The Crystal Bucephalus
The Five Doctors Collectors' Edition
The Five Doctors
(Later divided into four)
With Peter Davison, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee,
Richard Hurndall, Tom Baker, and William Hartnell,
Carole Ann Ford, Nicolas Courtney, Elizabeth Sladen,
Lalla Ward, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson.
Written by Terrance Dicks. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Peter Moffatt. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
Synopsis: The first five Doctors are taken out of time and thrust onto the
Death Zone on Gallifrey to play the Game of Rassilon against enemies from
the past and present.
|Note: Availble in four versions: The movie-length American, the movie-length and episodic UK versions, and the 1995 remix released on video.|
C'mon Tom, It'll Be Great, There's Cybermen And Everything! by Mauro Geevesy 22/3/06
Thoroughly enjoyed reading all the reviews on this site as I warm up for the new series of the new series. I have resisted the urge to write a review myself however, until I got to the bit about The Five Doctors.
The reason for this being that I haven't had anything in particular to say that hasn't already been mentioned. Even for this adventure, I agree with all those who have exclaimed their disappointment at this anniversary special. In fact, contrary to my title, The Five Doctors was anything but great.
The only real pleasure I got from the story, first time round, was to see the development of Turlough, the definitive 'anti-companion'; the Raston Warrior Robot which frightened the living daylights out of me; the fantastic Patrick Troughton Doctor - repeats were a bit thin on the ground throughout the eighties; and, of course, the superb performance of Richard Hurndall.
Even at that tender age, however, I remember being disappointed after looking forward to the episode for so long. The Five Doctors even highlighted exactly how lame the Cybermen had become. Watching it again today, I can only bring myself to consider it alongside those barely-entertaining Comic Relief/Children In Need specials.
I don't want people to shoot me down over this as this is not a forum, but my real gripe is this:
You guessed it!
The absence of Tom Baker.
It makes me laugh whenever I hear 'Big Tommy B' speaking on documentaries in recent years. He always seems to have an anecdote about how, even to this day, he is stopped in the street by someone praising him as some sort of messiah for the amount of joy and happiness he brought, throughout the 'eighties.
Although this may be true, it is exactly for this reason that I still harbour a strong feeling of disappointment whenever I am confronted with The Five Doctors. If Tom Baker knew exactly how popular he had become, then it is for this very reason that his behaviour be deemed inexcusable.
Unfortunately, I was too young to appreciate Tom as the Fourth Doctor and only got into Who amid all the media coverage celebrating 'his' transition into the Peter Davison Doctor. Therefore I was neglected the chance to share some of my childhood with Tom Baker and, as a result, I often feel a sense of having been 'cheated' whenever I hear one of the aforementioned anecdotes.
Like I said, repeats of Doctor Who were a bit thin on the ground during the 'eighties, so I didn't get to see any of these adventures until UK Gold came along.
In conclusion, rather inversely, for all those people that were brought joy by the Tom Baker Doctor, this particular child had it taken away.
A Review by William McRae 6/12/07
The year was 1983 and the BBC were gearing up to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Doctor Who. And why not!. For a low-budget, sci-fi series that was aimed (at least originally) at children, the series had become a major player on the BBC, lasting well beyond anyone's expectations and drawing in millions of viewers per week.
John Nathan-Turner (who was producer of the series at that time) decided to mark event by hiring veteran writer Robert Holmes (responsible for several classic Doctor Who stories) to pen the script. Due to "creative differences" however, Holmes left the project and it was up to former story editor Terrance Dicks to pick up the reins. The end result is an enjoyable romp, which manages to bring together all the Doctors up to that point, a whole slew of companions and some classic series villains thrown into the mix. Set against the back-drop of Gallifrey, The Five Doctors is a fun-filled feature-length adventure.
