One of the great Doctor moments is watching the third Doctor stagger out of the miniscope, and then moments later effortlessly brush aside Pletrac’s bureaucratic bluster to bluff his way into a position of authority, wiping the floor with the Inter Minorans with his righteous indignation, then, to top it all off, charming Shirna and inspiring Vorg to do the right thing and save the inhabitants of the scope (including, presumably, the Cybermen and Ogrons). In its way this is as punch the air fantastic as the end of Bad Wolf and I love it to pieces.
‘You’re a showman, the same as me,’ Vorg protests when the Doctor doesn’t understand polari. And he’s absolutely right. The third Doctor is a showman, a huckster who can talk his way into the corridors of power with an apparently unshakeable self-confidence. In this, Pertwee’s portrayal is much closer to Hartnell’s, and there’s a slight whiff of the first Doctor’s talent for inveigling himself into the palace of kings and emperors. Whereas Vorg is more like the flustered, impish second Doctor who does the right thing in the end.
This is all appropriate for a story that, consciously or not, is the most old-school Doctor Who story since The Space Pirates. Apart from a mention of the Time Lords, this could almost fit into a 1960s season, drawing on some of the madcap strangeness of early Hartnell (Planet of Giants meets The Space Museum) with the subversive satire of oddball Troughtons like The Mind Robber or The Macra Terror. Trapping the Doctor and Jo inside the TV, spoofing their relationship with an outlandishly-dressed carny and his long-suffering assistant who ultimately take on the roles of the Doctor and Jo to save the day, then mixing this in with various different time zones and locations gives this a sense of scale and colour beyond anything the show’s offered to date. This isn’t just one of the best Pertwee stories, but one of the quintessential, only-in-Doctor Who serials. If this had been in a 1990s sci-fi show it would be feted as a post-modern classic.
Next episode: Frontier in Space