BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

The Three Doctors

Production Code: RRR

First Transmitted

1 - 30/12/1972 17:50

2 - 06/01/1973 17:50

3 - 13/01/1973 17:50

4 - 20/01/1973 17:50


A gel-like plasma creature arrives on Earth and hunts down the Doctor, who calls on the Time Lords for help. The Time Lords themselves are in crisis as their energy is being drawn off into a black hole. They send the Doctor's earlier selves to join him.

The first Doctor, caught in a time eddy and able only to advise, deduces that the creature is a time bridge. The third Doctor and Jo then give themselves up to it and are transported to a world of antimatter beyond the black hole.

On Earth, the second Doctor is forced to take refuge in the TARDIS along with the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton. On the advice of the first Doctor he switches off the ship's force field, and the whole UNIT building is transported through the black hole.

Behind these events is Omega, a figure from Time Lord history whose solar engineering provided the power for time travel. He has been trapped in the black hole ever since and now wants the Doctor to swap places with him, but it transpires that the corrosive properties of his domain have already destroyed his physical form, leaving only his will.

He threatens to destroy the universe but is tricked into touching the second Doctor's recorder - the only thing not converted to antimatter when the TARDIS passed through the black hole - and is consumed in the resulting supernova. Everyone else is returned home.

Episode Endings

The third Doctor switches off the TARDIS force field and goes outside. Jo follows him and both are engulfed in a blinding flash from the plasma creature.

The second Doctor switches off the TARDIS force field and the whole of UNIT HQ is transported through the black hole.

The second and third Doctors find the point of singularity within the black hole: the source of Omega's power. Omega catches them there and exacts retribution: the third Doctor is consigned to a black void where he is forced to fight a troll-like creature - the dark side of Omega's mind - that eventually gets him in a stranglehold.

Having bid farewell to his predecessors, who fade away to their rightful times and places, the third Doctor discovers that the Time Lords have rewarded him by sending him a new dematerialisation circuit for the TARDIS and returning to him his knowledge of time travel lore and dematerialisation codes. Explanations are hard for Mr Ollis, however, and he skirts the issue by asking his wife if supper is ready.


The Wizard of Oz.

Paradise Lost (Omega=Satan).

Robinson Crusoe ('Man Friday, I presume?').

Omega's guards are rejects from The Blob.

Jo misquotes the Beatles' 'I Am the Walrus'.

Omega subverts Descartes ('I can destroy, therefore I am!').

H.G. Wells is mentioned again ('Like being punched on the nose by the Invisible Man').

Dialogue Triumphs

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : "As long as he does the job, he can wear what face he likes."

Third Doctor : "Well Sergeant, aren't you going to say that it's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside - everybody else does."

Sergeant Benton : "That's pretty obvious isn't it?"

First Doctor : "So you're my replacements - a dandy and a clown!"

Third Doctor : " [To Omega] All my life I've known of you and honoured you as our greatest hero."

Omega : "A hero? I should have been a god! "

Double Entendre

The Doctor : "Let's toss, shall we?"

Jo : " [On the Second Doctor] He's not one of them, is he?"


There is yet another UNIT lab [and HQ]. Benton and Lethbridge-Stewart get their first look inside the TARDIS. The Doctor calls on the Time Lords for help via the TARDIS console (see The War Games, Frontier in Space). The Time Lords have a President, Chancellor (who seems to be in charge in this story [because the President is too weak]) and High Council.

The First Law of Time expressly forbids any Time Lord to cross his own time stream and meet his former (or, for that matter, future) selves. The President breaks the law [it's a legal, rather than physical, law]. (The Chancellor is played by Clyde Pollitt, who also played a Time Lord at the Doctor's trial, and thus may be the same character.)

[The second Doctor must have been taken from after The Invasion since he refers to it.] We see several of the second Doctor's props again, including the recorder, which is used to destroy Omega. [The second Doctor had more than one (the design is different in this story), hence appearances in The Masque of Mandragora, Castrovalva and Time and the Rani.] The first Doctor is alone in a Earth-like garden when the Time Lords try to take him to the future, but his transportation unit [the Time Lords can't afford the energy to transport the first Doctor physically like the second so they send a craft to get him] becomes trapped in a 'time eddy' and he can only communicate with his successors via the TARDIS scanner. [They must have persuaded him that they did not represent those Time Lords he was fleeing, although doubtless they used a beam similar to that seen in The Trial of a Time Lor to 'capture' him. His memory of events remains the same in The Five Doctors.] The sonic screwdriver operates as a Geiger counter.

The Time Lords release the Doctor from his exile. They give him a new dematerialisation circuit and remove the blocks in his memory that prevented him time travelling [properly. From this point onwards the Doctor seems able to get to where he wants to go. The inescapable conclusion seems to be that some of these blocks in his memory existed right from the moment that he left Gallifrey. However, the dialogue of The Three Doctors must be contrasted with what seems to be a fully operational TARDIS both in this story and in The Time Monster.]


UNIT HQ, a nature reserve, [c. November 1971;] Gallifrey; Omega's planet in the Universe of anti matter.


This story features another new TARDIS interior set, this time designed by Roger Liminton and based closely on the original. The previous one, which had appeared only in The Time Monster, had been disliked by the production team and had in any case been damaged in storage so that it was no longer useable.

This is the final performance by William Hartnell in Doctor Who. He was suffering badly from arteriosclerosis and had to read all his lines from cue cards while seated in a chair. The scripts were hastily rewritten to circumvent this problem, and he was seen only in pre-filmed inserts displayed on screens. This was to be his last work as an actor and he died some three years later, on 24 April 1975.


