The Five Doctors

Five DoctorsExt. The Death Zone.  IAN and BARBARA CHESTERTON are walking across a barren, rocky landscape.  BARBARA looks frightened.

BARBARA: Ian, what was that strange pyramid?
IAN: Presumably some kind of travel device.  We seem to have been transported somewhere.
BARBARA: I wonder if the Doctor is involved somehow.  It seems like forever since we left him.
IAN: Perhaps.  Although it didn’t feel anything like travelling in the Doctor’s ship.
BARBARA: Where do you think we are?
IAN: Well, it doesn’t look very alien, so I don’t think we’ve travelled far.  Maybe somewhere in Wales?
BARBARA: Wait, Ian!  What’s that?
IAN: Barbara, get down!

Over the brow of a hill ahead of them an alien figure appears, closely followed by an entire troop of aliens, all exactly identical in appearance.  They are short, powerful, clone warriors, bred for war.

SONTARAN LEADER: Advance, for the glory of Sontar!

We start The Five Doctors with some archive footage, that hideous speech from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, in which the Doctor lies to his granddaughter about coming back, tells her to live her life earning his approval although he is dumping her, and cannot bring himself to tell her he loves her.  The whole clip becomes a lie, and not just the faked tinge of colour with the sepia effect.  It is repurposed as if it is Hartnell’s farewell to the viewers when his Doctor regenerates.  This sets the tone of the special: Doctors who have retired coming out of retirement.  There is no attempt to connect with the backstory of the series in any meaningful way.  Somehow these Doctors are returning after the point of their regeneration, each one of them.  There is one exception to that, and he gets stuck in transit.

It’s a bizarre contradiction and a very odd way to engage with the past, but it is important to remember that this is just another charity special like Dimensions in Time, The Curse of Fatal Death or Time Crash.  Like those other three, it is all about putting on a show, the very opposite of immersive viewing.  This is not about bringing back past Doctors.  It is about bringing back past actors.  It just plays out over a much grander scale.

Ext. Another part of the Death Zone.  It is a deserted townscape, the buildings in ruins.  The streets are a mess of debris and broken glass.  Along one of the streets walks VICKI and STEVEN.

VICKI: Look at all this glass everywhere.  There can’t be a window anywhere that hasn’t been smashed.
STEVEN:  But the question is, what did all the smashing?  It looks like it happened some time ago.  There’s nobody around.
VICKI: It looks almost like a street of shops from 20th Century Earth.  I read about those when I was a child.  People used to go to buildings that contained food and clothes and exchange a form of currency for the things they needed.  Look how big those windows were, so people could see what was inside.
STEVEN: Why didn’t they just go inside the buildings to see what was there?
VICKI: Who knows.  I wish we could find somebody so we can ask where we are.
STEVEN: And when we are.  That thing could have moved us in time as well as space.  Look, what’s this?

Steven has found a plastic coat hanger on the ground, amongst some debris and smashed glass from a shop window.  He picks it up and looks puzzled.

STEVEN: What do you suppose this is for?
VICKI: Something to do with the way they stored their clothing I think.  That won’t help us.
STEVEN: But I could have sworn it moved.

Vicki lets out a giggle.

STEVEN: Yes, look!  Wait!  What?

The plastic coat hanger is starting to bend and writhe in Steven’s hands.  With one sudden movement it snaps around his wrists, binding them together tightly in a knot.  Vicki tries to help Steven, and while they are struggling an Auton steps out of a shop window behind them.  It’s wrist drops down to reveal a gun.

So the First Doctor, played by Richard Hurndall, is clearly a tribute act to Hartnell, and nobody is expected to think anything different.  Perhaps young children may have been convinced they were seeing the same person, but the intention is clearly not to deceive, or if it is then the decision to include an archive clip of Hartnell is bizarre.  I mentioned above how the point of The Five Doctors is seeing old actors return.  That’s not possible for Hartnell, so instead we get a competent impression.  It’s hard to imagine that happening with any of the other Doctors, but somehow the First Doctor is always fair game, and that’s a puzzling footnote of Doctor Who’s history.  Why is it that we think “yeah, he’s alright” when a fake Troughton would make us physically sick?  The truth of the matter is that it’s really not alright, but there are several ameliorating factors:

  • The First Doctor has been recast before, for the movies.  Contemporary viewers were used to seeing a different First Doctor, with the endless repeats of the Cushing films just about every bank holiday.
  • The First Doctor’s era ended 17 years before The Five Doctors, his return in The Three Doctors was brief, and sadly that performance was about as similar to his original interpretation as Hurndall’s.
  • People always did seem to mis-remember Hartnell’s performance as generic grumpy old man, forgetting the other 90% of his tenure, when he was a giggling anarchist (see The Romans for a perfect example).
  • Hurndall actually does a really, really good job.  I mean, Hartnell would have made a mess of eating a watermelon just like that.
  • John Nathan-Turner hasn’t quite forgotten the family viewing remit of Doctor Who yet (that will take just one more year).  Children watching can be reliably expected to accept what happens here with little more than a fleeting moment of puzzlement, if that.
  • …and from our point of view, we have got used to looking upon Hurndall’s performace with fondness, just like everything else in this weird and wonderful episode.

We continue the oddity from The Three Doctors of Hartnell appearing to be the most intelligent of the Doctors and having a sort of inherent superiority, even being chosen by Terrance Dicks to be the one who solves the plot.  From the point of view of the other Doctors he is not so far removed from a human going back to meet themselves as a teenager, so this seems odd, as if nobody could ever quite get away from the visible age of the character.

The First Doctor is paired with Tegan for much of the story, which seems like an opportunity to see what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.  The answer to that question is rather more prosaic than it might have been: the immovable object gets very, very grumpy, while the unstoppable force just keeps rolling along.

Int: the Dark Tower.  The FIRST DOCTOR and TEGAN turn a corner and come face to face with KATARINA and SARA KINGDOM.

KATARINA: Mighty Zeus, you must turn back!
SARA: Turn back Doctor.  Steven is still outside and he needs your help.
TEGAN: (aside, to the Doctor) Who are they?

A look of great sadness has come over the Doctor’s face.

FIRST DOCTOR: Merely ghosts of the past, child, sent to delay us.
KATARINA: You must return, and help Steven and Vicki!  A demon attacks them!
SARA: Many of your friends still need your help Doctor.  You cannot abandon them to their fate.  Ian and Barbara are facing an army of warriors.
FIRST DOCTOR: Ian and Barbara?  Vicki?  What do you both know of them, hmm?  You don’t exist, either of you.  Something is pilfering my thoughts, trying to hold us back.  You’re ghosts, spirits, illusions!

Katarina and Sara scream and fade away.  Their screams echo on, after they have gone.

FIRST DOCTOR:  (quietly) Goodbye, my friends, and I am sorry for what happened to you both.
TEGAN: What’s up, Doc?
FIRST DOCTOR: Don’t call me Doc.  We must keep moving.  Don’t dilly dally, child.

The phantoms of past companions are a useful way to involve some more of them, and without that idea Frazer Hines, for example, would have been unable to appear, as he was only available for a very short time.  What we get, however, is verging on being worse than nothing, because they are tantalising glimpses that leave us wanting more.  The scene with Jamie and Zoe is truly heartbreaking for anyone who remembers the cruel ending to The War Games, but the phantom scenes are diminished by there being two of them.  As soon as we have seen it once, the second time around loses much of the tension.  Famously there is a muddle up here, because the Doctor is aware of the events of the trial before it has happened from his point of view, which has led to the fan theory of “Season 6B”.  It’s a theory that has stuck, and it does make a lot of sense, especially in light of what will be happening in the Second Doctor’s life when we see him again, somehow working for the Time Lords and travelling with an older Jamie.

Ext: the Death Zone.  A woman is hurrying around an outcrop of rocks, looking worried.  As she turns a corner she comes face to face with a giant of a man, wearing a military outfit with huge shoulder pads.  He is surrounded by diminutive robots.

DODO: At last!  I thought I’d never find anyone.  I’ve been wandering around here for ages.  Who are you?  Where am I?  Cool shoulder pads!
DOMINATOR: Quarks, destroy!  Total destruction!

