Doctor Who: The Three Doctors

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors July 21, 2013

It was interesting watching The Three Doctors again recently. As a classic episode I have seen several times before, it struck me just how inadequate the special effects were for expressing the concepts the writers wanted to integrate into the story. A singularity that Omega had managed to harness looked like a flow of steam. Compare this image from “The Three Doctors” with one from “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” and our glimpse of the Eye of Harmony which Omega helped harness:

Our ability to produce convincing special effects has changed so much in recent years. Of course, older special effects did not seem quite so bad then as they do now, as suspension of disbelief and imagination are always required. It is mostly the comparison with what can be done today that makes the older seem so very inadequate.

There's a lesson in this for those interested in the history of science, religion, and other areas. It is too easy to judge the accomplishments of people in the past by our own standards, in light of our own accomplishments made standing on their shoulders.

Nevertheless, the special effects limitations do create puzzles. Omega's will can order the antimatter universe in impressive ways, and yet the best he can muster to do his bidding are lumbering monstrosities?

The episode itself includes much that is entertaining. The Doctor essentially arguing with himself, or complaining about what he had become, provides many laughs. And it must have been a delight for longtime fans of the show to see William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton back on the show, to say nothing of seeing both of them together alongside Jon Pertwee.

Bringing them together is said by the timelords to be a violation of the “first law of time.” But because they are in dire straits, they have no choice but to seek the help not just of the Doctor, but of the Doctors.

For those who are familiar with the suggestion in the Cartmel Masterplan that the Doctor might have been one of the first timelords, this episode creates real problems. On the one hand, Omega seems to know the Doctor, albeit not from sight. On the other hand, the Doctor indicates that he did not know Omega personally, but had learned about him.

For those interested in the intersection of Doctor Who with religion, there is much that is of interest. When they reach the antimatter universe, Jo thinks they've died, but then comments that it doesn't look much like heaven. Omega says that he should not simply have been remembered and appreciated by the people of Gallifrey: “I should have been a god.” And there is commentary on the timelords and also Omega that they are not all-powerful.

The one reference that is most intriguing, from a religious perspective, is when they get a signal that someone is trying to get through to them. The Second Doctor asks “You don't think…?” and points upwards.

DOCTOR: Well, I… Excuse me. Someone's trying to get through to us.

DOCTOR 2: You don't think? (points up)

DOCTOR: I hardly think so.

Is this supposed to be a reference to God?

It turns out to be the First Doctor who is trying to contact them.

Have you seen The Three Doctors, whether a long time ago or recently (or both)? What are your thoughts about it?


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  • Anthony Lawson

    Nice comments, gives me something to look forward to when I do watch it. I just finished season 8 and The Three Doctors is at the beginning of season 10, so it won’t be for another week before I get to it.

    • Have you been watching through from the beginning? Excellent!

  • Is this a First Century Christianity blog or a Third Century Christianity blog? In the terms of The Economist’s Eramus blog?

    • Umm, are you sure this comment was intended for this post? Not that it would make much more sense in its present form if posted elsewhere.

      • I apologise. First Century Christians follow Christ. Third Century Christians follow St Paul. Do you admit the distinction?

        • The historical evidence does not support Paul suddenly becoming an influence in the 3rd century. But what exactly does that have to do with Doctor Who?!

          • Very little. I think I’m getting confused. Third Century Christianity relates to the movement that led to the Council of Nicea. The Council of Nicea selected the letters to accompany the four gospels. I believe there’s a 3 Peter letter that didn’t make it somehow through the selection process.

  • Tony Springer

    Thanks James. Saw this many years ago. I had a great laugh when I realized that the Time Lords were placing the emphasis on a different syllable for “O-me-ga”. I too always liked how the Doctors would tell his companions about the law of not crossing his own time line, but that something could set off a chain of events where some special dispensation of time would allow the Doctor to cross his time line. Makes one wonder that the Doctor could regularly break that law, but does not for some more personal emotional or even spiritual reason.