*Dedicated to William Hartnell, Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman and everybody else who willed this show into the universe. Thank you.*
There’s something pratically melancholic about this story. It was crafted to celebrate the show’s tenth anniversary, delves deep into the Time Lord lore, and showcases the impressive set design allowed by a BBC budget, but there’s this air to it looking back. This would notably be the very first time that multiple incarnations of The Doctor met and, although it wouldn’t be the last, it would be the only time that this occured for the late William Hartnell. It’s a tale well known to many Whovians but always worth recounting. Bill (as he was affectionally reffered to) took on the iconic role in 1963 at the age of 66 in and maintained it until Patrick Troughton took over 3 years later, in part because Bill’s ability to remember lines was fading. That’s reportedly why, when returning for this episode in 1973, he is relegated to appearing via television in the TARDIS which is cleverly explained in-universe as The First Doctor geting stuck in a time eddy. Regardless, it would be his final performance and he barely lets it show. That twinkle in the eye that he was known for remains and his bickering with the other incarnations never comes off as too harsh. It’s a comforting thought to know that he was around to celebrate ten years of a show that he helped to create.
The show itself had gone through several changes in those ten years, not least in terms of the cast. Jon Pertwee had already been in the titular role for several years, taking over Doctor duties from Patrick Troughton in 1970, and had even gone through one whole companion with Dr Elizabeth Shaw. At the time of The Three Doctors, he is accompanied by UNIT employee Jo Grant and remains marooned on Earth by his race the Time Lords which in-universe was due to his meddling with the time continuim but was in reality due to budget constraints at the BBC. UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) had cropped up during The Second doctors time on Earth, led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, but became a mainstay during The third Doctors Earthly exile (still led by “The Brigadier”). A large amount of this story takes place at or near UNIT HQ, which is located in a large manor house, starting with the intoduction of a creature made from anti-matter. It’s been displacing people and objects into a black hole and is simultaneously attacking the Time Lords, meaning they are unable to provide The Doctor with any assistance.
The presence of the Time Lords was not overbearing in those first ten years. They had only appeared in three prior stories (The War Games, Terror of the Autons, and Colony in Space) and their home planet hadn’t even been named yet so their being here signifies how large of a threat this anti-matter is. They have enough temporal power left to pick The Second Doctor from his timestream and place him in the current day, as well as The First Doctor (even if he does get stuck in the aforementioned time eddy). Through displays of wit and intellect, The Third Doctor and Jo find themselves in the black hole, standing on a planet that shouldn’t exist and confronting a seemingly all-powerful Time Lord known as Omega. He is already known to The Doctor, being a legend on his homeworld who created time travel and was apparently lost to a supernova, but Omega needs his help to break through back to the main universe. Gradually, the rest of the team find their way into the black hole (a team consiting of The Second Doctor, The Brig, Seargeant Benton, and scientist Dr. Tyler) before a face off between the two Doctors and this Time Lord legend.
Even after just ten years, there were several fan favourite villains. The Daleks, The Master and The Cybermen had all cemented themselves in the shows history so it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see them here. Instead, the story provides Omega – a character who had literally never been mentioned before but was supposedly integral to Time Lord society. Yes, this gathering of characters is a celebration of the show but it’s also something new and exciting. It’s a part of that legacy and, as is clear from 2023, would be integral to it’s continuation. The now iconic response to the TARDIS being bigger on the inside gets it’s first use here, as does (obviously) the idea of the now popular multi-Doctor story. It’s the first time that The Brigadier enters that magnificent time travelling machine and Omega would go on to be mentioned for the following 50 years.
It’s classic Doctor Who. Equal parts comforting and pushing the limits of the time. It’s also a sign that it was destined to last at least ten more years.