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Doctor Who - The Third Doctor

Updated on August 23, 2011

As the 1970s dawned on BBC1, the producers of Doctor Who decided it was as good a time as any to change the look of the show to colour while the actor who portrayed the doctor changed, too.  Again, this Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee,  was nothing like his previous two selves, and would assume the role for no less than five seasons of serials.

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee

Before his career as the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee was an actor for many years on the British stage, as well as in television and film after a stint in World War Two working for Royal Naval Intelligence.

He took on the role when Patrick Troughton (the Second Doctor) left in 1969, although Pertwee’s incarnation didn't begin until the next series started in 1970. Though not already a fan of the show, he became best known for this role and made life-long friends among the actors who played characters that many fans refer to as the “UNIT family.”

After leaving Doctor Who in 1974, he played the title role of a comedy scarecrow in the popular show “Worzel Gummidge” until 1981. (Interestingly enough there is talk of resurrecting the show with a new Worzel but Pertwee is a hard act to follow!)  Jon Pertwee passed away in 1996, just a few weeks short of what would have been his 77th birthday. He wrote a memoir appropriately entitled "I Am The Doctor".

How did Jon Pertwee play the Third Doctor?

Jon Pertwee was the tallest actor to date to play the Doctor, and brought a physical style to the role that was entirely new. In a departure from earlier adventures, (the First Doctor was alltogether more serious by nature) the Third Doctor retained his sense of adventure and youthful tricks, but this Doctor was also something of an older ladies’ man, now using his abilities to get his female assistants to do his bidding with the touch of his hand to their cheek.

He is also the first doctor to expand dramatically into a long association with a contemporary - a rival, The Master! The confidence of the Third Doctor is most clearly demonstrated when dealing with this adversary, though his skills with Venusian karate are more often used on less devious opponents.

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

What was the most recognisable trademark of the Third Doctor?

The Third Doctor is most immediately recognizable in his velvet smoking jacket and filled shirt. In fact, on several occasions characters in the show remarked on the older gentleman in fancy dress.

Of course, his dress matched his hot rod of a car, Old Bessie. Both of these were affectations picked up during the apparently impressionable early stages of regeneration, when he stole clothes to wear from an eccentric medical doctor. Digging in the TARDIS wardrobe also produced the cloaks and hats that accent his frilly shirts at different times.

The Brigadier, The Doctor and Jo Grant

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

The Doctor and Jo Grant

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

The Doctor with Sarah Jane

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

Who were the Third Doctor’s assistants and companions?

When he first landed on Earth, the Doctor was paired up with the Brigadier's new Scientific Advisor, the multiple-PhD. decorated Dr. Liz Shaw. Recruited by Lethbridge-Stewart for UNIT operations before the Doctor arrived, she assists throughout the first season, with her skirts getting shorter throughout. It is mentioned later on in the show that she was sick of doing nothing but “holding the Doctor's test tubes and telling him how brilliant he is” and returned to Cambridge.

She was replaced by Jo Grant. The niece of a UN official, she is an accomplished lock picker with a groovy 1970s wardrobe. She often tries to be brave and crafty since she knows she's not the smartest girl in the room. She is, however, one of the very few humans who can resist the mental control of the Master - after once succumbing and endangering UNIT headquarters.

Shortly after Jo left to marry Dr. Clifford Jones and honeymoon in the Amazon looking for edible mushrooms, an intrepid reporter made her way into a conference with the Doctor and followed him to the most interesting happenings. Since “The Time Warrior” ran in December of 1973, Sarah Jane Smith, freelance reporter for Metropolitan Magazine, was a regular at UNIT headquarters and in the Doctor's TARDIS. She continued to travel with the Third Doctor until he left the show in “The Planet of the Spiders” and then went on with the newly-regenerated Fourth Doctor for 13 more serials, until October 1976.

Perhaps one of the most famous and best loved assistants of all time, Sarah Jane has since reappeared in the regenerated Doctor Who series, where we are led to believe that the Doctor has not always been as platonic with his companions as might have been suggested. She and K-9 appear in a mostly unrelated show called “The Sarah Jane Adventures.”

In addition to travelling companions, the Doctor also interacted with the various regulars at UNIT. In addition to the Brigadier and Jo, Captain Yates directed the action and Sergeant Benton brought up the flank. All are tremendously loyal to the Doctor.

The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) with The Master

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

Sea Devils

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

Which main enemies did he face?

The Third Doctor's most dangerous and persistent enemy is undoubtedly the Master, who made his first appearance in 1971 psychedelic classic, “Terror of the Autons.”

The Silurians and Sea Devils both make claim to the Earth, as do the Autons, elite-separatist cults and the Dumon - who claims to have created the Earth as an experiment and can't decide if he wasn't to destroy it or give his powers to the Doctor after having a chat with him. New villains include the Sontarans, a clone race that proves problematic in later seasons.

