Doctor Who – 1970 – All the Years

Doctor Who – All The Years is a quick examination of what was happening in the world of Doctor Who over all its years of existence. I’m not attempting to create a thorough history–just brief look back at the real-life timeline of my favorite TV show. Go back to the beginning and read about 1963 here.

(Daily Doctor Who #64)


1970 was the year that Doctor Who itself sort of regenerated as a series into the form that the classic series was best known for. It was the first season that was in color, and was the first time that the show’s seasons were reduced to the more common twenty-something episode length. Specifically, the seventh season of the show ran for 25 episodes, or four serials, which was by far the shortest run the show had had so far. The trade-off was a higher production budget, an increase of location filming, and an overall improvement in production quality.

The season kicked off on January 3rd with the four part Spearhead from Space by returning writer Robert Holmes. The story introduced Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, as well as the show’s main new co-star Caroline John as Dr. Liz Shaw. Following on the events of The War Games from the previous year, the Doctor is exiled to earth in the 20th century. There he comes into contact with his old ally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney, who had appeared as the character a couple of time in the previous two seasons), the leader of UNIT, a military taskforce with the job of defending earth from unusual or extra-terrestrial threats. The Doctor reluctantly becomes UNIT’s scientific advisor, for the first time in the show’s history engaging in no time travel for a whole season.

Spearhead from Space also introduced the Nestene Consciousness and its living plastic weapons, the Autons, who became another one of the show’s recurring monsters. The story features the image of show mannequins coming to life and smashing through windows and murdering innocent civilians–the idea became so iconic that Russell T. Davies basically straight-up reused it in the first episode of the revived series, Rose.

The story also introduced the idea that the Doctor has two hearts, and saw the Doctor drive an antique car that the took a liking to, and requested something similar as compensation for working for UNIT. In the next story, he would start driving his own version of the car for the first time. It came to be known as Bessie and was seen with the Third Doctor whenever he was on earth, and occasionally with later Doctors when he’d be interacting with UNIT.

After Spearhead from Space, the season continued with three other serials, each seven episodes long: Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death, and Inferno. Doctor Who and the Silurians was written by Malcolm Hulke, and introduced the Silurians–reptilian humanoids who preceded human beings as the inhabitants of the earth. They became a handy way for the Doctor to interact with something like aliens without having to travel to space, and without every story having to involve an invasion.

The story also had a strong anti-war message, as the Doctor is working hard to find a way for humanity and the Silurians to successfully co-exist–something he fails to do because of the more violent and militaristic habits of both parties, including his own allies. The guest stars for the story included actors who became well known, including Geoffrey Palmer (Butterflies, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, As Time Goes By, and so many other things) and Paul Darrow (Blake’s 7).

Next up was The Ambassadors of Death by David Whitaker, Doctor Who‘s former script editor making his final contribution to the series. As it happens, Whitaker didn’t actually write much of the story (that being Malcolm Hulke who was not credited for whatever contractual reasons). The story involved aliens who learn about humanity through our space probes and come to earth by replacing astronauts who were on a mission to Mars. This story brought back to Doctor Who the character of Sergeant Benton (John Levine), who had previously appeared as a Corporal in the previous season’s The Invasion, and helped to flesh out the idea of the “UNIT family” that the Third Doctor’s era was characterized by.

The story also features the unusual site of the TARDIS console sitting outside of the TARDIS, as the Doctor continues to try to experiment with ways to outwit his exile. It’s appearance here and in the following story is the closest thing we had this season of any imagery from inside the TARDIS.

The last story of the season was Inferno by Don Houghton. This was all about an ill-conceived attempt to drill through the earth’s crust and the problems that this inevitably created. Interestingly, the story featured the Doctor being transported to a parallel universe (the first time such an idea was explored on the show) that was darker and more militaristic than the main one, and featured “evil” versions of Liz, the Brigadier, Benton and the rest of the guest cast.

The last episode of the season, Inferno part 7, aired on June 20th of the year, which marked the last appearance of Caroline John on the show as a regular, though her departure would not be revealed until the next season. In spite of this, there is a scene where the Doctor says a tender goodbye to Liz, as he attempts (but fails) at the end of the story to escape earth and his exile.

Behind the scenes, Terrance Dicks continued on as script editor, as he had done at the end of the previous season. Derrick Sherwin produced Spearhead from Space, while Barry Letts took over with Doctor Who and the Silurians. This began a time of unprecedented stability for the series, as Letts and Dicks retained their position for the four subsequent seasons.

The Doctor Who series in TV Comics continued starting on January 17, after a gap of a few months. For the rest of the year, the stories featured the Third Doctor, and featured him working with the Brigadier, then with Liz and the Brigadier, and then on his own. He was still exiled to earth, like on TV, and he stayed in the “present day” time period, except for one story where he travels to the future in a time machine other than the TARDIS. TV Comics also released a holiday special in May and an annual in October, both of which featured a couple of Third Doctor stories, either working alone or with the Brigadier.

Finally, the Doctor Who Annual 1971 was released in September 1970, featuring a bunch of prose stories and other features which involved the same crew of the Third Doctor, Liz Shaw and the Brigadier.

And…that’s kind of it. All told, 1970 was a year which saw the least amount of Doctor Who product released since 1963. And. yet, it was a significant year in its history which saw a lot of changes which continued to impact the show for years to come.


One thought on “Doctor Who – 1970 – All the Years

  1. 1970 was a year when Doctor Who could probably be at its most serious, certainly thanks to how the Doctor first meets the Silurians and his nightmarish adventure on another Earth in a parallel universe that he couldn’t save. Caroline John as Liz Shaw is a favorite memory for breathing the most serious life ever seen into the role of the female companion. So it was rewarding to see her achieve even more via P.R.O.B.E. during the Wilderness Years.

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