I love the Third Doctor. I love the Third Doctor so much! In many ways, Russell T Davies’ basic Doctor Who blueprint – the Doctor travelling through time and space with one female companion – was born here. Despite the familiar model, the Third Doctor’s era held a strikingly unique storyline for Doctor Who with the Doctor stranded on Earth for three of five seasons! This is the third piece in my series exploring all 695 episodes of classic Doctor Who. Like its predecessors, it considers my feelings/impressions upon meeting this regeneration of the Doctor as well as considering the “firsts” the Third Doctor’s adventures bring to Doctor Who. Jon Pertwee’s time as the Doctor covered five seasons, Series 7-11, spanning 3 January 1970 to 8 June 1974.
I began the first episode of Series 7 on Sunday, 4 July 2021 and finished the final episode of Series 11 on Thursday, 19 May 2022. The business of life alongside a near-constantly glitching BritBox app stretched my time with the Third Doctor to almost a year. All my other streaming services will be working fine but BritBox routinely refuses to load ಠ_ಠ. This is more than a little irritating as, given the choice, I’d watch Doctor Who ALL THE TIME. But good things are worth waiting for – and there’s nothing better than Doctor Who – so I endured.
The Third Doctor’s era saw Doctor Who move from black and white to color! Every single episode of every single serial exists for the Third Doctor, too! The (sometimes massive) gaps in the First and Second Doctor episodes from the BBC burning/taping over old episodes ended with the Second Doctor’s run. Yay!
When we meet the Third Doctor, he’s just been forcibly regenerated and stripped of the secret of the TARDIS by the Time Lords as punishment for his interfering through time and space. In exile on Earth, the Doctor begins working with UNIT to protect the Earth from alien threats and investigate the odd and unexplained. It feels very much like the writers were modelling Doctor Who on other popular stories of the late ‘60s like the James Bond movies, Mission: Impossible, The Avengers, or The Mod Squad. The Doctor is working with UNIT. He’s part of a team. He goes on missions, has a cool car, and uses all sorts of gadgets. This is the time in his life the he’s talking about when the Eleventh Doctor and Clara Oswald find themselves paged to the National Gallery by UNIT in 2013 and he tells her:
The Doctor – “Unified Intelligence Task Force.”
Clara – “Sorry?”
The Doctor – “This lot. UNIT. They investigate alien stuff. Anything alien.”
Clara – “What, like you?”
The Doctor – “I work for them.”
Clara – “You have a job?”
The Doctor – “Why shouldn’t I have a job? I’d be brilliant at having a job.”
Clara – “You don’t have a job.”
The Doctor – “I do. This is my job. I’m doing it now.”
Clara – “You never have a job.”
The Doctor – “I do. I do.”
In no way, shape, or form was I prepared for how much I’d love the Doctor working with UNIT while stuck on Earth. For the first time in centuries the Doctor is confined to one place, in one time, living moment to moment – in the right order! – every day like everyone else. Seeing how the Doctor deals with this and the growth his character undergoes as a result was fascinating. Plus, it was such fun to see Doctor Who’s version of the James Bond life!
Immediately after his regeneration, the Doctor is found unconscious and taken to the hospital. When Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) is notified a doctor has a patient with two hearts and blood not matching any human blood type and hears of the police box, he has UNIT move in to protect the police box and stand guard on this mysterious man who may or may not be the Doctor. Once conscious, the Doctor pulls together his outfit from clothes he finds in the hospital’s changing room (something the Eleventh Doctor will do as well).
Back at UNIT headquarters we see the Doctor examining his new face. There’s still no talk of “regeneration” and he’s struggling a bit with his memories again – some are there, some aren’t, some pop up, some don’t – but overall he seems more sure of himself than the Second Doctor was when he first regenerated. We see the Doctor talking about how expressive his eyebrows are and how bendable his face is and how he wasn’t sure of it at first but it’s growing on him. When he meets Liz Shaw (Caroline John), UNIT’s newly hired scientific advisor, we get a now-classic response as Liz asks, “What are you a doctor of?” and the Doctor replies, “Practically everything, my dear.”
Working his first case, the Doctor helps Liz analyze some alien material they found in the woods. He tells her he needs to get in the TARDIS so they can use his lab. She gets the key from the Brigadier and, as soon as he’s inside, he tries to leave. However, the Time Lords have changed the dematerialization code on him and he can’t go anywhere. Liz is frustrated by his actions saying, “Doctor, you tricked me.” The Doctor replies, “Yes. The temptation was too strong, my dear. It’s just that I couldn’t bear the thought of being tied to one planet and one time. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” The Doctor seems sincere. He’s crestfallen but he also appears resigned to accept his fate.
The Doctor, Liz Shaw, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart form our team investigating all these weird, wild things. They go around, with their military gear and supplies and connections, talking to witnesses and getting to the bottom of stuff. It felt very different from regular Doctor Who but in a fun sort of way. To perhaps state the obvious (or at least the logical), seeing the beginning episodes makes all the difference in the world with getting to know a new Doctor. By the second episode of “Spearhead from Space,” the Third Doctor’s first serial, I already felt connected to him in a way I didn’t with the Second Doctor until almost the end of his run.
The first enemy the Third Doctor faces will be the first enemy the Ninth Doctor faces as well – the Nestene Consciousness! One this living plastic is defeated, the Doctor makes his ties to UNIT official.
The Brigadier – “If they do decide to launch a second attack, I hope we can count on your help again.”
The Doctor – “Listen, before we go into all that Brigadier, I think we must discuss terms.”
The Brigadier – “Terms?”
The Doctor – “Yes. After all, you do want to take advantage of my services again, don’t you?”
The Brigadier – “I think you’ll find the salary is quite adequate.”
The Doctor – “Money? My dear chap, I don’t want money. I’ve got no use for the stuff.”
The Brigadier – “Then what do you want?”
The Doctor – “Well, facilities, to repair the TARDIS, laboratory, equipment, help from Miss Shaw here.”
The Brigadier – “Very well, anything you need. Within reason, of course. Is that all?”
