My Friend the Doctor

My favourite of the classic Doctors is Jon Pertwee 007. Why? A large part of it is his classic English gentleman’s indefatigable poise mixed with gentleness and good-natured charm. He reminds me of my first “Doctor:” Rex Harrison, first as the “inhuman” professor Henry Higgins, in My Fair Lady (1964); and then in the title role of Doctor Dolittle (1967). The latter film affected me so much that I read all twelve of the original Doctor Dolittle books, and drew inestimable inspiration from them.  Doctor Dolittle is, as everyone knows from the Eddie Murphy remake, a kind, eccentric veterinarian who can talk to animals (“I speak horse!”), and in the 1967 film travels the world with three companions in search of the Great Pink Sea Snail. The things on screen in the final half-hour of the film are too awesome for words.

Maybe what the Doctor tells me
Isn’t altogether true
But I love every tale he tells me
I don’t know any better ones
Do you?

Jon Pertwee’s debut in Season 7 was covered in this prior postFollowing Inferno, I decided to watch the trilogy of episodes which introduced The Master, portrayed by Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto. A real name worthy of a Time Lord. I knew I had to see his origins once I read that he is the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, being a childhood fan of the Holmes books myself, and also of Moriarty as a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. (If you haven’t seen it, trust me, it sounds weird but it’s cool.)

Season 8, Story 1: Terror of the Autons

First appearance of the Master, and his TARDIS

The same Nestene plot as in Spearhead from Space, only this time with the Master behind it. Not recommended by many fans, I thought it was quite good, despite the silly threats of deadly plastic flowers and telephone wires. Many serious things in real life are brought about by silly agents, but it’s a difficult balance to portray that in serious fiction without making it too ridiculous for viewers. Certainly, this kind of plot would have reinforced the views of BBC management that Doctor Who was merely a children’s show. Funny moment: 11:30 into the episode, a Time Lord floating against bluescreen very amusingly warn the Doctor about the Master’s arrival on Earth, and chides him about his achievements in school on Gallifrey. Check it out.
This episode also introduces the companion Josephine “Jo” Grant, who I’d read described as a “bimbo,” but she seems just a normal girl to me. She replaces Season 7’s Liz Shaw, a brilliant scientist with degrees in multiple fields. The Brigadier tells the Doctor, “What you need, as Miss Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass you your test-tubes and tell you how brilliant you are.” The alternation of educated and uneducated companions is a recurring pattern on the show, a part of its constant renewal, but sometimes I find it annoying. I recently wrote, after expressing dislike of Oswin’s brilliance in Asylum of the Daleks: “my favorite companion may well be Leela the uneducated savage, so I guess I’m just a misogynist eh?”
I must add, I am not pleased by the incidental music for this season. It sounds like composer Dudley Simpson had just obtained his first synthesizer, and he blares loudly on it. I wondered why I hadn’t noticed this before. It turns out that yes, he composed the incidental music for Spearhead from Space, but that was traditional score without synthesizer, and sparingly used. Inferno apparently had no score at all, as no composer is listed, and I just scrubbed through it quickly and found no music. So it’s very likely that Dudley Simpson was indeed playing with his first synthesizer; and the producers of the show must have loved the new sci-fi sound, as they slathered it liberally all over this season’s episodes.

Season 8, Story 2: The Mind of Evil

This “missing” episode is preserved only in black and white, but it was highly recommended as a showcase of the Master in his prime. I found it on DailyMotion, and I’m glad I watched it. Its superior narrative quality shines through its inferior quality of image.
The Master’s plot is to use an alien which feeds on the evil of men’s minds to start a world war, creating an opportunity for him to rule the planet in the aftermath. It’s all real-world-based, with great locations, hardly anything that looks unrealistic or silly, and the most “James Bondian” feel of any Who episode I’ve watched – international espionage, a military gunfight, and a missile which must be prevented from launching. By contrast, the episode that immediately follows seems almost a live action cartoon.

Season 8, Story 3: The Claws of Axos

This episode is a party from the start. Just watch the opening shots at 1:20 into the first episode: a bright yellow living ship heads for earth, and on board are all these crazy alien biomass critter guys dancing around to Dudley Simpson’s crazy score. A politician orders the ship destroyed by missiles, but when the ships cloaks, the military neutralizes the missiles through self-destruction; interestingly, the 24th century missiles recently used for the same purpose in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship no longer have this safety feature. Pretty soon a British political-scientific gang is talking to the aliens, who promise a wonderful technology to end world hunger, among other things; and of course, it turns out to be a trick. It’s a wonder the Doctor ever trusts aliens (well, other aliens) after so many plots like this. I found this serial quite enjoyable, in particular because the living ship was cool to see.