More problematical than the phantoms is the return of one particular companion, the original, you might say: Susan.  Dicks treats her just like anyone else.  She’s another companion to be paired with her Doctor.  Two gets the Brig, Three gets Sarah.  One gets Susan.  But she’s not just another companion.  She’s the Doctor’s own granddaughter, whom he cruelly abandoned and then never went back.  She’s clearly older, and she hasn’t seen him since The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  The dialogue makes that reasonably clear.  For a Time Lord to look visibly older a significant amount of time must have passed.  If we take the Matt Smith era as a blueprint, we’re probably looking at hundreds of years.  Despite the inclusion of that farewell speech at the start, the issue of her abandonment is ignored, and her grandfather, who always was verging on being mentally abusive towards her, has no interest in the upshot of that abandonment, never asking about her life since he left.

The obvious reason for this is the sheer amount of stuff that is being crammed in to the special, and also the wisdom or otherwise of picking up plot threads from two decades ago, but the way Susan is treated is almost as distressing as seeing the phantoms of Jamie and Zoe, for fans of the early stories.  She is just a joke of a companion cliché, twisting her ankle and then stored away in the TARDIS with Turlough, who is also surplus to requirements for the special, while her grandfather goes off with somebody he can have a bit of banter with.  Davison does his best to sell the moment of their re-acquaintance with virtually zero dialogue, but he’s swimming against the tide of a missed opportunity.

Int: cave tunnels.  BEN and POLLY JACKSON are walking along a tunnel.  Ben is carrying a flaming torch.

POLLY: Oh why did we decide to explore in here Ben?  I was happier out on the hillside.
BEN: The place was deserted, and we need answers.  This tunnel must lead somewhere.  Who knows, we might find the TARDIS at the end of it.  Come on, duchess.
POLLY: I don’t think we’re going to find anything.   It looks like a dead-end up ahead.  Wait!  What’s that shining over there?

Something has caught the light of the torch in the cave wall.  Ben and Polly approach, nervously.

BEN: It’s ice!  This wall is made of solid ice.
POLLY: Brrr!  I thought it was cold.  Let’s go back, Ben.
BEN: Wait a minute, Poll.  There’s something inside the ice!
POLLY: Oh yes, yes there is!  What do you think it is?
BEN: It’s like some kind of a giant.  Look, it’s moving!
POLLY: Oh Ben, let’s go back!

With a huge cracking sound the ice suddenly splits open down the middle.  Ben and Polly jump back.  The fist of an Ice Warrior smashes through the ice.

The choice of monsters to appear is a mixed bag.  Eric Saward loved the Cybermen, so they get most of the action, but Terrance Dicks couldn’t stand them so just found lots of ways to kill them.  The whole episode stands as a parable for the importance of moving forward, even when looking to the past.  Faced with a shopping list of monsters to include, Dicks goes ahead and creates one of his own, which is far more effective and interesting than any of the returning ones: the Raston Warrior Robot.

During the 90s I was that rare thing among my friends at the time: a Doctor Who fan.  In fact, I was unique among my friends in that respect.  They mostly had vague and fond memories of the series from their childhood; I was never laughed at for my enthusiasm, perhaps for that reason, or maybe I was just very lucky with the kind of friends I had.  The interesting thing was that they couldn’t remember much in the way of specifics about stories, but certain things had stuck in their minds: Daleks, Cybermen, the Kandyman, the Raston Warrior Robot.  It’s an interesting one, that last one.  The last time we had all seen it we were just about starting primary school, and it had appeared in one scene in one episode.  And yet it was burnt into the collective consciousness of a generation of children.  Terrance Dicks really is that brilliant.

Ext. the Death Zone.  VICTORIA and the MONK are sat on a rock, talking.  In the distance appears a group of Drahvins with six robotic Chumblies.  Victoria jumps up.

VICTORIA: What should we do?  Should we run?
MONK: No, we need to find the Doctor and these ladies might be able to help us.  They don’t look very dangerous, do they.  They’ve brought little robot pets with them.  Besides, I’m an expert in these matters.
VICTORIA: I’m so confused.  I don’t know where I am.  I don’t know who you are, or if I can even trust you.
MONK: Of course you can.  I’m an old friend of the Doctor’s, just like you are.  We must have been brought here to assist him in some way.  Perhaps those women are some more of his friends.
VICTORIA: They don’t look very friendly to me.
MONK: I know what I’m doing, Victoria.  I have helped the Doctor in all kinds of tricky situations.  I once helped him to defeat the Daleks you know.  In fact, in many ways the Doctor was my assistant.

