The Three Doctors

Original release:
Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(See bottom of page for Special Edition options)
(Doctor Who Story No. 65,
starring Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and William Hartnell)
  • written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  • directed by Lennie Mayne
  • produced by Barry Letts
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor finds himself pursued by anti-matter blob creatures on Earth, while a black hole begins to drain all the energy from his home planet of Gallifrey. To better resolve the crisis, the Time Lords reunite the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) with his former selves (Patrick Troughton & William Hartnell). Can they remain productive while their egos clash, and solve the mystery at the heart of old Gallifreyan legends?

Original DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), and producer Barry Letts.
  • BSB's "31 Who" interviews with Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), writers Bob Baker & Dave Martin, script editor Terrance Dicks,
    and actor Nicholas Courtney. Introduced by John Nathan-Turner. (10 min., Ex S-VHS)
  • Pebble Mill at One: 1972 interviews with Patrick Troughton (The 2nd Doctor) and Bernard Wilkie (visual effects dept.) (21 min.)
  • PanoptiCon '93: 30th anniversary panel with Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, and Nicholas Courtney (30 min.) [not included in Special Edition]
  • Jon Pertwee & his Whomobile appear on "Blue Peter" during a retrospective of Doctor Who's first ten years (13 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (4 min.)
  • "Who's Who" text biographies (may only be included on the Region 1 NTSC original release)

Special Edition DVD extras include:

  • "Happy Birthday to Who" making-of featurette (23 min.), with Manning, Letts, Dicks, co-writer Bob Baker, and actor Stephen Thorne (Omega).
  • critical defense featurette (14 min.)
  • "Girls, Girls, Girls: 1970's", with Manning, Caroline John (Liz Shaw), and Louise Jameson (Leela). (21 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Season Ten is probably the easiest to rank of the Jon Pertwee Era, with a wide contrast between the cream of the crop and the bottom of the barrel.

Dudley Simpson gains another complete monopoly on the show's music this season, but unfortunately does not accomplish anything near as interesting as in season eight. Although the season's music is mostly decent and tasteful, very little of it stands out.

The Three Doctors

Season Ten kicks off with yet another fun story, which does not altogether seem to take itself too seriously, despite all the heavy series mythology and landmark events it portrays. Humour abounds to make it all work in the end, thanks in large part to Patrick Troughton and a slightly less realistic Brigadier.

The story starts off on an unusually quiet note. The pace soon picks up as Jon Pertwee's Doctor and his UNIT friends are brought into an investigation by a guest character, and a wonderful video-effect of a creature oozes out to threaten all of UNIT. The ranks of the antagonists soon swell, and thanks to an effective soundtrack and fast-paced editing, these antagonists work really well at this point. Well done.

Sgt. Benton is given his first introduction to the fantastical relationship between the interior and exterior of the TARDIS, making it all crystal clear for those in the audience who might not have understood it yet - all this in a season opener and stand-alone classic. Lennie Mayne has earned his points for visual literacy here.

All this is but a prelude to the main gimmick of the story. The real fun begins when Patrick Troughton appears on the scene and has a chance to interact with all the regulars of the Pertwee era who at best only appeared briefly in Troughton's own. William Hartnell is also thrown in for highly-nostalgic good measure, but alas only appears on scanner screens, and mysteriously loses most of his colour in the process, needlessly trapping him back in his monochrome era. Of course it seems ridiculous now to think of Time Lords and all manner of other future and off-planet civilizations all making do with black and white TV's, monitors, and scanners, but 1970's mentality rules this and many other productions of the day.

"Seems to be your forté, Doctor: confusing people."

Touché. Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin know the science they want to impart and how it relates to their story, but their preoccupation with characters who have trouble "getting it" often results in dialogue that is confusing by design. This becomes one of the staple devices they use to create some humour in the script; unfortunately it only produces quality lines about 50% of the time.

Patrick Troughton gets the best bits out of episode two: tons of humorous banter with the Brigadier and Benton, and a continued stand-off with the antagonists that work in the story. The Brigadier also gets his first look inside the TARDIS in episode two, an historic moment in itself that also furthers the clarity of the TARDIS concept.

Jon Pertwee's Doctor is mostly occupied with filler by comparison. When he finally gets some screen-time, his party does alright at first in exploration mode, but there's not much to get excited about and flesh out his scenes.

"Ah, that was a bit of a waste of time, wasn't it?"

Things look like they're picking up when the antagonists make their presence known, but Pertwee's episode two segments then sink to their worst - a load of silly running around in some cheap corridor sets, along with some bland dialogue that tries to pass the time. This is where the antagonists come off as extremely lame, a letdown in the sound mix, the "acting", and the plot logic. Dudley Simpson's music is at its worst for the story here, light and tinkly as though scoring an episode of the children's program "The Polka-Dot Door". Even as Simpson tries to build a suspenseful mood, his sounds are so high-pitch and lacking in resonance that he is really just ensuring that the viewers can't take any of it too seriously. Not effective. Pertwee's party also makes the mistake of deciding to stop and talk for hours often, while the antagonists illogically sit by and let them. Also mysteriously absent from episode two are any of those excellent composite exterior and interior shots of the entrance to the lair - we certainly have enough screen time to spare to drop in such quality shots. As it stands, the cut between the inside and outside environments feels like something important has been left out. Mayne loses some of his marks for visual literacy here.

