PERTWEE, JON

British Actor

Jon Pertwee is a British comedy character actor credited with an extensive list of stage, screen, radio, and cabaret appearances. The one-time spouse of Upstairs, Downstairs star, Jean Marsh, Pertwee is best known for his turn from 1970 to 1974 as the Doctor in the long-running British Broadcasting Corporation program, Doctor Who. A master of accents, voices, sounds, and comical walks, Pertwee perfected his multiple comedic personae on the radio series The Navy Lark and supporting roles in various films beginning with his appearance in 1937's Dinner at the Ritz.

Recruited by producer Peter Bryant in 1969 to take over as the Doctor from Patrick Troughton, Pertwee brought to the program a radically different interpretation of the title character. Aired initially in 1963, Doctor Who was produced by the drama department at the BBC and was not intended primarily for children. The first Doctor, as portrayed by William Hartnell, was a renegade Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey who exhibited a strong moral sense, an aggressive curmudgeonly attitude, and impatience with his various earthly companions' comparative mental slowness. Hartnell was replaced in 1966 by Patrick Troughton who played the part as a "cosmic hobo" in the tradition of Chaplin's Little Tramp.

As Sean Hogben asserted in "Dr. Who: Adventure With Time to Spare" in TV Week, however, "Doctor Who won its reputation as a top science fiction series during Jon Pertwee's time in the role." Reacting to the popularity of the early James Bond films, and determined to move away from the clownish depiction Troughton gave the Doctor, Pertwee played the character as an action-based interplanetary crusader exhibiting the characteristics of a folk hero. Pertwee was thus able to draw on his considerable ability to perform his own stunts resulting from his love of skin-diving and water-skiing, along with his habit of driving fast vehicles, to give a harder edge to his interpretation.

The Pertwee era began with the serialization of "Spearhead From Space," which also introduced the program's fans to the series' first broadcasts in color. Pertwee's adoption of his grandfather's evening suits as the foundation of the Doctor's garb allowed him to switch among different colored velvet smoking jackets to mark each passing season of episodes. With this change in the Doctor's apparel, the producers began to publicize the series as providing "adventure in style" due to Pertwee's penchant for a similar type of life outside the studio, and partly to cash in on the liberated "Swinging Sixties" ambiance still prevalent in early 1970s Great Britain. The fact the program was attracting a considerable audience among upscale 17 to 19 year olds also contributed to this change in character depiction and promotion.

Pertwee's love of fast vehicles and gadgets prompted him to suggest the Doctor travel from trouble-spot to trouble-spot in an Edwardian four-seat roadster eventually named "Bessie." During most of Pertwee's term, the Doctor was banished to Earth by the Time Lords of Gallifrey, thus necessitating a different mode of transportation than his predecessors enjoyed with the Tardis, the Doctor's police-box-styled time machine. Thus "Bessie" and (in 1974) the "Whomobile," a flying-saucer shaped custom three-wheel car built for Pertwee by Peter Faries, became the Doctor's primary transportation during the four years Doctor #3 assisted UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) and its indefatigable leader, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) as they saved the Earth from a variety of monsters, aliens, megalomaniacs, and other menaces.

In early 1974, Pertwee announced he would step down from his stint as the Doctor following that season's shooting in order to resume his stage career in The Breadwinner. His final appearance came in "The Planet of the Spiders" which dovetailed with the initial episode the following season, "Robot," during which Tom Baker took over as the regenerated Time Lord. Pertwee returned in 1983 to share top billing with his fellow Doctors in "The Five Doctors," a 20th anniversary celebration and one of the stories best received by the series' fans. The plot found all five incarnations of Doctor Who taking on their most memorable enemies who attempted, but failed, to destroy the five Doctors for good.

Jon Pertwee returned briefly to British television in 1979 for the short-live comedy series Worzel Gummidge. His post-Doctor years found him performing primarily on stage and in motion pictures. He continued his association with the Doctor Who character from time to time with appearances at Doctor Who conventions worldwide.

-Robert Craig

 


Jon Pertwee at Doctor Who

JON DEVON ROLAND PERTWEE. Born in London, England, 7 July 1919. Attended Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (expelled). Married: 1) Jean Marsh in 1955 (divorced 1960); 2) Ingeborg Rhosea in 1960; children: Dariel and Sean. Toured with the Arts League of Service Travelling Theatre prior to World War II; film debut, 1937; after service with the Royal Navy, worked in BBC radio comedy and also appeared in films; achieved fame as television performer as third actor to star in Doctor Who, 1970-74; also starred in Worzel Gummidge and made many other television appearances. Died 20 May 1996.

TELEVISION SERIES

1970-74, 1983 Dr Who
1975-78 Whodunnit? (host)
1979-81 Worzel Gummidge
1987      Worzel Gummidge Down Under

FILMS (selection)

A Yank at Oxford, 1937; Murder at the Windmill, 1948; Mr Drake's Duck, 1951; Will Any Gentleman?, 1953; A Yank in Ermine, 1956; It's a Wonderful World, 1956; Carry On Cleo, 1964; Carry On Cowboy, 1965; I've Gotta Horse, 1965; Carry On Screaming, 1966; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 1966; The House That Dripped Blood, 1970; One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, 1975; Adventures of a Private Eye, 1977; Wombling Free, 1977 (voice only); The Water Babies, 1978 (voice only); The Boys in Blue, 1983; Carry On Columbus, 1992.

RADIO

Up the Pole; The Navy Lark.

RECORDINGS

Worzel's Song, 1980; Worzel Gummidge Sings, 1980.

STAGE

HMS Waterlogged, 1944; Waterlogged Spa, 1946; Knock on Wood, 1954; There's a Girl in My Soup; Oh Clarence; Irene.

FURTHER READING

Bentham, Jeremy. Doctor Who: The Early Years. London: W. H. Allen, 1986.

Dicks, Terrance, and Malcolm Hulke. The Making of Doctor Who. London: W. H. Allen, 1980.

Haining, Peter. Doctor Who The Key To Time: A Year-by-Year Record. London: W. H. Allen, 1984.

Hogben, Sean. "Dr. Who . . . Adventure With Time to Spare." TV Week (London), 25 September 1982.

Nathan-Turner, John. Doctor Who: The Tardis Inside Out. New York: Random House, 1985.

 

See also Doctor Who