Doctor Who: The Early 1970s, The Third Doctor and Velvet Aspirations

Third Doctor Twelfth Doctor

40 years on from the demise of his third incarnation, the Twelfth Doctor’s arrival looks like it will not so much reverse the polarity as boost the popularity of the dandy Time Lord of action. But as the new Doctor may ask, could the real question be how important the 1970s are in the future of Doctor Who?

IN THE 2013 CELEBRATIONS OF ALL THINGS WHO, IT WAS THE SECOND DOCTOR’S STOCK THAT ROSE THE MOST. As the major casualty of the BBC’s catastrophic episode pulping, we’ve been robbed of the majority of his stories. True, some of them have earned a heightened classic status through their disappearance and the hope of their discovery, but for the most part appreciation for the Second Doctor hung on memory and some key rediscoveries like The Tomb of the Cybermen.

For his recorder toots to rise higher in the mix, especially in 2013, something major would have to happen. And fortunately it did. The rediscovery of two of his lost adventures, one long-craved, and the demise of the Eleventh Doctor – the one successor who owes Patrick Troughton’s cosmic hobo the most, unexpectedly pushed him to prominence.

So, with wrangles on the ‘rediscovery’ of further lost adventures ‘possibly’ ongoing and the Eleventh Doctor left on the Fields of Trenzalore, perhaps it’s only natural that 2014 is turning into the year of the Third Doctor. Series Eight brings us one of the largest shake-ups of the new era just as 1970 brought a brave new world of colour and a format sea change when Jon Pertwee’s Time Lord fell through the TARDIS doors…

Watch that Man

The Earth-stuck dandy was part and parcel of the show’s biggest change to date

Frills on the shirt, velvet jackets in a multitude of colours, an action man effectively grounded by his parents and carrying a completely understandable distaste for hypocrisy and authority – with a new mode of transport for almost every bureaucrat he met… The Third Doctor cut a march across the Whoniverse across five whirlwind seasons at the start of the 1970s. After the galactic gallivanting of his Edwardian attired predecessors, the Earth-stuck dandy was part and parcel of the show’s biggest change to date. In fact, bar the 2005 comeback, it remains the show’s biggest reboot.

Drive-In Saturday

It was time for something fresh…

There were the monsters of course. With the Daleks retired under the Second Doctor, it was time for something fresh. Robert Holmes arguably reached his peak as a Who writer during this era, introducing the Autons and The Master as foes to the stranded Doctor, and later the Sontarans when the Time Lord regained his time and space mojo. Other memorable monsters first encountered under Pertwee’s watch were the Silurians and Sea Devils, Draconians and Drashigs. Not to mention the considerable stab at iconography made by dinosaurs and spiders. Not bad considering these were the Doctor’s office days…

Recent stories like 2010’s The Lodger may poke fun at a stranded Doctor, but they only really work because of his early 1970s exile. For the majority of his tenure, the Third Doctor was forcibly Earth-bound and working with the then termed United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Here he established a base in arguable contemporaneity (1970s/1980s depending on your want and UNIT dating controversies), surrounded by colleagues, albeit in the reluctant capacity of a scientific advisor to that guns first military task force. UNIT would of course become a hugely popular addition to the mythos, mainly thanks to the likeably cast personnel from Lethbridge-Stewart to Benson. Not did UNIT bring an immediate point of elastic tension for the Doctor but another instant soap-element slotted into the show’s format – before Rose and the Powell Estate. Perhaps most importantly it brought an easy lead into B-movie sci-fi every story. This was the-invasion age, where aliens came to visit a far more Quatermass-styled Doctor, particularly in his first season.

Five Years

Few other Doctors have carried such consistency through five seasons…

There’s something about the breakneck speed of that era, inspite of a large number of multi-parters, that forced a number of memorable features onto the show and character with gusto. This Doctor was a gadget obsessive, a finely dressed action man. He was also incredibly serious, far too serious. While the avuncular protection grew, he was remained terse and dismissive to most of those unlucky to come across him. Few Knights of the Realm escaped his condescension.

This led to a backlash that continues to this day, one that may even have grown in recent years. How, some reviewers have asked, could anyone like a version of the Doctor who does absolutely nothing to endear himself to the audience, let alone on-screen characters?

