Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Three Doctors written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin and directed by Lennie Mayne

This story in a nutshell: Doctor Who meets Doctor Who and Doctor Who!

The Mighty Nose: Welcome to ego central! Having successfully removed the Master from the series full time because he felt that Roger Delgado was muscling in on his territory, Pertwee now has to content with the scene stealing antics of Troughton and the effortless command of Hartnell! It is hilarious when you learn about the behind the scenes clash of personalities, especially the idea of Troughton improvising his script as he goes along and throwing Pertwee off his game who has learnt his to the letter! You wouldn't think that contrasting Pertwee's straight laced Doctor against Troughton's much more fun and irreverent version would do him any favours but it actually works a great deal in his favour, highlighting him as somebody much more parental and responsible. Mind you early characterisation is pretty painful, especially the UNIT scenes which continue on from The Time Monster in displaying a distressing level of complacency.  As Omega's not-so terrifying electronic jelly attacks the UNIT labs the Doctor and Jo are so completely earnest about the threat it is very hard to take any of it seriously. It's not until Troughton pops out of nowhere that Pertwee finally gets a handle on the story, relaxing a great deal and having some fun with the material. I love his furious reaction to his predecessors constant upstaging, the second Doctor refusing to let his predecessor get a word in edgeways. You'll find yourself laughing along with the pair as they butt heads throughout, providing the disappointing tale with the energy it is desperately missing in other areas. All his life he has known of Omega and admired him as his people’s greatest hero (strange that he has never mentioned him before but let's take him at his word). Imagine a whole season with the pair of them travelling together, Troughton constantly stealing the limelight, charming Jo and leaving Pertwee in the background with smoke pouring out of his ears? On the whole the Doctor would soften a great deal in this season and drop some of Pertwee's more spiky characteristics from earlier seasons but I couldn't help but notice how dictatorial of Jo he still was in The Three Doctors, constantly telling her to 'Do as I say!' Perhaps it was losing her at the end of this season that really mellowed him out for his final season because I really can't imagine the Doctor barking orders like that to Sarah. His ‘take it!’ to Omega in the last episode is extremely powerful, the literal example of the 'glittering lightbulb' that Tom Baker was talking about in More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS. He hopes that he wont meet himself again even if does agree with Jo that his former self was rather sweet. He thinks terrible about tricking Omega into his death but recognizes that it is the only freedom he will ever know. In a surprise twist the Time Lords give the Doctor back his freedom and he’s now back in the time travelling game, an unexpected coda that puts the show on a brand new footing. Given the quality of the last three adventures lets hope some outer space larks will spice things up a bit.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: Watch as Troughton single handedy shakes up the Pertwee era, finally giving us something worth watching after the mediocre efforts of The Mutants and The Time Monster. As soon as he turns up Troughton transforms this story to something very watchable, there is something about his giddy discourtesy that I could just watch all day. It's a sharp reminder of an actor who could make any story sparkle. You'll find in the three stories that Troughton appeared in after The War Games (and thank goodness he did with so much of his material missing and 90 episodes not about to materialise on the horizon) he was written somewhat as a parody of the character that he played during his own era, highlighting the comic excesses without any of the darkness but he such an engaging actor he makes the screen come alive with his manic energy and huffy silliness. He's the ultimate good time Doctor, always promising it and never failing to deliver. Much like the The Five Doctors he isn't keen on redecoration and is failed to be impressed by the latest incarnation of the TARDIS. Watch his chemistry with Katy Manning's Jo and imagine the pair of them whisking off together and having adventures like a pair of excitable kids. Troughton is the king of physical and I crack up every time he runs into the TARDIS to escape the fizzing blob of energy and then discreetly pokes his head out again to see if it has gone. He takes great umbrage to being told he is the other Doctor’s assistant (‘His what?’). I love it in the last two episodes where he keeps going on about his recorder, trying to rile Omega and test his self control, that’s the wily old second Doctor I remember. This increasing frivolousness proves to be a central element of the plot as the Doctor's instrument proves a vital component to the climax. I love how Troughton can be seen grinning madly at Hartnell whenever he appears on screen, as the second Doctor is delighted to be reunited with his old body.

Dippy Agent: Jo is so inconsistently characterised from story to story it is hard to take her serious in a series that has become increasingly serialised. Fortunately season ten is point where there writers allow her to grow up and we go on a clear journey with her throughout this season leading to her departure in The Green Death. You really cannot reconcile the bright, engaging young girl from this story from the airhead that was dashing about in The Time Monster. Either the Doctor has been quizzing her over the summer or she has taken an Open University course. She's still making the tea (it was probably a requirement of Pertwee's that all women were to be seen in subservient roles) and asks all the right questions on behalf of the viewer but she is the one to explain about faster than light travel to the Brigadier and the only person who is trying to make any kind of sense out of Omega's Palace. Whenever Jo thinks that the Doctor is dead, it just about breaks her heart. She is distraught at the though of losing the Doctor at the end, flinging herself into Sergeant Benton’s arms.

