- Jon Pertwee
Identifying and arguing over the relative significance of ‘seminal’ moments in Doctor Who’s history is the stuff of lists and forum posts, even parlour games, for long-standing Who aficionados. Such games seem apt in the afterglow of the golden jubilee, and so I am going to make my own pitch here. I want to argue that the creation of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor had not only indelible but also unsurpassed influence on later conceptions of the character – and thus on the series in toto.
In spite of my introductory comments, I do not speak here out of fannish enthusiasm: Pertwee was never ‘my’ Doctor (that position belongs to Tom Baker) and I find the UNIT era by far the least interesting part of the Classic series. Nevertheless, for two overlapping reasons I think it is scarcely possible to overstate Pertwee’s significance. Since the first two Doctors had been anti-or at least un-heroic, it was the Third who first justified Terrance Dicks’s now well-worn claim that ‘to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero’ (12). Without Pertwee there would there be no meaningful context for dashing, attractive Doctors like Paul McGann and David Tennant amidst the array of clowns, manipulators and curmudgeons who account for the majority of the Time Lord’s incarnations. A closely related point is that Pertwee was the first to [End Page 225] establish an instantly identifiable, brand-ready image for the character he played. This is my chief concern here.
The process of situating Pertwee’s Doctor relative to earlier action heroes of 1960s British film and television has become ritualised in the literature on Doctor Who. The most oft-quoted mantra is that Pertwee’s is the ‘Bondian’ Doctor.8 His love of customised vintage cars, of all-terrain vehicles, auto-gyros and other one-man sports vehicles, his martial arts prowess, his appetite for fine tailoring, and his bon vivant tendencies all link the Third Doctor to James Bond, especially the more fantastical film version of the secret agent. Comparisons are also regularly drawn between the Third Doctor and other flamboyantly dressed action-and-adventure-series heroes – the eponymous protagonist (Gerald Harper) of Adam Adamant Lives! (UK 1966–7), John Steed (Patrick Macnee) of The Avengers (UK 1961–9), Jason King (Peter Wyngarde) of Department S (UK 1969–70) and so on (Chapman 78; Howe, Walker and Stammers 325).
It should be stressed that among the Classic Doctors this kind of analogy is peculiar to Pertwee. Generic comparisons abound for almost any era of Doctor Who, but they generally pertain to the series in toto as opposed to the lead actor and his performance. For example, the 1967–8 ‘monster season’ owed a clear debt to Cold War alien-invasion narratives and creature features (Chapman 66–8), just as the series repeatedly appropriated Universal and Hammer horror motifs during its ‘gothic’ phase in 1975–7 (Chapman 100, 106–9). Yet the incumbent Doctors during these periods – Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker, respectively – did not per se embody the show’s generic lineage or borrowing. Pertwee, on the other hand, wore the series’ intertextuality on his sleeve at a time when the dominant narrative form in Doctor Who was, ostensibly at least, the high-stakes action thriller.
Pertwee was also the first and last Doctor to espouse Mayfair tailoring and contemporary boutique fashion – as distinct from the countercultural or anti-fashion trends that are evoked, for example, by Troughton’s and Baker’s costuming. Even more than Jason King or Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore) of The Persuaders! (UK 1971–2), Pertwee’s Doctor was a creature of the Peacock Revolution in menswear (Ross), with his jewel-coloured velvet blazers and smoking jackets, ruffled shirts and fancy bow ties, stack-heeled boots and patent leather slip-ons. The Third Doctor may stand out in a state-of-the-art research facility or industrial complex, but he would scarcely have turned any heads walking down the King’s Road in the early 1970s. [End Page 226]
The most outré element of Pertwee’s habitual ensemble was the Inverness cloak, but this was...