Basically, someone is kidnapping the Doctor from each of his respective time zones. Feeling the "loss" of his past selves, the current Doctor (Peter Davison) is determine to get to the bottom of what's going on. In short order we find, that the Doctor(s), along with various different companions (including Susan, The Brigadier, and Sarah Jane Smith) have all been abducted and transported to "The Death Zone", a sealed-off section on the home planet of the Time Lords, Gallifrey. Why they have been brought there has not been made clear. At least not at the beginning. Soon, everyone manages to piece together the puzzle and the answer is surprising - to say the least.
Given the fact that Terrance Dicks was not the original choice for this job and was called in to write the story at the eleventh hour, it's frankly a testament to his skills to think fast and write quickly. His extensive experience of the series works to his advantage and he manages to craft a story that gets you (as the viewer) wondering what the hell is going on. Solid direction from Peter Moffatt keeps the proceedings moving along quite nicely. Extensive use of location filming also helps give the story a more "open" feel. Now onto the performances:
Richard Hurdnall (The First Doctor): With the death of William Hartnell in 1975, the producers had to find a replacement actor to play the role of the First Doctor for this story. Much has been said and written over the years about Hurdnall's casting with opinion being sharply divided. I personally enjoyed Hurdnall's performance in The Five Doctors. For me, he captures the intellect, strong demeanour and Edwardian persona of the First Doctor. The look of this man is impressive as is the manner in which he deals with everyone around him. He may be old, but is certainly no fool and leave it to Terrance Dicks to give the First Doctor the pleasure of solving final piece of the puzzle!
Patrick Troughton (The Second Doctor): After a ten-year absence from the series - the last time we saw Troughton was to commemorate Doctor Who's tenth anniversary in the The Three Doctors back in 1973 - the Second Doctor was in top form in this adventure. Despite the intervening decade, Troughton still manages to successfully infuse his Doctor with the same cheeky charm, sharp wit and "cosmic hobo/Charlie Chaplin" flavour that fans fondly remember. In fact, Troughton delivers many of the story's most memorable (and hilarious) lines with aplomb...
Jon Pertwee (The Third Doctor): Nine years had passed since we last laid eyes on the Third Doctor, but Pertwee is still able to muster up the sense of derring do and adventurous spirit that many people remember of his time as the Doctor. With the flowing cape, smoking jacket, frilly shirt and Bessie with him at the ready, Pertwee is back in his element and looks like he's having a ball!
Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor): Ah Tom... When this project was originally announced, Baker agreed to participate. However, just weeks before shooting was to commence, he had a sudden change of heart and declined to participate in the project. Having only left the series less than three years previously, Baker felt that as an actor he had not put enough distance between himself and the show. In later years, Baker admitted his last-minute decision not to do The Five Doctors was something he regretted. Still, the Fourth Doctor is able to shine, courtesy of footage from the uncompleted Shada which was made four years before, in 1979. In fact, the footage from that story is interwoven seamlessly (you'd never guess it's an entirely separate production). With the Fourth Doctor out of commission, this actually allowed Terrance Dicks the opportunity to expand the involvement of the remaining Doctors, who all pick up the slack quite nicely.
Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor): Being the current actor in the role of the Doctor at the time this story went into production, Davison was able to allow his other counterparts to share centre stage. Consequently, the Fifth Doctor takes a bit of a back seat in this adventure, yet he is still able to hold his own and also has his moments to shine during the episode.
With the companions in this story (and there are a total of TEN that are featured), each of the respective actors are able to have their moment in the spotlight and stay true to the nature of the characters that they created. The choice of pairing which companion to which Doctor was also inspired. The First Doctor and Susan make a lovely pair. The Second Doctor and The Brigadier are a hilarious duo, akin to a quarrelling aging couple!. The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane are charming (although it would have been nicer to see Sarah Jane paired with the Fourth Doctor and the Third Doctor paired with Jo Grant which was what the script had apparently envisioned originally) and the Fifth Doctor with his current companions Tegan and Turlough.
Whilst it not pitch perfect (but then, what is?), The Five Doctors is an entertaining and heart-felt tribute to the series. With six Doctors (William Hartnell is also featured and is given the honour of opening this tale right at the beginning in a special pre-title sequence - footage being taken from the 1964 story "The Dalek Invasion Of earth") for your viewing pleasure - a feat that seems unlikely to be reproduced again - kudos to all involved!
