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10x1. The Three Doctors
Writers: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Director: Lennie Mayne
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: A sudden alien attack on UNIT headquarters turns out to be an attempt to kidnap the Doctor and bring him to an antimatter world where Omega, a Time Lord stellar engineer who invented the technology for time travel and has long been assumed dead, now lives. Omega initiates an energy drain that threatens the entire universe, leading the Time Lords to summon the Doctor's two previous incarnations to help him defeat Omega.

Review: The good news is that "The Three Doctors" is a noticeable step up in quality from "The Time Monster." The bad news is that something can, of course, be pretty second-rate and still be a step up from "The Time Monster," and I'm afraid that's the case here.

One flaw that "The Three Doctors" shares with its predecessor is a curious tendency to lighten the tone of the story while also upping the stakes to an extraordinary degree: once again, the entire universe is threatened. Of course, a story like this can become ponderous if it takes itself *too* seriously, but that doesn't mean we need out-of-character moments like Jo and Benton joking about "missing out on all the fun" when they're about to get left behind in a corridor chase. (A line like this can work if it's spoken with the right tone of grim humor, but that isn't the intent as far as I can tell.) Other noticeably silly moments include one of Omega's creatures going into some sort of frenzy because Benton tosses a gum wrapper on the floor near where it's sitting, and Dr. Tyler having written "E=mc^2" in the sand while trying to puzzle out where he is. I can understand him thinking about Einstein, but why would he feel the need to actually write it in the sand? It's as if some BBC exec walked into the room with Bob Baker and Dave Martin while they were working on the script and started nagging them about how Doctor Who started as a children's educational show, so they wrote it in just to get the guy to go away. The biggest offense in this area, however, is the reduction of the Brigadier to a caricatured buffoon. This character made his debut as a valuable and intelligent ally for the Doctor who nevertheless had his own agenda, and now he's walking around refusing to believe what's in front of his own eyes and insisting that the Doctor's meddling with the TARDIS is somehow responsible for the entire building being transported -- all of this while Benton has no trouble at all understanding and accepting what's happened.

Omega, admittedly, is not a half-bad villain. He led the original Time Lord experiments that developed time travel, and thus could be considered one of the founders of their civilization as it now exists. Unfortunately, he ended up stranded in a universe of antimatter that he created by his own will and has remained there ever since. Enraged at the thought he has been forgotten by the Time Lords, he now plans to humiliate them and destroy their source of power. While the script could be clearer on what exactly went wrong (it's unclear whether the Time Lords actually knew of his fate or just assumed he had been killed in an accident), his presence indicates that the Time Lords' power has come at a price. Now, presumably thousands of years later, he survives by sheer force of will, and there's a nice bit of visual storytelling in which he removes his mask to reveal nothing underneath. The Doctors eventually end up having to trick him by using the Second Doctor's recorder, which has not been converter into antimatter, to trigger the destruction of his universe. As the script notes at the end, he has once again been sacrificed for the sake of the Time Lords' power, and Jon Pertwee effectively portrays the Third Doctor's regret over this. On the other hand, the question is somewhat muddled by the fact that Omega is threatening the entire universe at the end -- if only the Time Lords' technological power had been at stake, it might have been more of a moral gray area, but the script really leaves the Doctors with no other rational choice by the end. The creative team also do themselves few favors with the fine points of Omega's portrayal. A more restrained approach -- making him a quietly bitter old man, for example -- might have earned and kept the audience's sympathy, but instead they cast the physically imposing Stephen Thorne and sent him running around the set screaming "MY WILL IS TO DESTROY ALL THINGS!" and generally hitting all the Crazed Megalomaniac clichés.

Some may object that I shouldn't take "The Three Doctors" so seriously, and that the point of the episode is just to enjoy having all three Doctors in the same story. And I might well be glad to do that, except that the presence of Hartnell and Troughton only proves entertaining up to a point. Obviously it's nice to see them both again, and it's interesting that the Second and Third Doctors end up bickering not because of differences in philosophy but simply because each of them is used to being the smartest person in the room and can't quite deal with the competition. Hartnell's role is reduced because of his poor health at the time, but having him play the imperious referee who tells them to knock it off and get back to work is a good idea that's consistent with the First Doctor's character. Troughton, as always, is great when he's pretending to be a bumbling idiot in order to test his enemy's reactions, prompting a pointed question from Omega about his intelligence, but his obsession with his recorder seems overdone and caricatured. (Of course, maybe it was more prominent in some of the missing serials -- I barely even remember it from the Troughton serials I've seen.) But the script separates Troughton from Pertwee for quite a while, and there's considerable filler material that has nothing to do with the interaction between the Doctors. The shootout between the UNIT soldiers and Omega's "gel monsters" is  a notch above average in terms of production quality, but after that, most of the "action" consists of characters wandering around quarries and corridors without much actually happening. It's strange to think that a four-episode  serial featuring three Doctors and big revelations about Time Lord history could be padded, but that's exactly how "The Three Doctors" feels.

I expected to like this one more, as I remembered it being one of my favorites when I was a kid. Maybe that's because my PBS station aired it before they aired any actual Hartnell and Troughton serials, or maybe the story was simply targeted more towards the younger viewers. But from where I'm sitting right now, it doesn't live up to the standards of the Pertwee era or the show in general.

Rating: ** (out of four)

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