The production team decided to make a story involving all three Doctors after William Hartnell visited the Doctor Who office looking for work. (The idea for such a story had often been suggested to the production team, including in many viewers' letters, and they decided to go ahead with it as they thought it would be a fitting way to launch the tenth anniversary season. Hartnell had effectively retired by this point and was not looking for work.)

The initial sequence of the second Doctor seen on the Time Lords' scanner was a clip from The Macra Terror. (It was specially shot for this story at Harefield Lime Works.)

The scenes of the First Doctor stuck in the time eddy were filmed in William Hartnell's garage. (They were shot at the BBC's Television Film Studios in Ealing.)


The Brigadier says UNIT HQ is 'a Top Secret establishment'. It's therefore a surprise to see a large sign outside informing the world not only of its function, but also the name of the commanding officer.

Reflections from the studio are often visible on the TARDIS monitor (and the second Doctor is reflected in the time rotor before he appears).

The footsteps of those returning to Earth via the singularity can be heard as they walk down the steps after they've disappeared.

Why do the second and third Doctors defer to the less experienced first Doctor? [His personality facet has the most good judgement, cf The Five Doctors.]

Jo's knickers can be seen in episode one.

Fashion Victim

Jo in a blue fur coat, mini skirt and platform boots. Just the sort of sensible footwear needed for a rocky alien planet.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Jon Pertwee

The Doctor - Patrick Troughton

The Doctor - William Hartnell

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney

Jo Grant - Katy Manning

Sergeant Benton - John Levene

Chancellor - Clyde Pollitt

Corporal Palmer - Denys Palmer

Dr. Tyler - Rex Robinson

Mr. Ollis - Laurie Webb

Mrs Ollis - Patricia Pryor

Omega - Stephen Thorne

President of the Council - Roy Purcell

Time Lord - Graham Leaman


Director - Lennie Mayne

Assistant Floor Manager - Trina Cornwell

Costumes - James Acheson

Designer - Roger Liminton

Film Cameraman - John Baker

Film Editor - Jim Walker

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Anne Rayment

Producer - Barry Letts

Production Assistant - David Tilley

Script Editor - Terrance Dicks

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Clive Thomas

Studio Sound - Derek Miller-Timmins

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Len Hutton

Visual Effects - Michaeljohn Harris

Writer - Bob Baker

Writer - Dave Martin

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'I am he, and he is me...' An exercise in nostalgia, which both demystifies and changes the nature of Doctor Who. The Three Doctors hasn't aged well. It's gaudy and it has a smug edge to it, as though the fact that it is an anniversary means that nobody has to try too hard. But the Troughton/Pertwee interplay makes up for this, almost excusing the sight of a clearly ill William Hartnell reduced to an image on a screen.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

As a story designed to celebrate the series' tenth anniversary, The Three Doctors serves its purpose very well. The views expressed by Keith Miller in DWFC Monthly Number 13, dated February 1973 are not far wide of the mark: 'A brilliant start to what I'm sure is going to be one of the best series in the history of the programme. The story, acting, sets [and] music were all fantastic, the best I've seen and heard for a long time. It showed how much the Doctor has changed in the ten years he has been in our homes.'

With William Hartnell effectively sidelined due to ill health, the limelight is shared between just the current lead, Jon Pertwee, and his immediate predecessor, Patrick Troughton, and they are afforded sufficient scope to carry the plot along in their own inimitable ways - an opportunity of which they take full advantage.

Omega provides a suitably awe-inspiring threat for such an auspicious occasion and constitutes a superb addition to the ranks of megalomaniacal crazies that have appeared over the years. Stephen Thorne gives a bravura performance in the role, and almost steals the show. This is all the more impressive considering that his head is totally encased in a mask and he has to convey everything through just his voice and body movement.

An obstacle rather less within his ability to overcome, however, is that - as in all areas of the production - the story's limited budget is sadly inadequate to do full justice to the grandeur of the scripted concepts. 'The Doctor's opponent... deserves better than he gets,' wrote Marc Platt in Shada: A Special, dated December 1983. 'As controller of singularity, Omega has a one-track mind, but surely the world he has created from his own intellect should be more imaginative than yet another quarry? He boasts that for him everything is possible, and to prove it he produces... a chair! Omega may be having a hard time keeping up appearances (particularly his own!) but his accommodation and lifestyle betray a lack of funds and a frugality of imagination on the director's behalf. (Tilting the camera angles does not make a fantasy world.)'

The story starts well enough, and soon the Doctor and Jo are being threatened by a pulsating lump of crackling goo that emerges from a drain. The use of video effects to create this menacing blob was a good move, as in the later scenes when it transforms into a horde of rampaging Gel Guards things do become a little silly. The costumes for the Gel Guards look like nothing more than mobile blobs of coloured cellophane; and the inclusion of a large illuminated claw that can fire blasts of energy, although a nice idea in principle, is distinctly unthreatening in practice.

'The Gel Guards I thought were rather comical, although of course they weren't meant to be,' commented Miller. 'Nevertheless, they did look funny hobbling around making that burping sound.' To be fair, the creatures do seem rather more menacing in the scenes set inside Omega's castle, where the walls are of a matching design and the doorways are just the right size to accommodate them, but attacking en masse outside UNIT HQ they look somewhat pathetic.

One must always remember, though, that this is primarily a celebratory reunion tale, and on that basis it works. As Julian Knott commented in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988, 'It is in the finest tradition of the Christmas pantomime - and The Wizard of Oz - that the story progresses, with a villain in the mould of the Wizard himself - Omega.'

The Three Doctors stands as a milestone in Doctor Who's history, both because it marked the end of the Doctor's period of exile on Earth and thereby started a process that would eventually lead to the phasing out of UNIT as a regular presence, and also because it was the first story actively to celebrate the series' own past - an approach that, in later years, would arguably be taken to extremes.

< The Time MonsterThird DoctorCarnival of Monsters >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy