Doctor Who – The Third Doctor

Played by: Jon Pertwee

When: 1970-1974

Significant contributions to the Whoniverse: Firstly, and most clearly, the advent of the Third Doctor was also the advent for colour in Doctor Who.   Hence, this post as well will be more colourful than my First Doctor and Second Doctor summaries.   In addition, this Doctor remains on Earth for the majority of his tenure, as a result of the ruling of the Time Lords.   This does not stop him continually trying to fix his TARDIS though, while helping  UNIT on a fairly regular basis.   The Third Doctor does get a regular nemesis, in the form of The Master, another Time Lord that will remain a thorn in his side right up until modern times.   Roger Delgado played the character during the Pertwee era.   New recurring aliens were also introduced, including the Silurians, the Sontarans, and the Autons.   For the first time, a Doctor also had a phrase that for perpetuity is recognised as being unique to this regeneration; “Reverse the polarity”.   Pertwee was still playing the Doctor on the shows tenth anniversary.   Hence, he had the honour of being the lead Doctor in the series on the first occasion when his predecessors all appeared on-screen with him.   Sadly, this was to be William Hartnell’s last ever appearance on the show.   Finally, the term regeneration is uttered for the first time, and it only took us the third regeneration to get there!!

Reflections by Film Nerd

Of all the Doctors up until this point, the Third Doctor was certainly the most of a scientist by nature.   Not only was he regularly seen trying to repair the damage done to his TARDIS by the Time Lords, he is often seen in a laboratory setting playing with chemicals, and he even often tinkers with cars, adding technology not in their original design plans.   The first car he tinkers with, nicknamed Bessie, features the number plate “WHO1”.   He also later manufacture the Whomobile, a futuristic looking vehicle that only makes one prominent appearance.

This scientific nature also lead to the now famous “reverse the polarity” statement.   Reputedly, Jon Pertwee wanted some scientific jargon he could easily use in context of solving problems, and this was it.   If there was some barrier or problem based in science, such as a force field, that element could be defeated by reversing the polarity of the… whatever.    Another element specific to this Doctor, though also a pacifist in the tradition of his predecessors, is also prone to a bit more action.   He is well versed in a form of karate he calls Venusian Aikido.   He often uses this to get out of a jam, or to knock out a simple guard or henchman.   He has also practiced it against The Master.

The introduction of the latter character is the source of the true gold of this series.   The Master is the Doctor’s equal yet opposite.   It is true he has a few advantages early on that the Doctor does not, most particularly a functional TARDIS.   Yet their frequent head-to-head does show a man determined to show he is the best.   He desires power above all else.   This brings him into conflict with the more idealistic Doctor, though the latter does often try to implore with the former to change his ways unsuccessfully of course).   They do have a most interesting relationship.   At times when they are forced to work together for the benefit of them both, they form a brilliant team, and in another life could have been the best of friends.   Yet by the end of each serial The Master once again makes his escape, to repeat the process all over again.   At this stage, no explanation is provided for his megalomania, but the fact he is somewhat unbalanced is all to clear.

A true joy of the Pertwee era is the tenth anniversary special mentioned above.   It is a fittingly epic episode, with all three Doctors to date sharing the screen.   Pertwee and Troughton get all the real fun, as Hartnell only ever appears on a monitor in the TARDIS.   He was unwell at the time and could only film these small elements.   He does delightfully put-down his replacements, calling them a “clown” and a “dandy”.   For his final appearance, he definitely leaves his mark, despite the limited nature of his role in the serial.   The Three Doctors was successful enough for the same tactic to be used for the 25th anniversary with a serial called The Five Doctors.   subsequently, it is every fans hope, including my own, that in 2013 all remaining living Doctors can appear in an epic special for the 50th anniversary.


The Companions

Liz Shaw (Caroline John)

Elizabeth Shaw is a scientist in her own right, and a member of UNIT.   We are informed that she is quite brilliant, though most of the time she does little more than be a lab assistant to the Doctor.  In fact, this very fact is listed as the reason for her departure after a single season.   She moves on to bigger and better things in UNIT, nad is replaced by someone more qualified to spend her time handing test tubes to the Doctor.   Interestingly, of everyone whom has been classified as the Doctor’s companion over the course of the season, Shaw never actually gets the chance to travel in the TARDIS, a consequence of the Doctor being earth-bound for her entire tenure.


