A visual round up of the second decade of my Doctor Who blogging project. The 1970’s was the era of Pertwee and Baker, of mini-skirts and go-go boots, frilly skirts and long, trippable scarves.
I love this story.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs joins The Time Warrior and Planet of the Spiders as the only really GOOD Third Doctor/Sarah Jane adventures, and serves very well to progress their relationship, which is still on shake ground at this point – Sarah was whisked back in time by accident in The Time Warrior and spent a large part of that story thinking the Doctor was the bad guy (fair cop) until he won her over with his suave charm and snippy sense of humour.
The Doctor returns her to London in this story, only for them to be alarmed at a mysteriously empty city. What would be so scary that it is worth evacuating London?
Nobody could be more devoted to the cause of peace than I! As a commissioner of Earth’s Interplanetary Police, I have devoted my life to the cause of law and order, and law and order can only exist in a time of peace.
Are you feeling all right, old chap?
[Doctor Who – Frontier in Space, 1973]
As I mentioned last week, 1973 is “my” year of the Pertwee era, and my go-to episodes to watch most come from this year: Carnival of Monsters, The Three Doctors and the most excellent The Green Death. I really enjoy the more mature Jo of these stories, and the comfortable relationship she has with the Doctor – and while I know in my head that the earthbound UNIT years are a big part of what make the Third Doctor a special snowflake, I do love to see him swanning around foreign planets.
That brings me to Frontier in Space or as I like to think of it, Doctor Who and The Space War. Like Day of the Daleks, this is a story I first experienced as a Target novelisation, and no matter how well it was rendered on screen (and I think they did a pretty good job of it), the book version is the “real” one for me.
I always loved Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, maybe not best of all – I didn’t start to think of him as my favourite Classic Doctor until I was in my late teens – but his era was very special to me. I knew that Tom Baker was regarded as The Best Of All Doctors thanks to my early introduction to a small group of fans but also because most of my Doctor Who Received Wisdom came through my Mum. Who, by the way, loved Tom Baker like he was drizzled in chocolate.
THERE IS A REASON TOM CAN NEVER BE MY DOCTOR, JUST SAYING!
The surreal thing about listening to DVD commentaries of the Pertwee era is not how many of the participants are no longer with us, but how recently they have died. Producer Barry Letts, actors Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John and Elisabeth Sladen all passed away within a handful of years, but thanks to DVD schedules, we have some very recently-released (and even some yet to be released!) DVD commentaries featuring their voices. In the case of Terror of the Autons (released in 2011), Katy Manning is now the only survivor of the commentary, which is unbelievably sad especially considering the close friendships of the people who made the show in this era.
When Katy, Nicholas or Barry talk about Jon Pertwee or Roger Delgado on this commentary it’s with pride and sadness, and it feels like they are enjoying the opportunity to capture those friendships one more time.
Season 7 of Doctor Who is a fan favourite, probably because of its taking itself terribly seriously (unlike the more fun later seasons of the Pertwee era). This season does have some great elements to it, especially the snarky and intelligent companion Dr Liz Shaw, the early and rather more prickly version of the Brigadier, and Jon Pertwee playing the Doctor far more straight than at any other time in his run.
It’s also a season which has provided a great deal of inspiration to the 2005- version of the show, featuring the debut appearance of both the Autons and the Silurians, and a rare example of a parallel universe (a narrative ploy also used for great effect in New Who).
What I hadn’t quite twigged until the DVD release of The Ambassadors of Death, the third of four stories featuring the Third Doctor with his UNIT-and-Liz-Shaw ensemble, is that this season also used the masked figure of astronauts as creepy figures of horror, something which has been something of a feature of several Steven Moffat-written stories, and the River Song arc in particular.
(Hey, who turned out the lights?)
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We’ve lost many actors and creators from Classic Who over the last couple of years. When Elisabeth Sladen died, I was gutted, and simply couldn’t talk about it. Her character had been so important to me as a child, and had continued to be relevant and important through my adult life. The fact that she was still working, still playing the character on screen, made it more immediate. I never blogged about the loss of Elisabeth Sladen, or talked about it much, and even turned down the request to give a toast in her honour, because I couldn’t find the words.
Only when I heard in the last week that Caroline John had died did I start thinking about how important her character had been to me, too. I’m a lot less emotionally invested in Liz Shaw as a character, but she was a huge influence and role model for me – specifically the Liz Shaw of Spearhead from Space, the story which rebooted Doctor Who from the black and white 1960’s to the colour 1970’s.
I heard today that Nicholas Courtney recently passed away peacefully. He was 81. My condolences to his family and friends – in the larger community of Doctor Who fandom, he was greatly loved and respected, which is really the best thing any of us can leave behind.
While he had a long and varied acting career, the role he will most be associated with is Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who. Courtney first stepped into the part in 1968 in The Web of Fear, and most recently in 2008 reprised the character in “Enemy of the Bane,” in an episode of spin off show The Sarah Jane Adventures. That’s forty years!
The Web of Fear and its sequel, The Invasion, both worked as a kind of audition for the UNIT concept, which was to be a central hub of the show in the 1970’s. As first Colonel and later Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Nicholas Courtney was the chap who had to deal with Yeti invading the underground, and then Cybermen taking over London. The Doctor was more of an annoyance than anything to him, though he became an ally pretty quickly, and performed what could have been a fairly uninteresting guest role with great charisma and warmth.
Like most people, I fell in love with the Brig during the Jon Pertwee Years. When Doctor Who was relaunched in 1970, in colour and with a new style and format, Pertwee’s Doctor was matched not only with a girl assistant, but with a family. UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) was based on the idea that, if the Earth gets invaded by aliens quite as often as Doctor Who tends to suggest, surely there should be some kind of military force set up to combat said threats. This organisation, Lethbridge Stewart himself and Sgt Benton had all been introduced during the Troughton Years, but became the centrepiece of the new look version of the show.
The Third Doctor’s era is in many ways more comparable to other 70’s adventure shows like The New Avengers than to prior incarnations of Doctor Who. He drives a vintage car, practices Venusian aikido, hooks up with military outfit UNIT in order to stop alien invasions, and waggles his eyebrows. I adore him, but this does tend to be a love-him-or-hate-him Doctor. Which is true of all of them, I suppose…
Jon Pertwee was known far and wide as a comic actor, and while he brings great moments of comedy to the part, his strength as a Doctor is that he mostly plays it absolutely straight, something made all the more impressive when you pay attention to the absolute gobbledegook he was often required to say. Most people’s description of him revolves around his appearance: the ruffled shirts, velvet coats and other dandy fashions, or his height and shock of white curly hair, but once you start paying attention you realise that for this accomplished radio performer, his Doctor was all about the voice. Sure, the Drashigs may be glorified sock puppets with teeth, but when he says ‘Drashig’ in That Voice, there’s a world of history and horror in his tone that makes you believe.