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Revisiting Jon Pertwee’s era of ‘Doctor Who’

Pertwee’s first season is a marked contrast from everything that has come before

Doctor Who Jon Pertwee
Credit: BBC

The last ‘Doctor Who’ I had seen was Patrick Troughton’s final episode, in which he is brought face-to-face with his own people, the Time Lords, and exiled to Earth. The gloomy black and white story could not be in any sharper contrast to Jon Pertwee’s celebrated debut ‘Spearhead from Space’. It is the first story to be shown in colour, and the only serial ever shot entirely on film rather than video (for logistical reasons rather than a deliberate attempt at quality). The Blu-ray edition looks splendid. In the opening episode, the dashing new Doctor strips off, has a shower and gives the viewers a flash of his naval tattoos (on his arms, I hasten to add). Pertwee certainly knew how to make an entrance. The violence is notably intensified: the blood-stained window of the upturned UNIT jeep is the most graphic depiction we had seen up to that point, and it would have been unthinkable in any Sixties story. Even the sinister, faceless look of the Autons is the creepiest and outright scariest ‘Doctor Who’ had been up to that point. It has the immediate feel of a production striving to take things up a level, even though behind the scenes, it was as chaotic as ever, with producer Derrick Sherwin quitting and Barry Letts taking over after only one story. Nevertheless, what ends up on screen is incredible. Immediately, the shabby black and white era is forgotten. In a way, it’s no wonder that the BBC became blasé about the first six years of the show’s history and started to junk entire stories in order to make space in the archives.

Greg Jameson
Greg Jameson
Book editor, with an interest in cult TV.

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