Quite a reunion by Thomas Cookson 10/3/08
1983 was not only the year of Doctor Who's twentieth anniversary, but also a post-modern, heavily nostalgic era of Doctor Who. The Five Doctors is possibly the most definitive 1980's Doctor Who story in its blend of post-modern style, nostalgia and more than a little overkill.
As a mandatory rule, every Doctor Who fan owns at least one version of it. In fact, it was the very first Doctor Who video I bought, 13 years ago, when I was 11. At the time, I was well enamoured with it, but having excessively out-played it over the years and having seen a wide range of better stories, I struggle to be so enthusiastic about it these days. It's not a bad story, but in a lot of ways it could have been so much better.
In many ways, the episode is dealing with a fundamentally flawed concept of biting off more than it can chew by gathering together so many bits of the show's legacy and jamming them together, that resultantly it is a pretty scattered and sporatically unfocused piece of television. Actually, when I put it like that, I feel I'm exaggerating. The results could have come off worse, truth be told, but then again they could have been done better, even with the excess material; they could have done it in a tight, snappy and refreshingly paced way. As it is, there are lengthy scenes that run one after another that not only lack urgency (an offhand reference to the power drain on the Eye of Harmony endangering the planet is never really followed up and simply stands alone and unsupported - and would make little sense to anyone who had not seen The Deadly Assassin anyway), but are doublely intrusive to the other storyline which was building up some strong tension (the encounter with the Raston Warrior Robot was potentially one of Doctor Who's most edge-of-the-seat moments) before the overlong interruption ruins it.
Even taken simply as a fan's wet dream, this episode shoots itself in the foot in numerous ways. The Fourth Doctor and a lone Dalek both get disappointingly small screentime of less than five minutes each and not a jellybaby in sight (okay, Tom Baker's small screen time couldn't have been helped). The First Doctor's scenes heavily emphasise the familiar crankiness of William Hartnell but then cut away before getting a chance to build on the humility aspect of the character, and as such Hurndall isn't very endearing. The Second Doctor is pretty underused. Although his first meeting with the Brigadier is a scene that still makes me laugh after all these years, the Second Doctor spends most of the episode playing the buffoon and warding off blame from the Brigadier whilst they walk to the central ancient tower of the zone without any kind of incident; actually, they have the briefest of encounters (less than a minute) with a Cyberman and a Yeti and that's pretty much it. This is a shame, since Patrick Troughton's strengths as a Doctor have often been in his confrontations with villains: his ability to engage in verbal sparrings and to manipulate the enemy. Actually, he gets one good confrontational scene where he pits his strong will against one of the various mental traps within the ancient tower, in a very powerful moment, but even that bit has an overall feel of being too little, too late.
Jon Pertwee gets the most meaty slice of the action, as he gets caught in the crossfire of the Raston Warrior Robot and a troop of Cybermen, gets nearly scorched in a heavy lightning storm and has to go handgliding to the ancient tower. Even so, Jon Pertwee's performance, much like Richard Hurndall's, leans a bit too far on the cranky and lacks his old humour. Indeed, his obligatory bickering with Patrick Troughton's Doctor feels just that - obligatory and simply there - and is nowhere near as fun and crackling as it was in The Three Doctors (the 1973 anniversary story).
I read the novelisation of this story before I sought the video of it, back when I was 11, and I distinctly remember the fact that in my reading of the book, the Death Zone was a much more frightening place. I imagined it to be a hellish and dark place of ruin and perpetual night and treacherous rocky turnings and forts and smothering fog. So I was already well set up to be majorly disappointed, when instead what we got was the Welsh open countryside in broad daylight, with a bit of early morning fog that quickly subsides, as does any threatening, uncertain atmosphere. I guess that, by 1983, Doctor Who just wasn't making those kind of darkly lit and gothic atmosphere stories that it used to back in the mid 70's. I think it's a shame they didn't bring back David Maloney to direct this episode. Instead we got lumped with Peter Moffat, the man who directed such unsightly turkeys as The Twin Dilemma. He has gained a well-deserved reputation as Doctor Who's dullest director.