Jo Grant (Katy Manning)

Jo Grant was another member of UNIT, but watching her on-screen one continuously remains baffled as to why.   She is eternally clumsy, prone to making very poor decisions, and very easily influenced, especially by The Master.   Yet she must have been doing something right.   She lasted three seasons on the show, and was the serving companion during The Three Doctors serial.   Admittedly, with time as an audience member I did grow to be fond of her, in a lovable ditzy kind of way.   The character also did grow a lot from her association with the Doctor, especially after a few travels in the TARDIS following the lifting of the Time Lords ban of the Doctor’s travelling.   Her character left the series after falling for a character that appeared in her last serial, very much akin to the departure of Susan Foreman.   She was to appear again in The Sarah Jane Adventures, alongside Elisabeth Sladen, and Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor.


Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen)

The companion that should be the epitome for all companions to follow.   Sarah Jane (only the Doctor can just call her Sarah!) was a reporter that was working on a case which had her path first cross The Doctor’s.   She snuck aboard his TARDIS, and in this first appearance we also met our first ever Sontaran.   Overall, it was one of the most exciting episodes of the Pertwee era.   Sarah Jane was determined, fiercely intelligent, and a loyal companion to The Doctor.   Though not herself a member of UNIT, through the Doctor’s influenced she is regularly involved in the most intimate levels of information within the force.   Sarah Jane’s popularity was enough to bring her back as a guest in the Tennant era, having her face perhaps the most popular companion since her time, Rose Tyler.   This appearance then led to her being the only companion to get a spin-off series bearing her character’s name in the title, The Sarah Jane Adventures.   Unfortunately, Elisabeth Sladen passed away during filming of this shows fifth season, though the episodes that were filmed for this season are to be aired in the coming months, to both the delight and the sadness of all her fans.



Though not officially considered as companions to the Doctor, UNIT was an integral part of the Pertwee era and the regular cast that formed the soldiers of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce deserve a look in this summary of the Third Doctor era.

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)

As mentioned in my discussions of The Second Doctor, the Brigadier appeared first as a colonel alongside Troughton, than later as Brigadier in command of the newly formed UNIT.   Subsequently he was every part as important in the Pertwee era as Pertwee himself.   These two share an interesting relationship, given that The Doctor is a pacifist, and the Brigadier is a true military man.   They both irritate the hell out of each other, yet it is clear they share a mutual respect.   The Brigadier subsequently appears in the first serial featuring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, as well as guesting alongside Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor and Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor.   His final appearance, before his unfortunate recent passing, was to guest star in The Sarah Jane Adventures.


Seargent Benton (John Levene)

The faithful subordinate, Benton appears very early on in the Pertwee era, and remains an important part of UNIT throughout.   He can be somewhat of a bumbling yes man at times, but from working regularly with the Doctor, he respects him greatly and will often argue to listen to his advice.   Though not an overly utilised character, he is a reliable, strong, loyal face to have around in a crisis, and is generally very likeable.


Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin)

Mike Yates is, as fitting with his rank, a more confident soldier than Sergeant Benton.   He is also more suave and at ease with the Doctor’s female companions.   He generally gets a bit more to do than Benton, leading to some storylines where his conscience indeed seems to conflict with his duty.   This does lead to some interesting and unexpected drama shortly before his final regular appearances.   He does return to appear again in the 25th anniversary special The Five Doctors.


The Third Regeneration [SPOILERS]

As mentioned earlier, this is the first occasion that the term regeneration is used in Doctor Who.   The concept is introduced and explained to Sarah Jane (and subsequently to the audience) by a Time Lord elder, K’anpo Rinpoche, whom had been a mentor to the Doctor in his youth.   The story of the Third Doctor’s demise concerns a crystal he gathered on Metebelis III, which a Spider Queen claims he stole.   She is quite an evil being with strong mental powers.   The Third Doctor thwarts her evil plan, but in the process is exposed to lethal doses of radiation.   He manages to get in the TARDIS and return to Earth, where he collapses in front of Sarah-Jane, the Brig, and K’anpo.   We then see him become the longest running Doctor of all time, Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.


Concluding remarks

These being the first serials to not have major missing gaps, this was the easiest era of Doctor who to watch so far to date.   The shorter season times, averaging 26 episodes per season, also permitted much tighter stories and a greater level of ease in hauling one’s way through all this history.   Pertwee was a convincing scientific type, and a joy to watch.   Especially when paired with Delgado’s The Master, some of the on-screen action was positively electric.   Aside from what now can be considered continuity errors (especially The Doctor’s age), this was another great period for Doctor Who.

The First Doctor

The Second Doctor

2 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Third Doctor

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