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4 February 2014

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

Day 400 Extra: The Third Doctor Overview

Writing back in September of last year during my overview of the Second Doctor, I looked ahead to the five seasons that lay ahead of me in the marathon:

”And now it's onto the 1970s. I've made no secret as I've gone along that the next decade (and the Third Doctor's era in particular) has never been a favourite of mine, but I'm actually really excited to be moving on. I'm ready for the programme to do something different, and the success of stories like The Web of Fear and The Invasion have actually geared me up ready for the next massive change.”

I wondered at that point exactly what I’d be saying by now. Would I have had all my fears proved right and be writing about how awful the Pertwee years were? Would I be singing their praises from the heavens, after five seasons of straight 10/10 episodes? Would I even make it to this side of the era and still want to continue with watching and writing the Diary? In hindsight, the answer seems to be obvious. The Pertwee years of Doctor Who are just like any other period in its history - a mixed bag. There’s been some real stand out gems in the last twenty four stories, and one or two clunkers that I don’t plan on revisiting any time soon.

I think it helps that the era starts with Season Seven - one of the most perfect runs the programme has ever experienced. It’s not great surprise to me that three of the seasons four stories fall within the top seven from this era overall, and that it’s become one of my highest rated seasons, falling only marginally behind Season Five. Spearhead From Space spoils you as an introduction to the colour years of the programme, and the blu ray transfer is so beautiful. I’ve banged on enough over the last few months about how good this series would look shot entirely on film, but Season Seven does a good job of looking like one of those glossy ITC serials all on its own. It’s telling that the lowest rated story from that run - Ambassadors of Death, coming in not far from the bottom of the pile - is the one with the worst picture quality. I’m sure that were we able to get hold of a better copy, the story may fare better in my mind.

But then things took something of a drastic turn with the arrival of Jo and the Master in Season Eight, and we went from one of my highest rated seasons to my lowest rated one. With an average rating of 5.95, it’s the only season so far not to have hit at least an average of 6, and three of its stories occupy places in the bottom five from this era for me.

When I look back at the Pertwee years, I think of those middle three as being my lest favourites, but actually Season Ten manages to break free of that and average a rating of 7.21, among it my third favourite overall. Looking at the numbers, it’s certainly a golden period for the programme - The Monster of Peladon is the only story between The Three Doctors and the end of the era to not receive an 8/10 for its first episode (it managed only a ‘7’, but gained a ‘9’ later on in the tale). Season Eleven then experiences quite a drop off, pulling in an average of 6.76 - although I feel like I’ve enjoyed it more than any season since Pertwee’s first!

It’s funny how things like that happen to you as you watch though. Sometimes, hindsight isn’t completely accurate to the way that I felt at the time. For example, I look back at the Hartnell years as pretty enjoyable at the time, and especially the run through Season Three. Looking at the numbers, though, Hartnell is currently my lowest rated Doctor. Jon Pertwee comes in just fractionally ahead with an average rating of 6.63 (compared to Hartnell’s 6.54), while Troughton continues in the lead at 6.85.

On the whole, I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed this period of the programme far more than I was expecting to. I’d been actually dreading it, really not knowing what I’d do if I hit a brick wall and felt as though I just couldn’t continue on with the marathon. thankfully, that’s simply not happened, and I’ve come out of this era with a new appreciation for it. Are things perfect? Well, no, they’re not. Will I be hurrying to rematch lots of Pertwee stories as soon as the marathon is over? Well… no, I doubt that I will be. Have I found a number of stories that I’d like to rematch in the future, which I’d previously nave spared a second thought to? Absolutely.

And now I’m off into a bold new era. It’s a bit of a false start from tomorrow, because while Tom Baker is new to the mix, we’ve still got the same UNIT lab, with Bessie, and the Brig, and Barry Letts in the producer’s chair. It’s a few days from now, when The Ark in Space rolls around and Philip Hinchcliffe takes over the reigns that I’ll be entering the period that’s repeatedly held up as being ‘the best Doctor Who ever made’.

I’m not as against Tom as I was with Jon Pertwee, but I’ll admit here that I’ve never really understood the fuss. I’ve seen plenty of his stories before (including all of the ones in his first season), and while I know he’s very good in the role, I’ve never been completely floored by his performance in the way that people seem to expect you to be. But I’m excited. Watching through this far has given me a whole new perspective and insight into the first eleven years of the programme, and I’m sure I’ll keep finding things to love as I move into the Fourth Doctor’s era. 

Hold on tight, this is going to be a long stretch…

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