This, of course, also stepped up to some big disappointments when I saw the screen version of the prose. In the book, the scene where Sarah's feet lost stable ground in the fog was not the almighty anticlimax it was in the TV version, where she simply rolls down a hill a few times and stops mid-roll, only to complain a lot. Furthermore, the scene where the First Doctor and Susan sneak up on and attack the Dalek from behind comes off pathetically on screen; they simply push the metal meanie a bit and it starts panicking. I thought it was pathetic when I was 11 - to say nothing of how I view it now - but, having said, that I always found the lead-in chase scene with the Dalek to be the highlight of the episode. Although the actual final demise of the Dalek involves the kind of sci-fi idea that only idiots believe, I've always relished the gore of the moment where the Dalek's top blows off, revealing the hideous tentacled creature inside, wriggling in its death throes - and a perfect salivating close-up as the icing on the cake!
So that was when I was 11, and now that I'm 24 and have often rewatched this story over those thirteen years, even the most impressive moments have been worn out for me. The aforementioned Dalek chase excites me a little less these days, and the brutal battle between the Cybermen and the Raston Warrior Robot doesn't shock me quite like it did back when I was a wee lad (having said that, it still is a highlight 'straight for the jugular' moment, one of the few moments where the snappy directing gives it real immediacy and grit; it definitely shows that Peter Moffat didn't direct that sequence). It's not only the fact that I've seen it so many times, but also that, over the years, in my time as a fan, I've seen its concept done better elsewhere: the idea of the Doctor and his companions being abducted and placed into a volatile environment and stuck with some violent fellow captives has been done brilliantly in The War Games and Carnival of Monsters, which managed to make the environment feel treacherous, subversive, threatening and humid, with formidable monsters, armies, and plenty of deadly turns and traps. The Five Doctors neglects most of these qualities; I blame the script for this, as much as the direction: the Death Zone should have been populated by more monsters, at least more than one Dalek, some Ice Warriors and if you could get a few more battles going on between the various monsters it would be perfect - especially as an establishing scene in the Death Zone before the Doctors arrive there (some fans have criticised this story for being indulgent fan-wank; I personally feel it's not indulgent enough). If that meant extending the 90 minute standalone story into a six parter, then I would say all the better for adding more frills, allowing the characters to breathe and to compell the writing to take on a more disciplined and tighter episodic form.
Well, I've thrown a fair share of negatives at the story, but it's not really a bad story and there are plenty of gems within to recommend it. Despite the mediocre directing, the very ambient music conveys most of the atmosphere well, particularly the mood music in the tranquil scenes on The Eye of Orion. I really like the use of neo-classical design on the interiors of the High Council Chambers and the dark tomb, including a nice touch of pillars, fountains and old paintings, which I much prefer to the usual sterile futuristic sets that often featured in the series. The costumes are pretty well designed - particularly the Gallifreyan robes that lend a feel of aristocracy and nobility to the Time Lord society. I'm willing to overlook the cliche of the villains dressed in black, and even the rather embarrasing pantomime dress that Zoe (the Second Doctor's screaming companion) is wearing for some reason. Mind you, I'm always nostalgic for her days in the 1960's when she wore those licking tight pants and catsuits (don't worry Captain Jack, you've got a nice bottom too). Furthermore, as a piece of Doctor Who's self-emulation in the spirit of celebration, there are some wonderful lines that fit right at home here; unfortunately, their impact is often lost on the rather flat direction and low-key sound reception that fails to put weight to the words of its cast, just like it rarely does justice to the great facial acting of the Doctors. But, still, you've got to love lines like these:
Third Doctor: "What I've always done, Sarah Jane... improvise."And then is one of the coolest lines ever uttered by the Master:
Castellan: "What!? No, not the mind probe!"