In retrospect it’s an increasing breath of fresh air, which hides an impressive character development. If you look at his lean, progressive, if mildly repetitive first season, the character’s a far cry from the one seen in his fifth. And yet, under the mastery of Pertwee and working to the strengths of a fairly rigid format, he’s not so dissimilar at all.

In fact, few other Doctors, if any, have carried such consistency through five seasons – very few made it that far. His predecessors would be subject to other factors that made it difficult to compete of course. Perhaps Tom Baker should have had less time aboard the TARDIS to maximise that consistency; perhaps Peter Davison should have had serials like The Caves of Androzani far earlier in his run (yes!), perhaps Colin Baker should have been gifted the same gruffness with more style and less violence (something the Twelfth Doctor looks set to correct)…

Hang on to Yourself

Proto ‘show runners’ were necessarily not so precious in those days…

Perhaps most important to the era was the stable and highly-talented production team, with the likes of Malcolm Hulke and Holmes submitting tales under script editor Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts. It wasn’t simply an onscreen that a family formed, allowing for a stream of large slow currents beneath faster top currents that could aid the show. Unfortunately, such a family inevitably couldn’t last in a format forged in change. So, within four series, the departure of Katy Manning’s Jo Grant and the sad loss of Roger Delgado’s Master forced that change.

There can’t be much further proof that the era ended strongly than the inevitable succession had been prepared for, as the Third Doctor’s successor might say. After a mystic, spiritual and environmental final tale that summed up many of Barry Letts’ intentions, Tom Baker arrived cast by the departing producer to debut in a story by Terrance Dicks. This time, the tale was script edited by Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe hung in the production wings. Proto ‘show runners’ were necessarily not so precious in those days.

After the Third Doctor’s solid run, the Fourth Doctor had everything to react against, by association he almost held his predecessor up as one of those same figures of authority to be subverted. The Third Doctor’s era was quickly dismantled, heralding a peak in quality and ratings that rather unfairly puts his exile on Earth in the shade.

It Ain’t Easy

It’s no surprise that he didn’t crave company when he first arrived…

As a traveller in Time and Space, an effective immortal, thing’s are occasionally going to get lonely. The new series has made great attempts to show this, although modern Doctors have never suffered such a jail sentence. Most applicable may be the Eleventh Doctor’s self-enforced, fairytale exile in The Snowman, but for the Third Doctor’s life it was a jail sentence. For time-conscious aliens who measure their lives in millennia, isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course. The Third Doctor had been forcibly regenerated (a nasty punishment the more you think about it) and imprisoned on an underdeveloped planet. So perhaps it’s no surprise that he didn’t crave company when he first arrived.

It took a high level scientific approach, and a scientist companion to match in what are brilliant, but heavy tales of mystery and adventure in his first year.

By the start of Season Eight things had changed for this Doctor. Perhaps it was resignation or a particularly prolonged regenerative mellowing. He’d had a year on Earth, reluctantly working with his new family, but by the start of his second year he not only gained a new daughter of a companion, but one of his own as a neighbour; Jo Grant and the Master. UNIT, companion and villain ran through the whole of Season Eight; less well regarded than Season Seven, but highly influential. The Claws of Axos and The Daemons remain fan favourites.

Suffragette City

A newly-mobile Doctor who seems strangely reluctant to lose his shackles…

By Season Eleven, that family had disintegrated. The Master disappeared after Frontier in Space, following Roger Delgado’s untimely death. And two serials later onscreen companion Jo Grant departed too. At the end of The Green Death, the Third Doctor famously retreats the celebration of his longest serving companions engagement and departure, returning alone.

This was the trick repeated in the middle of the recent Series Seven. Much more aware, through experience and plot, Amy Pond attempted to enforce a dictat on the Doctor that he mustn’t travel alone. It failed as The Snowman found him cutting an exaggerated and isolationist stomp through Victorian London. This time it was a self-enforced exile, orphaned from his leash holding parents, but an exile none the less. It seemed particularly sulky after his earlier sentence, and even less explicable considering the lengths his companion had gone to make sure he kept travelling, but it had a precedent. In his final year, it was the newly-mobile Third Doctor who was strangely reluctant to lose his shackles. Perhaps he knew who he was destined to meet…