The Doctor – “My goodness, no. Don’t you realize that when I was stranded on this simple planet of yours I had nothing but these clothes…oh my goodness.”
Liz – “What is it Doctor?”
The Doctor – “I just realized I don’t even own these. I borrowed them from the hospital. Then there’s that car, too. Yes, I took to that car. It had character!”
The Brigadier – “No Doctor, that car must be returned to its owner.”
The Doctor – “Must it? Yes, I suppose it must. Still, there’s no reason why you couldn’t find me something similar, is there? I…I mean it could persuade me to stay, you know.”
The Brigadier – “Very well.”
The Doctor – “Good! When can we go and choose it?”
The Brigadier – “Not yet. I must arrange for a full set of papers first. By the way, I’ve just realized, I don’t even know your name.”
The Doctor – “[pause] Smith. Doctor John Smith.”
Invoking the alias first created for him by Jamie McCrimmon, just like that the Doctor has a job, a cool car on its way, a chief/commanding officer/boss who’ll want him to do things more by the book than he will ever do, and a partner.
Liz Shaw is considered the Doctor’s companion during this period…but I don’t really know if that’s fair. If anything, the Doctor is her companion. First, they aren’t travelling anywhere. Second, they both work for UNIT. Third, she was hired first and while the Doctor has more knowledge about much of what they face, she has more knowledge about the day-to-day world in which they live. It doesn’t feel like they fit the traditional Doctor and companion pairing. Rather they are coworkers and/or partners. The patriarchal storytelling conventions of the day make Liz, in some ways, reminiscent of Zoe Heriot. While her scope of knowledge isn’t as wide as Zoe’s, she is certainly an accomplished scientific mind in her own right but her role is as the Doctor’s assistant.
Liz is someone the Doctor trusts and he confides in her easily. While trying to find a cure for the Silurian plague, the Doctor tells Liz, “I’m beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life – and that covers several thousand years.” (We now have a new frame for the Doctor’s age, jumping ahead millennia from the 450-years-old the Second Doctor told Jamie and Victoria he was!) Incidentally, they deal with the entire plague in episode six of “Doctor Who and the Silurians” but watching it in a post-Covid world was more than a little triggering. I felt myself tensing as I saw the plague pass from person to person, quarantine zones coming too late, and the authorities just missing the infected people before they got out into the world. What would’ve been an interesting, tightly-wound thriller episode two years ago now touches and triggers very real emotional trauma from the life we’re all living.
Much of Series Seven sees the Doctor trying to get the TARDIS working again while begrudgingly (and, at times, enjoying) working with UNIT. There’s a bit of disdain he has for the work as he’d rather be off travelling but he cares for Earth and the people on it. It’s also worth noting, Series Seven has THE BEST TARDIS INTERIOR IN THE HISTORY OF THE SHOW AND IF I WAS EVER THE DOCTOR WHO SHOWRUNNER THIS IS THE ONLY TARDIS INTERIOR I WOULD EVER USE AS IT IS BEYOND PERFECT AND I LOVE IT.
The Third Doctor can be arrogant, condescending, and short-tempered at times. He is so quickly frustrated by those who won’t listen to him and those who can’t keep up with him. However, it’s hard to fault him for this too much. For a being who was used to exploring all of time and space for centuries, he’s now confined to daily life on Earth in the 1970s and that can’t be easy. So his feelings of frustration are natural, as is his snapping at those around him.
That being said, there is still a great deal of warmth and compassion below his bluster and nine out of ten times he snaps and loses his temper he follows it with a sincere (if begrudging at times) apology. His care and concern for Liz, Jo Grant (Katy Manning), the Brigadier, Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), and Sargent John Benton (John Levene) is obviously sincere. I really enjoy this incarnation of the Doctor. It’s as fun as it is fascinating to see the Doctor in such different circumstances from what I’m familiar with and his family at UNIT quickly became dear to me, too. Watching those walls fall as his anger eventually cools and his acceptance and embracement of his new life grows proved an exceptional character arc for the Doctor.
It’s worth noting, I only looked forward to the Doctor regaining the secret of the TARDIS for two reasons. First, I knew that happened with “The Three Doctors” and I was super excited to see the first multi-Doctor team-up! Second, the majority of the Third Doctor novels I have covering Jo’s time with the Doctor had them travelling in the TARDIS and I was eager to read them. But I never tired of the Doctor’s exile on Earth and I found the different sorts of stories they could tell with the Doctor working with UNIT, stuck in one place and time, really interesting.
Liz would be written out of the show after one series at the direction of new producer Barry Letts, her character returning to study at Cambridge. Given how intelligent Liz was, he felt “Doctor Who had strayed too far from the original premise of the Time Lord’s companions asking him questions that might be in viewer’s mind,” but Caroline John, “was pregnant and would have left anyway.”
Series Eight will see Jo Grant, a civilian employee of UNIT, assigned by the Brigadier to be the Doctor’s assistant. Jo will be with the Doctor for the majority of the Third Doctor’s time on Earth, beginning as his assistant and then becoming a more traditional companion once the TARDIS is operational again. With this series, we see the Doctor far more comfortable with his life on Earth. He has his lab. He’s doing his experiments. On the experiment note, the Third Doctor is always tinkering with wiring or gears or bits of machinery at his workbench, sliding things into place or using a screwdriver to poke about in them, too. More than any Doctor I’ve seen so far, classic or modern, the Third Doctor is always working with and on inventions. He is enjoying his work and doesn’t seem all that concerned about getting the TARDIS running and getting away from UNIT.
Series Eight also begins with the first appearance of THE MASTER!!!!! The Master (Roger Delgado), a Time Lord like the Doctor, is the antagonist in every single serial of Series Eight! This, too, was new – seeing the Doctor face the same enemy each episode, having to foil whatever the Master’s latest scheme is. While on a case for UNIT, a Time Lord appears to tell the Doctor the Master has come to Earth:
Time Lord – “I came to warn you. An old acquaintance has arrived on this planet.”
The Doctor – “Oh? One of our people?”
