Sunday, April 17, 2022


The ubiquity and longevity of “Doctor Who” makes it impossible not to have a favourite Doctor, no matter how little of the show you have seen. Your choice will most likely the actor playing the role when you grew up, which makes mine, Jon Pertwee, an anomaly, being a Doctor of my parents’ generation.

I was six years old when the BBC cancelled its original run in 1989, its diehard fanbase still smaller than the audience for “Coronation Street”. The adventures continued in licensed and unlicensed novels, magazines, audio dramas and straight-to-video films, but save for Paul McGann’s turn in 1996’s unsuccessful pilot for a new series, “Doctor Who” existed in repeats only until 2005. 

BBC Two showed selected stories from 1992 to 1994, allowing me to watch and compare stories from each of the seven Doctors to that point. Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, who appeared for four years from 1970, and the first to appear in colour, may have stuck in my mind as his stories were shown the most, particularly when they were shown again from 1999 to 2000, and when BBC One showed 1973’s “Planet of the Daleks” to mark the show’s thirtieth anniversary in 1993.

But the nostalgia of my parents’ generation meant that I was watching “Doctor Who” alongside episodes of “Thunderbirds”, “Stingray”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Star Trek” on BBC Two, while Channel 4 were making their way through “The Avengers”, “The Saint” and Adam West as “Batman”. All these shows had colourful characters and action-packed, thrilling stories, and I enjoyed them as much as those watching for the second time. Like “Doctor Who”, they lacked the budget, sophistication and special effects of new shows at the time like “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Babylon 5”, but charm and goodwill kept them alive.

In becoming like the above shows, the ”Doctor Who” of 1970 was very different to its own previous series. Patrick Troughton’s Doctor had been forced into exile on present-day Earth, their TARDIS disabled, and their appearance forcibly changed – Troughton didn’t turn into Pertwee on-screen, as the latter hadn’t been hired yet. Under the name Dr John Smith, the Doctor is a scientific advisor for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT, not U.N.C.L.E.), a military version of the “Men in Black” that justified the continued appearance of extra-terrestrial beings in the show without having to change time or location. 

Dressed in a smoking jacket and cape, driver of various vehicles and master of “Venusian Aikido”, Pertwee’s Doctor is like an all-ages version of Jason King, the writer and playboy played by Peter Wyngarde in the ITV spy series “Department S” and “Jason King”. Episodes were more action-oriented by necessity, and perhaps also by budget, but out of this period came the Doctor’s “shadow”, the Master. 

Time and space travel were restored to the show in 1973, following a story where the first three Doctors all appeared on screen to save the Time Lords, in time for Tom Baker to whimsically take off into space the following year. As thrilling as the set-up of Pertwee’s run as the Doctor may have been, it was based on using exile as punishment, so a return to the original status quo was to be expected.


(Oddly enough, DC Comics had simultaneously completed a similar revamp to the “Wonder Woman” comic book, with writer and artist Mike Sekowsky placing the Amazons in another dimension, leaving Princess Diana powerless on Earth, and reinventing her as Diana Prince, an “Avengers” Emma Peel-type martial arts expert in spy and adventure plots. These changes were introduced in 1968, but were also reversed in 1973.)


It is true that I appear to like “Doctor Who” when it is least like itself, but it is also true that, for escapist drama, it had great company in the 1960s and 70s. As for science fiction, the end of “Doctor Who” overlapped with the beginning of “Red Dwarf”, a sitcom that suits my sensibilities even more closely.

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