I was only 3 years old when Series 10 of Doctor Who was first broadcast and yet it feels like an old friend, partly because it has been very well served for repeats over the years. The Three Doctors and The Carnival of Monsters were both shown as part of The Five Faces of Doctor Who in 1981 and Planet of the Daleks was chosen to represent Doctor Who and the Daleks in a BBC1 repeat series from 1993. As well as all that, when pirate VHS tapes (Sssh! Don’t mention the pirate VHS tapes!) started trickling through in the early ‘90s, the copies of Frontier in Space and The Green Death were all particularly good because the Pertwee era was still being regularly repeated in Australia, who used the same PAL broadcasting standard as the UK.
So, although I probably didn’t watch Season 10 of Doctor Who (or if I did, I don’t remember it), I feel very familiar with it – probably the most familiar of the Jon Pertwee seasons. In the ‘90s, when I first started getting into Doctor Who fandom, it was de rigueur to dislike the Third Doctor; there’d been a sort of post-modern, right-on reappraisal of the era among trendy fans, who considered him sexist and authoritarian. Pertwee sort of fell between two stools – you had the first generation fan dinosaurs, who’d been with the show from the start and idolised Patrick Troughton, and you had the early-20s generation of fans who controlled the fanzine market, who’d almost universally grown up with the bohemian stylings of Tom Baker. The later Doctors were kind of dismissed as ‘not as good as Tom Baker’. In terms of age, I fell into the latter category, but I could never bring myself to buy into the vitriol that was aimed at the Third Doctor.
The latest of the Doctor Who – The Collection BluRay releases is Season 10 and, to be honest, I’m quite surprised they haven’t done it sooner. I thought they’d have followed up the initial release of the first Tom Baker season with a Pertwee one, but we got Peter Davison, then back to Baker. The releases are pretty random though – the next one after this is Season 23, the lesser of the two Colin Baker seasons, which I don’t think anyone was expecting! Season 10 is a good one, however; you can hum and hah about the merits of Planet of the Daleks, but most people agree that there isn’t a real clunker among them. For an anniversary season – the first significant one in the show’s history – it really delivers the goods.
I’ve always been a big fan of The Three Doctors. Okay, so it’s got a plot that you could easily write on the back of a postage stamp, but it’s also got the first three TV Doctors together for the first (and only, played by the original actors) time. There have always been difficulties when the show tries to bring together the Doctors (which only get worse as time goes on) and this is no exception. As is well known, William Hartnell initially agreed to do the show, but was later found to be too unwell to do more than a few readings to camera, played out on the TARDIS screen. When you know the facts, it’s clear that he’s not operating at full strength and reading his lines from a board, but it’s still William Hartnell, back for one last time as the Doctor and the performance is there if you look for it. My only problem has always been that the TARDIS monitor is a bit rubbish, so we don’t see him properly. Of course, this was also the first time that viewers lucky enough to have a colour television got to see Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in colour.
Of course, as well as the Doctors themselves, we also have the introduction of Omega, the insane Time Lord founder trapped within a black hole and not best pleased about it. He’s played by Stephen Thorne with the shouty knob turned up to 11 (or ‘Blessed’ as it’s otherwise known). He might be a bit OTT for some, but it’s a terrific performance and a cut above Omega’s disappointing reappearance in Season 20’s Arc of Infinity. The script is less crammed full of ideas than some by Bob Baker & Dave Martin’s others – and all the better for it – but the dues ex machine still leaves the viewer scratching their head. How did the Second Doctor manage to drop his recorder through a closed hatch into the workings of the TARDIS? The Three Doctors is one of my ‘comfort food’ stories, alongside Destiny of the Daleks and Battlefield; those stories that you know and accept aren’t too good, but which give you a lovely warm feeling when you watch them on a rainy Sunday afternoon. When you’re tired of The Three Doctors, you’re tired of Doctor Who.
Following The Three Doctors, but shown before it in The Five Faces of Doctor Who (and you know what, internet? We didn’t care!) is Carnival of Monsters. This Robert Holmes story is quietly brilliant and, in its own way, represents everything that is wonderful about ‘classic’ Doctor Who. Fans of the new series might look at some of the costumes and mock, but if they do they’re completely missing the point; Vorg and Shirna are carnival folk, so of course their costumes are garish and silly and the citizens of Inter Minor are supposed to be the epitome of dullness, so of course they’re all grey and lifeless. Of the former, Lesley Dwyer and Cheryl Hall (who I’ve only just realised was Wolfie Smith’s girlfriend in Citizen Smith) put in tremendous performances as Vorg and Shirna, the two travelling showpersons whose ‘Miniscope’ has unintentionally ensnared the Doctor’s TARDIS. Also worthy of note in the guest cast are the ever-reliable Michael Wisher as Kalik and a young actor called Ian Marter, who we might just be seeing again in a season or two.
