Doctor Who: The Three Doctors
(4 episodes, s10e01-e04, 1972-73)
Happy 10th anniversary, Doctor Who! Traditionally, you’d get something made of tin, but the Time Lords are feeling benevolent.
A Pandora’s box arrives in the form of a cosmic ray research module, and it’s hungry because it eats Mr Ollis, the warden of the bird sanctuary where the module crash-landed. Doctor Tyler arrives and takes the box to UNIT where the Doctor analyzes the data, and the Doctor trolls the Brigadier with a silicon rod to stir his tea. As the Doctor and Jo investigate the crash site, the module consumes Doctor Tyler, and a psychedelic cloud leaks out, menaces our heroes, and eats Bessie.
Someone needs a copy of Care and Feeding of Psychedelic Clouds for Dummies.
As if that’s not enough, several cyclopean crab creatures apparate and storm UNIT HQ. The Brigadier leaves Sgt Benton in charge of the lab and leaves to assess the situation, prompting the cloud to arrive and force the Doctor, Jo, and Benton to take refuge in the TARDIS. The TARDIS won’t dematerialize, so the Doctor plays his last resort card and calls the Time Lords.
The TARDIS has been redecorated again, and while I liked the wash basin roundels more, this is still a step up from the wallpaper that dominated the Troughton era. While I was observing that, Sgt Benton was having his “bigger on the inside” moment, which made me laugh.
The Time Lords determine that the attack is stemming from a black hole which bridges into a universe of anti-matter, but they can’t help because the same gateway is siphoning all of their power reserves. Despite the First Law of Time, which forbids the Doctor from doubling back on his own timeline (wait, what?), the Time Lords break the rules and send the Second Doctor to help the Third.
The Second Doctor arrives, heralded by his trademark recorder, and followed by his dislike of the new décor. Sgt Benton is overjoyed, since the last time this saw this Doctor was during the Cyberman invasion. The two Doctors link together telepathically, but can’t get anything accomplished because the “dandy” and the “clown” can’t stop bickering, so the Time Lords call up the First Doctor to set them straight. He can’t come all the way in because of a plot-convenient time eddy that the council cannot overpower, but he passes the word that the black hole is a time breach and that they must cross it.
The Time Lords, by the way, call the First Doctor the “earliest Doctor”: Hartnell’s character was definitively the original.
The Third Doctor decides on a bad plan and rushes out of the TARDIS. Jo follows, and both are consumed. The Second Doctor sees that the cloud has been temporarily satiated, so he and Benton leave the TARDIS to investigate. The Brigadier meets the Second Doctor again, and he jumps to the conclusion that the Third Doctor has regenerated… er, degenerated… er, changed back into the Second Doctor. Bickering and hilarity ensue.
The Second Doctor deduce that the cloud is made of antimatter, and that it was sent by someone powerful since it hasn’t caused a matter-antimatter annihilation. He suggests confusing it with useless information, such as with a television. That’s right, Doctor Who went meta before meta was a thing. While the Second Doctor works that problem, the Third Doctor and Jo wake up on a barren world with the one-eyed crabs, pieces of the laboratory, and Bessie, and they use the car to track a set of footprints to their source.
Back on Earth, the Brigadier wants the Second Doctor to address the Security Council, calling him the Third Doctor’s assistant to sideline the whole regeneration question, much to the Second’s chagrin. The cloud gets the hunger pains again, and the Second Doctor, the Brigadier, and Benton take refuge in the TARDIS. The Brigadier’s “bigger on the inside” moment trumps Benton’s as he accuses the Doctor of building the contraption from UNIT materials and funds. As the Third Doctor and Jo find Doctor Tyler and are subdued by the crab monsters, the Second Doctor works with the First Doctor who suggests letting the cloud attack the TARDIS. When it does, the entire headquarters building is transported into the black hole, which leaves the Brigadier nearly apoplectic. He goes off to call in this new development as the Second Doctor and Benton find Mr. Ollis, and then get captured by the crabs.
We also note that the TARDIS is just a prop thanks to a camera angle that peers all the way inside.
And then we meet the architect of this whole thing: The legendary long lost Time Lord named Omega. He was the solar engineer who created the supernova that powers Time Lord civilization, but was supposedly killed in the resulting explosion. In reality, he was transported to the antimatter universe, where his will and thought turned the formless matter into physical form. It’s also his cage, since his will is the only thing maintaining reality, and he vowed revenge on the Time Lords who left him stranded. Omega deduces that the Second Doctor and the Third Doctor are the same Time Lord, and boy is he angry. He places them in a cell pending execution, and they continue bickering before the companions put them in their place. I loved that!
Omega has control of the singularity, which grants him immense power, and Jo considers that the Doctor must also have some potential in this universe. The two Doctor will a door into existence, they all escape the cell, the companions get lost and escape the palace, and the Doctors get discovered by Omega in the singularity chamber, where Omega challenges the Third Doctor to a mental Thunderdome. The Third Doctor is defeated, but the Second reasons with Omega using the imprisoned Time Lord’s freedom as leverage.
The Time Lords send the First Doctor into the black hole, reasoning that together they are powerful enough to defeat Omega. The Second Doctor laments his lost recorder (foreshadowing!), but deliberately angers Omega to challenge the villain’s self control. The two Doctors reason that if Omega can transport matter to Earth on the light stream, he could transmit himself as well, but Omega reveals that he is a prisoner of his own design. If tries to leave, he loses control over the construct, and if he stops controlling the construct, he cannot leave. He brought the Doctor(s) to become the new caretakers. As he prepares to leave, however, he discovers that he no longer exists in a form that can survive outside of the antimatter construct. Omega is powered only by his will to live, and that only works on this side of the mirror. He goes all Kylo Ren on everything since he does not want to live like that, and the Doctor run back to the TARDIS just in time to let all of the companions seek shelter.
The First Doctor is unable to fully appear in the antimatter universe since the Time Lords’ power is so badly compromised, but he links with his successors and formulate a plan. They ask Omega to bring the TARDIS to him, and then ask the companions to trust them implicitly. They promise to set Omega free only if he sends the companions home, and Omega counters that he cannot be freed, but will keep the Doctors as his companions. Each of the Doctors’ companions step into the light stream and go home.
As much as I tear into the Brigadier’s character, he did have a very touching moment as he saluted the Doctors. He truly believes it to be the last time that he shall see them.
The Doctors offer Omega the TARDIS’s force field generator as a means to escape, but he physically rejects it, and the Second Doctor’s recorder (which has been on the TARDIS inside the generator the entire time and not modified to exist in both universes) annihilates with the anti-matter in a supernova, breaking the bridge and returning everyone to their rightful places. Poetically, the act also restores power to the Time Lords, making it the second time that Omega has exchanged his life for their civilization.
In exchange for his help, the Time Lords forgive the Doctor of his crimes: After fifteen serials in exile, they return his knowledge of time travel and provide him with a new dematerialization circuit. Jo is elated, since the Doctor decides that he can’t leave Earth yet since he needs a new force field generator.
Thank the Maker, we get time travel again!
Overall, this was a great story, and it was fantastic to see Troughton back in action. His madcap style is a great contrast to Pertwee’s pompous prim and proper. It was also good to see how well the companions and Doctors all interacted, although it would have been nice to bring in some of the First and Second Doctor’s companions as well. Time and budget are always constraints, and it might have also muddied the plot a little.
One place where I’m torn is with Hartnell’s final performance. It was so good to see him in character again, but he was obviously very ill and not fully back to where he left the character thirty-six serials ago. Sadly, he died two years after this performance, his last as the Doctor and his final acting performance overall.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.