Doctor Who - The Three Doctors (c) BBC
Doctor Who – The Three Doctors (c) BBC

The Three Doctors: Episode 4

Broadcast on January 20th 1973 @ 5.50pm (11.9 million viewers)

The Three Doctors is a special event in the show’s history and marked Doctor Who’s Tenth anniversary, although broadcast 10 months before the actual anniversary date. Returning to the show was Patrick Troughton, beginning a competitive on-screen relationship with his successor, Jon Pertwee, which would even spill over to convention appearances. Sadly, this would be William Hartnell’s final appearance playing the Doctor with the actor passing away just over two years after this story was broadcast. For the Twentieth anniversary special ‘The Five Doctors’ footage from the last episode of ‘The Daleks’ Invasion of Earth’ would provide him with a presence amongst the celebration but his role was deputised by another actor, Richard Hurndall. Hartnell’s appearance in this story proved problematic as his failing health ruled out any significant physical contribution to the plot. Fortunately, with some rewriting of the scripts Hartnell was able to feature, filming his lines separately but his mere presence, even in his removed state, is a total delight.

Doctor Who - The Three Doctors (c) BBC
Doctor Who – The Three Doctors (c) BBC

The relationship between the Second and Third Doctor is another of the joys of the story and during this episode. Omega even questions whether Troughton’s incarnation is of the same intelligence as his replacement, who responds by describing the Second Doctor as “incorrigibly frivolous”.  However, as is the Second Doctor’s character that clownish behaviour is a cover and in this case it is intended as a test of Omega’s ability to control his temper. Omega is introduced in this story as a highly celebrated individual within Time Lord history, whilst the booming voice of actor Stephen Thorne adds to that gravitas. Quite rightly it is the interaction between these three individuals which is the focus of the episode and leads us to its memorable moment.

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

Doctor Who - The Three Doctors (c) BBC
Doctor Who – The Three Doctors (c) BBC

The revelation that Omega exists only as a will with no physical existence, because the corrosion effect of the black hole has destroyed his body, is very dramatic and the visual effect which shows that there is nothing beneath the mask is very effective and particularly impressive for that period of the programme. As a result, Omega is driven mad, with a desire to destroy and make everyone suffer the fate that has befallen him.

The Gell Guards are a hilarious creation, unique in design but completely ineffectual at being menacing. The Doctor makes Jo promise to do as instructed and then scolds her in a manner more fitting of an angry parent or directed at a disobedient puppy but is quick to reassure her that she can trust him. Of course, they manage to overcome the odds and are returned to their proper universe once again. This episode also provides the opportunity for the Jon Pertwee era of the programme to take a new direction, with the dematerialisation circuit returned to the Doctor. From that moment on the Doctor’s exile to Earth has ended and he is free to visit other worlds once again.

Also first aired On This Day…

  • The Enemy of the World : Episode 5
  • The Armageddon Factor : Part 1
  • The Awakening : Part 2

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