The first storyline in Doctor Who's tenth season was The Three Doctors, written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin and directed by Lennie Mayne and originally broadcast from December 1972 through to January 1973. The four part storyline was a 'tenth anniversary' special of sorts and as such, it teams up three of the men most closely associated with the series up to this point in its history.
When the first episode begins, an energy blob hurtles towards Earth where it manifests in a bizarre attempt to capture the Doctor (John Pertwee) while, at the same time, Gallifrey, the home world of The Time Lords, is victim to an energy drain from a mysterious black hole that has appeared nearby. With no other choice, The Time Lords decide that their only option is to break the highly respected First Law Of Time, that being the law that prohibits a Doctor to pull a previous version of himself through the timescape to help himself should the need arise.
The Doctor tries to summon the earliest version of himself, the First Doctor (William Hartnell), but something goes wrong along the way and he winds up trapped in a 'time eddy' and isn't able to physically materialize but the summoning of the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) is successful and so he helps the current doctor try to figure out exactly what is going on and what the correlation is between the energy blob and the black hole. Complicating matters further is an alien race bent on taking out UNIT's headquarters. Soon enough, all signs point to a Time Lord named Omega (Stephen Thorne) gone rogue and turned angry, but thankfully the current Doctor has his pal Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and the Second Doctor along for the ride to help him out, and the mysteriously trapped First Doctor able to offer sage advice from his bizarre time prison.
Not only would this serial turn out to be the last time William Hartnell played The Doctor, but it would prove to be the last acting role of his career. As he was in poor heath when this was being made, the decision was made to relegate his role to more of a supporting cameo than a leading part, which explains why his character gets 'trapped' in the time eddy. Hartnell's cameo was recorded in a BBC studio away from the other doctors, they never actually act together in the serial and he would pass away shortly after in 1975. A shame, really, as Hartnell brings a certain intensity and darkness to the character that Pertwee and Troughton do not and what we wind up with is a slightly silly, even by the standards of the series, four part adventure.
As silly as all of this is, however, it's hard not to have some fun with it. Pertwee and Troughton are quite likeable, playing off of one another quite well and seeming to be having a good amount of fun with the material on their own terms. Pertwee plays things a noticeably straighter than his time travelling companion, who is more or less onboard to provide the requisite comic relief that the storyline calls for, but they make it work where in the hands of less game performers it might not have. Katy Manning also gets some solid bits of dialogue here and plays a decent sized role in the action. Where in the past she wasn't given as much to do, here she comes into her own and the character is all the more interesting for it, particularly as she gets to play moderator to our two constantly bickering heros. Anthony Thorne steals each of his scenes, bringing a heavy weight to his sinister character and impressing more than you might expect.
Sets and costumes and creature effects are of fairly hokey quality here, and are definitely not the best that the series has had to offer over the years or throughout the seventies for that matter, but that's half the charm of a show like Doctor Who in the first place. You either love it, or you learn to live with it and appreciate the show's other qualities. Things are wrapped up a little more neatly than they probably should have and once or two Doctors figure out the cause of the mess, it seems far too easy for them to solve the problem at set things right. As such, there isn't all that much suspense here and the story is fairly predictable (it seems to have been written for little purpose than to team up the three Doctors in one storyline) - but the performances save The Three Doctors and definitely make it worth a watch for Who fans.
Doctor Who: The Three Doctors arrives on DVD in its original fullframe aspect ratio taken from the best existing master tape elements. The image is muddier than a lot of the other releases in the line from the BBC and it's obvious that the elements that they had to work with were not in particularly amazing condition. The picture is consistently soft and detail is sketchy. Trailing is a problem and contrast is sometimes blown out. Again, for what it is, it's watchable enough andf those accustomed to earlier DVD releases from this era of the show will know what to expect and have no problems - but those expecting pristine quality will be disappointed. Sadly, we're not likely to see it looking better any time soon unless better elements somehow magically show up.
The sole audio option on this release is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track that comes with optional subtitles available in English only. The quality of the track is fine in that it's always easy to understand and there are no problems to report in terms of hiss or distortion. There isn't a whole lot of range - this is an older mono mix after all - but the levels are well balanced and the feature sounds just fine.
Carried over from the previous DVD release is a commentary featuring Barry Letts, Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney. Manning makes for the most rambunctious of the batch, delivering a slew of anecdotes with a great sense of humor and injecting a lot of comedy into the talk without ever crossing into any sort of inappropriate tone. All three are having a good time here, talking about the story, the casting, the effects and more. Letts has also got some great stories to share about his period working as a producer on the series and especially about his relationship with Patrick Troughton. They also cover the use of stunt doubles during the big finale in the last episode, set design, costumes and more. It's a great track with a lot of information and an enjoyable light hearted vibe that manages to be insightful, education and entirely entertaining.
From here, we move on to the featurettes, of which there are a few. First up is Happy Birthday To Who which is basically a twenty-three minute retrospective look at the making of this particular storyline. Surviving cast and crew members are interviewed here about such subjects as varied as William Hartnell's health condition to being bribed with alcohol at a pub to take the writing assignment for this one to the rivalry that existed between Pertwee and Troughton. It's a good featurette, and quite an informative look at this storyline - definitely worth taking the time to watch if you enjoyed The Three Doctors. The next featurette is entitled Was Doctor Who Rubbish? and it's an amusing rebuttal to Michael Grade's fairly public dislike for the series. Grade was at least partially responsible for the series' hiatus in the mid-eighties and here some very vocal and extremely literate Doctor Who aficionados stake their claims to the contrary and make the case for the show's validity. Girls, Girls Girls: The 1970's gets Katy Manning, Caroline and Louise Jameson together for a discussion about what it was like playing the Doctor's right hand woman during the decade. Their input is quite welcome here and it gives us a female perspective on the characters and the storylines that can sometimes be easily overlooked. Pebble Mill At One is an interview with Patrick Troughton and effects man Bernard Wilkie taken from a talk show broadcast that covers Troughton's acting in the part and some of the monster and creature effects that the very kind Wilkie was responsible for. John Pertwee shows up in Blue Peter and is interviewed by Peter Purves about the Whomobile which then segues into a series of clips and highlights from the series. It's pretty amusing and Pertwee seems very taken with the strange vehicle. BSB Highlights is yet another collection of cast and crew interviews and it rounds out the disc along with some coming attractions bits, production history subtitles, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter stops. Some PDF material including radio times listing is also accessible via DVD-Rom.
Doctor Who: The Three Doctors is definitely a sillier who than some of us are used to or than some of us prefer but there's good fun to be had with it. If this isn't an essential release in terms of the story itself, the BBC's massive selection of quality supplements really help to make this one a worthwhile endeavor for anyone interested in the show and as such, it's recommended, despite the fact that it doesn't look so hot.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.