Of course, the Daleks reappear for the Third Doctor to deal with. Doctor Who simply wouldn't be Doctor Who without the Daleks.  Though they never land on Earth themselves this time, minions are instead dispatched through space and time.

While the Doctor certainly considers the interference and scrutiny of his life by his fellow Time Lords to be villainous, it's not usually considered that they are actual opponents as such.

Doctor Who and The Brigadier in Bessie

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

What technology did he rely on?

Jon Pertwee’s reign as the Third Doctor is notable for a couple of vehicles he got around in, in addition to the TARDIS. Bessie, bedecked with a fan-inspired license plate of “Whomobile,” is a a yellow, early 20th century convertible with spoked wheels. More interesting, however, are the improvements he made to exert a more sophisticated control over gravity with Time Lord technology. The hand signals are just silly for children. Later in the show, he is even seen in two different flying machines, one of which can also act as a car on land.

The most important piece of technology that the Third Doctor lacked was a dimensional stabilizer, without which, he couldn't take off. His memory of how to make one was wiped from his memory by the Time Lords at his trial. Unless it is one stolen from the Master, the Doctor is stuck unless being sent on a mission for and by the Time Lords.

Doctor Who - Third Regeneration

The Doctor's Third Regeneration

Jon Pertwee relinquished the role at the end of the eleventh season in the serial “Planet of the Spiders.” It is rumoured that Pertwee's decision to leave was in no small part brought on by the loss of Katy Manning (Jo) a year before.

Pertwee's departure made room for Tom Baker, who as the Fourth Doctor went on to play the Doctor for a record seven seasons. Like his first regeneration, we are able to actually see the process around, and though this time his colleagues were able to get the Doctor back to UNIT to see the process, there was nothing to be done once the process had begun.

Third Doctor Filmography and Synopsis

Season Seven - 1970

  • Spearhead from Space – Exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, the new Doctor must convince UNIT he's the same Doctor and prevent a plastic-loving intelligence from taking over the planet or any shop models
  • Doctor Who and the Silurians – The original intelligent species on Earth is awakened by a nuclear experiment and they want their planet back.
  • The Ambassadors of Death – Lost astronauts are traded with curious, radioactive creatures and fantastical crimes are soon committed
  • Inferno – While testing a repaired TARDIS console, the Doctor lands in an alternative universe with a fascist Britain, poised to explode.

Season Eight - 1971

  • Terror of the Autons – The plastic-loving Autons are back with an old friend of the Doctor's: The Master
  • The Mind of Evil – A new device that is to eliminate criminal impulses is being operated by the biggest criminal of them all
  • The Claws of Axos – Promising to end energy problems forever, the Axos ship that landed in England may prove problematic.
  • Colony in Space – A new agricultural colony is being terrorized by mining interests and having a much harder time of things than they should.
  • The Dæmons – The old legends and old practices of some country folk have their basis in facts that the Master is more than willing to exploit.

Season Nine - 1972

  • Day of the Daleks – Battling agents from 200 years in the future battle on present-day UK to save or disturb a world-wide peace conference with an assassination attempt
  • The Curse of Peladon – Jo is whisked away to portray a future Earth representative required to evaluate Peladon for admittance into a Galactic Federation
  • The Sea Devils – Just as the Silurans once rule the land, the Sea Devils come from under water to take over the Earth and punish the upstart “apes.”
  • The Mutants – The population of a colonized planet is being turned into horrible creatures that are mysteriously under attack by a mysterious new administrator
  • The Time Monster – Both the Doctor and the Master find themselves in ancient Atlantis, before destruction, each viewing for a very powerful crystal.

Season Ten - 1972-73

  • The Three Doctors – Three heads are better than one, especially when battling Omega, the presumed-lost Time Lord who discovered the vast power source that makes time travel possible.
  • Carnival of Monsters – A machine to miniaturize and collect life has turned the Doctor and Jo tiny, but they must escape
  • Frontier in Space – The future Earth Empire is poised on the brink of war with an equally powerful Draconian Empire; leave it to the Master to stir this hornets' nest
  • Planet of the Daleks – The Daleks are undertaking research on a planet with native invisibility and Jo is in trouble.
  • The Green Death – Jo goes AWOL to join a rather handsome Nobel Prize-winning scientist who is trying to eliminate pollution but finds a UNIT-worthy epidemic at the local coal mine

Season Eleven - 1973-74

  • The Time Warrior – Medieval England is visited by the advanced and singularly unpleasant Sontarins; the Doctor is trying to get himself and his new companion home.
  • Invasion of the Dinosaurs – Dinosaurs are brought forward in time to clear London of people so one small group can turn themselves into the only living people
  • Death to the Daleks – Both the TARDIS and a Dalek ship are similarly crippled and both are trying to get away from the native population.
  • The Monster of Peladon – Returning a lifetime later, there is intrigue and confusion regarding new mining technology and the traditional deity of Peladon
  • Planet of the Spiders – A school of yoga is the front for a much deeper plan involving the royal class of another planet.

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