The series finale of Doctor Who is on its way, and there’s no telling what’s going to happen. Fan theories have spread like wildfire, sure. But in this time of frantic introspection — and with the 50th anniversary of the long-running British franchise approaching — perhaps it’s time to retrace our steps through the Doctor’s journey, and take a look back on the series.
A very, very, long look back.
In 1969, Patrick Troughton left Doctor Who, ending his tenure as the foppish Second Doctor. The Beeb chose Jon Pertwee — already an accomplished radio and television actor — to play the Third Doctor. Three, as the die-hard classic era fans call him, was an action hero with a penchant for fancy clothes and cars. Pertwee’s initiation into the role of the Doctor essentially rebooted the series, kind of like how the cracks in time rebooted the series for the Eleventh Doctor. (Hmmm. Coincidence? Never.)
The Third Doctor’s tenure began when he was exiled to Earth by the Time Lords for stealing the TARDIS and for interfering with the affairs of humans. In Spearhead From Space, the Nestene Consciousness makes their first appearance, as well as UNIT. Since the Doctor can’t use his TARDIS — the Time Lords wiped its operation from the Doctor’s memory — he helps UNIT stop the Nestene Consciousness from terrorizing the populace. After this, the Doctor takes on Liz Shaw, a scientist and member of UNIT, as his companion.
Sound familiar? That’s because a similar plot happened in “Rose,” the first episode of the Ninth Doctor’s tenure, and the first episode of the current era of Doctor Who. Again, coincidence? Absolutely not.
The Doctor’s adventures continued in Doctor Who And The Silurians, which is to date the only full serial to have “Doctor Who” in its title. In this story arc, the Doctor and Liz have to stop a swarm of Earth-dwelling reptiles from spreading a plague across England. It’s frequently considered one of the best serials in the classic era.
Although the cheesy rubber masks might not show it, these primitive Silurians are ancestors of Madame Vastra, the swashbuckling reptilian lady who made her first appearance in the Eleventh Doctor story A Good Man Goes To War.
Back when Doctor Who was in its prime, story arcs would span several episodes (unlike the one-episode snacks we get today.) For example, the First Doctor story The Daleks’ Master Plan took viewers twelve weeks to get from start to finish! (Unfortunately, parts of it are missing.)
The Ambassadors of Death is not that long (luckily or not, depending on your point of view.) This seven-part story ses Three and Liz investigating a case of missing astronauts, as well as battling a group of alien ambassadors who are often dressed in spacesuits.
Spacesuits seem to be another common demarcation of bad news in Doctor Who. In the Eleventh Doctor episode The Impossible Astronaut, an astronaut shoots the Doctor dead! (Or does it? Shhh… spoilers.)
And finally, there’s the seven-part season finale, Inferno. This whopper of a story sees the Doctor trying to repair the TARDIS using the nuclear output from a drill, which scientists are using to hack into the center of the Earth. This leads to all sorts of problems, of course: The scientists turn into bloodthirsty monsters, the Earth becomes doomed to extinction, and the Doctor gets zapped into an alternate timeline where everyone — including Liz and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart — is a fascist!
Drills have never been a sign of good things in Who, not even in the new series. Just see the Tenth Doctor story, The Impossible Planet.
Liz made her last appearance in Inferno, and was replaced by new companion Jo Grant in season 8. Jo went on to be the Third Doctor’s companion for three seasons before making way for one of the franchise’s most well loved characters of all time: Sarah Jane Smith. (RIP, Elisabeth Sladen.)
As for Three, he would go on to many more adventures with UNIT (and across the galaxy, after fixing the TARDIS.) But in season 11, Jon Pertwee decided to leave the series. So in his final episode, Planet of the Spiders, the Third Doctor regenerates after heavy exposure to radiation. And who was the man to take his place?