Bessie, also called Betsy (COMIC: Timebenders) and, later, Bessie 2, (COMIC: Remembrance) was the Third Doctor's main mode of transport during his exile on Earth, although other incarnations of the Doctor have also used the car on rare occasions. She was an Austin. (AUDIO: A Home From Home)
A canary-yellow Edwardian roadster, she was a key part of his compensation package from UNIT, and the only specific demand he made of the Brigadier when he agreed to be UNIT's scientific advisor. (TV: Spearhead from Space) Despite being beloved by the Doctor, the car was frequently ridiculed and underestimated by the Doctor's friends. Heavily tricked out, the car's many modifications often bewildered his associates. (TV: The Dæmons, The Time Monster, Battlefield) The Brigadier in particular was dismissive of the car's abilities and, at least early on, didn't even believe it was capable of basic locomotion. (TV: The Ambassadors of Death)
The Doctor made several modifications to Bessie during his time at UNIT. These included: an anti-theft force field (TV: The Ambassadors of Death), which magnetically trapped anyone attempting to steal Bessie; a remote control (TV: The Dæmons), with which the Doctor could steer the car from a distance, and enabling him to prevent the Master's attempt to escape following the events at Devil's End; and a minimum inertia hyperdrive, which allowed him to drive at breakneck speed and still come to a sudden stop without the car's occupants being tossed through the windscreen by inertia, which the brakes absorbed. The Doctor made use of this inertia absorption to overtake the Brigadier's Land Rover after Lethbridge-Stewart had declined to travel in Bessie in fear of the car's reliability. (TV: The Time Monster)
Although not yet having been bestowed the name, Bessie was first completed in 1910. During this time, cars were a rare sight on the road, which was mostly frequented by ponies and horses. Her first owner was a wealthy lord, who travelled between his country house and London home in the car. On one night Bessie was stolen by a drunken footman, with the resulting damage causing the lord to replace her. She was then acquired by a "city gentleman", who had his butler drive him around and kept Bessie in a garage in Chelsea.
During World War II, Bessie's owner volunteered for battle, selling the car off to a young woman, who used her as an ambulance in the Spanish Civil War. She was then returned back to London with a new owner, who used her to work the black market during the Blitz, giving her a less conspicuous coat of paint for the job. Bessie was damaged, and her owner killed, in a bomb blast during this time. Without an owner, Bessie ended up in a lockup for years. Eventually, Bessie was found again and, as a vintage model, became the matter of quite some interest. She was sold to a high class car dealership, who restored her and put her on show in the window. (AUDIO: Bessie Come Home)
When he began his exile on Earth, a recently regenerated Third Doctor stole an antique roadster which was parked in front of Ashbridge Cottage Hospital to get around. He liked it, believing "it had character," as he would later say and while seeing the car returned to its rightful owner, Doctor Beavis, the Brigadier said he thought he could get something like it. The original car was red, unlike Bessie, which was yellow. (TV: Spearhead from Space)
Soon after, Bessie was spotted in the car dealership by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who bought her as a gift for the Third Doctor, who had recently joined him at UNIT. Bessie was then unveiled to the Third Doctor at UNIT HQ, who named her Bessie. The Doctor and the Brig took Bessie out for a short drive almost straight away. The Doctor then set about refurbishing Bessie. On one night, he hooked her up to the navigational computer from his TARDIS, unintentionally granting her consciousness. (AUDIO: Bessie Come Home) The Doctor made these repairs in a UNIT garage where he did not wish to be disturbed. (TV: Doctor Who and the Silurians)
Shortly after getting the final repairs in place and attaching his personal license to Bessie, the Doctor took her out for a test drive to Wenley Moor to attend a meeting at an underground nuclear research centre. (TV: Doctor Who and the Silurians) The Doctor claimed he named Bessie after his Liz Shaw. (COMIC: Change of Mind) Liz was driving Bessie when she was captured by two of Reegan's heavies. Bessie was later used by the Brigadier and some of his men to drive to where the Doctor and Liz were being held prisoner, as no UNIT jeeps were available. (TV: The Ambassadors of Death)
When the Doctor's experiment to bypass his exile by turning the Time-Space Visualiser into a time bridge resulted in history being changed so that Nancy Norton and Brokk conquered the world, UNIT HQ was only protected from the changes in history by the artron energy gathered around the Doctor's equipment. When Liz was captured and taken out of the base, the Doctor, the Brigadier, and Sergeants John Benton and Mike Yates travelled out of the base in Bessie, using surplus components from the bridge to provide the car with an artron energy reserve until they could return to the base and restore history. (PROSE: The Eye of the Giant)
Bessie proved instrumental in capturing the Master. When he attempted to steal the Doctor's car and make good his escape following the events at Devil's End, the Doctor used his remote control to steer the Master back to the waiting UNIT soldiers, who took him into custody. (TV: The Dæmons) Bessie was briefly pulled into Omega's universe during his attempt to capture the Doctor. (TV: The Three Doctors) At one point, Bessie was green. The Doctor and Jo Grant travelled in it in 2 June, 1953 chasing after Elizabeth II's chariot. (COMIC: Where's the Doctor?) The Doctor later drove it to Llanfairfach. (TV: The Green Death)
Shortly after Jo left him and the third incarnation of the Doctor had temporarily left Earth, his fifth incarnation arrived on Earth and borrowed Bessie while helping UNIT defeat the Xaranti. (PROSE: Deep Blue)
Bessie was also abducted with the Doctor into the Death Zone, where it was heavily damaged by one of the thunderbolts that periodically rained down upon the landscape. (TV: The Five Doctors) Although the car was forgotten by the Time Lords for a while, it was eventually sent back to Earth after spending some time in the Death Zone.