Master "Killing you once, was never enough for me Doctor! How, how gratifying to do it, three times over!"Actually in many ways the Master is one of the best things about this story as the late Anthony Ainley brings in the wonderful blend of charm and malignance to the character, as he wears an expression smug with pride as he laps up President Borusa's charges of villainy against him as though they were meant as compliments. His sadistic malice, in concert with his classy demeanor, reminds me somewhat of John Malkovitch's performance as the lecherous anti-hero in 1988's Dangerous Liasons (a brilliant film, by the way). Not only that, but this is a story which is quite well suited to the Master. I always said that the cozy Doctor/Master rivalry started to feel tacky after the events of Logopolis, but, for this one anniversary story, I can excuse it.
This era is concerned with portraying an overall nasty universe full of Daleks, Cybermen and general savagery in all corners, of which this Death Zone of diverse and vicious specimens is merely a microcosm. Add to that the portrayal of the dark side of the supposedly noble Time Lords, with their chequered history and corrupt traitors in the wing finally coming to light. It is appropriate then that, in this corrupt environment, the Master should justify who he is and what he does by pointing out the hypocrisy of those who judge him (just like he did in The Sea Devils). He is the first to nod to how the Death Zone represents the corrupt past of the Time Lords who scorn him. In one of his best lines, he kills a group of Death Zone specimens in a death trap and then dismisses Tegan's moral outrage by pointing out "In one of the wars on your miserable little planet, they used to drive sheep across minefields; the principle's the same!"
This cynical portrayal of a dark universe was not initially the common approach for the series in the 60's and 70's, which had often preferred the optimistic stories which, in pulp fashion, saw good triumphing over evil and traditional values being upheld. It was largely only in episodes featuring the Daleks or Silurians that the series really commented on the sorry state of human nature and warfare, and the why's and wherefores of any kind of 'final solutions'. By this point in the show, this cynical vision was becoming the rule rather than the exception and this all began to come together into a theme about the problematics of the Fifth Doctor's especially passive nature in such a cruel environment. That is true here, as the Fifth Doctor proves to be best at playing the detective, but he is frequently overwhelmed by actual confrontations with the bad guys he is hunting or fighting. There's a lovely scene where the Fifth Doctor protests when a Time Lord guard shoots one of the alleged traitor's agents dead on the spot, only for the guard to point out the traitor was armed, making the Doctor look naive and out of touch while he awkwardly laments the dead man. Indeed, in the final moments, the Fifth Doctor is only able to prevail because of the combined wills of his previous selves, and because his previous selves (particularly the first Doctor) are capable of making the kind of ruthless decisions that he cannot.
That final unveiling and confrontation with the traitor in the wings, by the way, is a superb moment worth waiting for. From the wit of the clue-finding on the Fifth Doctor's part to the graceful performance of the villain, who manages to convey not only a telepathic ability to manipulate and push people's buttons, but also a certain subtle pathos, a degree of regret for the things he's done and the deaths that have occurred because of his goals for power. However, he still remains rigid and relentless in his pursuits and adversity towards the Doctors - as though everything about their life is worthless if they don't succeed - and that makes for a compelling battle of wills indeed. The ultimate showdown is a wonderful mixture of an alerting turn of the screw, some eerie and macabre events, the strongest of which involve malevolent attacks on the mind (which is aided well by some brilliant acting) and a message at the end of the manipulation, which somehow fits well with its portrayal of the dark ages of Gallifrey in a conclusion which draws heavily on the most ancient and ruthless form of justice. Pity the villain's reasons for bringing Cybermen and Daleks into the mixture are never explained and ultimately seem wildly at odds with his actual goal, but if there be Daleks and Cybermen aplenty, who can really complain as to why?
