Thursday, May 02, 2013

Doctor Who: 1974

Episode 370: The Monster of Peladon, part 6
First broadcast: 5.30 pm, Saturday, 27 April 1974
<< back to 1973
"Anybody would think you would prefer me dead."
The Monster of Peladon, part 6
In December 1973, during production of Death to the Daleks, Jon Pertwee gave notice to his producer that he would leave Doctor Who. He would leave at the end of the season, so with 12 episodes still to be made that effectively meant three months' notice. But those 12 episodes broke down into two stories, one just about to start filming.

We don't know the exact day that Pertwee tendered his resignation. The script for the season finale, Planet of Spiders, was not officially commissioned until 5 December 1973 - perhaps after Pertwee had given his notice or with a suspicion that he would. The story had been in development for some time before that (though I couldn't track down it being announced in Radio Times earlier in the year). Elements of the plot may have been carried over from the story originally planned to end this season, The Final Game - which would have written out the Master had the actor Roger Delgado not sadly died.

But once the production team knew Pertwee was leaving, Spiders becomes all about writing him out - and does so very effectively. My chum Gary put it all much better than me, saying the
"story weaves together the warp and weft of a whole era ... Planet of the Spiders sends the Third Doctor off in style; buried like a Pharaoh with all the symbols of his glorious reign. This is a story with much lingering power, and has a greater influence of modern Doctor Who than any other. "
That ought to be more than an enough of a send-off for the magnificent Third Doctor. But I love the fact that the previous story includes some nice foreshadowing of the death to come, added to the script at the very last minute. In part 6 of The Monster of Peladon, Sarah finds the Doctor seemingly dead and there's a poignant close-up on her tears - before he opens her eyes and tells her not to be silly.

It's especially brilliant because it's so similar to the same scene between them six weeks later, when the Doctor really does die. The audience also knew that Pertwee was leaving (it was announced to the public on 8 February) so might even have thought this was it. The scene plays on what we know in addition to what's happening on screen, and the lightness of the Doctor chiding Sarah for her tears is doing what so many production teams have tried to do since in the lead up to a finale. It teases us, "Keep watching: there's something big to come."

But best of all is Sarah's reaction as she follows the Doctor out of the room to get on with things. That resigned shrug to the madness of it all is one of my favourite things in Doctor Who.

Next episode: 1975

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