One of the many versions of Clara Oswald created after she entered the Doctor's time stream saw the Third Doctor driving in Bessie. She called out to him, but he didn't hear her. (TV: The Name of the Doctor)
With his waning interest in affairs at UNIT and Earth, the Fourth Doctor soon lost interest in Bessie, though he did have use for her on several Earthbound adventures with Sarah (TV: Robot, COMIC: Death Flower, Counter-Rotation, Mind Snatch, and others). He also used Bessie after Sarah was no longer travelling with him, (COMIC: The Fire Feeders) and even when Leela had joined him. (COMIC: The Devil's Mouth) He also used it when travelling with Miss Young (COMIC: The Sea Devil) and, according to one account, whilst with Joan Brown. (COMIC: Doomcloud)
It was unclear what happened to Bessie after this early period of the Fourth Doctor's life. According to one account, it was simply in storage aboard the TARDIS, seen there as late as the Sixth Doctor's travels with Frobisher and Peri. (COMIC: Changes) Another account had it that the Brigadier had it "put into mothballs" at some point, having realised that the Doctor's visits to Earth were becoming more and more infrequent. It was brought out briefly in 1997 as the Brigadier and UNIT worked with the Doctor's seventh incarnation to battle Morgaine; it was briefly criticised by Ace, until the Doctor demonstrated its capabilities. (TV: Battlefield).
Fancying himself an "artist," the Eleventh Doctor decided to "pimp" Bessie by hooking her up to the TARDIS matrix and turning on the random setting which transformed Bessie into a monster truck. Alice Obiefune later struggled to drive the newly transformed Bessie to save the Doctor from a group of possessed individuals under the control of the Talent Scout in 1931. (COMIC: What He Wants...) He later referred to this "regenerated" Bessie as "Bessie 2". (COMIC: Remembrance)
Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart later gave Bessie to John Benton, partly as a joke as Benton once was a used car salesman. Benton then spent his time fixing Bessie. This proved useful when the Silurians started attacking Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood in Scafell as it became the only working car, and allowed them to escape. (AUDIO: Call to Arms)
Initially, Bessie carried the registration license plate WHO 1. By seeming coincidence, at the time of the Seventh Doctor's encounter with Morgaine, the plate had been changed to WHO 7. (TV: Battlefield) When the Eighth Doctor utilised Bessie during the 1997 invasion of Britain, a UNIT soldier reported the number plate as "Whiskey, Hotel, Oscar 8," that is, WHO 8. (PROSE: The Dying Days) After the Eleventh Doctor transformed Bessie into a monster truck, the number plate once again read WHO 1. (COMIC: What He Wants...; Remembrance)
Behind the scenes
- The actual registration WHO 1 was already in use in real life by another motorist, so Bessie was actually registered under a different number plate, MTR 5. Special WHO 1 number plates were made, which were used on the car when filming on private ground or on the public highway with permission from the police.
- A photograph of Jon Pertwee driving Bessie appears in the frame of a mirror owned by Pertwee's character, Paul Henderson, in the 1971 film The House That Dripped Blood. At the time of filming, Pertwee was still playing the Doctor.
- In its first appearance, Doctor Who and the Silurians, Bessie acts in a way comparable to the Volkswagen Beetle character Herbie. In 1973, Jon Pertwee appeared on Disney Time and appeared alongside Herbie, at which point the two stars briefly fought, causing Pertwee to note that while they were similar Bessie was much nicer than Herbie. The two then made up and introduced The Gnome-Mobile.
- Phil Collinson said he paid 50 pence for a ride on Bessie round a shopping centre when he was a child.
- In the cancelled animated series by Nelvana, an updated design for Bessie as a flying car was conceived.
- The appearance of the Third Doctor on Bessie in The Name of the Doctor was archive footage taken from The Five Doctors.
- According to the invalid source Who is Doctor Who?, the Ninth Doctor was once seen trying to fix a broken-down Bessie on the side of the road in Hartlepool.
- In September 2017, the car went on permanent display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, as part of the On Screen Cars exhibition.