Season 9, Story 2: The Curse of Peladon

Granted a limited ability to use the TARDIS by the Time Lords, the Doctor finds himself on Peladon, a mountainous and stormy planet, which apparently has a large population  somewhere; but only the planetary king’s castle, members of his royal court, and a few guards are seen, so you just have to imagine that they’re not the only people living on this world. They are ruled by tradition and myth, and some are reluctant to enter the Galactic Federation, which has sent delegates from Mars, Alpha Centauri and Arcturus… ALL OF WHOM ARE GREEN-SKINNED.

What’s up with that?
That’s an anime sweatdrop on Alpha Centauri (left).

While the delegates try to decide whether to allow Peladon to enter the federation, they fall prey to a series of attempted assassinations, and the Doctor must prevent war. I found this fan-recommended political/mystery serial a bit dragging during its first two episodes, but it improved toward the end, as the Doctor meets and befriends Peladon’s mythic beast, and the political tension turns into action. As a whole, though, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

Season 10, Story 1: The Three Doctors

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. If you’re even as much a fan of the first three Doctors as I am, after only a few episodes of each, then this will be a delight.

The “black hole”

The Time Lords face a threat they cannot handle from Omega, the Time Lord who made time travel possible by creating a singularity which somehow is the source of Gallifrey’s energy. He was lost to the black hole, but it turns out that by his will, he was able to create a world of antimatter on “the other side” of the black hole, which is one of those strictly sci-fi black holes which function as non-destructive portals, like the ones in Star Trek(2009). Running out of options as Omega drains their power in an effort to escape and become “a god,” the Time Lords  decide to break their own laws and allow the Doctor to, quote, “cross his own time stream,” by bringing in the Second and First doctors to aid the Third. Interestingly, this is a new adventure for all three of them; the Second Doctor does not already remember having this experience as the First, and the  Third has no memory of it either.

Unfortunately, the First Doctor appears only on a monitor in the TARDIS, unable to actually enter it. This is because William Hartnell was too ill to do anything more, and it’s admirable that he put in the effort to make this final appearance.

The First Doctor’s assessment of the Third and Second Doctors, respectively

 The First Doctor assumes the role of wise elder addressing squabbling children, despite his technically being the youngest of the three. He knows more than they about what is going on. Could the Doctor have forgotten that much of what he learned in his first 400 years when he regenerated?

Offering Omega his “freedom”

Spoiler warning: highlight the following to read it. The Doctors defeat Omega with an antimatter bomb. Considering that a space shuttle launch could be fueled by just a few grams of antimatter reacting with matter, the fact that the Doctors are able to escape from a bomb with a payload this size, standing about three feet away from the detonation, is, well, remarkable. Yes, I think, more remarkable than the whole contrivance of Omega being able to convert between matter and antimatter.
The Three Doctors is absolutely an essential serial if you find yourself a fan of the first three doctors. It’s also a cool bit of Doctor Who history, and an enjoyable adventure, at least if you find over-the-top villains fun to watch.

Season 10, Story 2: Carnival of Monsters

First encounter with the aliens

The TARDIS lands inside what turns out to be an alien vaudeville show attraction, a device which contains monsters and their entire habitats, miniaturized and stored for viewing on its small television monitor. Incredible technology with an incredibly lame payoff: you’re still just watching a little video screen. Meanwhile the entertainers are having trouble with their audience, the dullest aliens ever, whose skin color is gray. (RACIST!) They’re supposed to be called Inter Minorians, but I prefer to call them Grayliens.

The Grayliens, the Entertainers, and the device

The Doctor and Jo try to escape from the machine, while the Grayliens try to have it destroyed, in fear of the giant Drashigs and other monsters it contains. When the Doctor and Jo believe they’ve escaped to the surface of a planet, it turns out they’re actually in the miniaturized habitat of the Drashigs (which looks much bigger than the inside of the machine could allow). The beach scene in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship reminded me of this.
I enjoyed this episode; the concept is unusual, the clashing worlds provide plenty of entertainment, and there aren’t any really annoying characters, which is quite a plus for a Classic Who story. Not essential, but recommended.

