"Three of them? I didn't know when I was well off!"

“Three of them? I didn’t know when I was well off!”

“For an adventure that was to be one of the most astonishing of the Doctor’s very long life, it all began very quietly.”

For the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, the celebratory episode had David Tennant, Matt Smith and John Hurt all play their own incarnations of the universe’s most famous time traveller. Under Time Lord law, crossing one’s own time stream is considered hugely dangerous to all concerned, but since the new series has dispensed with the Time Lords and driven them away to a pocket universe, there was no one to stop him. However, this is far from the first time the Doctor has met previous versions of himself. The first time he did, we got this story: The Three Doctors.

Originally aired in 1972 and then turned into a book three years later, this is nominally an adventure of the third Doctor, John Pertwee, and what happens when he joins forces (somewhat against his will) with his former selves, represented by William Hartnell (First) and Patrick Troughton (Second). Something is draining the Time Lord’s power and they are struggling to survive against whatever it is. Meanwhile, on Earth, a scientist and a farmer are sucked through a black hole, leaving behind no trace of their existence.

With the Third Doctor already looking into these strange disappearances, the Time Lords realise that they need his help more than ever and, figuring two heads are better than one, ignore their own rules and send in the Second Doctor to help him. And when it turns out that the two of them can do nothing but squabble, a third becomes required to keep order. The three must now save the universe from blob monsters and a legendary figure from their race’s history, the all-powerful Omega, the Time Lord who gave them the ability to travel in time at the cost of his own freedom and sanity.

Like all the novelisations, they can be a bit hit and miss, having originally been written for an entirely different medium. At this point in the still admittedly early history of Doctor Who (although it had been running for nine years by the time the episode aired), they still haven’t quite worked out the naming conventions of the different incarnations, which translates into the book, too. While we use the terms Second Doctor, Ninth Doctor, Twelfth Doctor and so on, these names actually seem to have only come about since the revival, meaning that in the book, Pertwee’s Doctor is “the Doctor”, Troughton’s is “Doctor Two” and Hartnell’s never actually seems to be named, perhaps because calling him either Doctor One or Doctor Three is potentially confusing.

Refreshingly, we can see the first glimmers of a female companion who is not just there to scream and get rescued. Jo Grant is capable and competent, and while there are some scenes in which the Doctor refuses her help and insists that other men remove her from the action (which they frequently do bodily), she appears to have a functioning brain, can handle a gun and displays a wider range of emotion than “scared”. The role of gung-ho and capable companion will be expanded with the arrival of Sarah-Jane Smith, but it’s good to see its beginnings.

The story is about as nonsensical as all Doctor Who stories (which isn’t a complaint – they’re always a bit sketchy on the science) and it’s interesting to see how different versions of the Doctor react to one another, treating their original form with a certain reverence, and always seemingly annoyed at what they become.

A short snappy read, which also explains a good deal about the history of the Time Lords, which is something I’ve always been curious about, and introduces the reader to more detail on characters that fans of the revival are less familiar with, such as Jo and the Brigadier.

If you would like to read more of my writing, please download my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus from Amazon, iTunes, SmashWords or any other good ebook retailler.

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