Saturday, 23 March 2013

Story 65 - The Three Doctors

In which the return to Earth of a research balloon in a bird sanctuary heralds a crisis for the Doctor and the Time Lords. Dr.Tyler is surprised to find the warden, Mr Ollis, gone. His X-Ray exposures of a Black Hole reveal a jagged streak of light emanating from it, so he goes to see UNIT. The Doctor discovers that this superlucent beam has scanned the Earth. The latest plate to be developed shows a man's features superimposed on it - and he deduces that this is Mr Ollis. Whilst the Doctor and Jo visit the bird sanctuary, Tyler vanishes from the UNIT lab and an energy being slips out of his equipment box and disappears down the plughole of the sink. On returning to the HQ, this creature emerges from a drain and causes "Bessie" to vanish. Soon Gel creatures start to appear all over the grounds and lay siege to the building. The Doctor and Jo take refuge with Sergeant Benton in the TARDIS. The Black Hole, meanwhile, has been identified as the source of a crippling energy drain on the Doctor's homeworld. In desperation, the Time Lords decide to remove the Second Doctor from his time-stream and send him to Earth to help the current incarnation. He materialises in the TARDIS, and the two Doctors telepathically update each other regarding events on Gallifrey and on Earth. When they proceed to argue over what to do next, the Time Lords send the First Doctor to assist. With power low, he can only advise over the TARDIS monitor.

The First Doctor suggests that the light beam represents a bridge - which one of them ought to cross. The Doctor elects to go, and Jo joins him at the last moment. Both vanish. The Brigadier manages to reach the lab - to be confronted by the Doctor looking as he first met him. At first he refuses to accept both Doctors can be present at the same time, and assumes that his Doctor has somehow changed back. They also take refuge in the TARDIS, and the First Doctor (confusing the Brigadier even further) advises they follow the Third. The Second Doctor turns off the ship's forcefield - and UNIT troops are amazed to see the entire HQ building disappear. The Doctor and Jo have found themselves in a barren wasteland, where they find "Bessie" and parts of the lab, as well as a bemused Dr. Tyler. They are captured by the Gel creatures and taken into an underground complex. Here, the Doctor meets the being responsible for everything that has happened - the Time Lord Omega.

Omega was the brilliant stellar engineer who created a supernova which provided the Time Lords with the power needed to master time travel in the first place. It had always been thought that he perished in the attempt, but he was actually thrown through a Black Hole to the Universe of Anti-Matter. Over the millennia, he created this world with the power of his mind. He has harnessed the energies of the Singularity to create at will, and has to wear metallic robes, helmet and gauntlets against the corrosive effects of its radiation. The Doctor tells him he is regarded as a great hero - but centuries of isolation have driven him mad and he is convinced he was abandoned, and so seeks revenge. He plans to leave this Universe and take over Gallifrey - but to do so he needs someone to take his place. This is why he deliberately sought out the Doctor. Benton and the Second Doctor are captured after the Brigadier goes to get help - thinking UNIT HQ has been transplanted to some other terrestrial location (probably Norfolk).

The two Doctors are reunited - Omega realising who they are. The Second Doctor notes that Omega's temperament affects these surroundings. The Brigadier joins forces with Mr Ollis and they plan an attack on the complex. The Doctor challenges Omega, and finds himself in a black void fighting a creature which represents the dark side of the Time Lord's mind. Losing, he is forced to agree to help him. The two Doctors help Omega remove his protective costume - only to discover that there is nothing physical left of him. Realising he can never escape this Universe, Omega loses control and the prisoners escape - reuniting with the Brigadier and Ollis. They return to UNIT HQ and the TARDIS. Here, it is found that the Second Doctor's recorder has become jammed inside the forcefield generator - and has not been converted into Anti-Matter. A plan is devised. The Doctors offer to travel by TARDIS to Omega's lair and give him his freedom - on the condition that everyone else is sent back to Earth. Once they have gone, they hand over the  forcefield generator. Omega throws it to the ground, and the recorder falls out. The Time Lords see the Black Hole turn into a supernova as the energy drain is halted. Omega has been destroyed. UNIT HQ returns to its rightful place - along with everyone else. The TARDIS arrives home soon after. The first two Doctors are returned to their correct time-streams, and the Time Lords give the Doctor a new dematerialisation circuit and unblock his memory of the complex time equations. His exile is at an end.

