with the mood of a shark that’s just been repeatedly jabbed non-stop with a harpoon"
Still, these two bits of background scenery are only supposed to prop up the mighty Omega, the all-revered Time Lord who sacrificed everything to give his race the power of time travel. In actual fact, Omega is basically a man with a big metal bucket on his head, storming about his jelly factory with the mood of a shark that’s just been repeatedly jabbed non-stop with a harpoon. But with the requirement for a god-like entity with a shouty voice, there’s only one man to do the job. Yup, Stephen Thorne, fresh from deafening everyone into submission as Azal in The Daemons is back. BACK!!! BAAAAACCCCKKK!!!!! Incredibly – and this is no word of a lie, this is possibly Thorne’s most subdued performance out of his four appearances in Who. There are some scenes when he’s casually info-dumping to The Doctor in what could be classed as quite a quiet voice. But more often than not, Thorne’s bellowing at the top of his voice as if he’s trying to speak into a microphone located in Budapest rather than one that’s directly above his head. One of the most infamous examples of this is the scene in which he realises that there’s nothing left of him. He proceeds to give a bizarre yodelling shriek – admittedly, this terrified me as a kid, but these days, I think he sounds like an injured goat trying to do an impersonation of Mariah Carey. On the brief subject of which, I’m not sure how on Earth Omega’s supposed to actually walk and talk when in reality he should just implode into a smoking pile. But then science has never been my strong point.
Even if the big bad shouty villain isn’t quite what you’d expect, at least you can rely upon the regulars and the returning Doctors? Well, yes and no. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are as marvellous as ever, even if Jo’s oddly subdued for most of the story. Pertwee gets some great moments such as his angry outburst at Omega (“TAKE IT!!!”) and his later genuine sorrow at having to trick him. John Levene as Benton really comes into his own here, forming the comic foil to Troughton’s comedy act. But sadly, the character of The Brigadier really goes off the rails here, and despite the best efforts of Nicholas Courtney, his new dim persona is one of the most grating aspects of The Three Doctors.
OK, so I’m all for a bit of light relief, but when it’s at the expense of a credible, well-rounded character like The Brig, it’s enough to make you howl like Omega. What’s actually happened? Did The Brig swap personalities with Tim Nice-But-Dim? Did he drink one cognac too many at the national UNIT conference? Or is it just lazy scriptwriting? Your choice. Whatever the reason, The Brig just acts like a clueless dullard throughout, refusing to take on board the fact that The Second Doctor has arrived to help his other self. Or that it’s possible to travel to another world, something that he acknowledged as far back as The Invasion. When he’s not behaving like a comedy thicko, The Brig’s too busy acting by the book, all pomp and circumstance – I guess the idea was to lighten the character a bit, but this is too much. The result is a character that has no credibility at all, and instead just comes over as a pompous fool.
"The Three Doctors really isn’t quite the birthday party you’d hoped for. The production standards may be excusable, but the shoddy treatment of two of the most important characters in Who’s history isn’t"
The returning Doctors also get a raw deal. Sadly, William Hartnell’s illness means that he’s reduced to reading lines in a garden shed. Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, while in the thick of the action, is unfortunately a different man. Yes, The Second Doctor had his clownish side, but this was always tempered by his quick-thinking mind and nerves of steel. The Second Doctor of The Three Doctors is just a clown, a man that’s too busy faffing around with his recorder and getting in everyone’s way - nothing like the character that we all know. Patrick Troughton being Patrick Troughton of course overcomes this huge obstacle and delivers yet another winning performance. But then such is the strength of Troughton’s acting, he could even play Fatboy in EastEnders and still emerge with dignity intact. That said, I do like the clashing Doctors and their repartee. It’s nice to see The Third Doctor eventually get to like his predecessor by the end of the show, after the two have been squabbling throughout. The end scene in which The Second Doctor bids adieu is really rather sweet.
The Three Doctors really isn’t quite the birthday party you’d hoped for. The production standards may be excusable, but the shoddy treatment of two of the most important characters in Who’s history isn’t. It’s just as well that Nicholas Courtney and Patrick Troughton are such brilliant actors that you can just about forgive this lapse. Generally, though, while The Three Doctors is an entertaining enough launch of the all-important 10th season of Doctor Who, there’s still that nagging feeling that it just could have been that bit better.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.