Which came first, the Alpha or the Omega?

Having first seen the 80's story "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124) several times, I entered the run of Pertwee stories hoping that Ian Collier would be playing Omega right from the beginning in "The Three Doctors". When Collier popped up in the previous story "The Time Monster", my hopes soared even more. But alas, Stephen Thorne, who also played the Daemon Azal, had the role here instead. The result is more volume and less feeling, and Omega is harder to sympathize with here. But then, that's not quite the intent this first time around, is it? Thorne goes over the top several times in his performance, but yet still succeeds in making Omega a worthy and memorable adversary, and in the end, it's one of Thorne's better performances on Doctor Who.

Episode Three houses the most obvious captivity dynamic of the story, and thankfully it doesn't last very long at all. After an inventive escape, everyone is running around freely again, getting into action or exploring new scientific concepts once again. Well done.

Bessie continues to see action as well. Simpson seems to be using a new version of a piece of music composed during the previous story to accompany scenes of the little yellow roadster in action, so it would appear that Bessie now has a theme of her own. Although a more serious type of instrumentation might have helped it stand out here and be better appreciated, it is actually a nice little composition. You'll have to check out "The Time Monster" (story no. 64) episode 1 for a more definitive and enjoyable version of it though.

A strange thing about Bessie is that she seems to slow people down. The Doctor's friends are happy to use her to speed from place to place, yet when the two Doctors themselves run the same journey on foot, they take far less time to get there. Go figure.

The Time Lords are quite busy on their own planet, offering an important perspective on the story's events to the audience. Unfortunately, the characters there don't really get to interact with anyone else, and the closest that the Doctor gets to visiting them and their set is William Hartnell having an extremely brief conversation with them over the scanner screen. Nice, but not quite all one would hope for, and raising the potential for continuity problems as well as the Hartnell and Troughton Doctors spend their eras on the run from and in hiding from general Time Lord civilization. But at least the Time Lords own strict laws about time, regardless of whether or not they make any good sense, are in place to prevent them trying to retroactively capture or convict the two earliest Doctors. After all, they've served sentence to Pertwee's Doctor, and that's more than good enough for now.

Satisfyingly, the TARDIS does finally get to do its materialization thing before the story ends. Unfortunately, recording block ten has reverted to using the over-echoed materialization sound again, and adding unnecessary echo to dematerialization as well. (New sound man Dick Mills seems keen to leave his mark, even if it means fixing what ain't broke.)

All the Doctors put their heads together to find a resolution to the story, and Pertwee and Troughton are on hand to carry the plan out personally. The Doctor's a proper hero here, in all his incarnations, proving adept at understanding his enemy's character, negotiating, and taking inventive action.

And finally comes the biggest landmark of all, regarding the Doctor's exile. The show's adopted format of half UNIT-based and half wandering time-traveler stories continues as it had since the middle of season eight, but at least now the writers are relieved of the burden of coming up with new excuses for allowing the Doctor's extra-curricular jaunts. In fact, UNIT's heavy influence on the scripts is barely half over, even if one can argue that most of their best material is now past.

DVD Editions

I have to admit, when I first discovered that there was to be a special edition DVD for this story, I compared the bonus features and quickly rushed out to get the old one before it became a rare discontinued item. Why? The only real draw for the new one might have been the making-of featurette, and though I always enjoy these, after a time they all become quite similar to each other. What is far more rare is Jon Pertwee's participation in the extras, since he sadly passed away just before DVD's starting coming out. And apparently only the older DVD has his lengthy and revealing Panopticon 93 interview panel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Pertwee is on form for the whole 30 minutes, while Manning joins him about halfway through, and Courtney barely shows up to apologize before it is all over. The older DVD also has a much better cover photo, particularly the North American version. I'm sure the newer Special Edition DVD is good, but I think the old one may be slightly better and definitely worth collecting.

"The Three Doctors" is an extremely enjoyable classic, and ranks in as a high average for season ten.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:
Original release:

DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

New Special Edition / "Revisitations Volume 3" re-release:

Additional DVD extras include:

  • "Happy Birthday to Who" making-of featurette (23 min.), with Manning, Letts, Dicks, co-writer Bob Baker, and actor Stephen Thorne (Omega).
  • critical defense featurette (14 min.)
  • "Girls, Girls, Girls: 1970's", with Katy Manning (Jo Grant),
    Caroline John (Liz Shaw), and Louise Jameson (Leela). (21 min.)
DVD NTSC Region 1
Special Edition
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
NEW for March 13, 2012
DVD PAL Region 2
"Revisitations 3" Box Set
for the U.K.
NEW for Feb. 13, 2012

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Carnival of Monsters"

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