Although I feel that part of the problem with the gimmick of the story is that it brings the past Doctors into the picture but keeps them largely separated from each other, the final moments - having finally got together and then having to bid goodbye to one another - do indeed hit the right spot in keeping with the theme of a spirit of school reunion and the nostalgic look at the Doctor's character. There are some great exchanges -"Our dress sense hasn't improved much" "Neither have our manners" - great parting words - "You did quite well, quite well; it's reassuring to know that my future is in safe hands" - and then the closing line as the Fifth Doctor, with the memory of his departed past selves still in mind, refuses to let any of the Time Lords re-instate him on the High Council and chooses the freedom of travel instead and makes the quickest exit from Gallifrey, declaring "Why not? After all, that's how it all started!"
I've thrown some pretty big criticisms at this story, but, funnily enough, no matter how many rocks I bung at it (in the words of the Second Doctor) there's something about The Five Doctors that just refuses to sink. Under the pen of Terrance Dicks it really does have an old-school charm that the show had by and large lost by this point. There's something very solid and buoyant about the story that makes it all work. It has a sense of fun that is kept in line, without being po-faced like much of the John Nathan-Turner era (there is, however, one moment where a potentially interesting speech on the nature of fear from the First Doctor turns unwisely to farce), carries a strong sense of its own confidence, and mixes enough wit, inventive writing and nostalgia to make it worth the prize. As visitations to the planet Gallifrey go, this is the best post-Deadly Assassin excursion to the Doctor's home.
I'm definitely not the man I was. Thank goodness! by Oliver Price 27/10/08
Ah, yes, The Five Doctors. I must admit that I do really enjoy this story. It's fun, it has some great set pieces and is a good story. The performances are mostly excellent, the location work and effects are good. There are many other great things about it. I really like it.
But I have to say I don't like it as much as the other two multi-Doctor stories from the Classic Series (that's The Three Doctors and The Two Doctors). Sorry to step on old ground those other reviewers have covered, but it's those small aspects (lack of plot, no Hartnell or T. Baker, absence of Doctor Interaction etc) that make The Five Doctors the weakest of the three.
I also feel that it is unfair that the other two multi-Doctor stories get criticised for the exact same things fans let The Five Doctors off for. Amongst the major ones are:
A criticism tossed at The Three Doctors and The Two Doctors? repeatedly. I would disagree with the many fans who make that claim, but that's another story.
As we all know, The Five Doctors has possibly the worst plot ever written. I mean, christ! There are so many holes in the plot; you could sieve rice through it! Not only that, but the basic plot is a rehash of The Three Doctors! Oh, and for those people who say "Don't examine the plot too closely, or you'll find giant plot holes!", come off it! I can think of at least ten plot holes just by watching the damn thing!
Something I've heard The Two Doctors be criticised for. Now, I will admit that the Doctors could have met up a bit earlier in The Two Doctors. However, when they did meet up, they got a good, solid episode of Doctor interaction.
In The Five Doctors, the Doctors do not interact AT ALL! They just chat! There is a HUGE difference between interacting and chatting. Did Terrance forget that the whole point of a multi-Doctor special is so the Doctors can interact?!?! Or does he just think that Troughton calling Pertwee "Fancy Pants!" is enough?!?? GRR!!! Seriously though, a multi Doctor story without the Doctor interaction is the equivalent of a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon without the slapstick.
This is a complaint most people make about The Three Doctors, with Nick Courtney's buffoonish behaviour. Why is it that none of the other Pertwee stories that treat him like an idiot get that criticism?!? (Trust me; there are a lot of them. Remember Doctor Who and The Silurians?) And another thing, whilst I will admit that The Three Doctors did treat him like an idiot, that story had a perfectly good reason. The Brig was acting that way because he was thrown into the most impossible situation he ever had to deal with.
The Five Doctors deserves some criticism for deliberately making characters stupid. Exhibit A: Sarah's fall down that slope. I mean, come on! Not even Jo Grant would fall down that! Surely that's deliberately making her stupid! Exhibit B: Susan spraining her ankle after literally tripping over a mole hill. Not only is this deliberately making her stupid, but it is also deliberately doing the exact same thing that made her unpopular in the first place! Big mistake, Terrance!
Another criticism I've heard The Two Doctors receive. Why?!? The Two Doctors used Patrick Troughton brilliantly. The whole story was filled with him interacting with Colin B, Jamie and the bad guys with hilarious results, helped by the witty script.