The Drahvins approach, weapons raised.

DRAHVIN ONE: Identify yourself.
MONK: Ah here you all are at last.  I’ve captured this woman for you.  She is an enemy to us both.  She is the one who brought us to this place for her own mischief.  She’s a meddler in time.  I can help you, but first you must destroy her.

In the absence of any Second Doctor companion who could be available for more than a single scene, Troughton gets paired with Nicholas Courtney, who has appeared with the Second Doctor on just three occasions before.  The two of them are of course completely magnificent together, and take the same approach as all the others: old friends coming out of retirement for one last adventure, one final Yeti attack.  We probably have to rationalise this as a “real” Yeti, as per the one seen at the end of The Abominable Snowmen, unless the Great Intelligence is somehow influencing Borusa or something odd like that, but it doesn’t matter.  These are recreated moments of glory, devoid of their original context.  So there is no Intelligence, no creepy little wooden statues, no whispering menace, no silver balls.  Like the Dalek, it’s just a generic monster to menace a Doctor and a companion, an obstacle in their path.  This is a convention lineup strung together with slender plot strands.  It has to be enjoyed in the spirit of fun.

Ext. an overgrown maze in the Death Zone.  The paths are there, and are passable, but the hedgerows have sprouted out in all directions and brambles are everywhere, threatening to scratch anyone who should try to run with their cruel thorns.  It is shadowy and dark.  At the centre is a plinth, with a large red button on the top, on the surface of which is embossed the Seal of Rassilon.  Arriving at the centre of the maze are a very tired looking JO JONES and SERGEANT BENTON.

JO: Well, I would rather we had found the way out, but at least whatever way we walk from here we’ll be heading away from the centre.  Things can’t get any worse.
BENTON: That’s right miss, but first of all shouldn’t we take a look at that plinth?  There’s a button on the top.
JO: Do you remember that time just before we met Omega, when we were stuck in the TARDIS with two different Doctors, and a third one came up on the screen?
BENTON: Yes miss, but why? Is he here?
JO: No, but I remember something he said.  He asked what a bridge was for, and somebody said “crossing”, and so he said, “then cross it!”  Sometimes it’s best to just do the obvious thing.
BENTON:  So we see a big red button, and, what, we just press it?
JO: Will you do it, or shall I?
BENTON: Stand back, miss.
JO: Hold on!  I don’t let anyone try to protect me any more, not even Cliff.  We’ll press it together.
BENTON: Whatever you say, miss.

The put their hands together on the button and press down.  It takes quite an effort – the mechanism is clearly old, but the button presses inwards and they step back.  We hear a grinding noise, and the plinth splits down the middle and begins to open outwards.  As Jo and Benton back away, small metallic creatures start to stream out of the plinth: Cybermats!

The original plan was the obvious one: Third Doctor and Jo, Fourth Doctor and Sarah.  Unfortunately Katy Manning was in Australia, and Tom Baker turned down the offer to return, so Sarah ended up being paired with Pertwee… which works just fine.  Like Susan, though, she suffers from being written as a generic companion, but for different reasons.  Susan’s past is left unaddressed, a shadow hanging over proceedings, while Sarah is immediately separated from K9 and regresses from the lead in her own (admittedly short-lived) show to a useless girl who asks questions and falls down hills.  The special edition makes things worse, reinstating her attempt to battle a troop of Cybermen with a pebble.  Then again, that special edition has only one thing going for it: the moment on the original VHS where the BBC Video logo gets time-scooped.  After that its time to switch off.

It all reminds me a bit of when I’m watching an episode of Neighbours.  It’s a great soap opera, with a long history of nurturing great stars, and a lot of the storylines are highly entertaining, but boy are their directors terrible at knowing when to cut a shot.  They just love a reaction shot, and will insist on holding onto it just a couple of seconds too long, to a point where the actors have run out of lines and just have to stare at each other or look puzzled.  I have been known to shout “cut” at the television.  The special edition of The Five Doctors is that… but turned up to eleven.  Every useable second from the raw footage is stuck back in, whether there’s any point to that or not.  And with the original cut already the longest episode of Doctor Who ever made, longer even than The Movie, there was hardly a bunch of good stuff cut for time that needed reinstating.

