Great balls of fire! It’s time to examine the Doctor Who ratings for the series’ most flamboyant Time Lord – the Third Doctor. Which were his most popular episodes?
Jon Pertwee played the Doctor at a time of swelling popularity. The Doctor Who ratings had been in a bumpy place towards the end of the Second Doctor’s era, but his first season in 1970 slowly began to buck the trend. By the time the new production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks was in place, the Doctor Who ratings began to sore, bolstered by the popularity of the UNIT team, the Brigadier, Jo Grant, the Master – and of course the Third Doctor himself. The viewing figures frequently topped 9 million, and sometimes more. Here are the most notable examples.
Planet of the Daleks
The Daleks could always be relied upon to deliver a Doctor Who ratings boost, and their appearance in Season 10 was no different. Indeed, two of its episodes were amongst the highest-rated of the Jon Pertwee era, with 10.7 million tuning in for episode two, and 11.0 tuning in for episode one.
Arguably, ‘Planet of the Daleks’ wasn’t the most original Doctor Who story ever written, but it didn’t need to be. Certainly, many of writer Terry Nation’s trademark tropes were in evidence, with invisible enemies, ticking bombs, the Daleks’ old enemies the Thaals, an isolated companion having to get help for her sick friends, and so on. Looking back, it’s easy to see the similarities with the Doctor Who stories that had preceded it, but the audience of 1973 wouldn’t have been so familiar with these, with no VHS or DVD releases of past stories to look back on.
Moreover, one of the real strengths of ‘Planet of the Daleks’ is its visuals, with stunning model work and gorgeously-realised jungle environments representing the planet Spiridon. In addition, Terry Nation allowed the production team to use his personal Dalek prop left over from the Peter Cushing movies, lending the production a more polished and cinematic quality.
The Curse of Peladon
Another high scorer in the Doctor Who ratings was the 1972 adventure ‘The Curse of Peladon.’ And if ‘Planet of the Daleks’ represented classic Doctor Who storytelling, ‘Peladon’ represented something entirely different – a curious blend of gothic horror, classic murder mystery and science fiction. And it was popular with contemporary viewers, with some 11 million people tuning in for its second episode.
In a way, ‘The Curse of Peladon’ was like an extended version of the Mos Eisley Cantina sequence from the original Star Wars movie, showcasing a bizarre and varied array of curious alien creatures in all their costumed, prosthetic glory. Surely the most memorable of these is the one-eyed, multi-limbed Alpha Centauri, who proved so iconic that they made a surprise reappearance in the Peter Capaldi adventure ‘Empress of Mars,’ which served as a prequel to ‘Peladon.’
And this makes sense when you remember that both stories featured the iconic Ice Warriors. In fact, when they re-appeared in ‘The Curse of Peladon,’ they’d been away from Doctor Who for some three years, although their presence in this adventure might not be the sole reason for the spike in Doctor Who ratings. Arguably, its strength is in its storytelling and its cast, with a notable guest appearance from Patrick Troughton’s son David, who takes on the role of the eponymous King Peladon.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs
The next high achiever in the Doctor Who ratings is the 1974 serial ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs,’ with 11 million viewers tuning into its first and third episodes.
Interestingly, ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ wasn’t an internally-loved production, and the realisation of the titular dinosaurs was a real pain point for all concerned. The producer Barry Letts had been assured that an army of convincing monsters could be achieved on Doctor Who‘s modest budget with some careful stop-motion animation techniques, although it quickly became clear that these effects were not going to cut the mustard.
And whilst the largely inanimate, unconvincing dinosaurs can be difficult to take seriously, their rudimentary nature seems to have had little impact on the Doctor Who ratings. Again, as adventures like ‘The Curse of Peladon’ proved, audiences will stay with a story if the script is strong enough, and Malcolm Hulke’s six part serial was a gripping one. Indeed, one could almost describe it as something of a political thriller, and a comment on the time in which it was written, with its central themes revolving around environmentalism and “golden age thinking.” This isn’t a straightforward “monster of the week” adventure, and asks challenging questions of the viewer.
The Three Doctors
By far the biggest achiever in the Doctor Who ratings is ‘The Three Doctors’ – a 10th anniversary story (of sorts) which brought back the Time Lord’s first two incarnations William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. And whilst its second episode pulled in an impressive 10.8 million viewers, the real winner is episode four at 11.9, which is the highest of the Doctor Who ratings for the entire Third Doctor era.
Even today, ‘The Three Doctors’ is regarded as an all-time classic, marking the first of many return appearances by Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, as well as introducing the famous character of Omega to Doctor Who lore. In ‘The Three Doctors,’ he is presented as a rogue Time Lord who has been shunned and forgotten by the society that he helped to form.
William Hartnell, meanwhile, was sadly not well enough to be as involved in ‘The Three Doctors’ as had been originally hoped, but he does still play an active part in the serial, appearing periodically in pre-recorded sequences on the TARDIS‘ monitor. And these moments are historic, as they mark the last time William Hartnell appeared on screen as the Doctor, or indeed on screen in any capacity, as he sadly died two years later.
In recent years, ‘The Three Doctors’ has been given a whole new lease of life by the Season 10 Blu-ray release as part of the Doctor Who: The Collection series, allowing viewers the opportunity to experience it in glistening high definition – or at least, as close to high definition as possible. It is a classic adventure penned by series stalwarts Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and deserves its place at the top of the Doctor Who ratings for the Third Doctor.
Other high scorers in the Doctor Who ratings include ‘The Time Warrior,’ ‘Death to the Daleks’ and ‘The Day of the Daleks.’ Are you noticing a pattern?! Let us know which is your favourite of these adventures in the comments below.
Doctor Who shoulder bag – order now from the Lovarzi shop!