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The Three Doctors (Doctor Who)

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Directed by  Lennie Mayne
Script editor  Terrance Dicks
Executive producer(s)  None
Written by  Bob Baker Dave Martin
Produced by  Barry Letts
Incidental music composer  Dudley Simpson

The Three Doctors is the first serial of the tenth season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, first broadcast in four weekly parts from 30 December 1972 to 20 January 1973.


The serial opened the tenth anniversary year of the series, and features the first three Doctors all appearing in the same serial. This makes it the first Doctor Who story in which an earlier incarnation of the Doctor returns to the show.


A superluminal signal is sent to Earth, carrying with it an unusual energy blob that seems intent on capturing the Doctor. In the meantime, the homeworld of the Time Lords is under siege, with all the power sustaining it being drained through a black hole. Trapped and desperate, the Time Lords do the unthinkable and break the First Law of Time, allowing the Doctor to aid himself by summoning his two previous incarnations from the past. Initially summoning his previous incarnation, they find that the two Doctors do not get on and bicker constantly, and so attempt to retrieve his first self to keep them in order.

Unfortunately, the First Doctor is trapped in a time eddy, unable to fully materialize, and can only communicate via viewscreen, but the Second Doctor joins the Third in investigating the origins of the creature and the black hole, while UNIT headquarters faces an attack by the gel-like alien creatures.

The First Doctor deduces the black hole is a bridge between universes, and the other two Doctors allow the TARDIS to be swallowed up by the energy creature, which transports them, Dr Tyler, Jo Grant, Sergeant Benton and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart into an antimatter universe created by the legendary Time Lord Omega. Omega was a solar engineer who created the supernova that powers Time Lord civilization, and was thought to be killed in the explosion. In actuality, he had been transported to the antimatter universe, where his will and thought turned the formless matter into physicality. Trapped, due to the fact that his will is the only thing maintaining reality, he vowed revenge on the Time Lords who left him stranded.

It is clear that the exile has made Omega quite insane. Along with his revenge, he has summoned the Doctors here to take over the mental maintenance of the antimatter universe so he can escape. However, the Doctors discover that years of exposure to the corrosive effects of the black hole's singularity have destroyed Omega's physical body – he is trapped forever. Driven over the edge by this discovery, Omega now demands that the Doctors share his exile.

The Doctors escape briefly, and offer Omega a proposition. They will give him his freedom if they send the others back to the positive matter universe. Omega agrees, and when that is done, the Doctors offer Omega a force field generator containing the Second Doctor's recorder, which had fallen in it prior to the transport through the black hole. Omega knocks the generator over in a rage and the unconverted positive matter recorder falls out of the force field. When the recorder comes into contact with the antimatter universe, it annihilates everything in a flash, returning the Doctors in the TARDIS to the positive matter universe. The Third Doctor explains that death was the only freedom anyone could offer Omega.

With power now restored to the Time Lords, they are able to send the First and Second Doctors back to their respective time periods. As a reward, the Time Lords give the Third Doctor a new dematerialization circuit for the TARDIS and restore his knowledge of how to travel through space and time.


The Brigadier refers to the Yeti (The Web of Fear), the Cybermen (The Invasion) and the Autons (Spearhead from Space).

Omega would return in the Fifth Doctor serial, Arc of Infinity (1983), the Big Finish Productions audio play Omega, the novel The Infinity Doctors and the gamebook Search for the Doctor. The Chancellor is portrayed by Clyde Pollitt who had also played one of the Time Lords who tried and exiled the Second Doctor. Barry Letts states in the DVD commentary that this was intentional as he meant for this to be the same character. Similarly, Graham Leaman reappears as a Time Lord having been seen in the role in Colony in Space, discussing the Master's activities and their use of the exiled Doctor as an agent.

The Virgin Missing Adventures novel The Empire of Glass states that the First Doctor is taken out of time between the stories The Time Meddler and Galaxy 4 but immediately before the novel.


Working titles for this story included The Black Hole. The script was originally supposed to feature all three Doctors equally, but William Hartnell was too ill to be able to play the full role as envisioned. He was, therefore, reduced to a pre-recorded cameo role, appearing only on the TARDIS's scanner and the space-time viewer of the Time Lords. It would be the last time he played the Doctor and his last acting role before his death in 1975. Hartnell's scenes were filmed at BBC's Ealing Studios and not in a garage or a garden shed as fan myth would have it. However the promotional photographs were taken at William Hartnell's home in Kent, first in the back garden, and then in the garage. This would be the only time that all three actors would appear together. The production team also planned for Frazer Hines to reprise his role of Jamie McCrimmon alongside the Second Doctor; however, Hines was not available, due to his work on the soap opera Emmerdale Farm. Much of the role originally intended for Jamie was reassigned to Sergeant Benton.


Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times wrote that The Three Doctors "may not be the greatest story ever told" but it ended the Doctor's exile on Earth and brought back Troughton, though unfortunately Hartnell was not able to do much. The A.V. Club reviewer Christopher Bahn summarised that the serial "has some good ideas in it, but they're treated with such an unambitious lack of imagination that there’s not enough actually happening here for the story to be offensively bad — just boring". He felt the "most enjoyable part" was the "comic squabbling" between Pertwee and Troughton, and also called the Brigadier a "saving grace". DVD Talk's Ian Jane gave the serial three out of five stars, noting that it was "slightly silly" and the production designs and special effects were "definitely not the best that the series has had to offer". He also felt that the story was wrapped up too quickly and was "fairly predictable". However, he praised Pertwee and Troughton's interplay, the fact that Jo was given more to do, and Stephen Thorne's performance as Omega. Alisdair Wilkins of io9 picked The Three Doctors as the worst Doctor Who story of the classic series, feeling that the Second Doctor and the Brigadier were written as too comical, the story had too much padding, and that Omega was a "shouting, one-dimensional villain".


The serial was repeated on BBC2 in November 1981, daily (Monday-Thursday) (23 November 1981 to 26 November 1981) at 5.40pm as part of "The Five Faces of Doctor Who". The four episodes achieved ratings of 5.0, 4.5, 5.7 & 5.8 million viewers respectively.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in November 1975.

The novelisation provides a rationale for Omega's realm to be a quarry: over the millennia, Omega has become weary of the mental effort required to generate a verdant landscape and now makes do with rock and soil. The Second Doctor is referred to throughout as Doctor Two. In the book, Mr Ollis is renamed Mr Hollis.

Home media

The Three Doctors was released twice on VHS, first in August 1991 and thereafter remastered and re-released in 2002 as part of the WHSmith's The Time Lord Collection boxed set. It was released on DVD in the UK in November 2003 as part of the Doctor Who 40th Anniversary Celebration releases, representing the Jon Pertwee years. Some copies came in a box set housing a limited edition Corgi model of "Bessie", the Third Doctor's vintage roadster. A special edition of the DVD, with new bonus features, was released in the UK on 13 February 2012 in the third of the ongoing Revisitations DVD box sets with additional bonus features.


The Three Doctors (Doctor Who) Wikipedia