Ext. marshland in the Death Zone.  HARRY SULLIVAN is picking his way gingerly among damp ground.  His trouser legs are already covered in mud at the hems.  He treads in a particularly squelchy patch of ground and his foot comes up shoeless.  With a bubbling and a plop, his shoe sinks into the marshy ground.  Harry looks down and sighs.

HARRY: Just like old times.  I never could keep both my shoes when the Doctor was around.  (Shouting) Doctor!  Doctor!  (Quietly to himself) He must be around here somewhere!  It’s got to be something to do with him.

A hand covers his mouth, and he turns around, coming face to face with LEELA.

LEELA: Be silent!  You will wake the demons of the marsh.
HARRY: Mmmph mmmp mmm.

She lets go of his mouth.

HARRY: Who are you?  What demons?
LEELA: I am Leela of the Sevateem, and you are an imbecile.  Your shouting will bring them to attack us.  Have you not felt the movements beneath your feet, seen the bubbles coming up through the water, smelt their stench?  I have seen the bones of their victims.
HARRY: In that case we had better get moving.  I don’t suppose you’ve seen a chap wearing a long scarf?  Big teeth?  Curly hair?

They are interrupted by the scream of a monster.  Ahead of them, rising up out of the waters of the marsh, is the head of a Drashig.

So a quick rundown of some omissions from The Five Doctors, without attempting an exhaustive list or drilling down into exact details.  Ben and Polly were ruled out because Anneke Wills had moved abroad.  Deborah Watling was originally scripted in as Victoria, but had to pull out due to other work commitments.  Katy Manning was in Australia and the budget was never going to stretch to paying to fly her over.  John Levene didn’t like the script’s handling of Benton, so declined to appear.  Ian Marter was busy in New Zealand.  Tom Baker was asked to return but refused.

Louise Jameson wanted to return as Leela, but nobody could work out how to include her, once Tom said no.

Wait, what?  Yes, seriously, the utterly magnificent Louise Jameson, who had played one of the most amazing and iconic companions of the entire Classic series, who we had last seen staying on Gallifrey, couldn’t be written into the script without Tom?  Nobody thought of sending her into the Death Zone with the Master, to keep an eye on him?  Then again, both Susan and Sarah returned as damsels in distress, so perhaps we were saved from the worst character betrayal of them all.

Ext. a forest.  The sound of marching footsteps, strangely rhythmic.  An army of human-size clockwork toy soldiers is passing through the forest.  Crouched behind a tree at a safe distance are the FIRST ROMANA and NYSSA of Traken.  The soldiers disappear off among the trees and the sound of marching fades away into the distance.

ROMANA: I think it’s safe for us to keep moving.  Come on.

They head off in the opposite direction to the soldiers, and then stop suddenly.  Nyssa is standing face to face with her exact double.

NYSSA: Ann, is that you?
ANN: Yes… Ann, yes that’s me, of course.  Ann.  Who else could I be?
ROMANA: You didn’t tell me your twin was around here too.
NYSSA: She’s not my twin.  This is Ann Talbot.  We just happen to look alike.  But what I don’t understand is why we have all been brought to this forest.  And why you of all people, Ann?
ROMANA: I know all about twins and doubles, but we don’t have time for this.  Let’s go.

They move off into the forest, Romana leading, Nyssa following, and Ann bringing up the rear.  With a shimmering effect, Not-Ann begins to change, growing larger, changing colour.  Strange suckers burst out of her sides, until finally an alien creature stands behind the two companions.  Looming over Nyssa, is a Zygon.

There had been one multi-Doctor story once before: The Three Doctors.  It exhibited something of a problem, with the incumbent Doctor comparing unfavourably to his predecessor, piloted in to solve a situation that the Third Doctor was unable to handle.  Troughton is by some margin the most stunningly brilliant actor ever to play the Doctor, and even though he was generous and gracious when appearing with other Doctors there’s only one way our attention is going to be drawn when he’s on the screen.  The Five Doctors was a decent attempt to solve an inherent problem with multi-Doctor stories: more than one lead star on the screen together.  Several lead actors don’t tend to add up to a functional ensemble.  So giving each Doctor their own separate journey and keeping them apart until the end is a clever way to address this.  The only one who ends up diminished is ironically the current Doctor, in a repeat of the problem of The Three Doctors.  Previous versions of the Doctor turn up and steal the thunder of the current incarnation.  The Fifth Doctor collapses, fades away, never gets a heroic journey to the Dark Tower, and gets hypnotised.  The special edition really does him no favours.

