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We stared into the untempered schism and all we saw was this dodgy CSO effect

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

24 Comments

  1. elvwood
    November 21, 2014 @ 1:05 am

    Interesting. One thing people forget is that Pertwee had a lower proportion of Earth-based adventures than McGann (duh!), Eccleston, Tennant, and arguably McCoy and Capaldi (depending on how you count them). That changes if you limit it to contemporary or near-contemporary Earth, but still: almost a quarter of Pertwee's Earth-based adventures involved time travel. More, if you include parallel Earths.

    I'm currently rereading your Pertwee book, again. One thing I notice – and this possibly comes of growing up in his era – is that I enjoyed (and still enjoy) both his action and glam stories. Carnival is great, but Inferno is too. And I have a very soft spot for The Claws of Axos…

    I really must get around to watching The Mind of Evil in colour for the very first time…

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  2. ScarvesandCelery
    November 21, 2014 @ 1:16 am

    Interesting essay. On the subject of Moffat's introduction to "Spearhead from Space", is it just me who loves watching his introductions to these stories? I honestly think Moffat is one of the best people out there at pitching a Doctor Who story as something worth watching. Sometimes I enjoy his pitches more than the episode itself 😛

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  3. Dustin
    November 21, 2014 @ 1:41 am

    One bit of praise and one bit of criticism:

    Spearhead from Space was my first Pertwee episode, and it cemented the image of the era in my head: lots of outdoor location shooting done on film, so the show had a look in these years that no pre-cancellation era before or after matched. Between the stagey teleplay look of the Sixties and the unwatchable shot-on-VHS-with-a-home-camcorder look of the Eighties, Doctor Who looked positively filmic and even competent in these years, special effects aside.

    That said, the UNIT years, to me, are Doctor Who at its most boring. Josh Marsfelder, friend of this blog, characterized it as "Pertwee wearing a flamboyant cape and smoking jacket driving around in an ancient hot rod squaring off against mad scientists in the English countryside . . . [nothing] particularly different then any of the other contemporary spy-fi stuff starring charismatic secret agent action heroes." Which makes the show sound incredibly conventional and not remotely imaginative or exciting. To me, at least. And correctly, I think.

    These are the impressions of an incredibly limited viewing experience. But a Doctor stuck on Earth, palling around with soldiers and mini-skirt wearing, screaming assistants is a character I want nothing to do with. The Doctor is not James Bond.

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  4. Kit
    November 21, 2014 @ 3:30 am

    The Pertwee era, and I can vouch for this having written for it

    ?

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  5. C.
    November 21, 2014 @ 3:41 am

    "for" obviously was supposed to read as "about." but I like the idea that Phil is actually 79 years old and once wrote under the name "Malcolm Hulke"

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  6. John
    November 21, 2014 @ 5:32 am

    But how many stories are like that? In the first place, as Phil notes, much of the Pertwee era was not, in fact, stuck on contemporary earth. Of the twenty-four stories of the Pertwee era, nine are primarily not set on contemporary earth, and another five (Inferno, Day of the Daleks, Time Monster, Three Doctors, Planet of the Spiders) have significant components not taking place on contemporary earth.

    Note also that, in terms of setting stories in contemporary earth, the Baker era up to Sladen's departure is actually at pretty much the same level as the latter part of the Pertwee era – 5 stories out of 13 set primarily on contemporary earth, compared to 4 out of 10 in Pertwee's last two seasons.

    I also think that the Pertwee's era's future stories are actually interesting in that they're one of the few (only?) attempts in the show's history to do any kind of world-building. And it's kind of a pessimistic, anti-imperialist, environmentally conscious world-building. Basically, it's a vision of humanity screwing itself over and heading out into space because we've ruined our own planet, and then building a brutal, oppressive empire that ultimately collapses. It's strikingly bleak.

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  7. John Seavey
    November 21, 2014 @ 8:44 am

    I don't know, I think you need to give them 'Spearhead' because it was, ultimately, the mission statement for the Pertwee era. It might not have succeeded very well, it might not have been worth trying, and they might have changed missions altogether after the first season and then given up on making it anything other than normal 'Doctor Who' by the end. But the brief that they were working to is laid out so perfectly in 'Spearhead' that you just can't talk about the rest of Pertwee without having seen it.

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  8. inkdestroyedmybrush
    November 21, 2014 @ 8:52 am

    so what we are left with, as Dustin noted above, is not the fact of what the Pertwee era was, going back and rewatching Dvds, but what sticks in the popular conscousness, a sort of "after image" of the third Doctor. And its a strange one, one that, as we see, is at odds with the facts of what was actually televised. Its the people believing the Tom Baker has the Jelly babies out every episode, when that certainly wasn't the case.

