Doctor Who #332: The Three Doctors Part 1

"So you're my replacements. A dandy and a clown."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD, both in standard and Special Edition formats. First aired Dec.30 1972.

IN THIS ONE... Anti-matter blobs attack UNIT HQ, so the Time Lords send help in the form of two previous Doctors.

REVIEW: It's a new season, Doctor Who's tenth(!), and the gimmick this time is the first multi-Doctor story! Hartnell and Troughton crash Pertwee's party! Yeah! What? Baker and Martin are writing it? Damn. Expect more wonky SF ideas than the production staff can successfully cater to. It starts much as Spearhead from Space did, with a hunter/poacher figure finding something from space and UNIT getting called in. The car battery attached to it makes him disappear and later reappear (as a quasi-human face) on X-rays of a "space lightning" emanating from a black hole being monitored by the Time Lords (still in pre-collar suits, but check out their chairs for the basic shape we associate with them). But wait, there's more. Out of the cosmic box comes an anti-matter blob effect (unique to the point of being cool, though it interacts less well with film than video), which scouts our universe before calling ridiculous "Gel-Guards" (word never mentioned in the serial) who look like teleporting Hortas standing up, with light-up claws that blow UNIT soldiers up (that claw shot is obviously from a later episode). But wait, there's more still. The Time Lords want to help the Doctor because he's at the epicenter of a catastrophic event that may destroy the universe, but can't spare A SINGLE person because they ALL have to monitor the black hole's energy drain. So what's the plan? They break the first rule of time AND use up massive amounts of energy to bring the first and second Doctors into the third's time-stream. That makes little to no sense...

...ahh screw it, this is supposed to be a celebration, so let's ignore the nonsense and celebrate! Though the stakes are high, this episode is essentially a comedy (and not just because of the silly monsters). Even before the other Doctors arrive, there are comedy bits like the Doctor asking for a coffee stir, and the Brigadier passing the scientific buck to the Doctor. When Benton won't comment on the TARDIS being bigger on the inside, except to say that "it's pretty obvious, isn't it?", I don't think I've ever loved him more. When the Doctor calls the Time Lords, as he did in The War Games, we're meant to understand that the situation is dire indeed, and they really need to take the boot off the car, so to speak. He's not too happy with their idea of help, however, and the irritation each Doctor feels at the sight of the other is a source of comedy (see Theories for why Doctors are so often at odds).

The writers do seem to be working from a vestigial memory of the 60s-era program - normal, given this was before shows were available for repeat viewings - so Troughton is at once the recorder-playing loon of his first season AND the man who worked with UNIT against the Cybermen in The Invasion. Had the writers been more fluent in Whoisms, they might not have given the Troughtonesque "when I say run, run"-type line to Pertwee (though I can also appreciate it as a sign these are all the same man, so it could have been done on purpose). Hartnell, however, has seen better days. Not in the best of health at the time, his Doctor is relegated to a dark studio and some kind of strange time-cage, and interacting, very slowly, with his counterparts from a TV screen. He's like a stern and impatient children's show presenter waiting for the kids at home to answer his questions. It almost isn't worth it, though his assessment of his future selves is, of course, a classic.

THEORIES: So why don't the Doctors like one another? Psychologically, it makes perfect sense on a number of levels. First, it's a bit like hearing your voice on tape, or seeing yourself on video, it never really sits well. But more than that, you're meeting your former or future self, which must come with a certain measure of psychic shock. For the later incarnation, you're looking at something you left behind, something you've evolved from, and you're looking at the person who caused your previous death. For the earlier incarnation, there's the disappointment of them not being enough like you, but they're also a portent of your own death (as a "self" or personality, as the Tenth Doctor describes it). Thirdly, when the Time Lords allow such a paradox to occur, you must realize they are going to manipulate your memories afterwards. The Third Doctor doesn't remember these events happening when he was the Second or the First, so there's the irritation (not to call it outrage) at having someone invade your mind (possibly through some Matrix function, as it apparently contains Time Lord memories). Look at Time Crash, the short episode in which the Tenth and Fifth Doctors meet. Doc5 is unhappy at all the changes because he believes his memories will be excised by the Time Lords, but Doc10 is much happier to see a former self, because his Time Lords are no longer an issue and likely can't affect this experience. In fact, there's even a memory sync bit in Time Crash that suggests the experience was not removed from the 5th Doctor's mind. But that's a story for another day.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Baker and Martin throw a lot of ideas out there, some which are well realized, others not so much, but the plot is really kind of academic. We're here to see Troughton and Pertwee interact, and that's at least done with zest and wit.


snell said...

If I met myself from, say, twenty years ago, I'd beat the crap out of the arrogant jerk for all the things he's going to screw up, let me tell you...

LiamKav said...

Likewise, I'm sure there's many twenty year olds that would look at the forty year old version of themselves with dissapointment, wondering how they became such a dull old man.

There's also the "roles" thing. Generally when a load of friends get together they all naturally fall into roles. The leader, the joker, the support, and so on. When new people enter groups you often see conflict when two people are trying to go for the same role. In the Doctor's case, he's literally competing with himself for the role of "Doctor".

Siskoid said...

All good points. We are our own worst enemy.

abc said...

At least he's not trying to kill himself. #Looper

snell said...

Or is he? #Valeyard


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