Int. TARDIS console room.

DOCTOR: Hold tight.
TEGAN: It’ll soon be goodbye, then.
DOCTOR: Will it?
TURLOUGH: Well, you’re off to Gallifrey to be President.  I suppose your Time Lord subjects will find a Tardis that really works and get us both home?
DOCTOR: Who said anything about Gallifrey?
TURLOUGH: You told Chancellor Flavia
DOCTOR: I told her she had full deputy powers until I returned.
TEGAN: You’re not going back?
DOCTOR: You know, sometimes, Tegan, you take my breath away.
TURLOUGH: Er, won’t the Time Lords be very angry?
DOCTOR: Furious.
TEGAN: You mean you’re deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people in a rackety old TARDIS?
DOCTOR: Why not? After all, that’s how it all started.
ADRIC: No Doctor, you must go back!

The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough are looking in shock at a teenage boy who has appeared by the main doors.

DOCTOR: Adric?
TURLOUGH: Who’s Adric?
ADRIC: You must go back to Gallifrey and save me!  I’m still stuck in the Death Zone.
TEGAN: When I was in the Tower something like this happened.  Some women just appeared out of nowhere and… and Doctor…
TEGAN: (quietly and sadly) I think they were dead… the ones that didn’t make it.
DOCTOR: I understand.  You’re not real, Adric.  Rassilon’s mind is trying to draw us back.  You’re a phantom.  And Rassilon is overstretching himself.  You’re already starting to fade.

Adric screams and fades away to nothing.

TURLOUGH: But why would Rassilon want us to go back.
DOCTOR: Boredom.  It’s not very often somebody tries to play the game of Rassilon.  He must be missing us already.
TEGAN: Poor old man.  Can’t something be done to help him?
DOCTOR: Believe me, Tegan, he’s best left exactly where he is.

I’ve had a lot of fun here, imagining what might have happened with the missing companions.  Incidentally, having written the bulk of this entry, I then did a bit of research, looking for inspiration of how best to sum things up, and discovered that both the Autons and the Quarks (yes, the Quarks) were considered for inclusion in The Five Doctors, so some of my insane ramblings are not a million miles away from what might have happened.  Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

What I have done with this entry has been an exercise in dreaming about what might have been, and The Five Doctors has always inspired fans to think about that.  We love the story, despite its obvious flaws, and I think it’s fair to say that most fans enjoy it for what it is, probably against our better judgement for the most part.  But it’s hard not to think with some degree of melancholy how amazing it could have been: the Second Doctor with Jamie and Victoria perhaps, the Third Doctor with Jo, Tom Baker making a triumphant return, the Fourth Doctor back with his Sarah Jane.  And the one that got away for no good reason: Leela.

Doctor Who is a mosaic.  Some of the tiles are missing, some have been assembled in the wrong order, and The Five Doctors is a particularly weird and wonderful, messy part of the picture.  And oh, what an amazing picture it is.

Int. Gallifrey.

FLAVIA: They are all back where they belong now.
LEELA: Even the ones that got lost?
FLAVIA: Yes, all back in their proper places in time and space.  Although why Borusa wanted to scoop up so many of them I have no idea.  He used to have such a brilliant mind, and now…
LEELA: I would have liked to have seen the Doctor again.  Now he will not know how many of his friends were here to help him.
FLAVIA: When we bring him back to take office, you can tell him.
LEELA: When you bring him back?  (she laughs)  You might as well try to capture the vortex in a bottle.

Int. Living quarters on Drahva.  The camera is focused on a television screen, set into the wall, showing a news feed.

ANNOUNCER: And in a landslide victory today, Miss Victoria Waterfield was elected President of Drahva.  She promises sweeping military and social reforms.

The camera pulls back to reveal a Drahvin sat in a chair, watching the news feed while she enjoys a drink.  A man is on his hands and knees, scrubbing the floor.

DRAHVIN ONE: Work harder slave!  I want that floor to shine!
MONK: My wish is your command.
DRAHVIN ONE: And don’t you forget it.

Effects Shot: the vortex.  One after another, five TARDISes fly past.