    I, perhaps, feel pretty alone in seeing the Pertwee era in two chunks by how Jon played the Doctor, which is to say, his first season is separate from the other four. Those tend to blend together in a bad CSO/Unit/Jo Grant haze, and i have a hard time telling you which actual seasons Axos or the Daemons was in. That's fine, its the trademark of, as Philip put it, Lett's remarkable consistancy with production.

    But the first season was a different creature entirely: extended stories, more adult, Liz Shaw (criminally underused Liz Shaw), more film, less hair, and Pertwee less sure in the "Tory-ness" of his portrayal.

    But again, we're looking at it critically, with a Skaro-load of hindsight, and these Doctor's revisited specials really do serve as a reminder to what the public seems to remember, not what actually happened.

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  9. Alex Antonijevic
    November 21, 2014 @ 9:59 am

    Phil is a Time Lord.

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  10. encyclops
    November 21, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    I adore the Pertwee era. Absolutely love it.

    And if you love even just a few of "Rose," "The End of the World," "Aliens of London/WWIII," "The Christmas Invasion," "Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel," "Smith and Jones," "Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords," "Partners in Crime," "The Sontaran Stratagem," "Turn Left," "The Eleventh Hour," "The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood," Strax, Lady Vastra, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," "The Power of Three," "The Day of the freaking Doctor," and "Dark Water/Death in Heaven" — not to mention Rose, Martha, Donna, and Clara — then you love the Pertwee era too, even just a little bit, and a little bit of it. Because all of those contain crucial elements that were either born or perfected during the Pertwee era, and quite probably would not have existed in anything like the form we saw them without it.

    Maybe not at all, from what I understand of the near-death experience of the show prior to "Spearhead from Space."

    Is it different from the rest of Doctor Who? Not, as Philip points out, nearly as much as people say. In most important respects it's still the same show. I'm truly baffled by the hate it gets now given how absolutely crucial it was to the show's history and how important its DNA is, never more than today. Even people who have recognized no other strands of that DNA have noticed Capaldi's costume.

    We can speculate that such developments as the contemporary Earth action/invasion (pioneered with Troughton, perfected with Pertwee), UNIT and its leader named Stewart (ditto), the single female companion paired with the Doctor as sole male protagonist, and the multi-Doctor adventure would maybe have happened anyway. We can assume that the Autons, the Silurians, the Sontarans, and the Master would have been invented regardless of what else was going on with the programme. We can hope that if they hadn't decided to shift the premise and establish a recurring cast they'd just have found some other way to reengage the public and save the show from cancellation.

    But the way I see it, the Pertwee era is at least four solid years of genius (and one underrated mixed bag), and deserves all the praise it can get. Thanks, Philip, for not burying it here. 🙂

    If nothing else, figure that if change is what this show thrives on, if the point is to keep doing different things, for there to be five years of its history that don't "fit" (how could they not?) is a positive boon.

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  11. Kit
    November 21, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

    I thought he may have been hinting at writing an upcoming Short Trip or whatever vehicle exists for Past Doctor fiction these days, but a long-game cover story for Dave Martin bitter about the Aardman success could work, too.

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  12. UrsulaL
    November 21, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

    I have a feeling that the stories shown for each Doctor were not merely chosen to be representative of that particular Doctor, but also to balance each other, giving a broad view of the range of the show.

    So we get a pure historical, and the original main cast, for the first Doctor. The Doctor coming out of a regeneration for the Third, and going into a regeneration for the Ninth, showing regeneration from both sides.

    Choosing a third Doctor story to show that the third Doctor eventually gets into space would be quite useless for introducing a new viewer to the scope of the program. Or for showing someone only familiar with the new series the scope of the show as a whole.

    You don't need to prove that the Doctor can go into space, it's evident from the episodes for all the other Doctors. Showing that the program can work brilliantly even when the Doctor doesn't have access to all of space and time provides contrast. Can a modern viewer imagine 9-12 adapting so well to being Earth-bound?

