Tuesday, October 11, 2005

'The Three Doctors'

4 episodes

It was Doctor Who's tenth season, and for the first (but not the last) time in the series' history the production team decided that an anniversary special was in order, a celebration of the programme's past that would uniquely include all three personifications of the lead role. Alas, First Doctor William Hartnell was too unwell and infirm to appear in a major part, but in his final work as an actor managed to record several scenes to camera that could be shown on the TARDIS scanner or the Time Lords' screen as if he were talking to the other protagonists. I for one am glad he was able to appear, if only briefly, as the lasting popularity of Doctor Who was and is in no small way thanks to his iconic portrayal of the Doctor that dominated the series' earliest years - and if Hartnell's illness is all too apparent in his brief moments on screen, in the midst of a largely subdued performance it is still a delight to see flashes of the old fire breaking through one last time.

It is strange to see both the First and Second Doctors in colour for the first time, but otherwise both the previous occupiers of the TARDIS seem to fit naturally into their characters once more - and since Patrick Troughton is the one who interacts directly with the incumbent Doctor Jon Pertwee, we get to see the pair strike sparks off each other in a highly entertaining fashion. The "dandy and the clown", in their predecessor's words, form a conflicting yet very effective double-act - which is tested to the limit by the power of the adversary who arises for the occasion. Omega, one of the oldest and greatest of their race, whose daring stellar manipulation at the dawn of history turned a star into a black hole that gave the fledgling Time Lords the power to explore time and space, was lost in the moment of his triumph... into, it turns out, a universe of antimatter beyond the black hole in which he maintains a domain and indeed existence only through the strength of his own will. Now, he plans to return to the real universe and extract his revenge on his people, who to his mind betrayed and abandoned him.

Such a potentially excellent plot is to an extent wasted, as to be honest the slightly lax standards seemingly afforded by this being an anniversary romp mean that nothing much actually happens. The inclusion of the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton makes for some fun scenes when they are bafflingly presented with their 'old' Doctor and the interior of the TARDIS, but they don't have a lot to do that couldn't be done equally well by any one-off character. The other supporting cast are just to make up the numbers, with the Gell Guards unconvincing monsters (although they look much more effective in the matching tunnels in Omega's domain), and the latter two Doctors suffer fractionally from having their differing characters stereotyped - there was after all much more to Troughton's Doctor than just the 'clown', but not so much on display here. The Tme Lords don't come off very well either, in their first proper appearance since 'The War Games', with their particularly dire opening scene sticking in the memory through being both lumpenly expositionary and horribly wooden. Omega though is a marvellous villain, teetering on the edge of insanity after aeons virtually alone, and the difference between his actuality and the Third Doctor's description of him as one of his people's "greatest heroes" is understandable but still shocking. His appearance is great, with the massive metallic mask obscuring his head - for good reason, it turns out, as in one of the best scenes the Doctors discover that beneath the costume no trace of the physical Omega remains. Shame that for all his power he was brought down by the Second Doctor's recorder being the one object of matter in his antimatter universe, and that he couldn't conjure a world that looked like something other than a quarry...


Episodes watched: 225
Episodes still to watch: 497

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