Doctor Who Magazine has tweeted that today is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor. Thinking back, I remember the news breaking; certainly I remember someone at the BBC being thoughtful enough to dedicate the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie to Jon, fitting because elements of it owed a lot to the Pertwee years.
I’ve mentioned here before, probably to the point of boredom, that I got into Doctor Who through the novelisations. I’d figured out that there were various Doctors, and Jon became my favourite. I think that was due to the set-up of his era; the Third Doctor had been exiled to Earth, the TARDIS disabled, and so the aliens were always coming to contemporary Britain. As a sci-fi heretic, I always preferred that; alien invasions of an unknown planet or a spandex-clad future have never interested me as much as when the monsters are stalking modern council estates or familiar histories, looming out of the fog in Victorian London. Same goes for Jon, who one said that a Yeti is scarier if you find it in a loo in Tooting Beck.
The Third Doctor was the action hero, getting involved in car chases and martial arts, something that you can’t imagine either of his predecessors doing. This was backed up by his supporting cast; the Doctor ended up working for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, the UN’s response to all those alien invasions, and so there was plenty of running and shooting. There’s an element of nuWho that seems to be reacting against this, and I’m not sure I like it; sure, the Doctor should be against brainless militarism, but I can’t help reading it as a dig at the Third Doctor and the Brigadier (who I wrote about here). The writers don’t intend it like that, I just get a bit defensive of my favourite characters.
Oh, and anyone who talks about loving nuWho because of the Doctor’s almost-romantic relationship with his friends should watch the end of ‘The Green Death’, where sidekick Jo leaves to marry someone who’s basically a younger version of the Doctor; tell me the Third Doctor wasn’t in love with her. It was just more unrequited and stiff-upper-lip in those days.
Jon’s tenure of the Doctor was bound up with two other characters/actors who passed away this year: as mentioned earlier, there was the Brigadier, played by Nicholas Courtney, and Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith, introduced in the Pertwee era before going on to become the defing companion of the Tom Baker years; heck, the defining companion of all time. Seventies Who has taken a beating this year, and it doesn’t seem right remembering Jon and not Nick and Lis as well.
In some ways the Third Doctor was my Doctor, even though he left before I was even born, and Jon’s love and commitment to the role meant that he became one of the best ambassadors the show has ever had. Somewhere out there in British pop culture, UNIT is still fighting the monsters and it’s the Third Doctor who is leading the charge.
Thank you Jon.