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3 December 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 337: The Three Doctors, Episode One

Dear diary,

Do you remember, right back when I started Spearhead From Space, I told you that my over-riding memory of the story was tainted by the fact that I felt ill while watching it? A similar sensation hangs over The Three Doctors, but in a different way. I'd been holding off buying the DVD of this story for a while, because I was still pretty new to Doctor Who, and I wanted to have seen some other stories for the Doctors before I sat down to see them team up together (the same goes for The Five Doctors, although I can't recall when I first saw that one).

In the end, this story ended up on my birthday list for 2005. The return of the programme to television had kicked my fledgeling fandom up a few notches, and the time had finally come to experience this very special anniversary story. I was in my mid-teens by that point, so birthdays had gone from 'loads of presents' to 'here's your present', and because I was at college, the term had ended a while before the day itself. It meant that I'd picked this story to watch on my birthday, and I planned to really savour it.

I sat through Episodes One and Two, completely riveted by the whole thing, and then I had to stop. There was something else happening out in the real world, and it was far bigger than three actors teaming up to run around in a quarry and fight an anti-matter monster. It was the day of the London bombings, and the TV was quickly switched from Doctor Who to the news where it remained for the rest of the day. It's a strange event to look back on now, and I think in many ways it gets forgotten a lot more than other terror attacks from the last few years. It was (comparatively) small scale compared to the situation in New York four years earlier, but at the time it felt pretty big - it was bringing the spectre of this new age down onto our shores in a way that we'd not really experienced in a long time. I can't remember when I actually finished watching The Three Doctors - although I know I have seen all four episodes - but it certainly wasn't on that day.

It's not fair to say that it's ruined the story for me - indeed I seem to have quite fond memories of the tale itself - but I don't think that I've actually watched it again since that very first time. In contrast to The Five Doctors, which I've seen more times than I care to count, this one has been somewhat forgotten. It didn't help that, again, it was a part of the Pertwee era, and I've always been so sour to that period as a whole.

But we're off to a great start today! Even before all the business with the earlier Doctors turning up, the story is pretty good right from the off - the opening is quite slow for a season opener, but it worked well to draw me in, and I couldn't remember what happened to either Ollis or Dr. Tyler. I was even pretty captivated when the jellies arrived on the scene - I've never noticed the lights in their claws before! Let's be honest, they're far from being the best Doctor Who monster ever (Though they're still a league above Kronos…), but there really is something a bit appealing about them. It's perhaps telling that the action figure of one creature is out on a shelf in the flat, while even poor Jo from the same set is shut in a cupboard!

The real charm starts when Patrick Troughton shows up, though. I've been surprised by how much I'm enjoying the Pertwee years, but they're still coming out as fairly 'average' for me, and there's been something of a decline since Season Seven. Seeing Troughton arrive gives me an odd kind of nostalgic feeling that I wasn't really expecting. Right back when I started on the marathon, I commented that it was hard to form a real attachment to the older Doctors or companions when you can see any of the stories in whichever order you want, but here once again I can really feel the marathon format working. For me, it's only been a few months since I last shared a story with the great man, but it feels so nice to have him back again.

The question is… does he behave as the Second Doctor as I remember him? I've seen a lot of talk about the way that he plays the role in his return appearances to the series - perhaps the best summation I've seen is that from 1966 - 1969, he was playing 'the Doctor', while in theThreeFive, and Two Doctors he was playing 'the Second Doctor'. It may not sound like much, but there is a distinct difference, and I think I can see that in play here. When he tootles away on his recorder to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, I'm remembering the early version of the character, but it perhaps doesn't feel as natural as I remembered: here it's being used as a gimmick. I'm keen to monitor it as I go along and see how I feel about his performance by the end of the story…

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