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Doctor Who Profile: The Third Doctor

Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor

The Third Doctor

Portrayed by: Jon Pertwee

Companion(s): Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Tenure: 24 stories, from Spearhead from Space (Jan, 1970) to Planet of the Spiders (June, 1974)

Signature look: Velvet dinner jacket over ruffled shirt, light blond or white curly (but not Fourth Doctor curly) hair. The Doctor chooses this wardrobe from clothes he finds after waking up in a hospital

Catchphrase: “Reverse the polarity of the <fill in the blank>” (He only says “… of the neutron flow”, his most famous catchphrase, once)

Personality: The Third Doctor is very scientifically minded, preferring to tinker in his lab rather than interact with his colleagues at UNIT. He’s a far more action-oriented Doctor than his predecessors, filling the Male Action Hero role himself for the first time. The Third Doctor is somewhat of a dandy, very carefully selecting his outfit and hotwiring a classic car, Bessie, that catches his eye. He can be abrupt with his Companions, but over time he develops strong bonds with them, missing them when they’re gone even coming across as a bit jealous when Jo leaves to get married. The Doctor is rather proud and his inability to operate the TARDIS is a particular sore point (the Time Lords blocked off this knowledge in his brain as a punishment for the initial conflict that caused him to leave Gallifrey). He has a contentious rapport with the Brigadier, as the Brig represents UNIT’s interests, which don’t always coincide with his own, but eventually the two develop a close friendship, with the Brigadier returning (somewhat) frequently over the course of the series to have adventures with almost all of the Doctors.

Best TARDIS team: Given that the TARDIS is inoperable for much of the Doctor’s tenure, this doesn’t particularly apply, but the group dynamic of the UNIT team works well (the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, Capt. Yates) and while Liz Shaw is a great Companion, Jo fits more easily with the group.

Worst TARDIS team: Nothing particularly comes to mind- both Liz and Sarah Jane work well with the UNIT team as well as individually with the Doctor once his TARDIS is back to working

Signature foe: The Master, who is a season-long recurring villain

Best Stories: Inferno is an absolute blast of a one-off, The Daemons is a fun preview of the horror bent the show would embrace during the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, and The Green Death is an interesting dip into issue television.

Worst Stories: The Mutants is a particularly painful story and The Time Monster isn’t much better

Highlights of tenure: Fencing with the Master in The Sea Devils, driving around in his beloved classic car, Bessie, and bickering with the Brigadier (over matters of substance, as in Doctor Who and the Silurian, or far more trivial matters, as in many of his stories)

Lowlights of tenure: The Third Doctor can end up dithering a bit, expressing his frustration at the Time Lords for grounding him and shuttling him off around the universe to do their dirty work

Regeneration/First Words: The Second Doctor is forced to regenerate by the Time Lords as punishment for whatever caused him to run away in the first place. He stumbles out of the TARDIS at the beginning of Spearhead in Space and it takes a while for him to speak. His first words are, “Shoes. Must find my shoes.”

Death/Final Words: The Third Doctor dies due to radiation poisoning after traveling to Metebelis III to return a crystal he’d taken from there, facing off with the Spider Queen. He returns to UNIT after being gone for weeks and dies lying on the floor next to Sarah Jane and the Brig. His final words are, “A tear, Sarah Jane? No, don’t cry. While there’s life there’s…”

Memorable quotes:

“A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.”  The Time Warrior

“Allow me to congratulate you, sir. You have the most totally closed mind that I’ve ever encountered.”  Frontier in Space

Other notes: The Third Doctor, with his grounding on Earth, military team, and Venusian aikido, was envisioned as somewhat of a response to James Bond. While the Second Doctor had been a distinct departure from the First Doctor, this time the show regenerated with the Doctor, going through what was by far the biggest change in the show’s format and setting since its debut.


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