this post is dedicated to the memory of Caroline John and Elizabeth Sladen.
“Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.”
The 70’s began the transition from black-and-white to color. A new producer, Barry Letts, had signed on. He would be considered one of the show’s best producers. I should also note that he was a Buddhist, and many stories from his tenure were influenced by this. All that was needed was a new Doctor. And thus, the Jon Pertwee era began.
About Jon Pertwee
Pertwee was born in Chelsea, England. Acting ran in his family–his father was actor Roland Pertwee, and his cousin Bill was in the comedy Dad’s Army. There’s even a connection to Doctor Who: Pertwee’s godfather was Henry Ainley, father of Anthony Ainley, the fourth actor to portraytThe Master!
Pertwee was also an officer in the Royal Navy, and was one of the few survivors of the HMS Hood after it was sunk in WW II. This was also when he acquired the tatoo that can occasionally be seen on the Third Doctor. After the war, he became a well-known comedy actor. He also appeared in The Navy Lark, which also became one of his most famous roles. He was also a spy! Quite fitting, considering his era seems like a serialized James Bond movie.
During his era, Pertwee felt a familial connection with the cast and crew, especially Katy Manning, Barry Letts, and Roger Delgado, the first actor to portray The Master.
After he left Doctor Who, Pertwee took the title role in Worzel Gummridge, which earned him fame as well. He also did voice work for SuperTed and video games based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.
- Pertwee’s era had two openings. The first was the final use of the howlaround. In his final season, the first tunnel opening appeared, beginning with the episode “The Time Warrior.” There was also a disco version of the song, complete with Pertwee “singing” lyrics.
and here’s the disco version
- During the 60’s, a typical season ran around 40 episodes. In the 70’s, this went down to 25-26. Beginning with Pertwee’s second season, no Doctor Who serial lasted longer than 6 parts.
- First story arc was used, linking five stories featuring The Master
- First appearance of the Autons: “Spearhead From Space”
- First appearance of the Silurians: “The Silurians”
- First appearance of the Master: “Terror of the Autons“
- First multi-doctor story: “The Three Doctors“
- First appearance of the Sontarans: “The Time Warrior“
- First usage of “regeneration” when the Doctor dies and first mention of Gallifrey: “Planet of the Spiders“
I love the Pertwee era! It’s so much fun! The cars (“Bessie” and the “Whomobile”), the Master, and even Sarah Jane Smith’s earliest appearances are all great to witness. They tried making the Doctor something akin to an action hero, even having him do “Venusian” aikido. And best of all–no missing episodes! True, some of the restorations of what was originally lost are in black-and-white, but it’s better than nothing.
Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)
First appearance: “The Web of Fear” (with 2nd)
Last appearance: “Battlefield” (with 7th) note: also appeared in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Enemy of the Bane”
I love Lethbridge-Stewart! He’s the perfect foil for the Doctor because their philosophies are so opposed. And yet, they still maintained a great friendship. I should also mention that when Courtney died in 2011, the episode “The Wedding of River Song” worked it into the plot as a memorial by revealing that the Brigadier had died in his sleep. I thought it was a fitting memorial to such a great character.
Dr. Liz Shaw (Caroline John)
First Appearance: “Spearhead From Space”
Last Appearance: “Inferno”
Shaw was a scientist who worked with UNIT and was nearly as smart as the Doctor himself. This created a problem because Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks felt that she was difficult for the audience to relate to. (John herself also felt she should leave the show as well because she had become pregnant with her first child. In spite of this, I thought she was a great character. I should also mention that Shaw appeared in the Doctor Who spin-off PROBE.
Jo Grant (Katy Manning)
First appearance: “Terror of The Autons”
Last appearance: “The Green Death”
When I first saw Jo, I was displeased. She was such a klutz! Thank God they developed her character and turned her into a courageous woman. And I loved her guest spot in the Sarah Jane Adventure “Death of the Doctor”. It’s revealed in that episode that she married the man she met in “The Green Death” and they had a family. They now travel around the world as protesters.
Sarah Jane- Smith (Elizabeth Sladen)
First appearance: “The Time Warrior”
Last appearance: (in classic period) “The Hand of Fear” (with 4th Doctor)
(in reboot) “The End of Time”
(in Sarah Jane Adventures) “The Man Who Never Was”
Sarah Jane is everything you could want in a companion: feisty, courageous, witty, and pretty! She’s my all-time favorite companion and I was pleased to see how she started out, as I was only familiar with her run with Tom Baker. I’ll talk more about her next time, but for now I want to say that I really miss Elizabeth Sladen.
“Inferno” (7 episodes)
The Doctor accidentally travels to a parallel world where Britain is is fascist. (and the Brigadier is now a Brigade-Leader and wears an eyepatch). This story is paced so well, I felt more like two and a half hours had passed instead of three and a half.
“The Daemons” (5 episodes)
I can sum up the awesomeness in one sentence: The Master summons demons! (okay technically they’re demonic aliens, but it’s still awesome) And I love the scene where the Brigadier nonchalantly orders a soldier “Chap with wings there, five rounds rapid” when they spot a demon.
“The Curse of Peladon” (4 episodes)
The Doctor is forced to travel to the planet Peladon to change a key event in their history. It’s an excellent use of a formula that has served the show well. The story has some great twists and the BBC gives it high marks on their Classic Doctor Who era website.
“The Sea Devils” (6 episodes)
The Master and the Sea Devils, “cousins” of the Silurians, join forces in the most epic battle of Delgado’s tenure. Also contains a great swordfight between the Doctor and the Master in which the Doctor actually eats the Master’s sandwich!
“Frontier in Space” (6 episodes)
This is Jo’s shining moment–she actually manages to defeat the Master’s hypnosis by mentally reciting nursery rhymes.
“The Time Warrior” (4 episodes)
This is Sarah Jane’s first appearance and a great introduction to my favorite companion. It’s also written by my favorite writer for the classic show, Robert Holmes.
“The Time Monster” (6 episodes)
The Master invents the TOMTIT (stop snickering back there!), a device he hopes will conjure a monster named Kronos, who will give him control over time itself. I have two problems with the episode. First, the TOMTIT’s appearance looks like something Sigmund Freud would’ve dreamed up. Second, it feels like they stretched it out too slowly and it would be better suited as a 4-parter.
“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” (6 episodes)
This story proves that dinosaurs aren’t always awesome. The story moves way too slowly and the dinosaurs look awful. I know I shouldn’t expect Ray Harryhaussen-level designs, but they should at least look decent. And while I like the way the Whomobile looks, it should actually contributed something of value to the story.
2 thoughts on “50 Years of Doctor Who: The Jon Pertwee Era (1970-1974)”
Fantastic work as usual, Jason. Just FYI, the ‘disco version’ of the theme song with Jon Pertwee’s spoken-word lyrics is called ‘I Am The Doctor.” I still have a vinyl 45 single of it that I found years ago at a con. And I LIKE “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” 😉 But this is a great continuing series; your research and love of the show is in clear evidence, and I enjoy reading them. Thank you!!
I know what it’s called. I just called it the disco version to lampoon the fact that the genre was so popular in the 70’s. Get ready for the epic post next month.