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An Earthly Time Lord

By Graham Howard

The Doctor has almost always displayed a definite fondness for the planet Earth. However, this fondness has been more prevalent in certain eras of the Doctor's lives than in others. It therefore could be of some interest to observe the Doctor's changing attitude towards the Earth and its people over the programme's history. This article will look at the eras of the first four Doctors, as for the most part, I believe these offer the best insights and examples. Of course I will ignore the most obvious reason as to why the Doctor spends so much time on Earth, which is that we are in reality dealing with a fictional character in a British television programme!

Evidence that the Doctor regards Earth and its people as being 'special' or particularly worthy of his attentions is plentiful. Most obvious are outright expressions of partiality, but we might also consider the propensity of the TARDIS to land on Earth. For most of the Doctor's television career the TARDIS' destination could not be controlled; it could land anywhere, anytime. Yet the number of times the TARDIS landed on Earth was far in excess of what one might expect from random chance [perhaps an answer involving the TARDIS' telepathic circuits could provide an explanation to this dilemma, though such a theory would presumably still rely on the assumption that the telepathic circuits guided the TARDIS to Earth (in as much as they could) because the Doctor had an affinity with the Earth ... But I digress]. There is also the fact that the majority of the Doctor's companions were human while often the people he encounters on other worlds are of Earth descent or humanoid. In addition, the Doctor has also exhibited a liking for Earth culture and way of life (especially that of the British). And on many occasions the Doctor has been prepared to risk his own life in order to save Earth from destruction or invasion. He has done the same for many other planets, but I am sure the number of times Earth has been saved by the Doctor must greatly outnumber that of any other planet!

In order for the Doctor to successfully intermingle with humans he is assisted by the close resemblance of the Time Lord form to that of humans, if not physiologically, then at least in terms of appearance. Because the Doctor can pass for human this provides him with a measure of acceptability and facilitates mostly easy (although obviously not conflict free) interaction with the Earth's population. It is interesting that out of the vast number of beings in the universe of space and time, and apart from robots, the Doctor's companions have always been recognizably human in terms of appearance - whatever their actual planet of origin might have been.

First Doctor

The very first story is set in modern day Earth and we learn that Susan 'loves the 20th Century' and that the time she has spent in 1960s England has been the 'happiest of [her] life'. Even at this early stage in the programme's history it is interesting to note that it is suggested the TARDIS has previously visited Earth on a number of occasions, and that Susan is clearly familiar with aspects of Earth history. The Doctor as he appears in this story does not seem regard Earth with any special favour, he is mistrustful of its people and is patronizing and arrogant when forced to explain himself and the TARDIS to Barbara and Ian. The clear implication is that he regards Earth people as being primitive compared to his race:

Ian: You're treating us like children!
The Doctor: Am I? The children of my civilisation would be insulted.

The Doctor is clearly unhappy at the thought of having two (albeit unwilling) human passengers in the TARDIS. This contrasts markedly with later series, where the coming and going of companions is accepted to the point of being routine. In later stories, the first Doctor even expresses regret at the loss of his companions (e.g. Barbara, Ian, Steven, and Dodo).

The Doctor's mistrustfulness towards Barbara and Ian, (and by implication all Earth people?), peaks in Inside the Spaceship (aka The Edge of Destruction) and does not perceptibly lessen until after the events of this story, at which time we see the first real appreciable softening in the Doctors attitude towards humans. This new found trust is directed at Ian and Barbara, but I believe the fondness he developed for these two, reinforced with subsequent companions, caused the Doctor to reappraise the human race. Add in the loss of Susan and this reappraisal probably become inevitable. His human companions could therefore be viewed as giving him a bond to Earth and the human race that stretched through to the 16th season - the introduction of Romana to the TARDIS was effectively the first time in Doctor Who that the TARDIS did not have a human travelling companion aboard.

