In 1973, Doctor Who had been a successful BBC program for nearly ten years; the show’s producers were looking for ways to celebrate and make its 10th anniversary a particularly special occasion. Producer Barry Letts, in his commentary on this DVD, says that one of the requests he’d heard most often from fans was an episode in which the three actors who had played the Doctor all appeared together. Everybody involved was game for it, but it took a bit of work behind the scenes to accomplish.
The first of the four episodes of this anniversary story starts at a wildlife sanctuary. Ducks, swans, and other birds are swimming along on a lake, and something that looks like a weather balloon, or Rover caught in a very large plastic bag, appears to be snagged just at the water’s edge.
An old man in wellies and carrying a rifle–he’s the grounds-keeper–approaches to examine the box, which resembles a car battery, that’s attached to this rigging and anchoring it.
Soon after, a professorial-looking gentleman in tweed drives up to the sanctuary and is greeted by an elderly woman in a cardigan. She addresses him as “Dr. Tyler.” She’s phoned him about the box her husband found, and directs him down to the lake where hubby, Mr. Ollis, is waiting. He hasn’t touched it, she says, and asks if it’s got chemicals in it that might be a danger to the ducks. Dr. Tyler reassures her on that point and continues driving down to the lakeside.
Mr. Ollis has in fact touched the box, which starts making staticky noises. Then zap!–he disappears. The birds on the lake fly off in alarm.
By the time Dr. Tyler gets out there, he finds the box alone. There’s no sign of the groundskeeper, whom he had glimpsed at a distance just a minute before. He phones UNIT HQ.
Cut to UNIT HQ, where we see Dr. Tyler has brought the box to some people we know: The third and at the time current Doctor (Jon Pertwee, hereafter referred to as Dr 3), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), and Jo Grant (Katy Manning), who serves the men coffee.
Dr. Tyler explains about the disappearance of Mr. Ollis and what that box is. It’s his–it’s got his name on the side, which is how Mrs. Ollis knew to contact him–but it certainly wasn’t designed to zap people and make them vanish. It’s a Cosmic Ray monitoring device, top of the line in British space exploration in spite of being sent up via balloon and as sophisticated, Dr. Tyler tells us, as anything at NASA. But it’s been getting funny readings lately. He shows them x-ray film plates of something it recorded, and adds that Houston picked up a beam moving faster than light that’s come in from outer space to reach them.
The Doctor speculates that it’s compressed light. He and Jo go out to the sanctuary to have a look at the site where Ollis disappeared, while Tyler makes himself at home in the UNIT lab in spite of the Brigadier’s harrumphing disapproval.
Dr. Tyler processes and views another x-ray plate that has what looks like a face on it. “That’s not what should happen,” he murmurs.
This image is never explained and doesn’t seem to have much to do with what follows. My best guess is that it’s a “photo” of Mr. Ollis’s face as he was zapped out.
Dr. Tyler checks the box and gets zapped and disappears too. A small, multicolored blob of a thing crawls out of the box and wriggles its way across the countertop to go down the sink drain.
The Brigadier returns to an empty room and assumes that Tyler’s wandering around HQ unattended. He sends Sergeant Benton to find him.
Meanwhile, Dr 3 and Jo have returned from their outing. As they stop the Doctor’s car, Bessie, in front of the garage, that multicolored blob comes up out of the drain in the driveway; it’s now much bigger. It was cuter when it was little. This size, it looks more like an extremely active oil slick.
They get out of the car and run to hide behind a tree while the thing gets big enough to engulf Bessie, zap, and make the car disappear.
Once safely inside, the Doctor checks over the lab. His sonic screwdriver also serves as a Geiger Counter. The box warrants a few clicks, but the sink and the drain the thing went down make it click wildly. By this time, Sgt. Benton has reported that he can’t find Dr. Tyler, and they have to conclude that he’s disappeared too.
Dr 3 describes the multicolored blob as a “powerful organic thing,” which is only a little more technical than my own description. He posits that its been going after him all along and only zapped Ollis, Tyler, and Bessie by mistake.
UNIT now knows that that the beam from space has scanned the Earth and is focused on them. “If we wait long enough, it will find us,” Dr 3 declares.
