The Five Doctors

First Broadcast November 25th, 1983 @ 7.20pm (7.7m viewers)

Producer John Nathan-Turner was keen to celebrate Doctor Who’s 20th Anniversary in style. Season 20 had seen nods to the past throughout with Omega, the Mara, the Brigadier, the Guardians and the Master all returning. Sadly a planned finale featuring the Daleks fell through but would be saved for the following year. But a feature-length Anniversary special was planned and it wouldn’t just be villains who would be making a reappearance.

Nathan-Turner approached writer Robert Holmes with a shopping list of elements he wanted including in the episode. Frustrated, Holmes declined to continue on the project and instead began work on ‘The Caves of Androzani’. Taking up the mantle would be experienced writer Terrance Dicks. He was tasked with coming up with a story which would include five incarnations of The Doctor, monsters and companions. What he delivered was a superb celebration of Doctor Who’s 20th Anniversary.

Sadly William Hartnell passed away in 1975. He would however not be forgotten. The episode began with Hartnell’s beautiful speech to Susan at the end of ‘The Daleks’ Invasion of Earth’. In the rest of the story, the First Doctor was portrayed by actor Richard Hurndall who ably brought the character back to our screens. With Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee signed up to appear negotiations began with Fourth Doctor Tom Baker. Sadly despite meetings and lunches Baker declined to feature in the special. However, because production on Shada had been abandoned previously unseen location footage of Baker and companion Lalla Ward was used. So happily the Fourth Doctor does appear, just in a limited fashion but with new material. Given he had only left the show recently it wasn’t too much of a blow and so, quite rightly, Peter Davison’s Fifth incarnation took centre stage.

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

In the episodes opening moments, a brand new TARDIS console was unveiled with the Fifth Doctor lovingly dusting. JNT had obtained a little more money for the production so the TARDIS console could finally have a full refurbishment after years of being lugged in and out of studio had inevitably taken its toll. The results were spectacular. Personally, it has always been my favourite console. Admittedly the ceefax-esque screens have dated but the overall look was impressive. It still remains proudly displayed in all it’s glory at the Doctor Who Experience, looking as fresh and attractive as it did in 1983.

Much like the show’s recent 50th Anniversary special, Gallifrey became a central focus for this tale. The concept of the Death Zone is intriguing and made all the more dangerous due to a sprinkling of past villains; the Cybermen, a Dalek and a Yeti. In an ingenious piece of invention a new addition, the Raston Warrior Robot, steals the show.

Memorable Moment 2 (Spoiler Warning)

Script Editor Eric Saward commented to Terrance Dicks that the Third Doctor and Sarah reach the tower too easily. The show needed an additional peril which was exciting, dramatic and most importantly, cheap! As Dicks was not a fan of the Cybermen he took the opportunity to dismember a whole squad of the silver giants. Producer JNT actually directed the sequence as the lightning fast robot dismantled the cybernetic cyborgs spectacularly.

‘The Five Doctors’ is fondly remembered by fans. There are emotional reunions aplenty. The First Doctor and his granddaughter Susan. The Second Doctor and the Brigadier. The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. A Yeti is seen onscreen for the first time in 15 years. A Dalek explodes to reveal the writhing mutant inside. Best of all the Doctors get to interact with each other. Although this is saved for the end of the show the competitive and antagonistic relationship between the Second and Third Doctors reappears ten years on from their previous encounter in ‘The Three Doctors’. Other past companions K9, Jamie, Zoe, Liz and Mike Yates also make brief cameos. Above that the plot of the story is intriguing and engaging with an unexpected villain culminating in a surprising job offer!

This 20th Anniversary special was and remains a delight to watch and cleverly celebrates the past whilst delivering a solid Doctor Who story. It is no wonder therefore that it was the first story selected for release on the new DVD format in 1999. Since then it has been rereleased in a 2 disc special edition, crammed full of bonus features, commentaries and documentaries that is a must for any fan. 1983 set a very high standard of celebrations for 2013 to follow.

For a full list of cast and creatives see the BBC’s dedicated pages.

Also First Aired On This Day…
  • The Ice Warriors: Three
  • The Androids of Tara

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