“Which Doctor is Who? All is explained as Dr Who returns” promised the Radio Times as three Doctors stared out of the cover that heralded the start of the Tenth Season. Three Doctors! The Second Doctor hadn’t been on UK screens for three and a half years; the First Doctor had last been seen over six years before. There were very few repeats, and those there were featured the current Doctor. DVDs were many decades in the future, and although domestic video cassette recorders had recently come on to the market, they cost more than a quarter of the average annual wage. Until that moment, it had seemed as though most of Doctor Who’s past was gone for good.
1973 was a year of joyful re-encounters and tearful partings, of new friends and old enemies. The presence of the latter was made bearable by the knowledge that the former was possible – in a world of time travel, nothing and no one is gone forever. If previous Doctors could come back, there was no such thing as a last goodbye.
Within the show, the past – and the future – were opened up to the Doctor again, as the Time Lords gave the Doctor a new dematerialisation circuit and restored his knowledge of time-travel at the end of The Three Doctors. Further kisses from the past continued throughout the season – a glimpse of a Cyberman in Carnival of Monsters; the return of the Master, the Ogrons and the Daleks in Frontier in Space, and the Daleks being written by their creator, Terry Nation, for the first time since 1965, in Planet of the Daleks – but this was not a nostalgia-fest or a show eating itself. It looked into the future too: Metebelis 3 is mentioned, then visited, and the blue crystal that the Doctor found there would have profound consequences. Looking ahead to the Fourth Doctor the season had the (Second) Doctor offering the Brigadier a jelly baby and Ian Marter, who later played companion Harry Sullivan, making his Doctor Who debut as Lt Andrews in Carnival of Monsters. The Time Lord mythology of The Three Doctors would also be built upon.
The stellar engineer Omega, villain of The Three Doctors, had thought himself abandoned and forgotten; the Doctor assured him that not only had he been remembered, he was honoured as the Time Lords’ greatest hero. Doctor Who’s own past had similarly seemed condemned to oblivion – but this tenth season not only saw the return of Doctors One and Two, behind the scenes the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special printed the first ever episode guide for the series. The thousands of fans who pored over its pages, memorising the story titles and gazing with amazement at the synopses of long-ago tales, ensured that the past could never now be forgotten. In May 1973, a new publishing imprint, Target books, reprinted the three First Doctor novelisations of the Sixties. The first decade of Doctor Who was remembered – and honoured.
Real life tragedies shaped the season. William Hartnell’s health was deteriorating rapidly, meaning that the First Doctor’s role in The Three Doctors had to be cut down to a scene filmed in Hartnell’s own garden and a few on-monitor appearances shot in Ealing Studios using cue cards. This was his final role; he died in 1975. The death of Roger Delgado in a car accident in June 1973 robbed the show of a final showdown between the Doctor and the Master and meant that the Master’s final appearance is as a blur passing the camera after trying to shoot the Doctor.
But of course, this wasn’t the Master’s final appearance. He would be seen again and again, with face after face, battling Doctor after Doctor. For both the First Doctor and the Master, all their previous adventures were listed in the Radio Times Special and would, eventually, be novelised.
Jo Grant’s departure at the end of the season might have been hearts-breaking for the Doctor, but her name, her picture, and finally the lady herself would feature on our TVs in the future. 1974 would even see a new history for her, as the novelisation The Doomsday Machine (based on The Colony in Space) reimagined her first meeting with the Doctor. So while many may shed a tear as the Doctor drives off in Bessie, alone, at the end of The Green Death, the season as a whole has told us not to cry. It’s the end of an era for the Doctor, but the start of a wonderful new life for Jo Grant. We know he’ll never forget her, but that his travels will continue.
We also now know that the past is always there, always accessible. Nothing in Doctor Who is gone forever. Nothing is ever forgotten. And anything – anything – might return one day…
1. “How’s it done – some sort of optical illusion?” The Three Doctors Ep 2. After years of seeing a police box stuck in the corner of the Doctor’s lab, the Brigadier finally steps inside the TARDIS.
2. “Greetings! All right, all right, all right, all right, we’re friends…” Carnival of Monsters Ep 1. The Doctor talks to some chickens and attempts to teach Jo not to judge by appearances.
3. “Right. We’ll give it a few minutes, then I’ll start groaning and pretending I’m ill. When he comes in, you can use your Venusian karate.” Frontier in Space Ep 2. Jo gives a (very funny) masterclass in escaping, but the Doctor pours cold water on her ideas.
4. “I like your handbag.” The Green Death Ep 4. Mike Yates goes undercover in Global Chemicals and encounters a very familiar-looking cleaning lady who bashes him with ‘her’ bucket.