Monday, 22 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors

Part One

“I am he and he is me.”

“And we are all together, goo goo goo joob?”

An interesting footnote at the start, courtesy of the extraordinarily uber-70s Open University lecturer supreme that is Dr Tyler. “We may not be NASA, but we still get results” he says, implying no British space programme. We’ve come a long way since Ambassadors of Death. In fact, by now there seems to be little or no attempt to make it appear that these stories are set in the near future.

We’ve also come a long way since UNIT was something to be taken seriously, of course, and this is not a situation which can be sustained. The Brigadier has now been reduced to comic relief, passing the Doctor a silver rod to stir his tea with. And he gets lines which hardly help either the character or the format: “Make yourself at home. We’re only supposed to be a top security establishment. Liberty Hall, Dr Tyler. Liberty Hall!”

But of course all this doesn’t matter, as the format is about to be pretty much dispensed with anyway. And besides, it’s all such good fun. And it’s odd, because before the marathon I always had a particular dislike for this story. But seeing it in sequence it’s such fun. Never has a story risen in my estimation so much during this marathon.

Anyway, back to part one. It’s all very Pertwee- weird music, magnificently bizarre plot courtesy of the Bristol Boys- but then we get a foreshadowing of what’s to come as the Doctor says to Jo “When I tell you to run, run!” It may not be intentional, but it certainly got me into a frenzied state of anticipation.

Incidentally, where’s Yates? Still in hospital after being blown up in The Time Monster? Benton, meanwhile, finally gets to see the inside of the TARDIS. And it’s been redesigned for the second story in a row. Blimey.

It’s a bit odd to see the Doctor call upon the Time Lords for help for only the second time- the stakes don’t feel anywhere near as high as they did in The War Games. There’ve been eight fewer episodes by this point, for a start. And we see the Time Lords’ planet (we don’t know what it’s called yet, of course) for the first time in colour. Is it me, or is there a very ‘70s-looking brown and orange curtain on the wall to the right? It’s all getting very exciting indeed: one of the Time Lords is a judge from the Doctor’s trial, the Time Lords are in trouble, and they suddenly start talking about bringing back the Trout! Apparently, the first law of time is “Thou shalt not cross thine own time stream”, but nobody cares much about the law at times like this.

It’s the Trout! Yay! And suddenly, after years of assuming the Troughton seen here to have been a caricature of his previous performance, in the context of the marathon I now realise I was dead wrong. Before, I thought of the second Doctor as the character seen in Season Six, because those were the stories I’d seen. But this Doctor, with his whimsicality, his recorder, his intelligence hidden behind a clownish exterior, is the Doctor I remember from recently watching all his stories in order. He’s just right. Extraordinary.

It gets even better though. Soon the Time Lords are talking about “the earliest Doctor” (interesting- it’s explicitly stated he was the first) and there he is. And it’s great to see him.

“So you’re my replacements. A dandy and a clown.” Fantastic!

Part Two

“Because he told me to. And I’ve always had great respect for his advice.”

The Brigadier’s face when he first claps eyes on the Trout is truly a sight to behold. And while his flat refusal to believe what he’s told seems less of a shark-jumping moment in context, it’s still a low point for the character. And his reaction to the TARDIS is even worse. Still, he gets a good line about the Doctor being his own assistant.

A very interesting first; the first Doctor to offer jelly babies is Troughton… in a Pertwee story. I wasn’t expecting that!

We get to see Hartnell again. Fantastic, utterly wonderful in context. There’s a parallel here in my reaction to Troughton this time around; I used to find the Hartnell scenes embarrassing, even wrong, as Hartnell is so clearly ill and struggling with his lines. And yet, in context, it’s really great to see him again. And yes, he may be struggling a little, but there’s something triumphant there too. His scenes are magical.

Part Three

“I’m fairly sure that’s Cromer…”

For the second story in a row we’re introduced to some important Time Lord mythology- Omega, a “solar engineer” who created time travel for the Time Lords by blowing up a star and creating a singularity. Those Bristol Boys and their big, big ideas!

Trout says “Oh, my giddy aunt”! This is such a nostalgia fest. Who cares if the Brig is a buffoon and the cliffhanger is pointless? 

Part Four

“All things shall be destroyed! All things! All things! All things!

It’s genuinely shocking and effective that Omega has nothing under his helmet and only exists through sheer will. Somehow this is such a fantastic idea that it doesn’t even matter that Omega has never once, in his thousands of years in this world, looked into the mirror directly opposite his throne. Those Bristol Boys and their big ideas!

This is as fantastic as all the other episodes, aside from the fact that everyone who walks through the smoke arrives on Earth at once. Troughton’s great, acting Pertwee completely off the screen. The Brigadier says “Wonderful chap. Both of him.” And best of all, the Doctor’s exile is over.

Wow. I thought I was going to give this 1/5. I’ve always hated this story. And yet, this time it didn’t matter that much of it made no sense, that Ollis and Tyler have no reason to be there or that the treatment of UNIT and the Brig was unforgivable. Far more important was the fun of the big, big ideas and, best of all, the old Doctors. It really was great to see them again.

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