Producer Barry Letts had hoped that the monstrous Drashigs would become a force to rival the Daleks in the minds of young viewers, but this is their only significant appearance. Having said that, they’re pretty effective for hand puppets produced on a restricted budget and they manage to present them in such a way as to give a genuine sense of scale. The partnership of the Doctor and Jo Grant is very strong here, with Katy Manning putting in one of her best performances. I think that Pertwee works best when he’s not overpowered by a ‘headline’ monster like the Daleks and has a strong script to work from; much like his successor Mr Baker, he’s not great at hiding when he doesn’t feel the lines he’s given to say – but luckily in the case of Carnival of Monsters, dialogue has always been one of the major strengths of Robert Holmes’ scripts.
Frontier in Space is a bit of an odd one. Malcolm Hulke’s politically-loaded script has a strangely loose narrative, playing out like more of an intergalactic road movie than an adventure story. Starting on Earth, we travel to the moon, then to the planet of the Draconians, then to the planet of the Ogrons, with lots of time on spaceships inbetween. As you’ll gather from that last sentence, this story features two of the best-loved monsters from the Pertwee era; in fact, despite their status in the pantheon of classic Doctor Who monsters, it’s the only time the Draconians ever appear! I have a soft spot for the Ogrons, those lumbering gorilla monsters, but it’s hard not to imagine that their creation for the previous year’s Day of the Daleks might have had something to do with the ongoing success on film and television of Planet of the Apes.
What makes Frontier in Space stand out, of course, is the presence of Roger Delgado in what would prove to be his final appearance as the Master. His performance is as immaculate as ever and he just absolutely shines in the two-handed scenes he shares with Katy Manning. It’s unfortunate that his departure from the story is just him dashing into his TARDIS, because the actor was tragically killed before his character could get a proper send-off in another story. If all had gone according to plan, I’m sure that Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado could have given us a climactic encounter for the Third Doctor and the Master that would have blown us all away – but sadly that was not to be. Frontier in Space isn’t a bad story, but it operates mainly as a conduit for the next story, which would see the return of the Doctor’s arch nemeses.
When the Daleks returned to Doctor Who after 5 years away in the previous season’s Day of the Daleks, their creator Terry Nation was happy for another writer to handle them; but this time he wanted in on the action. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a new story, so he just recycled The Daleks and threw in some invisible aliens for good measure. It’s no big stretch to see that Planet of the Daleks is, in essence, The Daleks with a few minor tweaks; but then again, Terry Nation had spent the last few years working on The Avengers, a series that regularly recycled scripts from its earlier incarnations, so he probably didn’t see that he was doing anything wrong. Like most people working on any TV series at the time, they couldn’t have imagined for a second that anyone would still be watching that series 46 years later.
Despite its *ahem* similarities to a certain Hartnell serial, Planet of the Daleks is a lot of fun. The Daleks, who looked decidedly tatty in Day of the Daleks, look a bit better in this production, though the Dalek Supreme is quite clearly an old movie Dalek prop with a battery torch for an eye. Nation’s script is quite ambitious with its jungle setting and armies of Daleks in an underground base, but the visuals never really drop the ball and it all hangs together quite nicely. For a long time, Episode 3 of Planet of the Daleks only existed in monochrome – and that was the version that was shown as part of the 1993 Doctor Who and the Daleks repeat – but it was restored to full colour in 2008 and has been further tinkered about with for BluRay, so it now looks better than ever. On this collection it also comes with optional brand new effects that – as I’ve pointed out before – most people watch once then never bother with again.
The final story in Season 10 is The Green Death, which forms part of a loose trilogy across the Third Doctor’s era written by producer Barry Letts and Robert Sloman (writing either as Guy Leopold or just under Sloman’s name), which also includes The Dæmons and Planet of the Spiders. These three stories, more than any other, represent the very core of Barry Letts’ vision for Doctor Who; they feature the complete UNIT family of the Doctor, Jo Grant, the Brigadier, Mike Yates and Sgt Benton and revolve around some form of spiritual or ecological crisis. In the case of The Green Death, it’s a combination of industrial pollution and the closure of coal mines, with a generous helping of hippy idealism and mild communism thrown in for good measure.