Second Doctor

With the transformation of William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton the Doctor undergoes a significant change, not only in appearance but also in personality. The relationship between the second Doctor and his companions was different to that of the first, in the sense that Troughton's portrayal was gentler, less tetchy and domineering, arguably allowing even closer relationships to develop between him and his companions. In my view the second Doctor did not really display greater affection for Earth than Hartnell, although I believe Troughton's Doctor does seem more at ease in Earth-bound stories, particularly those that are set in the 'present day'.

The frequency with which the TARDIS lands on Earth is raised a couple of times in Troughton stories. For example, in Episode 1 of The Web of Fear the Doctor comments: 'Funny isn't it? How we keep landing on your Earth.' And in Episode 1 of Fury from the Deep, after the Doctor informs his companions that they are again on Earth, Victoria remarks: 'we always seem to land on this planet', to which Jamie adds: 'Aye, and it's always England.'

In Episode 7 of The Evil of the Daleks the Doctor states he would be prepared to sacrifice his friends if it came to a choice between their lives and the lives of an entire planet (Earth). Fortunately this is not put to the test! Although this does not necessarily suggest a favouritism for Earth it does give an indication of the lengths to which the Doctor might go in order to save a planet, which in this case just so happens to be Earth.

At the Doctor's trial, at the end of The War Games, we learn hitherto unknown facts about the Doctor's alien origins, and the alien race to which the Doctor belongs is finally revealed to the viewer. The Doctor's displeasure at being exiled to Earth helps to underline the fact that he is not human, while also serving to stress the high value the Doctor places on his freedom to wander time and space: 'You can't condemn me to exile on one primitive planet in one century in time!' Notably, in passing their sentence the Time Lords have acknowledged the Doctor's fondness for Earth: 'we have noted your particular interest in the planet Earth. The frequency of your visits there must give you special knowledge of that world and its problems.'

Third Doctor

The third Doctor began life as a very unwilling exile, but by the end of his tenure it is apparent that Pertwee's Doctor had actually formed the closest relationship with Earth and its people over all Doctors both previous and subsequent. This is perhaps unsurprising given that the Doctor spent so much time on Earth. In my view, although Pertwee's portrayal often highlighted the Doctor's alien origins and often sought to emphasize the Doctor's superiority, particularly in terms of intellect, clearly his character and personality traits were still recognizably human. The viewer could therefore still readily identify with him. An irascible streak, which the third Doctor displays from time to time, most noticeably in earlier stories, (though fortunately often tempered with humorous overtones), could be viewed as a side effect of the Doctor's frustration at being trapped on Earth.

In Spearhead from Space the Doctor's first instinct is to return to the TARDIS and leave Earth, apparently having forgotten that he cannot. Later in the story he tries again to leave, having tricked Liz into giving him the key - even though Earth at the time was conceivably facing an alien peril. In both The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno the Doctor is seen to be tinkering on the TARDIS console in an attempt to repair it.

In Terror of the Autons the Doctor steals the Master's dematerialisation circuit, ostensibly to prevent the Master from escaping Earth and causing trouble elsewhere, but in the context of Seasons 7-8 it would seem more likely that he hoped to install the circuit in his own TARDIS, thereby regain his freedom and leave Earth, second Nestene invasion notwithstanding. Therefore on losing the circuit in The Mind of Evil his regret probably stems more from the loss of an avenue by which he may have been able to restore the TARDIS to working order, than from allowing the Master to escape from Earth.

And in The Claws of Axos the Doctor clearly views Axonite as another possible means by which he might be able to get his TARDIS operational, and thereby end his exile. At the end, after escaping the time loop, he admits he did not return to Earth by choice.

However, following The Claws of Axos, the Doctor's frustration at not being able to leave Earth appears to abate, such that by the end of Season Eight and into Season Nine, the need to regain his freedom does not appear to be quite the overriding concern it had been. A couple of reasons for this change in behaviour may be speculated. One possibility is that the events of previous stories (along with the unscreened events which take place between stories), culminating with The Dæmons, had allowed close friendships to develop with members of UNIT. Also, by now he had probably become somewhat resigned to his fate. Another reason could be due to the fact that although the TARDIS was not operational the Doctor did nevertheless manage to travel to some alien worlds and other times.