As I have already pointed out, The Five Doctors uses ALL of its companions and (worse still) Doctors as guest stars to take part in a bunch of set pieces. And, as I said before, they completely waste the opportunity for a four way battle of the insults between the Doctors. Ah, well...
And the last complaint...
The Two Doctors seems to get a lot of this for sticking the Sontarans in it. I would actually say that the Sontarans where used quite well in that story.
I would like to point out at this stage that everything in the story is recycled. Not just the use of old companions and villains, but the premise and plot are also recycled. So what is the difference? Even the "original" ideas The Five Doctors are recycled. The "Death Zone" is stolen from The War Games, and the "Scope" is stolen from Carnival of Monsters.
Don't get me wrong, I like The Five Doctors, it's just I enjoy the other two more. Why? Simply because they are both better stories.
7/10 Supplement, 10/1/16
Sometimes, a story can go down in your estimation. And no story has fallen further for me than The Five Doctors. One of the first stories I saw, I initially enjoyed it, but as I saw more and more stories, my taste in Doctor Who matured, leaving this story amongst my least favourite stories, where it belongs.
Before anyone says "It's only supposed to be an anniversary story, so just have fun!" I'm going to review it based on its objective strengths and weaknesses. Anyway, so many people are harsh on The Three Doctors, so why does that argument not apply to that story?
The biggest problem with The Five Doctors is the awful plot. I say awful, although the opening and closing are reasonably entertaining. The Doctors being kidnapped is an interesting opening, and the end with Borusa being turned into a statue is a nice twist. However, the middle is some of the most boring Who I've ever seen. Instead of sticking to the main idea of the Doctor being kidnapped and writing a story around that, Terrance dumps in a load of unnecessarily included monsters and superfluous companions, and plays a game of "musical chairs" to eat up screen time, with a load of irrelevant subplots and pointless scenes.
I'm not saying that every story should only stick to the main plot. Subplots can be interesting if given enough time, development and a satisfying conclusion. Revelation of the Daleks is a good example of this, creating a whole range of unique characters, who all get good scenes and dialogue and are tied together in a genuine story. The Five Doctors just starts subplot after subplot just to give another action scene, just to end that subplot abruptly. Take Susan and Turlough under siege from Cybermen, who are trying to blow up the TARDIS, which is resolved by the Doctors conveniently transport the TARDIS to safety at the last second.
The lazy story is compounded by some shocking plot holes. Had plot holes this large been in any other story, people would criticise them (as they should), but here people mostly overlook them. Let's look a few of my favourites: If Borusa wants the Doctors to reach the Dark Tower, why does he put a bunch of monsters in their way? Even if we accepted the idea that he was trying to make it "interesting", why does he put the most deadly monsters he could find in their way, monsters who, according to the Doctor, were too deadly for the original games? Surely he could have used something less deadly, such as the Ergon or the Taran Beast to slow them down without killing them!
Why does the Borusa choose such a difficult way of gaining immortality, when the High Council could offer the Master a new life span? If Borusa can find the Black Scrolls of Rassilon and the Time Scoop and use the latter without anyone being alerted to this, surely he could steal a few more regenerations without anyone noticing!
Why do the High Council offer "one of the most corrupt beings the Time Lord race has ever produced" a new life cycle? Couldn't they find someone who was "ruthless, cunning, determined ..." and NOT the Doctor's WORST ENEMY? Come to think of it, the Time Lords are surprisingly forgiving of him, considering he tried to destroy their planet! If they could bring him here so easily, why didn't they just arrest him for his crimes, which they are clearly aware of! Oh wait, they needed a way of including The Master, so came up with this to "explain" it.
All of these problems come down to Terrance being forced to include all of the monsters and companions. Why didn't they just go with the three available Doctors, pick a villain, and write a story around that? The amount of subplots and characters just made the whole story dull.
To be fair, the actors, particularly Davison, Troughton and Ainley, turn in good performances, but the script doesn't give the actors anything to really work with, other than walking through the dull set pieces.