This four part adventure was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was broadcast between 30th December 1972 and 20th January 1973. It is the first story of the tenth season. Producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks had often been asked about the possibility of a story featuring all three Doctors - and both had smiled, said it was a nice idea, and they would maybe think about it. With the programme now about to celebrate a significant anniversary, they suddenly realised that it might not be such a bad idea after all.
Patrick Troughton was happy to return, enough time having elapsed since his departure and the worries of type-casting having proved totally unfounded. William Hartnell was contacted in person and also agreed, so the story was commissioned from the reliable Bristol Boys.
Things started to look bad, however, when Heather Hartnell contacted the production team and revealed the full extent of her husband's illness. They had caught him on one of his infrequent good days. He would not be able to contribute beyond a very limited appearance - and only then pre-filmed. His role was therefore cut right back and he became stuck in a time capsule - only able to advise over the TARDIS monitor. Despite this limited appearance, he does deliver one of the series' most famous lines - dismissing his replacements as "a dandy and a clown".

For a villain, the obvious choices of Daleks and Master were set aside - as they would be participating in an epic adventure of two connected six-parters later in the season. The production team also needed to facilitate an end to the Doctor's Earthbound exile. The previous season had only featured UNIT in two stories (the first and last) and even the contemporary Sea Devil story had used a surrogate military partnership for the Doctor. As the Time Lords needed to be included in some capacity, it was decided that the villain would be another "rogue" from that race - but this time a powerful one from their legends. Thus Omega was created - to be played by Azal actor Stephen Thorne.
There are only two other significant guest roles - Mr Ollis (Laurie Webb) and Dr. Tyler (Rex Robinson, in the first of three roles in the programme, all directed by Lennie Mayne).
Two of the three Time Lords with speaking roles have played Gallifreyans before (Graham Leaman in an almost identical role in Colony In Space, and Clyde Pollitt, who had officiated at the Second Doctor's trial).
I like to think they are the same Time Lords. Roy Purcell (the President) had previously been seen as the chief prison officer in The Mind of Evil.
It is lovely to see Hartnell again, and fitting that his last ever performance was as the Doctor. Due to his illness, he was furnished with his script on boards to read so he wouldn't have to memorise the lines. Script boards don't have anything to do with delivery, however. It is as if he has never been away.
The same can be said of Troughton, who slips seamlessly back into character and proves what an exceptional actor the man was. Pertwee was worried about being upstaged - with good cause. He was famously thrown by Troughton's rather cavalier attitude towards the scripted dialogue.

Regarding the UNIT regulars, it is surprising to note the absence of Richard Franklyn's Mike Yates. John Levene has a very good share of the action, but it is Nicholas Courtney who stands out - mainly thanks to a couple of famous humorous lines. Some people have a problem with the way that the Brigadier is used in this story - that humour undermining him and marking the beginning of the deterioration of the character. It's not an opinion I subscribe to.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor exits the TARDIS to confront the Gel creatures, and Jo rushes out to join him. Both vanish...
  2. The Second Doctor turns off the TARDIS forcefield. UNIT troops see the Gel creatures disappear - followed by the entire HQ building. It is seen hurtling towards the Black Hole.
  3. In his fight with the personification of the dark side of Omega's mind, the Doctor finds himself losing the struggle...
  4. The Doctor's exile is at an end. Jo frets that he will now leave her - but he reassures her that won't be the case. Mr Ollis, meanwhile, has no stomach for explanations to his wife about where he has been.

Overall, a fantastic start for the anniversary season, with a memorable villain. Great to see Hartnell and especially Troughton again. I'm glad they kept to a tight four-parter, which fairly rattles along. Future producers should take note of how not to over-bloat an anniversary tale. Shame about the Gelguards...
Things you might like to know:

  • Troughton fought hard to have his companions Jamie and Zoe involved, but the idea was strenuously argued against by an insecure Jon Pertwee - who wanted it made clear that it was his programme now. Frazer Hines would have been unavailable anyway due to Emmerdale commitments.
  • Omega was originally going to be called Ohm - which looks like "Who" upside down and in reverse.
  • Despite having no physical existence, we do see Omega's (or rather Stephen Thorne's) hair and mouth at times.
  • Talking of his lack of substance, does this prove that Time Lords (like the British monarchy) never go to the toilet...
  • An early version of the story had the Time Lords enlist all three Doctors to fight an entity called Death, who had gathered a "Federation of Evil" (i.e. some classic monsters). It would have been called "Deathworld". This sounds closer to The Five Doctors of course.
  • There was a long-running myth that Hartnell's scenes had been filmed in his garage. They were actually filmed at the BBC's Ealing studios.
  • Another myth was that the images of the Second Doctor viewed by the Time Lords was a clip lifted either from The Macra Terror or The Krotons. It was specially filmed.  
  • We have a new TARDIS interior - the last one seen in The Time Monster having proved unpopular. It had also suffered badly in storage.
  • It is made quite specific in the Time Lord dialogue that there haven't been any other incarnations of the Doctor before Hartnell's version. They clearly state that his is the "earliest" incarnation. Makes you wonder what all the fuss was about when the final episode of The Brain of Morbius was shown.
  • Do see my earlier views on Season 6(b).

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