Pompous Military Idiot: It is at this point in the Pertwee era that you might be asking 'what has happened to the poor old Brig?' There's a suggestion that the Brigadier devolved into a comedy buffoon towards the latter end of Pertwee's run but as far as I can see there are only two stories where his characterisation jars and feels as though he is a military man being brought to life by juveniles, The Time Monster and The Three Doctors. Come the end of the season, the Brig is back at the top of his game in The Green Death (and he's similarly excellent in Invasion of the Dinosaurs too). Even during this story he has his moments, Nick Courtney is such a divine actor that he can rise above his shaky material and delivery some funny and poignant moments. There is a gag at the beginning that suggests that all he is good for is stirring tea! He has always been a stalwart British patriot (naturally) and I was amused greatly by his concerned 'oh' when Dr Tyler mentions that the 'other lot' have seen the x-rays. What really made me grind my teeth was his resistance to the idea that the TARDIS has travelled to another world, especially when he understands that that is its function. After everything he has seen surely he doesn't think that the Doctor has been tinkering about with the TARDIS for all these years just for kicks. Sergeant Benton calmly accepts the idea of an old Doctor popping forward from the past and being transported to the universe of anti matter but it is a little too much for the Brigadier to handle. He believes that the Doctor has been spending UNIT funds on building the dimensionally transcendental interior of the ship and that the rocky desert outside the laboratory is Cromer. You could argue that this is a rational mind trying to cope with a completely irrational situation. You could also argue that it is sloppy comedy writing that makes the guy look a bit buffoonish. He almost makes up for all of this during the climax when he thinks it is the last he will ever see of the Doctor and salutes the pair of them to show his respect (I also love the way he adresses Jo by her name to force her to go, he has only ever called her Ms Grant before). He thinks they are both wonderful chaps, although he has come to the conclusion that Doctor is more than enough for him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I am he and he is me’ ‘And we are altogether coo-coo-ca-choo?’
‘That’s why its been left to me and me and me.’
‘Mind you might say over antimatter…’
‘I was out for a stroll with my friend here when this horrible great jelly…!’
‘Nobble him? You’re talking about one of the most powerful blokes in the cosmos…nobble him?’
‘Not a bit of it old chap…we just want to avoid a long tiring walk was all!’

The Good Stuff: The fact that the Doctor calls in The Time Lords sells the danger of the situation far better than the actual events that are taking place. I screamed when Troughton turned up to lend the proceedings a healthy dose of insanity (and its lovely, if a little strange, to finally see him in colour). I don’t care how forgetful or emaciated he is, it is wonderful to Hartnell again and he still has the screen presence that brought this show to life in the sixties. The ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’ is hilarious; it’s all in the performances, Pertwee and Troughton feeding off their rivalry beautifully. There is a very Doctor Who way of suggesting that parts of our universe have ended up in the antimatter universe (ie cheap but imaginative) by having bits of the laboratory (including a set of double doors cut out jaggedly) scattered around the quarry. It is just jarring enough to work. As usual Bob Baker and Dave Martin aren't short of an idea or two; a stable world in the universe of antimatter on the other side of a black hole! Lennie Mayne must have read this script and wept. The writers included a sequence where the entirety of UNIT HQ was sucked through a black hole and wound up on Omega's magic trick planet - they did remember they were writing for Doctor Who, right? There's ambition and then there's lunacy. Smartly Mayne shows the building floating towards the black hole but never attempted to realise it in the quarry. Omega is a fascinating character and a terrific addition to the Time Lord mythos, the first suggestion that they aren't the Godlike being suggested in The War Games but something altogether more human and emotional. To learn that he was the solar engineer that discovered the power source that gave the Time Lords mastery over time is exactly the sort of revelation that is needed in an anniversary story to give the series a little kick. Stephen Thorne's performance errs on the side of theatrical (on a show like Doctor Who that is almost a requirement) but he still manages to sell the important moments with some degree of subtlety. The agonizing scream when he removes his mask and reveals that he his body has been disintegrated gives me goosebumps, he goes from a raging tyrant to an altogether more sympathetic figure. He's a prisoner of his own power, the very thing that he craves is what is preventing him from escape and has ultimately consumed his body. He exists only because he himself wills it so, he can only exist here in the universe of anti matter. Proving what good actors can bring to the show, Pertwee and Troughton's reaction to the naff Singularity Chamber set is one of complete awe and somehow they convince you it is much more impressive than it actually is. Probably the best realised scenes in the whole story take place in Omega's mind. Shot in slow motion, moodily lit and afforded the luxury of expensive looking film, these sequences belong in a much more impressive production than The Three Doctors. After larking about with horrible great jellies for four episodes the story regains focus in the last, incredibly serious, five minutes. There is a surprising amount of poignancy around the idea that the Doctor's might be staying in the antimatter universe despite the fact that we know that they never will (this is only the first story of the season for one!). It is how convincingly it is played that counts and everybody is giving their all.

