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The Fate Of The Whomobile


You have to be a bit of a character to take on the lead role in Doctor Who. When Jon Pertwee took over, it was the series' first venture into colour. These new earthbound adventure brought massive popularity to the show and its star, turning in an impressively popular four year run. Known before the role as a comedian, Pertwee played the role straight proving himself to be a great choice for the Doctor. In his real life he was a gadget fan, as well as a sportsman and car enthusiast - all perfect traits for a time traveler. It was while at an appearance at an auto dealership that he met car customizer Peter Farries, which is where the story of Pertwee's 1973 Whomobile began.

The vehicle was never called the "Whomobile" in the show, though Pertwee does refer to it as such in his memoirs. It was actually designed under another name, "The Alien". Pertwee and Farries sketched out the fantasy car. Other car customizers said it would take several moldings to create such an unusual shape in fiberglass, but Farries did it in only two. The completed car was 14 feet long, 7 feet across, with fins that reached 5 feet into the air. There are no doors, you have to hop in over the wing, and once inside the driver and uncomfortable passenger are faced with the blinky lights of a prop computer, and a real television with dual rear antennae. Here's a great clip from children's show Blue Peter (it's great how the pair do sort of try to keep up the illusion of the car's abilities being "real") that offers what is probably the most detailed look at the car ever.

Once completed (at Pertwee's cost) the star was able to persuade the producers of Doctor Who to include the vehicle in the series. The car first appeared not yet complete in the 10th season's "Invasion of the Dinosaurs". The front windscreen you see in the episode as well as in the Blue Peter segment (hosted by Peter Purves, a 1960's Who companion) was from a boat, added to make the vehicle roadworthy. Its second and final appearance was in Pertwee's swansong, "Planet of the Spiders", where thought chromakey trickery the vehicle was shown to fly.

PertweeTo this day some fans still think the Whomobile was a hovercraft. In fact the three wheeler struggled to be legally classified, until it was finally referred to as "an invalid tricycle"... that could go a hundred miles an hour!. Pertwee used the car for personal appearances even after his tenure as the Doctor was over. Eventually he gave it to a fan bereaved over the tragic death of his mother, with Pertwee simply "borrowing" it back on occasion. Just a few years ago (and this makes me crazy...) the car went up for auction with little fanfare. It was misclassified as a boat (foreshadowed by that boat windscreen used in version 1 of the car?) and went for around £1200. Had I known about the sale, I'd have made my way to the UK to bring back the official Retro Thing company car.


Help out Retro Thing by picking up Pertwee's autobiography on Amazon


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