Reverse the polarity: it’s the next article in our History of The Doctor series!
“Reverse the polarity.” That was the catchphrase of the Third Doctor Jon Pertwee. He was the new Doctor as the 1970s began. It was another change in a series that was becoming used to such changes. The show was very popular through the 1960s. However, its popularity would only grow even further throughout the 70s. This was due in large part to those who were in control of the TARDIS during the decade, the Third and Fourth Doctors. In this article we will look at those two doctors, Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker.
The Third Doctor is a Doctor in exile. Due to the events of “The War Games”, the Doctor had to regenerate and was exiled to 20th century Earth. He was made unable to travel in the TARDIS (because the Time Lords made him forget how to). He met up with his friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and became a consultant to UNIT. In his first serial “Spearhead from Space”, the Third Doctor faced off for the first time against the Autons. This serial was special in that 1) it was the first filmed and broadcast in color and 2) it was shot exclusively with film (as opposed to videotape) as it was all filmed on location (as opposed to a mix of location & studio filming). This has led to the ability for this serial to be transferred to high definition, the only serial from the original series to have this treatment.
For the Third Doctor’s first season (Season 7), he was given an assistant, Liz Shaw and a very old fashioned car (which was nicknamed Bessie). Throughout the season, the Third Doctor, Liz, and the rest of UNIT (which included Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Sergeant Benton) would have to deal with various creatures and aliens that threaten the Earth, including as the Silurians. Season 8 saw a new companion, Jo Grant join the Doctor in his adventures along with another new ally within UNIT in Captain Mike Yates. This season also saw the introduction of a major villain in the Doctor Who universe, the Master. The Master is a renegade Time Lord who has been compared as the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes. Every serial that season pitted the Doctor against the Master. It was also that season that the Time Lords allowed the Doctor to travel away from Earth temporarily for the first time since his exile.
The opening serial to the ninth season saw the return of the Daleks. In that season, the Third Doctor was sent on several missions by the Time Lords to different places (like he had for a serial in the previous season). He also was introduced to the Sea Devils (which were later revealed to be related to the Silurians) along with having to face off again against the Master.
For the tenth season (and the 10th anniversary) of the show, the producers decided they wanted to do a special serial. So for the opening serial of the tenth season, there was “The Three Doctors”. It was a story that featured the first Three Doctors (Hartwell, Troughton & Pertwee) of the show and was the first time that previous Doctors returned to the show. The plot of the story was there was a threat to the Universe so bad that the Time Lords need the Doctor (and his three versions) to handle it. That threat ends up being Omega, a Time Lord who was instrumental in the history of the Time Lords but was presumed dead. However, he existed in anti-space and wanted to return to positive space. The Second and Third Doctor go to anti-space in order to stop him (the First Doctor is trapped and unable to help, this was due to William Hartnell not being in good health and being limited in filming). At the end of this episode, the Time Lords grant the Third Doctor the ability to time travel again & rescind the exile from Earth.
By the time of the 11th season of the show, Jon Pertwee was going into his fifth season as the Doctor, longer by season than the two previous Doctors. Like Patrick Troughton before him, Pertwee decided to leave the show on his own accord. Before the Third Doctor left, he did receive a new companion. That companion is probably the most famous companion of all the classic companions (and my personal overall favorite), reporter Sarah Jane Smith. In the Third Doctor’s final serial “Planet of the Spiders” (May-June 1974), he sacrifices his life and needs to regenerate (this is the first time that regeneration is mentioned in the show).
With the regeneration, a new Doctor emerges. The Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, is for many to be their “Doctor”. His Doctor loved to carry around and eat a bag of jelly babies. He would carry around various and assorted things in his coat pockets and wore a hat and a large, distinct scarf. In his first season as the Doctor, Tom Baker would square off against the Daleks, the Sontarans & the Cybermen. The Fourth Doctor had as his companions Sarah Jane & Harry Sullivan (a doctor that worked with UNIT).
Unlike the Third Doctor, the Fourth Doctor was not tied down to Earth and because of this stories involving UNIT were fewer and fewer. There was more of a return to travel of different times of Earth as well as different planets. Even after Harry had left the Doctor, Sarah Jane continued on until early in season 14. That season featured the first story (“The Deadly Assassin”) to not include a companion though he was given a new companion, Leela, in the next serial.
Some other well known companions of the Fourth Doctor included the robot dog K-9 and Romana, a Time Lady who joins the Fourth Doctor during the 16th Season which featured a season long storyline involving the White & Black Guardian & the “Key of Time”. Romana would have a regeneration of her own as there were two actresses to play her in the show, Mary Tamm in the 16th season & Lalla Ward in the subsequent seasons. Ward had previously had a role in the show prior to being cast as Romana. This would be something that would be seen even with the Doctor down the line.
As the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker would be the Doctor with the longest tenure. He was the doctor for seven seasons. However as the 1980s began, he was beginning to be tired of the role. There was also a new producer, whom he didn’t necessarily get along with very well. So, he decided that season 18 would be his last season. In that season saw the return of actress Jacqueline Hill. Hill had previously played the First Doctor’s companion Barbara but played a new character in the serial “Meglos”. That season also saw the departure of companions Romana & K-9 as well as the introductions of new companions in Adric, Nyssa & Tegan. There was also the return of The Master with a new actor playing the part (the previous actor had passed away during the Third Doctor’s tenure). The last serial “Logopolis” (February-March 1981) saw the Fourth Doctor bow out and the Fifth Doctor emerge (from a cocoon it seemed).
The 1970s saw change for Doctor Who as well as enormous popularity, especially with the Fourth Doctor. Would the 1980s share the same optimism? Time would tell…
[At the end of each article, I will recommend at least one serial that you should watch for each Doctor. This is besides the first and last serial of each Doctor if they are available]
Serial of the Third Doctor: “The Three Doctors” Season 10 (1972-73)
Serial of the Fourth Doctor: “City of Death” Season 17 (1979)