This July marked what would have been the great Jon Pertwee’s 100th birthday. In celebration of his centenary, I wanted to mark the occasion with a personal look back upon his tenure as the much cherished Third Doctor in Doctor Who.
Jon Pertwee’s era of Doctor Who is remarkably special. The show entering the world of colour television brought a marked shift with its modern aesthetic.
This new leap for Doctor Who, of course, came with Pertwee’s Third Doctor shaking the foundations of the show. He was a Doctor that radically altered our perception of the character. Pertwee introduced and energised the Doctor with a sharp wit, a Bond-like suaveness and penchant for gadgetry, and he also became a swashbuckling action hero and solidified the Doctor as an authoritative scientist, too.
It’s not easy staying true to a character whilst also fundamentally reinventing them, but Jon Pertwee pulled it off – not only with confidence, but also with style. To this day he remains, in my opinion, one of the finest actors to ever take up the mantle of our Time Lord hero.
So many Doctor Who fans look back at the Third Doctor’s tenure with fondness. I for one certainly get an unmistakable feeling of warmth and comforting fuzziness when I watch this particular era of Doctor Who. In some cases I even get goose bumps when that theme tune sucks me into the psychedelic world of the time vortex.
It’s not hard to see why this particular time in Doctor Who history has such a profound effect. It’s filled to the brim with characters, scenes and imagery that have become so beloved and so embedded into the very identity of the show.
For example, there’s the reintroduction of the Brigadier and the establishment of the UNIT Family, as well as the introduction of two intensely adored companions: Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.
There’s also the birthing of various iconic villains – what Doctor Who fan isn’t familiar with Roger Delgado’s hypnotic and conniving performance as the Master? The Autons smashing through shop windows? Or the Sea Devils rising from the waves? It was this creative output, spearheaded by Jon Pertwee, that essentially saved the show from an early death.More action-focused and colourful than previous Doctors, Jon Pertwee certainly stood out.
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.
Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)
On a more personal level, I have very important and nostalgic memories of the Third Doctor. Doctor Who had just successfully re-launched with Christopher Eccleston, and with the arrival of David Tennant, I was very curious to see what previous Doctors were like. After all, at this point, past versions of the character were shrouded in mystery for me.
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So my father dutifully dusted off some old VHS tapes of Spearhead from Space and The Three Doctors. So, Pertwee became my first foray into Classic Who, becoming a much cherished memory and important step in my journey as a Doctor Who fan. However, I don’t think I’ll ever quite forget my bemusement over witnessing the Doctor in the shower!
All this talk of the Third Doctor and I still haven’t mentioned my favourite story yet. That honour goes to The Curse of Peladon. Performance wise I think it’s a true tour-de-force for Pertwee. The setting of Peladon is well-realised and further enhanced with themes that are still resonant to this day – political fear and distrust, prejudice, cooperation and indoctrination. I’m a big fan of the world-building here and the introduction of the Galactic Federation is the jewel in Peladon’s crown.
What else is there left to say except happy 100th birthday Jon Pertwee, and thank you for bringing to life the hero that is the Third Doctor.
What are your personal memories of Jon Pertwee’s iconic Doctor? What made him stand out to you? What did you love about his Doctor? Let us know in the comments below.