The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Thoughts on the Jon Pertwee era

Thoughts on the Jon Pertwee era (now that I’ve seen it all.)

I feel like, in the history of Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee is really an anomaly. He was a comedic actor brought on to play a role that is now purely associated with being slightly off the wall in various ways, and ended up playing the part very straight laced. If Jon Pertwee’s Doctor wasn’t called “The Doctor,” you would never know it was meant to be the same character that was played previously by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, or would next be played by Tom Baker, et al. It’s hard to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I did really enjoy his era.

Though I didn’t necessarily love Pertwee’s interpretation of the Doctor, I can’t help but be impressed by the overall quality of his performance. As someone who loves an actor who can act and who dreads one who can’t, I appreciated Pertwee as the Doctor. He is not one of my favorites, but he is not on the bottom of the pile, either. He is a respectable middle of the pack, one of many Doctors I would say I really like, but not one I love.

Pertwee himself aside, I think the writing on his era of the show was usually pretty good. Taking a quick glance at the serials that he was in, I think every season had more good in it than bad, with the unfortunate exception of season eleven, his final season. The first four serials of his run make up what is often cited as one of the best seasons in Doctor Who history, and I have a hard time arguing with that. Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I’m stingy with ratings, and yet readily give two of the stories an A, and another a B. I wasn’t particularly enthused by “The Ambassadors of Death,” but I think it is worth a re-watch, as I love every other Malcolm Hulke story.

I was very optimistic in the early days of Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, because I was not only very enthusiastic about the quality of his first season, but also his first companion, Liz Shaw. I found having a very intelligent and headstrong female companion in 1970 to be entirely refreshing and brilliant. I was absolutely heart broken when Katy Manning’s Jo Grant came along the season after, and stayed around for longer than I could stand. She has her moments where she can be kind of adorable, but the I spent the vast majority of the time she was on screen shaking my head and sighing, longing for the days of Liz Shaw, and waiting in anticipation for the era of Sarah Jane. This isn’t meant as an insult to Katy Manning as an actress; I think she is solid, and I never really felt like she was having a bad performance, but I will never be a fan of Jo Grant as a character.

Despite my feelings about the second of Pertwee’s trio of companions, those middle three seasons of Pertwee’s run had some great stories, too. I deeply enjoyed “The Daemons,” “The Curse of Peladon,” “The Three Doctors,” “Frontier in Space,” and “Planet of the Daleks.” I also see a lot of merit in others like “Terror of the Autons,” “The Claws of Axos,” and “Carnival of Monsters,” but by far my favorite of that three season block is “The Sea Devils,” which I hope to own on DVD very soon so that I may watch it again and again. I love just about everything about that story, just as i feel about “Doctor Who and the Silurians” in season seven.

I was excited to come to Pertwee’s final season because of the companion change, but ended up being disappointed by it. I reviewed the serials of this story in detail, as I watched these stories after starting this blog, and thought “The Time Warrior” was crap, despite the introduction of the Sontarans and Sarah Jane. I actually DID enjoy the stories most often hated (“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and “Planet of the Spiders”), but was let down by “The Monster of Peladon” and found “Death to the Daleks” charming but average.

Jon Pertwee is the classic Doctor that I have now seen every story by, and I have to say it was a heck of a ride. Being that I enjoyed 16 out of 24 of his stories, I think it’s a pretty solid ratio. Where would I rank Pertwee, though, based on what I already know? Well, I think about fifth. Higher than Hartnell, Eccleston, Davison, Tennant, Tom Baker, and McGann, but lower than Troughton, McCoy, Smith, and Colin Baker, though on pure acting ability it’s hard to say anything bad about Jon Pertwee.

Three Favorite Stories:

3a. “Spearhead From Space”
3b. “The Three Doctors”
2. “The Sea Devils”
1. “Doctor Who and the Silurians”

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Jon Pertwee era

  1. Like you, I don’t consider Pertwee to be one of my favorites. I think you offer too much praise for the quality of his acting. He was quite unable to appear to be in pain or distress without looking hilarious.

    I also disagree with your assesment of the writing in this period. I think most of these stories are quite tedious and some of them painful to watch.

    I am interested in your reaction to the Planet of the Spiders. I gather you are not a religious person, so I would have thought you would be a bit bothered by the sight of the Doctor bowing and scraping to a religious leader. It certainly did not seem right to me. I can’t imagine the Fourth Doctor having a guru and being so reverant.

    • Buddhism is not a religion, it is a spiritual philosophy and lifestyle, but lacks the organization or strict rules of belief for it to qualify. I don’t have a problem with it; it’s no different than having a high school philosophy teacher you are fond of. We already reviewed on “Planet of the Spiders” on the Raggedy Podcast and I don’t like to step on the podcast’s toes– I’ll do a proper written review in a couple weeks, but you can hear Ian and I chat about it in episode #12. I liked the majority of Pertwee serials, as you said, and I am sucker for the action sequences, like the sword fight in Sea Devils, the cage match in Curse of Peladon, the slow-motion fight with Omega in the Three Doctors, and the scene in Colony in Space in which the Doctor catches the enemies spear and proceeds to beat the daylights out of them with it. I LOVE those bits.

      • K’anpo is the abbot of a Buddhist monastery. While there are difficulties in defining some forms of Buddhism as religion, Buddhist monasteries are pretty much analogous to the forms of religious organisation in more occidental religions.

        K’anpo might not have been a religious leader on Gallifrey, but he is one on Earth.

      • Being a Buddhist just means you follow the basic teachings of Buddha– even within a monastery there can be variances in approaches and whatnot. Buddhism isn’t like Christianity, where all Baptists are against infant baptism or all Lutherans believe in transubstantiation– there is variance even within each school. If K’anpo were a completely orthodox Tibetan monk, for example, he would have a shaved head and face.

  2. Well done. I used to praise Davison through McCoy and detest the earlier Doctors but am now much more generous in my appreciation for the various eras of Doctor Who. In particular I found that I have become very fond of the Third Doctor. Pertwee hardly thought of himself as much of a dramatic actor and the idea was that he would simply be himself (in direct opposition to his chameleon-like predecessor, character actor Patrick Troughton). Dashing and egocentric, the Third Doctor was very much a product of his time, a dandy and an anti-establishment figure. His stories varied, but he retained a high standard throughout… with the possible exception of the odd Dalek story.

    I’m not 100% certain that the writing is of the high caliber that you claim. However, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts make a dream team in TV production. The program was immensely successful during this period and it enjoyed perhaps the highest level of popularity that it would attain for quite some time.

    One note, K’anpo Rimpoche wasn’t a ‘religious leader’ at all, he was more of a spiritual adviser, hence him being a guru. That may be splitting hairs to you, Matthew, but they are two very different things to me. I quite like this part of the Doctor’s back story as it gave the character greater depth that was later picked up by Peter Davison.. .

    I really enjoy the Third Doctor era for all of its faults and oddities. Pertwee lived the part and Planet of the Spiders was a proper (if indulgent) send off (though David Tennant would one-up him on that years later). That said, his ‘cliffhanger distress’ face is gut-splittingly hilarious.

    • The writing is obviously a matter of preference; some people have a problem with the shoehorned action sequences, but I think those are part of the charm. I think the first season was brilliant (and pretty much every Malcolm Hulke script), and there were enough really good stories in every season to keep me interested. Every season had at least one bad serial, I think, but I still think there was much more good than bad.

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