THE FIVE DOCTORS
First broadcast 23/11/1983* starring Peter Davison
Without a doubt, this is the Doctor Who story I’ve watched the most over the years. The Five Doctors is the perfect treat to sit down, watch and take you out of any downer or funk you may be in. It’s such a joyous and wonderful celebration of the show, and one I loved back in ’83 and still adore now.
“Fans” often cite that the plot of The Five Doctors isn’t up to much but I would wholeheartedly disagree. It’s a perfectly tight story with an incredibly satisfying resolution. The notion that Rassilon has set up this trap to ensnare any potential threat is stout. Immortality (or “utter boredom” as The Eighth Doctor refers to it) is not a prize to be won – “a curse, not a blessing,” as The First Doctor would state. It’s neat, and The Doctor(s) realise this with not a moment to lose.
And the fact that Borusa felt he needed the Doctors to tackle the Death Zone and the Tower of Rassilon is pure gravy. A decent, nay, essential excuse to get the old boys back together.
When I first watched The Five Doctors, as a wee boy on transmission as part of the Children In Need night, I was transfixed from start to end. The fact that Richard Hurndall was The First Doctor didn’t faze me at all. And, as pointed out by Steven Moffat in the recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine, as fans of a certain age, we hadn’t seen much Hartnell by that point (I’d only seen him in An Unearthly Child and The Three Doctors by that time, for example – and only once each). So it wasn’t that odd to see him grumping it around the place. I still think he does a great job and doesn’t impede on my enjoyment in any way at all.
Sticking with the issue of “missing” Doctors, Tom Baker’s “absence” from the tale, for me, only increases its drama. Using the footage from Shada, we got a tantalising glimpse into a new adventure (which, at the time, I knew nothing about). The fact that he and Romana got trapped made it all the more intriguing to my ten year old brain. It also suggested that The Doctor wasn’t safe and even the man behind, couldn’t fix it. A real dilemma.
Of course, the footage from Shada is delightful with Baker and Ward in perfectly whimiscial Douglas Adams mode. And, with the most recent DVD version of The Five Doctors fixing the rather clunky original scenes (which played havoc continuity~wise) rendering them sensical. Indeed, this particular DVD version is to be commended on its treatment of the special, with some mean and moody opening shots inside the Tower of Rassilon, though it’s replacement of the Black “Triangle” of Doom™ with the Transparent Ice Cream Cone of Doom™ isn’t quite as successful. I do love the BToD’s appearance in the original version and, accompanied with those ominous Who-y bass notes, it’s a real slice of simple, iconic imagery.
Speaking of which, iconic imagery, not to mention moments, absolutely fill the 20th Anniversary Special. To the brim. Aside from all The Doctors, Companions and Monsters returning from the “past”, there’s the new sights and scenes to behold such as the Tower of Rassilon, the cool looking figures of The Doctor and his chums used by Borusa, the Master gunning down the Cybermen, those creepy stone faces coming to life in the Tomb of Rassilon (not forgetting his odd disembodied head) and, of course, the immenseness of the Raston Warrior Robot.
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate this guy. And wonder just why the flippin’ eck old Rasto, as no one calls him, hasn’t returned to Doctor Who. Was it too just too awesome a creation for The Doctor to face again? Too deadly a foe? Too keen an assassin? Or was it the tightness of the buttocks? The campness of his stretch? Regardless, its terrific scene where it destroyed a legion of Cybermen is one of Who‘s greats and a fabulous, yet simple, creation.
There are some cracking other moments too; Doctors meeting past/future Doctors (and the tittersome interplay that entails); companions meeting other companions; and The Master sleazing it up with his fellow Time Lords (don’t you just love how he purrs “The cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bares thinking about.”?). It’s just one hugely pleasing moment after another.
Having said that, there is the Mind Probe. But let’s not dwell on that, shall we?
As a piece of nostalgia, The Five Doctors holds a very strong place in my heart – I watched it at the perfect age when I was at the height of my fanaticism as a child. But throughout the years it’s a story I’ve come back to time and again, like a brilliant Beatles album. I drink it in, spout the dialogue along with it as if it’s Hey Jude or Ticket To Ride.
It’s the Greatest Hits of Doctor Who all in one beautiful sitting of ninety minutes. And every moment is a solid gold Number One.
See Nos. 50-3 HERE
Nice to see The Five Doctors being championed. Well argued, like you i've never understood the sector of fandom that disses this wondeful love letter to the show.
Can you please elaborate on the 'clunkiness' of various 5 Doctors scenes?
I'm referring to the Shada footage which, on the original version of The Five Doctors, didn't match up when The Fourth Doctor and Romana were freed from being stuck in time.
The recent DVD version has fixed this.
All this AND the Brigadier returning to punch the Master in the face. It's almost too much to take in.