A pause.

Then a sixth, a seventh, an eighth, a ninth, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14…

And the story never ends…   RP

The view from across the pond:

In the year is 1963 a phenomenon was born.  By November of 1983, 20 years later, that same old man who started the show was back on our screens repeating a sad goodbye to his granddaughter.  “One day, I shall come back… yes, I shall come back…”  And then he finished his speech and… a starfield pattern exploded into glorious color, the music we love was been reborn, Peter Davison’s face appeared and a new Doctor Who adventure begins…  The Five Doctors! 

The Five Doctors is a wonderful celebration of all that we love about Doctor Who.  And yes, that does include poorly thought-out plot points and villains of questionable intellect.  Let’s start there because it is the very foundation upon which this story is based.  Someone wants immortality and some dead old guy who was so powerful he may still be alive after death… has the secret to immortality in a tower in the middle of a vast deathtrap.  So, said someone (shh… it’s Borusa) needs help getting this secret, thus he needs someone tenacious.  He needs someone who he doesn’t mind losing to any of a hundred different deathtraps.  And he needs someone who won’t get in his way.  Thus the most logical thing to do is to get his old pupil who he liked, knowing he’s as quirky as Omega is mad, and trick him into doing the deed.  You know, the one guy who has stopped every threat ever thrown at him, including one from another universe that was destroying all of Gallifrey… yeah, that guy.  Then, because we saw how having 3 of him would be helpful in defeating Omega, now use him five times over.  Because, you know, he won’t stop the evil plot…

Ok, the idea was ridiculous.  Especially at the end when we discovered that the whole time, there was a transmat in the Dark tower a mere 10 paces from Rassilon’s sarcophagus!  But what this story does do is celebrates the series.  Reuniting the First Doctor and Susan just reminds us where we were 20 years earlier.  The two who started the series were back (albeit with a different actor playing the First Doctor).  Then we have a reminder of the chemistry of the Second Doctor and the Brigadier (even though the Brig spent a lot more time with Pertwee!).  Their relationship, the playful banter, the mutual respect… it’s all there again for us to see.  Pertwee is matched up with Sarah Jane Smith, post K-9 and Company.  She knows what the Doctor changed into and it’s a nice bit of continuity… The Third Doctor is still as bossy as ever and a know-it-all/bully, but somehow we still love him, knowing his sarcasm is all part of his charm.  Most depressingly, the Fourth Doctor is stuck in a time eddy – damn these time eddies – and he doesn’t appear, beyond scenes from the un-broadcast story Shada to keep him in the episode to some extent.  And then there’s the current Doctor with Tegan and Turlough.

The celebration doesn’t end there.  Jamie (Fraser Hines), Zoe (Wendy Padbury, wearing the latest trend in bubble wrap), Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) and Liz Shaw (Caroline John) also come back, although they are merely phantoms.  K-9 and Bessie also turn up.  And there are other returning guests in the form of monsters.  A Dalek stalks the First Doctor and Susan.  A Yeti hunts the Second Doctor and the Brigadier.  The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane narrowly avoid a conflict with the Cybermen.  And of course, who better to bring it all together than the Master!  To think, they put together a story with all of this and kept it to an hour and a half!?  And still had time to introduce a Raston Warrior (Ballet Dancer) Robot?  And paint Borusa to be another corrupt Time Lord?  And create the legend of Rassilon?

So for me, the links to this story go beyond the show.  First, it should be noted, this was the era of the 56K modem and watching Doctor Who on UHF channels, pre-cable.  I was part of an online chat room and made friends with people in Brooklyn NY, one of whom was called The Doctor.  After The Kings Demons, I went online to chat and he told me to get back to my TV, The Five Doctors was on.  (I often wonder what happened to those guys…)  I raced back and turned the TV on and sat down, captivated by the 90 minutes I was watching.  (Minus the time it took me to connect via 56k modem to find out it was on…)  Then, Rassilon became a legend to me; I still use that name whenever creating a character in a video game.  I can’t express my utter delight when Timothy Dalton took the role with The End of Time.  For all the great things Dalton has done, none have made me happier than this role!  As a fan of Doctor Who, I had previously picked up a poster showing the five Doctors together with a triangle obelisk beneath them and the vaguest image of the flame opening from the Pertwee era visible in the center of it.  And I had read the TARGET novel twice.  This was a legendary episode; to see it that night was magical.  But how did it go beyond the show?  When I was a kid, I had a board game called The Dark Tower; a D&D style game with a tall black tower in its center.  The tower ran on batteries and had buttons to help determine the outcome of battles.  The goal was to reach the tower and use 3 keys to win the game (above, between, below… maybe?)   While the game had nothing to do with Doctor Who, it added a sense of interaction.  I was never any good at the game but it was very reminiscent of this story.  Doctor Who had infiltrated so many aspects of my life as a kid and it still means the world to me as an adult.  It connected with a love for adventure and wonder and excitement… from the safety of my own home.  It turned a simple board game into so much more and turned every day into an adventure.