In The Showman, Clara posed a riddle that the Eleventh Doctor couldn’t resist. Despite her profession, Sarah Jane Smith didn’t pose quite the same mystery for the Third Doctor. He wasn’t looking for a companion when he bumped into the intrepid journalist, and antidote to the rather irresistible Jo Grant. But even so, he cuts a different figure that season. He’s a lonely soul, despite regaining his transport. He’s the man who slopes off to be stranded in a medieval castle, who returns alone to the Great One’s cave. Sarah Jane Smith would go on to become the Doctor’s greatest companion, although far more identified with his fourth iteration despite starring in some fantastic stories in her first season. It wasn’t just the green velvet jacket. After just half a series with the Eleventh Doctor, Clara Oswald may well find herself far more associated with the Twelfth Doctor, even if she prematurely departs this winter.

More pertinently, Jo’s departure and Sarah Jane’s arrival both took place in 1973 – the year that looks like increasingly pivotal in the show’s future.

Cracked Actor

Capaldi’s pointing was a clear reference to a famous Pertwee shot…

It helps that this Doctor is older than the show of course, and was a fan of the Third Doctor when broadcast. But, after the prolonged regeneration tale of Deep Breath, while it’s difficult to forget Peter Capaldi’s suggestion that his Doctor’s character will take some time to form it’s also clear that the caped shadow of the Third Doctor hangs over the Twelfth.

In 1970, following a brilliantly comic and multi-layered take by Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee purposefully avoided the comedy he was better known for, bar the occasional gurning and drag sketches. Even through the pure pantomime of The Three Doctors he remains stony faced, his straight man works perfectly with his predecessor. Capaldi doesn’t have the same history of course, but casting came with character baggage.

Moonage Daydream

Mercurial dedication

Fortunately, when Peter Capaldi was cast, he instantly showed off his Who fan credentials. When first introduced his hands clasped his lapels in an obvious reference to William Hartnell’s First Doctor. In one of the first behind-the-scenes shots with his companion alongside, he pointed in a clear reference to a famous Pertwee shot.

And then there was the costume. There is the trace of the earliest Doctors through the long dark jacket, even without the neckwear. But that red trim is unmistakable. Just as the Fourth Doctor’s scarf ensured that no other Doctor could wear one as well (just ask the Seventh), so the Third Doctor owned the cape. And this red trim, packed with the promise of flailing arm movements, is as close as you can get. And that’s not the only hint that the shows looking back to the fashion-conscious 1970s.

Stories have emerged that Capaldi has used David Bowie as an inspiration. It’s a catchy headline, but no modern Doctor could be so simply or singularly defined… Although it’s difficult to avoid the fact that Bowie’s first and arguably most influential personas arrived while the Third Doctor was on air. Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust weren’t simply inexplicable alien avatars, but launched the mercurial dedication that would define David Bowie. There are easy comparisons to make between the Chameleon of Rock and the multi-life Time Lord.


Are we’re being primed to repeat the mid-1970s high-point?

If references to the early 1970s are being made deliberately, perhaps there’s a more compelling and aspirational hope. On that hinges on what that era represented just as much as the Doctor. Pertwee crashed through the TARDIS doors on his arrival and exit. The first time he brought the revolution of colour, when he left, he acted as herald for the most successful era of classic Doctor Who of all time.

Now we find ourselves four Doctors into the new era, with a 10th anniversary fast approaching. Could it be that following the anniversary multi-Doctor story, under the shadow of bouffant hair, flailing eyebrows, impassive wide-eyed stare and swinging, red-lined jacket we’re being primed to repeat that mid-1970s high-point?

After all, last year saw UNIT come back to the fold with the most stable set-up since 1975. And now, just maybe, the Doctor has a desk at their new and far more prestigious HQ…

The Daleks will be confronting this new Doctor far earlier than the Third Doctor of course. The Twelfth Doctor’s second adventure sees the second recurring villain in as many episodes, increasing anticipation for the monsters that will debut under this new Time Lord. If he can match the early 1970s then he, and especially us, are in for a treat.

But while we wait to find out, two things are in no doubt. The Third Doctor is not only a fine benchmark for a new breed of Time Lord, but could just indicate the best is yet to come.

Read more about the Third Doctor’s Dalek wrestling

Read the review of the Twelfth Doctor’s debut Deep Breath

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