After the events of The Three Doctors, the Time Lords reward the Doctor by giving him back his freedom. Perhaps due to his affection for Jo and his attachment to UNIT he does appear to deliberately return to Earth (specifically UNIT HQ), more often than he might have otherwise. Of note, in The Green Death, the Doctor claims the TARDIS is now fully under his control: 'I can now take the TARDIS wherever and whenever I like. I've got absolute control over her', which perhaps explains how he manages to return to Earth so easily after his sojourn to Metebelis Three in that story. Although the directional control may not be perfect the Doctor has clearly managed to return to UNIT HQ after the events of Planet of the Daleks, and also manages to return in time for the events of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Planet of the Spiders and Terror of the Zygons (although the time that could have elapsed between adventures is uncertain).

In The Green Death, The Doctor initially did seem restless and was loathe to involve himself ('I'm going to Metebelis Three'), much to the Brigadier's chagrin. When the Brigadier threatens to order the Doctor to accompany him, the Doctor replies: 'I shouldn't advise you to try!' In Episode Three the Doctor asks if he can have a bottle of the wine produced at the Wholeweal Community 'to take home'.

On arriving back on Earth in Part One of Invasion of the Dinosaurs the Doctor says to Sarah: 'I told you I'd get you home safely.'

In Planet of the Spiders the Doctor seems completely comfortable being on Earth and with his UNIT association. We even witness the Doctor and the Brigadier on what could almost be called a social outing. And at the end of this story the Doctor comments that 'the TARDIS brought me home', after being trapped in the space time vortex. Taken with his comment on 'home' in The Green Death this is a revealing admission, considering the Doctor has not had a real home, apart from the TARDIS, since leaving Gallifrey. The fact that the Doctor now considers 20th century Earth 'home' is in marked contrast with Pertwee's earliest stories. However, this sentiment was not to last beyond the Doctor's third regeneration...

Fourth Doctor

As with Pertwee's opening story, the first instinct of Tom Baker's Doctor is to return to the TARDIS and leave. The Doctor initially seems to forget about or not be interested in his friends on Earth, and when he does remember he does not appear to be one who will spend much time dwelling on the actions taken and the relationships formed in his previous regeneration:
Sarah: 'You can't go rushing off and leave [UNIT] in the lurch!', to which the Doctor replies 'Can't I? Goodbye!'

In Terror of the Zygons the Doctor is visibly annoyed at being recalled to Earth via the Brigadier's 'space time telegraph': 'Why have you brought me back? I hope you've got a very good reason... Brigadier! Brigadier! Have you brought me 270 million miles just to sort out a little trouble at sea?' He goes on to tell the Brigadier that the device was to be used only in an emergency, and that he doubts the present situation qualifies.

By this time it is apparent the Doctor has lost interest in being at the Brigadier's beck and call. This impression is further affirmed in the opening scenes of Pyramids of Mars - the Doctor is pensive; Sarah believes he should be happy to be going "home":

The Doctor: The Earth isn't my home Sarah. I'm a Time Lord... I'm not a human being, I walk in eternity.
Sarah believes the Doctor is being overly dramatic and asks what that means.
The Doctor: It means I've lived for something like 750 years.
Sarah: (sarcastic) Almost middle aged.
The Doctor: (gruffly) Yes! It's about time I found something better to do than run around after the Brigadier!

With the departure of Sarah in The Hand of Fear, the Doctor is no longer tied to 20th Century Earth, and his association with UNIT lapses. However, Earth remains the Doctor's 'favourite planet', in that it is still the planet he most often visits. In The Stones of Blood the Doctor is pleased when he sees where the coordinates for the third segment of the Key to Time will take them:

Romana: Earth? I might have guessed - your favourite planet!
Doctor: How do you know that?
Romana: Oh, everybody knows that!

This quote probably best describes the fourth Doctor's attitude towards the end of his time - his favourite planet, yes, but by no means home. Nevertheless it is interesting that in Logopolis the fourth Doctor's regeneration again takes place on Earth...

This item appeared in TSV 36 (November 1993).