Time Lord – “The Master.”
The Doctor – “That jackanapes! All he ever does is cause trouble.”
Time Lord – “He’ll certainly try to kill you, Doctor. The Tribunal thought that you ought to be made aware of your danger.”
The Doctor – “How very kind of them.”
Time Lord – “You are incorrigibly meddlesome, Doctor, but we’ve always felt that your hearts are in the right places. But be careful. The Master has learnt a great deal since you last met him.”
The Doctor – “I refuse to be worried by a renegade like the Master. He’s a, he’s an unimaginative plodder.”
Time Lord – “His degree in cosmic science was of a higher class than yours.”
The Doctor – “Yes, well, er, yes, well, I, I was a late developer.”
While it’s clear the Master very much wants the Doctor dead and wants to rule and/or destroy wherever he goes, there’s also a clear connection between the two of them. They fall easily into alliances when their aims align, even if they quickly become at odds again as soon as that moment passes. Seeing the Master (almost) every episode allowed the writers to consistently develop an adversary of the Doctor’s in a way I hadn’t yet seen. Also, the Master can straight-up control people’s minds! That was surprising! He takes control of those “lesser minds” to do his dirty work. So he is a master in a surprisingly literal way.
(On a related weird power/abilities note, there’s an inexplicable moment when a foe surprises the Doctor and Liz at gunpoint and demands they give him this magnetic tape they’re decoding. The Doctor goes to hand it to him…and it disappears! After their enemy runs off, Liz asks the Doctor about it…and it reappears! He tells Liz it was “simple transmigration of an object” and there’s “a great deal of difference between that and pure science.” So the Doctor can teleport things??? It never happens again in the Third Doctor’s run.)
Series Nine begins with the return of the Daleks!!! This was the first Dalek appearance since 1967’s “The Evil of the Daleks.” Their creator and copywrite holder, Terry Nation, sought to sell a Dalek spin-off show to American television so that was their big sendoff from Doctor Who. The spin-off didn’t take and the Daleks eventually returned with the Series Nine premiere, “Day of the Daleks.”
Battling the Dalek’s Ogron soldiers, the Doctor uses Venusian aikido/Venusian karate for the first time. In addition to this martial arts, the Doctor kicks a blaster out of the hand of one of the Ogron soldiers and then he uses the blaster to vaporize several of the Ogrons. The Venusian aikido took a bit of getting used to – it’s far more “action hero” than the Doctor normally is. But to see him brandishing a blaster and zapping enemy soldiers?!? The Doctor didn’t keep the blaster for long, giving it to Lethbridge-Stewart once the Ogrons had been neutralized. But to see the Doctor do it at all felt like such a stark deviation from his character. All I can imagine is, with shows like Star Trek growing in popularity, Doctor Who decided to try and add a little space-battle-flare to the Doctor’s repertoire. Though it is a far cry from the Ninth Doctor who told Captain Jack Harkness he destroyed the sonic blaster factory on Villengard, planting a banana grove in its stead.
It was so hard to shake that image after I saw it! It was such a classic hero pose. I’ve seen it done by dozens – nay, hundreds – of characters in various stories throughout my life. But it felt fundamentally antithetical to the Doctor I know. It certainly didn’t fit with how Doctor Who operates now but I’ve seen enough of Classic Doctor Who to know it doesn’t fit with anything I’ve seen here so far either. It wasn’t anything that bothered me per se. It’s not like this is a “new” direction they’re taking the Doctor. Rather, I’m fascinated by the creative choices that led to this seemingly isolated incident. I wonder if there’s some sort of commentary-laden examination of this episode out there with interviews with the writers and producers that dives into what they were trying to do. I’ll have to look into it.
“Day of the Daleks” is also unique in showing the Doctor drinking wine and discussing various vintages with Jo. We see them do so in Sir. Reginald’s house and with the Controller in the future. Not only haven’t we seen the Doctor drink before now, the First Doctor went out of his way to say in no uncertain terms many, many times that he doesn’t drink ever. Is the blaster and the drinking an attempt to make the Doctor “cooler”? To give him more of a James Bond vibe? I really like the Third Doctor overall and these moments didn’t sour my impression of him but they are a very confusing piece of his character to try and integrate.
When the Doctor arrives in the 22nd century, being pulled forward in time by the guerilla fighters he encountered in 1972, he finds the dystopian world created by the Daleks. Their imposing towers stretched across a bleak landscape with cameras everywhere and people working as cogs in their machine. It has very Orwellian vibes. As he’s held captive, a Dalek tells the Doctor, “The Daleks have discovered the secret of time travel! We have invaded Earth again! We have changed the pattern of history!” Weary from torture the Doctor tells it, “You…you won’t succeed, you know.” The Dalek responds, “The Dalek Empire will spread through all planets and all times! No one can withstand the power of the Daleks!” So this is when the modus operandi I’m familiar with for the Daleks officially becomes a thing! I wonder, too, if their focus on Earth is done to spite the Doctor? Of all the planets in all the universe across the history of creation, why – when the Doctor always beats them – do they focus so often on invading the planet held closest in the Doctor’s hearts?
I appreciate, too, the development we start to see with Jo’s character by “The Curse of Peladon.” As the Doctor continues to try and repair the TARDIS, the Time Lords slip them over to Peladon to help with a crisis playing out. Along the way Jo is always playfully teasing the Doctor and she’s become quite comfortable with the unpredictability of life with the Doctor. Her fear and her fish-out-of-water nature are gone. To handle their cover, she naturally slips into the role of “Princess Josephine,” Earth delegate from the Galactic Federation. She takes charge of the negotiations as the Doctor investigates things. She has guns pulled on her and never lets out a scream. And, when Hepesh, the High Priest of Peladon (Geoffrey Toone), dies in his act of betrayal, she comforts Peladon (the king not the planet (David Troughton)) as he mourns, holding him in the waves of emotions he is feeling. AND she doesn’t leave the Doctor when she falls in love! Previous female companions (Susan and Vicki) left the Doctor because they’d fallen in love and chose to stay behind on a planet with their lover. Jo, however, acknowledges her complicated feelings for Peladon but turns down his proposal. Her romantic connection didn’t become the only or even the primary trait of her character.
