Getting Acquainted With “Doctor Who” – Five Iconic Third Doctor Stories

To prepare for Doctor Who’s arrival on Disney+ in 2023, and as Laughing Place’s resident Doctor Who expert, I wanted to do a series of articles to get Disney fans acquainted with the world of the traveling Time Lord. We’ve now made it up to the “action man” Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee. While Patrick Troughton ensured the longevity of the show, it was Jon Pertwee who brought enduring popularity to the series.

But who is the Doctor, you might ask? Well he’s a traveling Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. The line that best sums up the Doctor, no matter his portrayal is “Never cruel, never cowardly.”

In these articles, I will introduce you to what I think are the five stories from each Doctor that best represent that era, and also serve to move the show’s mythos forward. This time, we continue our journey as the Doctor is exiled to Earth and an entirely different era of the show kicks off…

Doctor Who and the Silurians

  • Writer: Malcolm Hulke
  • Director: Timothy Combe
  • Episodes: Seven
  • Originally Transmitted: January 31st–March 14th, 1970

At the tail end of the Second Doctor’s epic last story, “The War Games,” the Doctor was exiled to Earth by the Time Lords for interfering in the affairs of other species. That then sets up the entire premise of the Third Doctor’s era, where he serves as a scientific advisor to UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce). In his second serial, more appropriately titled “The Silurians,” the Doctor comes across a group of intelligent, cave dwelling creatures called the Silurians. They aren’t alien invaders though, in fact they were here before us, and have been in hibernation for millions of years.

It’s that premise, that would be revisited over the years, but never really done any better than in its first instance, that really makes “The Silurians” a great story. The Silurians aren’t an evil species, per say. They have their good and bad eggs, just like we humans. But it’s a matter of getting both sides to cooperate and trust one another, which as you can imagine is pretty difficult.

Aside from the moral dilemmas, “The Silurians” has some great action scenes, something that would become the norm during the Third Doctor era. We also get great use of the UNIT team, which here mainly includes Brigadier Legthbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and the Doctor’s companion, scientist Liz Shaw (Caroline John). And although this is a rather lengthy seven episode serial, it does go by at quite a good pace. If you want more of the Silurians, be sure to check out its sequel serial, “The Sea Devils,” featuring their aquatic cousins, as well as the new series’ pseudo-remake, “The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood” from Series 5.

Terror of the Autons

  • Writer: Robert Holmes
  • Director: Barry Letts
  • Episodes: Four
  • Originally Transmitted: January 2nd–23rd, 1971

“Terror of the Autons” was the second serial to feature the titular Autons, basically anything plastic animated and brought to life by the nefarious Nestene Consciousness. While their first appearance in “Spearhead from Space” is undoubtedly a better story for them, “Terror of the Autons” gets the nod in my list for introducing what was to become a key character in the series – The Master.

Just like the Doctor, the Master is a renegade Time Lord, except he is pure evil. Envisioned as the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, the first incarnation of the Master is brilliantly played by Roger Delgado. Delgado brings a suave sophistication to the character, always polite and soft spoken when he knows he’s in control. That makes the moments when he does lose his temper all the more effective.

In this story, the Master partners up with the Nestene Consciousness to take over the Earth, beginning by controlling a plastics factory. This leads to some of the scariest scenes featured in Doctor Who to this point, including a Troll doll coming to life and killing a man, another man being suffocated by a plastic couch, and Auton policemen attacking the Doctor and his new companion, Jo Grant (Katy Manning).

The Three Doctors

  • Writer: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
  • Director: Lennie Mayne
  • Episodes: Four
  • Originally Transmitted: December 30th, 1972–January 20th, 1973

Kicking off a tradition that’s continued for most anniversaries since, 1973’s “The Three Doctors” brought together the first three Doctors in a spectacular story, unlike anything we’d seen before. The bulk of the story is taken up by the Second and Third Doctors, with the First only appearing via TV screens due to William Hartnell’s poor health at the time. Troughton and Pertwee have excellent chemistry together, and the playfulness of Troughton’s Doctor really plays well against Pertwee’s more serious portrayal.

Also introduced is another rogue Time Lord, Omega, a legendary figure who gave his race the power of time travel, at the expense of his existence in our realm. Omega is a bit of a shouty, over-the-top character, but some of his scenes with the Doctors are quite well done. Aside from the novelty of the Doctors interacting together, as well as with the UNIT team, this story doesn’t have too much else going for it. But it’s definitely worth checking out simply for the team-up of the Doctors.

The Green Death

  • Writer: Robert Sloman
  • Director: Michael Briant
  • Episodes: Six
  • Originally Transmitted: May 19th–June 23rd, 1973

One of the many strong points of the Third Doctor’s era was its penchant for telling stories with an environmental or political message. There’s no better example than “The Green Death,” known as the “one with the maggots.” The story deals with themes of pollution, all leading back to Global Chemicals. The oil drilling company was being run by a megalomaniacal supercomputer called BOSS, who dumped lethal toxic waste into an abandoned coal mine, creating giant maggots.

“The Green Death” does a great job of tying these somewhat fictionalized issues into actual and similar issues of the day, many of which are still relevant to this day. The end of the story features the departure of companion Jo Grant. While the classic series didn’t deal too much in emotion, Jo’s departure is one of the more tear-jerking moments, especially for the Doctor. If stories dealing with real issues are your thing, I recommend also checking out the other Third Doctor stories “Frontier in Space” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.”

The Time Warrior

  • Writer: Robert Holmes
  • Director: Alan Bromly
  • Episodes: Four
  • Originally Transmitted: December 15th, 1973–January 5th, 1974

A number of iconic elements of Doctor Who were introduced in the first story of the show’s 11th season, “The Time Warrior.” The titular warrior is a Sontaran, a war-loving race, seen here at their best for the first time. The Sontaran warrior Linx’s ship crash lands in medieval England, and leads to a really fun fish-out-of-water story, with Linx working alongside a group of bandits. This serial also sees the first mention of the name of the Time Lord’s planet as Gallifrey.

Perhaps the most iconic introduction is the Doctor’s new companion, Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen. Sarah would go on to become one of the all-time great companions, and her independent and feminist nature is already on full display in her first story. A fun dynamic she has in “The Time Warrior” is initially not trusting the Doctor, after following him into his TARDIS. He really has to gain her confidence over the course of the story.

Sarah would go on to be truly iconic in the show alongside Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, but her character also works well with the Third Doctor. In fact, Sarah became so iconic that she returned to the show for a few appearances in the new series, alongside David Tennant. That led to her own spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which ran for five seasons prior to Sladen’s untimely death in 2011.

Classic episodes of Doctor Who from 1963-1989 are available to stream on BritBox, while the modern series is on HBO Max. Beginning later this year, all new episodes of Doctor Who will be available on Disney+.

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