“Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!”
After Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor was forced to regenerate by the Time Lords at the end of The War Games, it was time for a new actor to take control of the TARDIS – and that man was the late Jon Pertwee, who would have celebrated his 97th birthday today.
A popular actor and entertainer who had previously worked as a music hall comedian, Pertwee took on the role of the Third Doctor in Doctor Who for five seasons between 1970 and 1974 – at the time, this made him the longest-running Doctor to date (a feat which would later be beaten by his successor, Tom Baker). The Third Doctor made his debut in Spearhead From Space, which is also famous for the first appearance of the Autons. As part of his punishment from the Time Lords for interfering with the course of history, The Doctor was now exiled on Earth with his TARDIS disabled. Consequently, Pertwee’s era was far more earthbound than many other Doctors, and instead of travelling across the universe he busied himself by acting as a scientific advisor for U.N.I.T., which often saw him teaming up with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (played by the late Nicholas Courtney) and crossing paths with rival Time Lord The Master (played by the late Roger Delgado). Throughout his tenure, Pertwee’s Doctor starred alongside three of the most popular classic Who companions – Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, and finally Sarah Jane Smith.
Personality-wise, Pertwee’s Doctor was the dandy to Patrick Troughton’s clown. Suave and sophisticated, the Third Doctor was known for his dapper outfits and authoritative approach to handling situations. He was also (literally) far more hands-on than his predecessors, mastering the art of Venusian Aikido to take down his foes in hand-to-hand combat. With the TARDIS out of action, this Doctor also needed to find new ways of getting around, leading to the introduction of yellow roadster Bessie and the hovercraft-like “Whomobile”.
The Third Doctor finally got his freedom back after the events of the tenth anniversary special The Three Doctors (1973), which saw him teaming up with the first two Doctors to defeat the legendary Omega in an anti-matter universe. He eventually met his end in Planet of the Spiders, bowing out after being subjected to a lethal dose of radiation and regenerating into Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. Famously, one of the reasons behind Pertwee’s decision to leave the show was the death of his good friend Roger Delgado.
After leaving Doctor Who, Pertwee would enjoy further success playing the title role in Worzel Gummidge between 1979 to 1981 and again later between 1987 to 1989. He would also return to reprise his Doctor Who role in 1983 for the twentieth-anniversary special, The Five Doctors.
Please join us today in remembering the life and work of Jon Pertwee, and celebrating the terrific tenure of the Third Doctor. Thanks for all the memories!