Back on Earth, the Doctor and Jo visit the Master in prison, only to find he’s interested in working with an ocean-dwelling variant of the Silurians – the first appearance of the Sea Devils! – to destroy humanity. When the Doctor asks, “I still don’t see why you want to help them. What can you possibly gain?” The Master replies, “The pleasure of seeing the human race exterminated, Doctor. The human race of which you are so fond. Believe me, that’ll be reward in itself.” While it was exciting to see the Daleks again and I enjoyed the Doctor and Jo’s adventure on Peladon, I found I missed the Master. Being so central in Series Eight, it just wasn’t the same without him. After their initial visit with the Master, Jo asks the Doctor, ”You felt sorry for him, didn’t you? You wanted to come down here and see that he was alright.” The Doctor replies, “Well, he used to be a friend of mine once. A very good friend. In fact, you might almost say we were at school together.” Their relationship is given greater depth.
The sonic screwdriver’s uses are expanded as well. We see the Doctor scan for alarm beams, locate mines and explode them from a distance to throw off their pursuers, and unlock a door. Still, it’s hard to imagine a modern episode of Doctor Who without the Doctor waving their sonic around all the time but, even as its abilities and uses grew with the Third Doctor, he still used it sparingly at best. When I first began watching Classic Doctor Who, the lack of the sonic seemed startling. Now I’m surprised whenever the Doctor does employ it XD.
More exciting though is the development they do with the TARDIS. When the Doctor explains to Jo they are trying to (mind-bendingly) drop his TARDIS inside the Master’s TARDIS, Jo asks:
Jo – “How long’s it going to take us to get there?”
The Doctor – “Well, that’s the curious thing. No time at all. We’re outside of time. Of course, it always seems to take a long time but that depends upon the mood, I suppose.”
Jo – “What, your mood?”
The Doctor – “No, no, no, hers. No, the TARDIS’.”
Jo – “You talk as if she was alive.”
The Doctor – “It depends what you mean by alive, doesn’t it?”
As they travel with their TARDIS inside the Master’s:
Jo – “She’s never behaved like this before.”
The Doctor – “It’s because the TARDIS is operating out of phase, that’s why. [adjusting a few controls] That’s calmed her down a bit. She’s very temperamental when she’s roused, isn’t she?”
Jo – “You know, I never know if you’re joking or not.”
And later, as the Master and the Doctor are communicating through their TARDIS screens:
Jo – “What language is that?”
The Doctor – “English.”
Jo – “English?”
The Doctor – “Yes, but backwards.”
Jo – “I just don’t get it.”
The Doctor – “Well, he’s picking up my words even before I’ve spoken them and feeding them back to me through the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits, making them come out backwards.”
Jo – “The TARDISes are telepathic?”
The Doctor – “Yes, of course. How else do you think they communicate?”
This is also the first mention of the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits! And it’s the first major expansion on the TARDIS being sentient/a living organism. When the Doctor is lost in the Time Vortex care of the Master, the TARDIS puts Jo in telepathic communication with the Doctor who helps her use the TARDIS to rescue him. On the verge of the Doctor getting the ability to travel freely and fully in the TARDIS back again, they begin to flesh out the TARDIS as we will come to know her in modern Doctor Who. Personally, this is always one of the most fascinating pieces of Doctor Who as far as I’m concerned – the idea of the TARDIS being alive/sentient/organic – so I love to see where this began to be developed.
Later, when Captain Mike Yates is travelling with the Doctor in the TARDIS, the Doctor further discusses the TARDIS’ sentience and the trust he places in her:
The Doctor – “Well, the TARDIS may be a little erratic, I’ll admit. After all, she is getting on a bit. But Metebelis III is the one planet I can be absolutely certain of reaching. You see, I wired the coordinates into the programmer.”
Mike – “But, but Doctor, a planet’s a big place.”
The Doctor – “Yes, well I always leave the actual landing to the TARDIS herself. She’s no fool, you know.”
Mike – “You speak as if she were alive.”
The Doctor – “Yes. Yes I do, don’t I?”
The TARDIS brings the Doctor to a small village in Metebelis III just as Sarah (Sarah Jane Smith (I know!!!! (more on her below))) is being arrested by the spider queen. In all of time and space the TARDIS brings the Doctor to the exact moment Sarah needs him. The Doctor will also explain to Sarah, “The TARDIS is a living thing, with thousands of instruments. It’s power source never stops.” So very much of Doctor Who depends on the TARDIS’ choices. If you think about it, since the TARDIS is sentient and it exists within the Time Vortex and it can go anywhere in space and time at any given moment and it rarely goes quite where the Doctor plans for it to go then the TARDIS itself must choose which regeneration of the Doctor with which companion at which point in their journey she will take to any given adventure. Why do the Third Doctor and Jo wind up in Vorg’s miniscope carnival on Inter Minor instead of, say the Twelfth Doctor and Bill or the Ninth Doctor and Rose? We have no way of knowing the specifics but it can only be the TARDIS’ choice. Understanding the TARDIS as a sentient, living organism making these choices shows us how infinitely complex it is.
The Series Nine finale, “The Time Monster,” also reveals a lot (relatively speaking) about the Doctor’s past. In Stuart Hyde’s apartment – alongside Jo, the Brigadier, Sargent. Benton, and Ruth Ingram – the Doctor cobbles together a time flow analogue using an assortment of napkin rings, silverware, wine bottle corks, a corkscrew, an upturned ashtray, key fobs, a bodkin needle, and an empty cup with tea leaves still in its bottom. Jo asks, “But what does it do? I mean, how does it actually affect the Master’s plans?” The Doctor replies, “Well, it’s like jamming a radio signal, Jo. We used to make them at school to spoil each other’s time experiments.”
Later, imprisoned with Jo, the Doctor reveals a character-defining piece of his past:
Jo – “What happens if the Master wins?”