And that’s what The Five Doctors was really celebrating: the magic of a show that started as a children’s television program and grew to so much more.  It celebrated a character that had been very different in each of his incarnations but showed that at their hearts, they were the same person.  Unlike The Three Doctors, the Doctors don’t interact together for more than a couple of minutes at the end, but the different approaches to the character are all on display.  It’s proven to be a role that has never failed.  There may be favorite Doctors and least favorite, but there has never been a bad Doctor.  The Five Doctors celebrated and laid the groundwork for many more decades of excitement and adventure.  It’s exactly as it should have been.  After all, that’s how it all started…  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Warriors of the Deep

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Entertainment, Fifth Doctor, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Five Doctors

  1. Mike Basil says:

    First let me thank you, RP, for your remarkably dimensional aspect of how The Five Doctors could have been done with all those extra companions and villains. It really helped me to view The Five Doctors a lot differently after all this time, even though my views for it have openly changed either for better or worse. When I first saw it, it was a fun and enjoyable adventure. But today it’s easier to understand how it started a well-known problem with multi-Doctor adventures. Season 6B may have solved much where the 2nd Doctor was concerned and Big Finish did the same for Susan in the 8th Doctor’s era (coupled with that comic-book Lady-Larn-revelation I once mentioned which I think we should see again somewhere). The main point on whether The Five Doctors can qualify sufficiently as a plot-driven story, even if it gave Borusa a specifically dramatic finale and gave us our first view of Rassilon, or simply a family-reunion celebration for Dr. Who may depend on what you’re in the mood for when you reminisce with it. But modern-Who fans who see this special for the first time should easily appreciate why The Day Of The Doctor and Twice Upon A Time made more of story material. Babelcolour’s The Ten Doctors added a whole new Time War twist which centered on an evil-Doctor-incarnation that appeared to be even more ominously dangerous than the Valeyard. So The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors and Dimensions In Time can still earn their positive reflections for how things have justifiably changed since the classic Dr. Who eras.

    Thank you too, ML, for your review which indeed reminds of how I still enjoy The Five Doctors for its atmospheric adventurism as a classic Dr. Who story. Dr. Who has always been a show with a blessed ability to make us look beyond its fallacies. Every show has its shares of ups and downs because we have to embrace them both for educational reasons, which agreeably beats the vast agitations caused by grudges with something in your favorite show that would understandably be something you’d want to see change. Because fan-contributions from the Wilderness Years, Big Finish, comic-books to all the fan-films and mashups we see today wouldn’t have found their own footholds otherwise. Dr. Who is all about moving forward even if the faults of the past are a price we must continually pay. The modern Dr. Who still teaches us that if nothing else. So that could earn The Five Doctors the best points for its family-reunion format on how there’s always a great reason somewhere down the line to keep moving forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    The Five Doctors would also start of trend for new actors making their debuts as the Doctor during Anniversary specials, starting with Richard Hurndall for the first actor to recreate William Hartnell’s Doctor.

    The 40th would see the debuts for alternate Doctors: Richard E. Grant, Geoffrey Bayldon, David Warner, David Collings, Sir Derek Jacobi and Arabella Weir. And the 50th introduced three new Doctor actors: Sir John Hurt, David Bradley and Peter Capaldi.

    The Five Doctors may be looked upon a lot more differently now in retrospect because of what’s been revealed about the Timeless Child. But we can still remember it for the best reasons and I always applaud Richard Hurndall for being a particularly significant addition to all the classic era Doctors.

    Liked by 1 person

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