The first bit of Who I can definitely remember seeing is the end of Frontier in Space where, to be non-spoilery about it, the Master reveals his secret allies. We then lived for a year in a non-BBC territory, and when we came back the Doctor had been replaced by an impostor with curly hair and a scarf. I'll save my thoughts about him for tomorrow.
Well, although the real Doctor had gone, it seemed entirely possible to re-live the Pertwee era through the Target novelisations, which we raced through as they became available from library and bookshop. (On a tangent, I can't quite believe that Eason's, formerly Gardner's on Botanic Avenue has now closed - it surely takes a special talent to fail to turn a profit on a bookshop/newsagent in the heart of the university area.)
Getting back to the point: Terrance Dicks gets an awful lot of stick for churning out rather dull adaptations to dead tree format of the original TV stories, and for other periods of the show it is fair criticism, but for the Third Doctor he really put his back into it - this was, after all, the time when he was script editor, and I can imagine him doing the stories the way he had really wanted them to be, rather than the way they came out. In his books (and others' as well) the Doctor comes over strongly as a rather grand yet witty and, of course, good-hearted personality.
I've already written about the disappointment of the original version of The Three Doctors not being as good as the book; the other story shown that month in 1981 was Carnival of Monsters, which is average for Robert Holmes (and therefore well above average for Who). Two years later, he was back in The Five Doctors, and I took Frontier in Space with me to Bosnia in 1997, the first Who video I ever bought; and the first Who DVD I bought, in 2005 just as New Who was about to start, was The Green Death. The Third Doctor's was the golden age just before my firm memories of the programme.
And my crashing disappointment over the last two years has been to discover that the Third Doctor stories are in general duller than I expected; and worse, that the witty personality created in the novelisations is based on a sarcastic and scornful screen persona, who is sometimes blisteringly rude to his colleagues from UNIT, and almost always patronising to Jo Grant (herself one of the wetter yet longer-lasting girl companions).
It's not just the Doctor. The decision to put him in UNIT as scientific adviser, based in contemporary (or near-future[!]) England, changes the whole show and makes it very static and monster-of-the-month; and the occasionally laughable special effects don't help. The most dynamic aspect is the loving coordination of the fight scenes, which aren't really to my taste. I will give Letts and Dicks (and indeed Holmes) credit for establishing some of the more durable aspects of Who - the Master, the Autons, the Sontarans, Sarah Jane Smith - and indeed the Pertwee/Delgado and to a lesser extent the Pertwee/Sladen interactions show him at his best. But in general, I'm afraid I rank the Third Doctor as tenth out of ten.
I shouldn't exaggerate. In the end, I do like them all. There are a lot of pretty decent Third Doctor stories - some already mentioned, but also Inferno, The Curse of Peladon, and The Time Warrior to name but three. But I have to say that on the whole I would strongly recommend getting hold of the novelisations before dabbling in the originals.
Obligatory spinoff media note: the 1990s audios are average Pertwee if a bit incoherent plot-wise; there are a couple of rather good novels available (legitimately!) on-line here and here. The Third Doctor plays in the Companion Chronicles series have been noticeably weak.
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