The Doctor – “Well, the whole of creation is very delicately balanced in cosmic terms, Jo. If the Master opens the floodgates of Kronos’ power, all order and all structure will be swept away. Nothing will be left but chaos.”
Jo – “Makes it seem so pointless really, doesn’t it?”
The Doctor – “I felt like that once when I was young. It was the blackest day of my life.”
Jo – “Why?”
The Doctor – “Ah, well, that’s another story. I’ll tell you about it one day. The point is, that day was not only my blackest, it was also my best.”
Jo – “Hm? Well what do you mean?”
The Doctor – “Well, when I was a little boy we used to live in a house that was perched halfway up the top of a mountain. And behind our house there sat under a tree an old man, a hermit, a monk. He lived under this tree for half his lifetime so they said. Learned the secret of life. So, when my black day came, I went and asked him to help me.”
Jo – “And he told you the secret?”
[The Doctor nods his head “yes”]
Jo – “Well what was it?”
The Doctor – “Well, I’m coming to that Jo, in my own time. Ah, I’ll never forget what it was like up there, all bleak and cold, a few bare rocks with some weeds sprouting from them, and some pathetic little patches of sludgy snow. Yes, it was just grey. Grey, grey, grey. Well the tree the old man sat under was ancient and twisted and the old man himself, he was brittle and dry as a leaf in the autumn.”
Jo – “What did he say?”
The Doctor – “Nothing. Not a word. He just sat their silently. Expressionless. He listened whilst I poured out my troubles to him. I was too unhappy even for tears, I remember. When I’d finished, he lifted a skeletal hand and he pointed. Do you know what he pointed at? A flower. One of those little weeds, just like a daisy it was. Well, I looked at it for a moment and suddenly I saw it through his eyes. It was simply glowing with life. Like a perfectly cut jewel. The colors, the colors were deeper and richer than anything you could possibly imagine. Yes, it was the daisiest daisy I’d ever seen.”
Jo – “The point of life? A daisy? [laughing] Honestly Doctor.”
The Doctor – “Yes, I laughed too when I first heard it. So later I got up and I ran down that mountain and I found that the rocks weren’t grey at all. They were red, brown, and purple and gold. And those pathetic little patches of sludgy snow, they were shining white, shining white in the sunlight. You still frightened Jo?”
Jo – “[smiling] No. Not as much as I was.”
The Doctor – “That’s good. I’m sorry I brought you to Atlantis.”
Jo – “I’m not.”
The Doctor – “Thank you.”
And this is exactly why I love the Third Doctor so much! The Doctor is finally starting to let people in. He’s dropping his guard. Behind all that bluster and short temper is a man who is ready to connect. The Doctor connects with Jo in a way we’ve not seen him connect with anyone yet. The First Doctor will always have a special place in my heart. I adore how weird and wild the show was then, one of the most unique eras ever in Doctor Who or television history. But there’s something about the Third Doctor – his gruff, arrogant exterior wrapped around his heart of gold and the way he bonds with first Liz and then Jo especially, but also Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Mike Yates, and Sargent Benton, too – that wins me over. Because of this, the Third Doctor has become my favorite of the Classic Doctors.
The Doctor’s time on Earth is changing him for the better. I’d argue this conversation with Jo is the most intimate, the most vulnerable we’ve seen the Doctor over the last 372 episodes. I wonder if, at least in part, it’s because he hasn’t been able to leave Earth. The Doctor is famous for dodging the clean-up but when the TARDIS can’t travel (save when the Time Lords choose to send him somewhere) he has to stay. So the relationships he builds with Liz and Jo and the Brigadier and Captain Yates and Sargent Benton aren’t just with people he meets but with people he lives and works with. He is as much as part of their lives as they are a part of his. They aren’t just visitors in his wild, strange world.
Series Ten begins with the first multi-Doctor team-up ever and the Doctor regaining control of the TARDIS! The Time Lords note a mysterious force coming from a black hole draining “vital cosmic energy” from the universe. It’s a force from the universe of antimatter, a revelation which chills them to the bone. It is threatening their time travel facility and, with it, their power. At the same time, the Doctor sends an S.O.S. as a mysterious force is trying to absorb him. With the antimatter threat the Time Lords can’t spare any resources to help the Doctor but the President realizes there is a way they may be able to help the Doctor.
Chancellor – “Are you saying we can’t help him?”
President of the Council – “Yes I am, but perhaps he can help himself. [to a Time Lord working at a computer console] Show me the Doctor’s timestream, the section for his earlier self before he changed his form.”
Chancellor – “We cannot allow him to cross his own timestream. Apart from the enormous energy it would need, the First Law of Time expressly forbids him to meet his other selves.”
President of the Council – “I am aware of that, your Excellency, but this is an emergency.”
Chancellor – “But you can’t!”
President of the Council – “Your Excellency, I have to.”
Chancellor – “Be it on your own head.”
This episode also marks the first use of “it’s bigger on the inside” to describe the TARDIS!!! When the Third Doctor, Jo, and Sargent Benton retreat into the TARDIS to escape the creature in the Doctor’s lab, Sargent Benton is understandably shocked. The Third Doctor asks, “Well Sargent, aren’t you going to say that it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? Everybody else does.” Benton replies, “It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Anyway, nothing to do with you surprises me anymore Doctor.”  I also found another Doctor Who first I didn’t even know to look for. I never knew the Tenth Doctor’s reaction to the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS was a nod to this episode! But when the Second Doctor appears he tells the Third Doctor, “Oh, hm, I see you’ve been doing the TARDIS up a bit! I don’t like it.” Also, the Third Doctor does the “contact” mental communication thing with the Second Doctor that the Thirteenth Doctor does with the Master! This is its first appearance, too! So much stuff is happening!
However, the Time Lords soon realize the Third and Second Doctor can’t do this alone. The President tells the Time Lord working at the console, “Show me the earliest Doctor. He’ll keep them in order.” The reverence and respect the Second and Third Doctor show for the First Doctor is sweet. They bicker like children with each other but they yield to his advice immediately. It made my heart happy to see William Hartnell again :). He was back! The Doctor who started it all was back! It also made me a little sad as his health was limiting his role in the show.