Season 10, Story 5: The Green Death

I didn’t watch this six-parter, but I caught a few clips of it and then watched the final episode:

The threat is a master computer which is going to take over the world – but instead of destroying humanity to save the environment, this computer wants to destroy the environment in the pursuit of maximum productive efficiency. The resulting pollution creates giant predatory maggots, one of which turns into a giant acid-spitting fly, which the Doctor regretfully kills.

“What a beautiful creature.”

Indeed, Doctor.
Companion departures are, in my opinion, often some of the best moments in the show, and Jo Grant’s is no exception. The Doctor leaves her with her future husband, and the season ends with a beautiful shot of the Doctor driving away in his car Bessie, alone again.

Season 11, Story 1: The Time Warrior

Here we have the first ever appearance of a Sontaran, crash-landed in Medieval times and trading firearms to a warlord in exchange for aid, as he uses an “osmic” time-projector to steal scientists from the 1970’s to repair his ship. The Doctor detects him, and arrives to stop him from changing the course of human history. He inadvertently brings along reporter Sarah Jane Smith, who is feminist to the point of paranoia. Fortunately this aspect didn’t show up in the writing for her character in her other episodes I’ve watched, and I grew to like her, although I don’t understand what makes her better than Jo or Leela, and I didn’t notice the “chemistry” she’s said to share with the Doctor. I must have watched the wrong episodes.

I very much enjoyed the clashes between the Sontaran, an ultimate warrior, and these brutal, macho, yet weaker medieval men. In fact, this is one of my favorite Classic Who episodes. But maybe that’s only because I’m a guy.

The script, penned by Robert Holmes, includes an unusual number of great quotes, including the following:

The Doctor: A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.

The Doctor: Will you excuse me, I’ve got to go find a young girl. I’ll see you soon – I hope!
Dr. Rubeish: Young girl? Should have thought he was a bit old for that sort of thing… oh well.

(Fan Stunt_Muppet: “Rubbish! The Doctor is a strapping young lad of merely 550! Rubbish, I say!”)

Sarah Jane: Then why are you staying here? Why don’t you go somewhere safer?
The Doctor: Because, my dear Sarah, I’ve got a job to do. One that involves the whole future of your species.
Sarah Jane: My species? You’re talking as if you weren’t human.
The Doctor: Well, the definition of the word “humanity” was always rather a complex question, wasn’t it?

Season 11, Story 5: Planet of the Spiders

Decides whatever
a Spider-Committee decides

I was initially reluctant to watch this six-parter, expecting randomly spider-shaped mindless alien monsters. I was very pleasantly surprised, then, to find that the spiders are an intelligent race, and (true to life) a matriarchal one at that, judging by their exclusively female voices. (These voices are probably actually telepathic communication, as heard in the minds of its recipients.) Also the spiders are not aliens that look like spiders, but were created from an accidental combination of Earth spiders and mystic mind-boosting crystals. This was all a most refreshing and welcome take on giant bug sci-fi, even though the spiders are power-hungry and believe in their own racial superiority. (They regard “spider” as a slur, preferring the term “Eight Legs,” which seems backwards to me.)

Professor Herbert Clegg: Basis for the Eleventh Doctor’s costume

The story is set more in 1970’s England than on the title planet, Metebelis III. Some bizarre occult activity at a Buddhist meditation centre summons one of the spiders from the future, beginning an overlong series of crossings and captures. There’s an episode entirely devoted to a pointless chase, but it’s a chase that involves the Whomobile, an autogyro, and a hovercraft (meaning the real kind with an air cushion), so I found it well worth the time. Once on Metebelis III, the Doctor discovers that the Eight Legs have a cruel fascist rule over the tribal and uneducated descendants of the human colonists, who farm sheep for the spiders to eat.  It reminds me of the relatively recent conjectural fantasy “documentary,” The Future is Wild, in which, 100 million years in the future, the last mammal on Earth is being farmed by spiders.

“Well, now I know what a fly feels like. What an absolutely fascinating experience!”
“Haha, GREAT”

In the end, the Doctor realizes that he must sacrifice himself, and unfortunately the spiders are wiped out. It’s a very sad ending to the great Third Doctor’s time. I’d recommend the final episode, but not the entire story, unless you love spiders like I do.

I will certainly come back for more of Jon Pertwee’s adventures. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I want to see more from him even more than from my first and favorite doctor, Matt Smith. The tricky thing is that, much as I like the Doctors, episodes which are written in such a way that I really like them are few and far between, both in Nu Who and in the classics.

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