The Bad Stuff: I'm not sure what Reg Hollis and his missus bring to the story beyond their cliched country bumpkin accents and that terrible gag in the last scene. The face in the X-Ray is hardly the subtlest of moments in Doctor Who. Electronic effects hit an all time low with the fizzing blob that attacks UNIT in the early episodes, it looks like something a b-movie would reject as too ridiculous. The UNIT scenes have degenerated to such a point since the heights of season seven that Benton walks in to join in with the jollies and remembers as an afterthought that there has been an explosion in the garage. By this point in Doctor Who (ten years down the line) we have already seen a number of monster costumes that have failed to make the grade. The moptop Monoids, the clunky War Machines, the Venom Grubs with their paper strips for legs. However nothing could quite prepare me for the sight of the Gell Guards, easily the most cringeworthy (or hilarious depending what mood you are in) creatures the show has ever had the gall to put on display. Impractical, unconvincing and totally farcical, the way they wobble about is hilarious (they even make comedy ‘burble burble’ noises!) and the fact that they are introduced in such a dramatic way only adds to their comedy value ('Holy Moses! What's that?'). What has happened to Gallifrey? It looks like the backdrop of a Saturday morning kids pantomime show, all multi coloured tack in ugly plastic. Is this what Gallifrey looked like in The War Games but we just couldn't tell because it was shot in black and white? Dudley Simpson accentuates the comedy tone of the piece with some of his least compelling musical cues. The spunky 'Bessie drives' jingle has to be heard to be believed and there are bizarre cues like elongated burps that kick in throughout the story. Omega's Palace should have been an Aladdin's cave of wonders, cavernous, built from exquisite jewels and finery and with the feeling of oppressive claustrophobia despite its enormity. Instead it resembles a poor mans Santa's grotto and I'm certain I've visited some that look more impressive than this. Of all the times that they should have ditched the usual BBC quarry and found a more exotic location, it was this story. The universe of antimatter is possibly the drabbest looking place imaginable as a result and it says much about Omega's imagination if this is all he can conjure up. All those characters piled onto Bessie like that look like a Goodies Doctor Who sketch. It astonishes me that this is the anniversary story and it is granted possibly the worst production values of the entire Pertwee era (I honestly cannot think of a single story that makes as many mistakes as this one as far as the look of the piece is concerned). When you think of the expensive and dyanmic location work of stories like The Ambassadors of Death and The Mind of Evil and exquisite sets of Day of the Daleks and Frontier in Space it is crazy to think that the celebratory adventure failed to get any of that sort of care.

Result: I don't want to suggest that there is no good in The Three Doctors because that is clearly not the case but it is one of those rare moments in the shows history where the script and the production are so at loggerheads with each other it is hard to believe the that the writers and director ever clapped eyes on each other (Paradise Towers is another example in this vein). The script isn't a work of art but it has some very tasty ideas hidden beneath the comedy but it is constantly undercut by poor resources and some gaudy and dull direction on behalf of Lennie Mayne. Certainly his work on stories like The Curse of Peladon and The Hand of Fear are a massive step up in quality and do not have this level of ambivalence. Before Troughton turns up in episode one it is practically unwatchable, the UNIT scenes here are perhaps the nadir of the era because there is a paradoxical feeling that everybody is approaching the material so earnestly and yet not taking it seriously at all. It's like anti-drama (and I don't mean comedy, just people reacting to things in a very bland way). Then the Gell Guards turn up. Poor Nicholas Courtney feels like he is being characterised by a child and is given some terrible dialogue that he tries his damnedest to overcome. It certainly says something when Benton is given far more credibility than his commanding officer. Things only get worse once we reach the universe of antimatter, probably the singularly dullest place the Doctor has ever visited (and that includes the pacifist planet of Dulkis) and all the characters wind up romping about some garish and over designed sets being chased about by horrible great jellies (I never get tired of saying that). It feels as though it is written as a dramatic piece but is translated into something ludicrous, it is probably the closest Doctor Who has ever come to feeling like a parody of itself (including the Williams era). The good stuff is easy to spot because it is surrounded by so much guff. Troughton sparkles, and whilst this is (again) more of a parody of the character he once played he still makes every scene count and I was chuckling along with his huffing and puffing throughout. It's lovely to see Hartnell too, but it feels like a missed opportunity that he was sidelined so badly (not a fault of the production team, I know). You would have thought that all the resources of the season would have gone into making this anniversary story look as polished as possible but the truth of the matter is every other story in season ten looks better than this. Omega is a terrifying creation and his backstory is thrilling but his world is dressed up in gaudy pantomime trappings, which destroys his credibility. Hurrah for Patrick Troughton who manages to salvage something from this travesty, whenever he is on screen it goes from cheap old nonsense to magic. I feel like a party pooper being so wretched to what is generally quite a fun runaround but I question whether  the most important Doctor Who story to date should have been little more than a fun runaround or something more. I would have made the next story the anniversary tale; it is wholly original, imaginative, funny, dramatic and scary. In comparison The Three Doctors feels like it is just biding time until we get to the good stuff: 5/10


