BBC Video // 1973 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // March 25th, 2012
Sergeant Benton: "Nothing to do with you surprises me anymore,
The Doctor: "Thank you for the compliment."
Given the short life span of television shows, viewers in 1973 might have been surprised to realize the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who was approaching; a series which is now approaching its fiftieth (albeit after a hiatus). The producers decided to honor the show's first big milestone with a special episode featuring the three actors who had played The Doctor in previous incarnations. Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (Special Edition) presents the storyline and the final appearance of William Hartnell, with loads of bonus features for Whovians.
The Doctor (Jon Pertwee, The House that Dripped Blood), a renegade Time Lord stuck on Earth, seeks help from his Gallifreyan peers to deal with some antimatter thingies -- which alerts his companion, Jo Grant (Katy Manning, When Darkness Falls), that things are getting desperate. Things are desperate for the Time Lords as well, so they decide The Doctor "can help himself," by crossing his own time stream and reconnecting with the original Doctor (William Hartnell, Brighton Rock) and his previous regenerated self (Patrick Troughton, R.U.R.). If The Doctor can live with himself, maybe he can put a stop to a less-nice renegade Time Lord (Stephen Thorne, Certain Fury) who's bent on revenge.
Actually, most of Doctor Who: The Three Doctors features only two Doctors: Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton. Suffering from arteriosclerosis and its related memory problems, William Hartnell only contributed a few lines, read from cue cards; his Doctor was apparently stuck in the timestream, making it only as far as the TARDIS monitor.
With two Doctors in most of the scenes, The Three Doctors seems a little off-kilter. Rather than a strong presence in his own right, Patrick Troughton is playing a comic relief companion for straight man Pertwee, whose actions are much more serious. Having recently seen Troughton delivering a more heroic performance in Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen, he seemed to be hamming it up here. Of course, this particular storyline is more of a nostalgia trip, so funny lines are more plentiful than usual, which means Troughton could have just been adjusting to the lighter tone. That said, the veteran does get some darned funny moments.
Interestingly, Katy Manning (as companion Jo Grant) seems to get a meatier role than in other Jon Pertwee-era episodes I've seen. Apparently surprised by little, she's often seen working through ideas with the Doctors and taking action to help those trapped in the antimatter world.
The look of the episode -- in the standard definition 1.33:1 full frame -- isn't particularly convincing, especially those antimatter thingies which look more like something spilled on the videotape than actual alien menaces. The Dolby 2.0 Mono track is serviceable, but not anywhere near the robustness of later seasons.
As is true with all these BBC Doctor Who special edition releases, there are loads of extras. The most intriguing (at least for its title) is called "Is Doctor Who Rubbish?" featuring fans defending the original series against criticism. The answer (of course) is no, but I would have loved to see the argument developed further. Another feature, "Girls, Girls, Girls: the 1970s," features three of the Doctor's female companions -- Caroline John, Katy Manning, and Louise Jameson -- all talking about women's roles on Doctor Who. In addition to these, we get a feature-lenght commentary, a pop-up trivia track, and a featurette "Happy Birthday to Who." Odds and ends include TV interviews with Troughton, Pertwee, and a monster maker; promos for various Doctor Who episodes; and a photo gallery. I was disappointed there weren't any print ads or the like on the DVD-ROM.
Doctor Who: The Three Doctor's cliffhanger thrills are far less compelling than normal. The real story is about these two versions of the same man bickering while attempting to avert with a crisis. Though said crisis seems a bit too easily resolved, bringing Hartnell and Troughton back lets everyone involved get away with a lot.
Doctor Who: The Three Doctors is often silly, but fans of the original series will see it as a must-buy. This gentler, funnier approach might be safer for the tots than other DVDs released from the Jon Pertwee era. If you're looking to introduce your kids or grandkids to The Doctor's early adventures, here's an excellent place to start.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Trivia Track
* Vintage Promos
* Photo Gallery
* DVD-ROM Content
* Official Site