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  13. Ozy Jones
    November 21, 2014 @ 8:12 pm

    Being raised in Australia through the late 1970s and early 1980s meant viewing a near constant rotation of Pertwee and Baker (and later Davison) five nights a week at 6:30pm. Consequently my view of the Third Doctor era is as its being as normal as anything during the 4th and 5th Doctor’s runs.
    I’ve never been able to generate much antipathy for the Pertwee era, despite some well-argued essays on the subject, partly due to familiarity and nostalgia, and partly because I don’t see much wrong with it. Sure it’s different to the rest of Who, but then, life’s like that sometimes.
    To use a personal metaphor; I’ve worked for myself or as an independent contractor for all of my working life (I’m nearing fifty), since finishing a traineeship at twenty. I detest bosses and refuse to have one! I work my own hours, doing what I want, when I want and woe-betide anyone who tries to control or ‘organise’ me. I choose my own clients and have refused work for, and even returned clients deposits and walked away from their jobs if I found them too difficult or just to be someone I could work with. Not a recipe for major success I’ll grant you, but I value my personal space, peace and freedom above financial gain.
    Except for a period of six years, when with a new young family and mounting debt I needed a stable income of a specific amount. I took a job that I didn’t really like with a company I didn’t really respect to meet those needs. Peer reviews, planning meetings, schedules, and ‘teams’ for projects! Fucking teams; I hate teams. I had people I liked among the dross, and did my work to be best of my ability within the confines placed on me. As soon as the opportunity came and I was able, away I went, back to the way of life I preferred.
    These were my ‘UNIT’ years.
    Sometimes we have to make the best of what we have available. That’s how I view the UNIT-Pertwee years; the Doctor doing what he had to because of circumstances. Doing the best he could within the confines placed on him and making friends amongst those around him. And then when he was able, he moved on.

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  14. ferret
    November 22, 2014 @ 1:24 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  15. ferret
    November 22, 2014 @ 1:24 am

    Interesting, as TARDIS Eruditorium has generlly been about analysing Doctor Who in the context it aired, and now it's looking at shows that do the exact opposite. They're practically the antithesis of this blog.

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  16. Unknown
    November 22, 2014 @ 5:53 am

    Or David Whitaker was a Time Lord whose current incarnation is a madman with a blog…

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  17. John
    November 22, 2014 @ 9:48 am

    The introduction of the single female companion really is a significant innovation here – Colony in Space is literally the first story in the history of the show to do that. From then on, it'll be the norm, with the exception of Season 12 and most of the Davison era. (Note how, from Colony in Space on, even the UNIT/contemporary earth stories tend to de-emphasize the other UNIT characters in favor of Jo – Day of the Daleks and The Time Monster see Jo and the Doctor, and Planet of the Spiders Sarah and the Doctor, traveling to another time separate from the other characters; Sea Devils removes the other UNIT characters entirely; Invasion of the Dinosaurs functions rather like new series UNIT stories, with the Doctor and Sarah wandering into the story and only running into UNIT some ways into the story. The Pertwee era from Colony in Space through Planet of the Spiders, in particular, is more like the post-Pertwee show than anything that came before.

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  18. C.
    November 23, 2014 @ 5:58 am

    this is a marvelous comment, and very true: the UNIT years were the "Doctor has to get a day job" years

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  19. dirkmalcolm.com
    November 24, 2014 @ 12:32 am

    i have a hard time telling you which actual seasons Axos or the Daemons was in

    I have trouble with this too. I'm tripped up by stories like Colony In Space & The Mutants where the TARDIS isn't fully operational but moved by the Time Lords (so I wrongly conclude must come after The Three Doctors)

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  20. Jesse Smith
    November 25, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

    I agree – I think the Platonic ideal of Doctor in the public awareness (if such a thing can really be said to exist) is defined primarily by the Letts/Hinchcliff tenure. That's what RTD was seeking to imitate when he revived the show, and Moffat has explicitly talked about "Hinchcliffing it up" in the most recent series.

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  21. heroesandrivals
    November 25, 2014 @ 11:08 pm

    That would be an interesting Short Trips experiment: Everyone Writes About Their Least Favorite Doctor.

    Mine would be Davidson obviously… but what sort of plot? ponders
    The Cybermen are my least favorite Who villains so let's make them part of my premise… "The Fifth Doctor and a Cybermen are forced to compete against one another in a deadly game show. But the only way to survive the competition may be to join forces and work together…."

    What would your "Least Favorite Doctor" story be?

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  22. encyclops
    November 26, 2014 @ 7:15 am

    They've already made my "Least Favorite Doctor" story. It was called "The Feast of Steven."

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  23. Michael Fuller
    December 3, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

    "The Claws of Axos is wall-to-wall "what the fuck"'

    … that made my day.

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  24. Forrest Lawrenceton III
    January 26, 2015 @ 10:28 am

    For me, the great unanswered question of Pertwee's legacy is, why didn't it become tradition for every subsequent Doctor to take up the role of Worzel Gummidge upon regenerating?

    Reply

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