The theme of this episode, and I suppose the moral of the story, is freedom. Omega believes he’s been abandoned in exile by his fellow Time Lords, and wants the Doctor to take on the burden of maintaining the anti-matter universe, and when this proves impossible threatens to destroy everything in a massive fit of pique. Meanwhile, the Doctor, who actually has been exiled, is willing to sacrifice himself to save the universe and is therefore given back the freedom Omega craved. It’s a nice little fable of the deserving character winning the prize.
The details of the episode are, again, really impressive – both in Terrance Dicks’ awareness of the show’s continuity, and in some particularly nice character work from the writers and actors. Manning gets her usual moment of loyalty to the Doctor, and again, knocks it out of the park, suggesting that this is even more of a farewell than all the other last farewells in previous episodes. Courtney, who’s been largely the stooge in this, gets some of my favourite moments: calling Jo and Benton to order when they panic; delivering the line, ‘Wonderful chap. Both of him’, and, most of all, giving a heartbreaking little salute as he believes he’s leaving the Doctor forever.
Ironically, given he’s the current lead, Pertwee gets the least to do here: mainly delivering a lot of the exposition. He makes up for it by playing up the small moments: his gulp and shocked step back when he reveals Omega is literally just an idea with no substance, and later his ability to sell, without any kind of discussion, the idea that the Time Lords have forgiven him and restored his memories.
Troughton is better served by the material, with a chance to show off the manipulative side of the second Doctor as he goads Omega to find the limits of his self control. Again, he seems a bit less bothered by this adventure than he used to be (his nervousness that switching off the forcefield would ‘mean leaving the TARDIS defenceless’ would have meant some coaxing from Jamie and Zoe in the past, but here he dismisses his own concerns and seems quite excited about giving it a try). And Hartnell’s final couple of scenes are more of a respectful acknowledgement of his role in making the show a success than an active contribution to the story. Like Prospero declaring ‘our revels now are ended’, the old wizard draws an end to the anniversary celebrations, and his own acting career, with a perfectly judged mic drop:
FIRST DOCTOR: The party’s over now. You young men and I go back to our time zones. Though considering the way things have been going, well, I shudder to think what you’ll do without me.
The answer is going right back to the successful basics of the show:
BENTON: But how come you turned up in the TARDIS?
SECOND DOCTOR: Because that was the proper place for us.
The UNIT years have been entertaining enough, but the series didn’t make it to the 10th anniversary by staying still; the proper place for the Doctor isn’t a UNIT lab, but in the TARDIS, having an adventure in space and time. More than any serial to date, The Three Doctors has reminded us of Doctor Who‘s ability to renew itself periodically, swapping out locations, companions and Doctors as the need arose. It’s the perfect opportunity to finally abandon the exile format, and embrace again the infinite freedom of the original format.
Next episode: Carnival of Monsters