While Patrick Troughton was running around in the thick of it with Jon Pertwee, William Hartnell was speaking to them through the TARDIS’ screen. The First Doctor was “trapped in this infernal time eddy,” unable to join the Third and Second Doctor in person. The Time Lords lacked the energy to get him to them. With a little research into the matter I learned:
Though Troughton eagerly made more reappearances in multi-Doctor stories, this was the last time Hartnell appeared as the First Doctor, and his only multi-Doctor outing. He had been suffering from arteriosclerosis and his condition was beginning to heavily deteriorate from the terminal sickness. His wife advised against a physically demanding role out of concern for his failing health. For this reason, Hartnell’s role in the story was limited to pre-recorded appearances on video screens, while seated in a chair at Ealing Television Film Studios, and delivered his lines with the aid of cue cards. Nearing the end, Hartnell succumbed to his illness only two years later.
We continue to see Jo’s evolution in this arc, too. When the Third Doctor, Second Doctor, Sargent. Benton, Dr. Tyler, and Jo are trapped in Omega’s holding cell, she’s the one who realizes how they can escape. If Omega, a long-exiled Time Lord thought dead by Time Lord Society, can use his will to control this world, than surely the Doctors can combine their wills to do the same. They come together, put aside their bickering, and do just that, creating a door out of nothing in the wall of their cell. At her introduction, Jo felt very naïve and maybe a backwards step after Liz but watching her grow in agency and understanding over her time with the Doctor has been one of the great joys of Classic Doctor Who so far.
At the end of their adventure, as the Doctor and Jo reflect on their victory, a new dematerialization circuit appears on the TARDIS console.
The Doctor – “The Time Lords! Look, they’ve sent me a new dematerialization circuit. And my knowledge of time travel law and all the dematerialization codes, they’ve all come back. They’ve forgiven me. They’ve given me back my freedom.”
Jo – “I…I suppose you’ll be rushing off then.”
The Doctor – “No, not straight away Jo, of course not. I’ll build a new force field generator first.”
You can see Jo’s smile knowing she isn’t losing the Doctor. This shows tremendous growth on the Doctor’s part as well. The Doctor is finally, finally, finally choosing to stick around! While he can go back to travelling all of space and time, he’s not willing to completely abandon Jo and his friends at UNIT. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy :).
Jo’s time travelling with the Doctor and working with UNIT will come to a close at the end of Series Ten. Romantic love will play a part in her leaving but the end of her character’s arc is far more developed than what happened with Susan or Vicki. When UNIT gets involved in a case investigating a murder in South Wales and a corporation – Global Chemicals – whose work is producing massive amounts of pollution, Jo will meet Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevan). An acclaimed environmentalist, activist, and Noble Prize winning biologist and mycologist, Cliff is in the Welsh mining village of Llanfairfach leading a group of protests against Global Chemicals and living in an alternative community, Wholeweal (or “the Nuthutch”), where he is studying fungi. After Global Chemicals is stopped and the day is saved, Jo decides to accept Cliff’s proposal and they make plans to get married and travel to the Amazon to continue research into finding alternative food and fuel sources to meat and fossil fuels.
It’s important to note uncompromisingly direct commentary on and critiques of environmental destruction, imperialism, capitalist consumption, and the corporate-profit-at-all-costs mentality were a central feature of the Third Doctor’s era. “The Green Death” is always cited (with good reason) as *the* example of pointed political messages in Classic Doctor Who but it is just one of many examples from the Third Doctor’s time including “Inferno,” “Colony in Space,” “The Mutants,” “Frontier in Space,” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” After its premiere, I read many critiques of the Thirteenth Doctor’s adventure “Orphan 55” which claimed it was too “preachy” in how it handled the issue of our willfully ignoring and openly participating in the destruction of our planet. Many said Doctor Who should be – and always has been – more “subtle” in its messaging. I can only imagine the ire the Third Doctor’s plots and speeches would raise in such critics. To give but one example, the Doctor decries the actions of a man seeking to undo the modern age while sympathizing with his motives:
The Doctor – “Yes, of course he was mad. But at least he realized the dangers this planet of yours is in, Brigadier. The danger of it becoming one vast garbage dump inhabited only by rats.”
Brigadier – “It’ll never happen, Doctor.”
The Doctor – “It’s not the oil, the filth, and the poisonous chemicals that are the real cause of pollution, Brigadier. It is simply greed.”
Heck yes! This is yet another reason I love the Third Doctor so much :D.
Jo leaving to pursue her relationship and work with Cliff hits the Doctor hard and he won’t take on a new assistant for some time. Then Series Eleven begins and Sarah Jane Smith arrives!!! Having met Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) with the Tenth Doctor, I’ve been eager to meet her in Classic Doctor Who. For some reason, I thought she first appeared with the Fourth Doctor so I was as surprised as I was delighted to have found her posing as a scientist to investigate the disappearance of several high profile scientists from a research facility. The Doctor realizes they are being time-napped and jumps in the TARDIS, with Sarah secretly stowing away, to investigate. They end up in the Middle Ages.
This is where we first meet the Sontarans (Sontar-ha!). Commander Linx of the Fifth Sontaran Space Fleet has crash-landed on Earth and claimed the planet as he makes repairs on his ship (incidentally, this is what Commander Skaak refers to in Doctor Who: Flux when he tells the Doctor, “This planet has defied us ever since the great Commander Linx first staked his claim in the ground of its feeble soil. We now assert that claim. Earth shall be an outpost of the Sontaran Empire.”). This is also where we first finally learn the name of the Doctor’s home planet is Gallifrey!
Incidentally, I also learned the TARDIS must have a salon within its infinite interior as Sarah travels with the Doctor to medieval Europe and when they return to modern day London, she has much shorter hair than she had when she left. The Doctor must also be a doctor of cosmetology ;D.