Find them it does. The UNIT soldiers stationed outside are surprised when more creatures start popping up out of nowhere. They aren’t like the blobby thing, but remind me of the monsters in the Space 1999 two-parter, “Bringers of Wonder.” Both are obviously men under large plastic sheets that fully cover them, but while Space 1999‘s creatures look as if they’re covered in a mess of pizza toppings and fried eggs, these are dazzling with lumps of colored glass all over them. They move forward in mincing little steps.
“First the scout then the reinforcements,” Dr 3 observes.
The soldiers attempt to fight and defend the HQ, but these creatures appear and disappear, and the soldiers’ guns and even a bazooka aren’t much good against them.
Meanwhile, the blobby thing has returned to the lab. Dr 3, Jo, and Sgt. Benton take refuge in the Tardis, which sits parked in the corner. It’s the first time the sergeant’s been inside.
“Aren’t you going to say it’s bigger on the inside than the outside?” Dr 3 asks him. “Everybody else does.”
“Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” Nothing about the Doctor surprises him any more.
Out in the lab, the thing zaps away the central countertop-sink station along with the x-ray plates and the cosmic ray box. It also takes out part of the wall behind it and a few other objects in the room.
The Tardis can’t take off and lure that thing away from Earth, as the Doctor was hoping it could. Now that that plan’s failed, he contacts Gallifrey to speak to the Time Lords.
The Time Lords don’t yet wear those distinctive high collars, but the Chancellor and other High Council members do wear nice blue and silver robes, and they do have an impressive control room. They are already aware of the situation. They’ve not only been trying to supply the Tardis with energy, but they’ve been monitoring the beam, which is coming from a black hole that has an equal and opposite antimatter power to match their own. (It looks more like a hole torn in space than a massive gravity object pulling in everything that gets too close to its event horizon, but whatever). They’re losing their own power.
While they can’t aid Dr 3 themselves, they decide to break the First Law of Time, which forbids meddling in one’s personal timeline, to send a previous Doctor to help.
Dr 2 pops suddenly into the Tardis with his recorder. Sgt. Benton remembers him, but Jo has no idea who this strange person is.
Dr 2 tries to explain: “He is one of me.”
Jo: “Oh, I see. You’re both Time Lords.”
Dr 2: “Well, not quite. Not just Time Lords. We’re the same Time Lord.”
Dr 3 clarifies: “Jo, it’s all quite simple. I am he, and he is me.”
Jo wins my undying affection by saying exactly what I would in response: “And we are all together. Goo goo ga joob.”
Although she then has to explain this Beatles ref to Dr 2, who wonders if he can play it on his recorder. I would have liked to hear him try.
The best part of this story is Jon Pertwee’s and Patrick Troughton’s interaction. Even though the two Doctors share a mind-meld-like “telepathic conference” to bring Dr 2 up to date on what’s going on, their temperaments are too different for them to get along. Before they can do anything, they start to quarrel like an old married couple.
Since Drs 2 and 3 can’t play nice together, the Time Lords send Dr 1 to arbitrate.
The atherosclerosis that forced William Hartnell to retire in 1966 was very far advanced at this point–in fact, he died just a few weeks after putting in this last performance. He wasn’t up to remembering lines. But he wanted to be the Doctor one last time, and the Who crew wanted him to be involved in the 10th anniversary show. To compensate for Hartnell’s condition, Dr 1 doesn’t make it all the way to the Tardis to join the others. He’s trapped in a time eddy and he appears on the Tardis monitor in a void, seated within a triangle-shaped object. Hartnell’s part was filmed separately and his lines were on cards just to one side of the camera (You may notice how often he looks over to that side while he’s speaking).
With careful rehearsal, it does look like he’s conversing with his future selves as he chides them for their senseless bickering and memorably calls them “a Dandy and a Clown.”
He also tells them that the beam is a bridge. “Cross it.” (How does he know that and they don’t? Did the Time Lords inform him? We’ll see later that he is keeping in touch with them all through this emergency.)
Dr 3 takes his previous self’s advice and steps out of the Tardis. Jo jumps after him to try and stop him, and both get zapped and disappear.