“There you are,” says The Second Doctor, trying to explain his presence to a dumbfounded Brigadier. “It’s all quite simple really.”
That statement perfectly sums up the major failing of this serial. It’s all quite simple. TOO simple really.
To kick-off the start of Doctor Who’s tenth season, the producers decided to honor the past by telling a story which featured all three incarnations of The Doctor. I can only imagine what it would have been like for a fan at the time. I’ve been hearing rumors that another Three Doctors, this one featuring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith, could be planned for the 50th anniversary this year. Maybe then I’ll understand the excitement for such a story back in 1972.
Having the Doctor trapped in a situation so dangerous that the only person who can help is another version himself is an awesome idea. This is a bloke who spins around the universe like mad. Chances are he’s going to run into himself sooner or later. What better time to reunite himself with…himself than to combat a foe so terrible that it has the ability to eat poor Bessie?
You would think that this would lead to some pretty epic storytelling. Something involving twists and turns. Near death escapes. A thrilling climax. Again, you would think that. They have a couple Doctors to play with. They’re going to use that to their advantage right?
Unfortunately this story is about as strait forward and by the numbers as any average Who episode. It almost seems as though the writers thought that the excitement of seeing Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee together in the Tardis would be enough to keep viewers happy. I will admit that they are wonderful together. They play off each other marvelously, making their scenes together a great delight. This also makes the scenes where they are not together painfully dull.
There is nothing much happening. A weird blob of space stuff is trying to catch The Doctor for some reason. A black hole is draining energy from the universe. Big bubbly claw monsters make a brief appearance then vanish. None of these things are bad on their own. Actually they’re pretty cool. The problem is there’s nothing more to them. There are long scenes of gabbing over them, but very little is done with them. All of it is there so that UNIT has something to shoot at and The Second Doctor has a reason to be there.
I liked that the glob thing was actually a transporter of sorts. It was sending things back into the black hole. In this realm of antimatter waits Omega. One of the founders of the Time Lord civilization, Omega was thought dead for thousands of years. Driven mad by constructing reality out of unreality, and left for dead by his people, Omega has become a vengeful madman. This is another element to the show which could have been explored in far greater detail but is left unrealized.
You may have noticed that I’ve only mentioned two Doctors. That’s because Doctor One, William Hartnell, was too ill to commit to a full serial. His Doctor became trapped in a time Eddy, leaving him the role of advisor. It is a real shame he wasn’t able to do more. I would have liked to see those three personalities clash.
This may be the first time the series has united more than one Doctor, but it would not be the last. Ten years later, during the Peter Davison years, they produced The Five Doctors. That story had everything this one lacked. It was big, each Doctor was given his time to shine, they all complimented each other, and the adventure itself felt like a proper adventure, with plot twists and everything.
There were one or two similarities with The Three Doctors however. Tom Baker decided not to return. He felt that his time as The Doctor had been too recent. It wouldn’t be right to bring him back so soon. Footage of the incomplete Douglas Adams serial Shada was used to make up for his absence. The Fourth Doctor also became trapped in time. William Hartnell had passed away long before the story was produced. An actor named Richard Hurndall took his place very effectively as Doctor One. The villain of the piece turned out to be Rassilon, another founding member of the Time Lords. Lots of fans dislike it, but I got a real kick out of it.
My personal favorite Doctor Mash-Up was Time Crash. It was a short made for the charity Children In Need featuring David Tennant as the 10th Doctor and Peter Davison returning as the fifth. It is nice to see David tell Peter that he was his Doctor because David has stated in interviews, prior to their working together, that Pater Davison was his favorite Doctor growing up.
A nice touch, that I hadn’t noticed until just watching it again, is that the music changes depending on which Doctor is speaking. When David is doing his thing the music is more orchestral, as the music is in the revived series. When Peter takes over the music shifts to radiophonic, as the Radiophonic workshop produced all the early Who scores. There is no real canonicity to it but it is still a lot of fun.
It would take an entire blog post to mention every instance in various media when The Doctor meets himself. Some of them were fun and a lot of them were silly. You could probably skip The Three Doctors but you should give Time Crash a watch.