The Doctor and Sarah return to the 20th century to find dinosaurs popping up all over Central London. Because it’s 1974, the effects are, well, what you’d expect in a pre-Star Wars world. But I love the cheesiness of it! I love the (comparatively) lower budget! This has become a big part of what I love about watching Classic Doctor Who. It simultaneously reminds me of how far we’ve come in our special effects and what I take for granted watching movies in a post-Star Wars world while also fostering in me so much respect for the people who had to figure out how to create something like what we see in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” in a pre-Star Wars, pre-CGI world.
While Sarah is a journalist, working for the magazine Metropolitan, the Doctor vouches for her as his assistant when General Finch tries to have her throw out of the military planning session. Once they’ve settled the issue of the dinosaurs sliding through time, the Doctor begins convincing Sarah to travel with him.
Sarah – “Alien monsters, robber barons, and then dinosaurs. It’ll be a long time before I get in that TARDIS again.”
The Doctor – “Well, well that’s a pity, that.”
Sarah – “Why?”
The Doctor – “Well, um, I…I was rather thinking of making a trip to Florana.”
Sarah – “Where?”
The Doctor – “Uh, Florana, probably one of the most beautiful planets in the universe.”
Sarah – “Well count me out.”
The Doctor – “It’s always carpeted with perfumed flowers.”
Sarah – “I’m not listening.”
The Doctor – “With seas of warm milk and the sands as soft as swan’s down.”
Sarah – “No, Doctor.”
The Doctor – “The streams flow with water that’s clearer than the clearest crystal
Sarah – [smiling and laughing as she covers her ears]
This is the first time we’ve seen the Doctor actively recruit a companion in some time. He’s got the TARDIS back. He has no official assistant from UNIT anymore. He likes Sarah’s pluck and he doesn’t want to travel alone so he does his best to convince her to come along with him :). It’s cute.
The Doctor and Sarah will return to Peladon where the Doctor instructs Sarah to teach Thalira (Nina Thomas), the Queen of Peladon, about Women’s Lib so she can begin a feminist revolution/restructuring of Peladon’s antiquated and patriarchal system. We also see clear classist tensions between the nobility of Peladon – led by Ortron (Frank Gatliff), the Chancellor of Peladon – and those working the mines. It builds to armed revolution as the miners steal federation weapons and go to war with the nobility’s guards. All this is to say, yet again, anyone who says Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor is “too woke” or “too preachy” would clearly hate the Third Doctor (*cough* unless, of course, they just take issue with the Thirteenth Doctor because she’s a woman *cough*).
The Third Doctor’s final adventure, “Planet of the Spiders,” sees the Doctor happily working with UNIT, conducting experiments on telepathy and clairvoyance. He began this regeneration as an angry exile on Earth. Now, even with the ability to travel in the TARDIS his once more, he enjoys working alongside his UNIT family. In this story, the Doctor once again meets his childhood teacher K’anpo (Kevin Lindsey), the Time Lord he told Jo about, and we also get the very first mention of regeneration!!!!
K’anpo – “The discipline [the Time Lords] serve was not for me.”
The Doctor – “Nor for me.”
K’anpo – “I wouldn’t’ve chosen your alternative. To borrow a TARDIS was a little naughty to say the least.”
Sarah – [giggles]
The Doctor – “Yes, well I had to get away, I hadn’t your power.”
K’anpo – “Indeed. I regenerated and came to Earth. To Tibet.”
Sarah – “Regenerated?”
The Doctor – “Yes. It’s when a Time Lord’s body wears out. He regenerates, becomes new.”
K’anpo – “That is why we can live such a long time.”
Sarah – “I see.”
Think about this. It took eleven years for all the key elements of the Doctor Who world we all know and take for granted as “set canon” now to come into being.
To stop the spider invasion of Earth and set right what’s going wrong on Metebelis III, the Doctor returns to the planet to bring back the crystal he stole, even though he knows the radiation in the caves will kill him. This is the first time we see the Doctor sacrifice his life/regeneration. The First Doctor regenerated when his body was “wearing a bit thin.” The Second Doctor regenerated when the Time Lords essentially executed him for interference. But the Third Doctor goes to do the right thing, knowing it will end this life. He has become fully comfortable – fully at home – with UNIT but he gives that life up to set right what he did wrong.
When the Doctor appears back at UNIT, slowly succumbing to the radiation from Metebelis III, he tells Sarah, “I got lost in the Time Vortex. The TARDIS brought me home.” How beautiful is this?? Far from being the site of his exile, the Doctor now sees Earth, Lethbridge-Stewart, Sarah, and UNIT as his home. K’anpo arrives to tell Sarah the Doctor isn’t dead. The crystals in the cave on Metebelis III devastated all the cells in his body but he’ll regenerate. His body will look different and it may “shake up” the brain cells a bit so his behavior may be a bit “erratic.” But it will be the Doctor.
As they watch him regenerate Lethbridge Stewart sighs and says, “Here we go again.” SO MANY FEELS. While I am eager to meet the Fourth Doctor, I am already longing to begin rewatching Third Doctor stories (which is why, if I’m being honest, I’ve already done ;D). I love the Third Doctor. I love the Third Doctor so much!
Want more of my li’l series exploring each regeneration of the Doctor? Well you’re in luck! Check out:
Impressions of the First Doctor to see where it all began! William Hartnell played the Doctor from 1963-1966, for 134 episodes on Series 1-3, and it was Doctor Who at its weirdest in the best sense of the word. Here we meet the Doctor, their granddaughter, the TARDIS, the Daleks, the Cyberman, and so much more for the very first time!
Impressions of the Second Doctor follows the first regeneration of the Doctor on the show. Patrick Troughton played the Doctor from 1966-1969 for 119 episodes on Series 4-6. Here we see the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver, the Time Lords, UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and the Grand Intelligence.
 Nick Hurran, dir. “The Day of the Doctor,” Doctor Who, 50th Anniversary Special, BBC, 2013.
 Derek Martinus, dir. “Spearhead from Space: Episode 1,” Doctor Who, season 7, episode 1, BBC, 1970.