But because this is Doctor Who and not Doomwatch, the industrial pollution results in the creation of some rather unpleasant giant maggots and the Doctor gets to dress up as a cleaning woman (which Spencer Quist almost never did). Also, the whole operation is run by BOSS, a flamboyant artificial intelligence who likes to sing opera and has little regard for human life. At 6 episodes, it’s rather loose in its storytelling and, like many of the longer stories of the Pertwee era, you can’t help thinking that it would have benefitted from being a couple of episodes shorter, but there’s a 90-minute omnibus edition that was prepared for a Christmas repeat which is a lot tighter. It’s probably sacrilege to say that, but I don’t care because it works rather well as a ‘movie length’ version and I don’t find myself missing seeing credits every 22 minutes at all.
The Green Death is, of course, the final story for Jo Grant and in its sixth episode it has a definite end-of-an-era feel. In a way, this is the true end of the golden years for Pertwee and, much as I like his final season, it kind of stands as a coda to the Third Doctor’s story rather than a new beginning. Jo meets up and falls in love with hippy ecologist Professor Jones, who’s a bit like the Doctor – if the Doctor were a preachy Welshman. In the end, they announce their engagement and there’s a big party, from which the Doctor sneaks sadly away and drives off into the sunset in his ‘Victorian roadster’ Bessie. It’s quite a moving end for the Doctor/Jo companionship and it’s definitely the most convincing of the ‘married off’ companion departures. The new series could learn a lot from this method of bidding farewell to companions, rather than its melodramatic ‘kill ’em all off’ approach.
A criticism often levelled at ‘classic era’ Doctor Who is that there is no sense of continuity within the seasons, but I disagree; I think that opinion comes from years of seeing them released out of order on VHS and DVD. If you sit down and watch a whole season in order, most of them hold together really well. Season 10 may not have the continuity of, say, Season 12, but it does come across as a single unit (no pun intended), with a beginning, a middle and an end. If Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were looking to produce something memorable for the anniversary year, then I would argue that they succeeded – it certainly holds together a lot better than the very hit-and-miss twentieth anniversary. Perhaps it is these seasons that hold together really well that they’re looking for in what to release on BluRay, as all the ones they’ve released so far seem to have that sense of continuity when watched in their intended order.
As with the previous releases in the Doctor Who – The Collection range, this comes with a whole wealth of extras, some from the original DVD releases and some completely new. The Behind the Sofa features, where cast and crew comment upon the episodes in a Gogglebox style, have been the high point of the previous releases, but here they’re a bit muted. Katy Manning, sharing the sofa with Richard Franklin (Mike Yates) and John Levene (Sgt Benton) seems to be keeping the conversation afloat most of the time, and the second sofa, featuring writers and producers from the modern era of Doctor Who is – and I mean absolutely no offense to the persons involved, they do a splendid job at what they do – rather dull. I think that if they do another Pertwee season, they need to bring in a sofa of out-of-era companion actors to liven things up a bit.
There are the usual making-of features and some interesting clips from Blue Peter, Nationwide etc. Katy Manning reunites with Stewart Bevan, who played Clifford Jones in The Green Death in the charming documentary Keeping Up with the Joneses, but the highlight of the extras is Matthew Sweet’s Doctor Who and the Third Man, an expansive overview of the Pertwee era which brings together archive clips and brand new interviews. Sweet’s in-depth interviews and analyses are quickly becomind one of the major reasons for buying these BluRay releases and this one is no exception… although they seem to have caught Steven Moffatt on a particularly grumpy day. The archive footage makes all the difference, because elsewhere it seems to be very Katy Manning-heavy, by merit of the fact that she’s one of only three remaining cast members. She even appears in the Sarah Jane Adventures story The Death of the Doctor, which is included here as a sort of loose sequel to The Green Death.
All in all, this is a worthy addition to The Collection, a range which so far hasn’t put a foot wrong. If there are still fans out there clinging to their 90s ideology, then this might just turn them back onto the Third Doctor. It should do, because this is a great collection of stories from a TV series that was at the height of its powers.