BSC SSC said...

I love this story. It was one of the first I saw, and if the fiftieth is as good as this then I'll be pleased.

BSC SSC said...

Also, you comment about how you dislike the filming locations-I live there!

Joe Ford said...

As I said in the review, it is a good enough story but the execution leaves a great deal to be desired.

And I hope you don't live in a dirty great quarry...that was what I was objecting too.

BSC SSC said...

I live really near to both the quarry and the house of Reg Hollis. They filmed several other episodes there, like The Twin Dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Surprised you didn't give Hartnell a paragraph of his own. OK, his appearance really amounts to little more than a cameo but come on, it's HARTNELL, after all these years! The bit where he puts down his successors as "a dandy and a clown" is still one of the greatest lines in classic Who.

dark said...

I will admit to being absolutely biased on this story, due to the fact that reading the audiobook of it (along with Carnival of monsters and Terror of the Xygons), was possibly my first exposure to Doctor who at the age of five. Thus, when I saw the story six years later it was filling in all the gaps as well as putting faces and personalities to names. I also confess the production values likely bother me less both because I still imagine the purple sky, jet black gell guards and dark stone version of Omega from the novelization, and because what my mind built of those impressions was likely far more than could've been done even with todays most advanced Cgi, and somewhere even when I'm watching the technicolour randomness and tramps across the quarry I still have that vast and very alien world in my head somewhere.

I will say though I really disagree on the jell guards, sinse yeah, they wobble and go gloop, but they're just so bold and colourful, they don't fade into the background like a modern cgi blob of general monstrosity, these things look! alien and the fact that they are a trifle ridiculous just contributes to that. While I certainly would've liked more both from Galifrey and from Omega's palace (especially the singularity), I don't myself mind the gell guards at all sinse hay it's better to try to do something which is recognizably just another alien robot or an anthropomorphized something or other, especially with the explanation that these are some weerd melding of matter and antimatter.

As to the story itself, I'd agree character is the major thing here from Omega's amazingly impressive presence to Troughton and Pertwee's bickering, not to mention some of heartnal's putdowns, "What's a bridge for hmmm?"

I also never minded the Brigadier as streight man, sinse with all the bouncy troughton humour you needed someone to play that card, and I don't think it makes him into a buffoon either, indeed the Brig's no nonsense approach to "We must be elsewhere in Britain" seems a much more credible reaction of disbelief in the Tardis than all the hysterical "whaaaah!" moments we've ever had, especially from a man who obviously has such a strict code of ethics and behaviour and a life time of military training. Indeed, the Brigadier's idea to no nonsense take travels in the Tardis in his stride in Paradise of death is a direct progression from what happens hear.

I don't think the "Well look at all the invasions" excuse works for the brigadier's reaction either, because travelling in time (particularly in an old police box), vs being invaded from space are two rather different things, again, look at the Third Doctor's conversation with Sarah in Ghosts of N space where even after her trip in the Time warrior Sarah can't wrap her head completely around the idea of travelling to Atlantis.

Holis I will agree is rather pointless, indeed I get the idea that he should've provided a little more down to earth and real world perspective although that job was largely taken by the Brigadier and the Professor. However he's probably the only character who is so badly under used.

I think I'd rate this one a 7 over all, sinse the character and story is definitely there and if you can't put your trust in the performances in Classic who when can you? I'd much rather have something that looks naf but has a great script and ideas than the converse, ---- and the converse is worryingly common.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, I could watch troughton all the day and a bit more! The story isn't great but the Second Doctor's presence is enough to make me enjoy The Three Doctors (sadly, Hartnell was too ill and his presence is sweet but not very long). Dealing with Omega, Pertwee has a more reassuring, commanding presence but the fun that Troughton brings I wouldn't change that for anything!

I just hope more 2nd Doctor episodes will be found in the future because he was an absolute delight to watch