 Adam Smith, dir. “The Eleventh Hour,” Doctor Who, season 5, episode 1, BBC, 2010.
 Derek Martinus, dir. “Spearhead from Space: Episode 2,” Doctor Who, season 7, episode 2, BBC, 1970.
 Derek Martinus, dir. “Spearhead from Space: Episode 3,” Doctor Who, season 7, episode 3, BBC, 1970.
 “Derek Martinus, dir. “Spearhead from Space: Episode 4,” Doctor Who, season 7, episode 4, BBC, 1970.
 Tristan de Vere Cole, dir. “The Wheel in Space.” Doctor Who, season 5, episode 36, BBC, 1968.
 Timothy Combe, dir. “Doctor Who and the Silurians: Episode 1,” Doctor Who, season 1, episode 5, BBC, 1970.
 Morris Barrey, dir. “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” Doctor Who, season 5, episode 1, BBC, 1967.
 Anthony Hayward, “Caroline John: Actress best known as Liz Shaw in ‘Dr. Who’,” The Independent, June 25, 2012, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/caroline-john-actress-best-known-as-liz-shaw-in-dr-who-7881135.html
 Berry Letts, dir. “Terror of the Autons: Episode 1,” Doctor Who, season 8, episode 1, BBC, 1971.
 Michael Ferguson, dir. “The Ambassadors of Death: Episode 2,” Doctor Who, season 7, episode 13, BBC, 1970.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “Day of the Daleks: Episode 2,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 2, BBC, 1972.
 James Hawes, dir. “The Empty Child,” Doctor Who, season 1, episode 9, BBC, 2005.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “Day of the Daleks: Episode 1,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 1, BBC, 1972.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “Day of the Daleks: Episode 3,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 3, BBC, 1972.
 Rex Tucker, dir. “The Gunfighters,” Doctor Who, season 3, serial 8, BBC, 1966.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “Day of the Daleks: Episode 4,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 4, BBC, 1972.
 Lennie Mayne, dir. “The Curse of Peladon: Episode 1,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 5, BBC, 1972.
 Lennie Mayne, dir. “The Curse of Peladon: Episode 4,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 12, BBC, 1972.
 Michael Bryant, dir. “The Sea Devils: Episode 3,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 11, BBC, 1972.
 Michael Bryant, dir. “The Sea Devils: Episode 1,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 9, BBC, 1972.
 Michael Bryant, dir. “Colony in Space: Episode 5,” Doctor Who, season 8, episode 19, BBC, 1971.
 Michael Bryant, dir. “The Sea Devils: Episode 4,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 12, BBC, 1972.
 Michael Bryant, dir. “The Sea Devils: Episode 4,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 13, BBC, 1972.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “The Time Monster: Episode 4,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 24, BBC, 1972.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “The Time Monster: Episode 5,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 25, BBC, 1972.
 Barry Letts, dir. “Planet of the Spiders: Part 3,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 23, BBC, 1974.
 Michael Briant, dir. “Death to the Daleks: Part 1,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 11, BBC, 1974.
 Barry Letts, dir. “Carnival of Monsters: Episode 1,” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 5, 1973.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “The Time Monster: Episode 3,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 23, BBC, 1972.
 Paul Bernard, dir. “The Time Monster: Episode 6,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 26, BBC, 1972.
 Lennie Maybe, dir. “The Three Doctors: Part 1,” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 1, BBC, 1972.
 Nick Hurran, dir. “The Day of the Doctor,” Doctor Who, 50th Anniversary Special, BBC, 2013.
 Lennie Maybe, dir. “The Three Doctors: Part 1,” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 1, BBC, 1972.
 Lee Haven Jones, dir. “Spyfall Part Two,” Doctor Who, season 12, episode 2, BBC, 2020.
 “The Three Doctors (TV Story)” TARDIS Data Core: The Doctor Who Wiki. Accessed June 13, 2022. https://tardis.fandom.com/wiki/The_Three_Doctors_(TV_story)
 Lennie Maybe, dir. “The Three Doctors: Part 3,” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 3, BBC, 1973.
 Lennie Maybe, dir. “The Three Doctors: Part 4,” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 4, BBC, 1973.
 Michael Briant, dir. “The Green Death: Episode 6,” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 26, BBC, 1973.
 Paddy Russell, dir. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Part 5,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 9, BBC, 1974.
 James Hawes, dir. “School Reunion,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 3, BBC, 2006.
 Alan Bromly, dir. “The Time Warrior: Part 1,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 1, 1973.
 Jamie Magnus Stone, dir. “War of the Sontarans,” Doctor Who, season 13, episode 2, 2021.
 Alan Bromly, dir. “The Time Warrior: Part 2,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 2, 1973.
 Barry Letts, dir. “Planet of the Spiders: Part 1,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 21, BBC, 1974.
 Paddy Russell, dir. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Part 2,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 6, BBC, 1974.
 Paddy Russell, dir. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Part 5,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 9, BBC, 1974.
 Lennie Mayne, dir. “The Monster of Peladon: Part 3,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 17, BBC, 1974.
 Lennie Mayne, dir. “The Monster of Peladon: Part 2,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 16, BBC, 1974.
 Lennie Mayne, dir. “The Monster of Peladon: Part 3,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 17, BBC, 1974.
 Barry Letts, dir. “Planet of the Spiders: Part 6,” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 26, BBC, 1974.
2 thoughts on “Impressions of the Third Doctor – A Journey Through All 695 Episodes of Classic Doctor Who”
Interesting in the BritBox app! I would love to get it but have questioned whether I want to spend money on another TV app. Seems it has some kinks that need to be worked out still. Thanks for sharing and keep up the writing!
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Thanks for the comment, Amber :). It’s funny because there are SO MANY shows on BritBox (in addition to 695 episodes of Classic ‘Doctor Who’) and it would be one of the streaming services I couldn’t live without…if only it worked better. When it’s working well it’s the absolute best! But yeah, if you’re thinking about getting it I think I’d recommend waiting a bit before signing up, too.
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