Including the Cybermen and the Daleks has got to be some of the cheapest fan pandering I have ever seen. They are just there for the sake of being there, and as mentioned earlier, their appearance detracts from the story, as well as cheapening them as characters by giving them nothing interesting to do. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about The Five Doctors is the lack of interaction between the Doctors. The Three Doctors, The Two Doctors, Time Crash and The Day of the Doctor all have hilarious interplay between the characters, but here we wait a whole hour for them to meet up, then when they do, they just rattle off some exposition, and make some cheap jokes about their fashion sense. That's it.
This is laziness, masked by fan appeasement. It's a shame that a show that gave us great stories would actually just resort to throwing together so many fan-pleasing returns, then forcing a thin and contrived story to cover it.
"I am being diminished" by Hugh Sturgess 20/6/15
I've been trying to get through all the TV Gallifrey stories, starting with The Deadly Assassin (which I reviewed in Outside In). The Five Doctors, though it doesn't feel like it, is the last. And, frankly, you can see why they didn't go back. It's an obvious setting for the twentieth anniversary, but the series has long abandoned making any effort to render Gallifrey mysterious or awe-inspiring. It's simply there, an iceberg of the past preserved in the belief that its sheer presence is worthwhile. This makes it doubly appropriate as a setting. Sure, The Five Doctors is fun in spots, but only in spots. Every five minutes or so, there's something bad or stupid or that makes a mess of the past it is claiming to celebrate. Continuity is normally an issue that shouldn't taint one's enjoyment, but in a story in which the most prominent non-returning character (counting Rassilon as an existing "character") is Colonel Crichton, getting continuity right is actually important. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Most people, it seems, are able to enjoy The Five Doctors. That's lovely, but I'm not one of them. There's something lifeless about it. That's surprising, given how many good ideas are in it. The idea of the Doctor being yanked out of history - "great chunks of my past detaching themselves like melting icebergs" - and cast down in the black secret at the heart of Gallifrey is suitably epic and betrays more than a slight echo of The Three Doctors ten years earlier. The notion of Rassilon actually being a cruel tyrant made to look better by history starts here, to be assumed by the books and the audios before finally receiving televisual confirmation in The End of Time. The depiction of Borusa's "immortality", the mottled faces under plastic, red eyes flickering anxiously, is so terrifyingly horrific that it's a real "holy shit!" moment after ninety minutes of light-heartedness. Has anything worse ever happened to a Doctor Who villain? Rassilon's mind is so powerful that, even after death, he fills those nearby with a sense of dread. Hiring the Master to rescue the Doctor, while not exactly groundbreaking, is a nifty idea. And the Raston Warrior Robot, while not nearly as clever as Terrance Dicks evidently thinks, is a good visual concept.
But it feels hollow. The Three Doctors before it and Day of the Doctor after position themselves as landmark events in the narrative of the series. The Three Doctors broke rule after rule of the UNIT era - the monsters attacked UNIT HQ before the Doctor had even begun his investigation, the Time Lords weren't all-powerful messengers but under siege by a force more powerful than they were, the Doctor got his freedom back - and did things the series hadn't done before: namely, uniting multiple Doctors and presenting them with a threat more powerful and more personal than ever. In these circumstances, bringing back the past Doctors to join forces with the current model made sense. Day of the Doctor interrogates the value of both the new series and the old and reconciles them by saving Gallifrey (the punctuation mark that separates the two series).
The Five Doctors does nothing like that. It's a side-step that leaves the series the same as when it found it. This is what Moffat was reacting against when he promised that Day would be important to the Doctor, rather than just a reunion party. This is less a landmark than a museum. Like that chilling Tom Baker waxwork used in publicity shots, the returning Doctors, companions and monsters are exaggerated and lifeless approximations of themselves. Watching this, I realised what the real problem with John Nathan-Turner's continuity fetish is: it genuinely is a fetish. The Master, the Silurians, the Sea Devils, Cybermen, the Brigadier, Sarah... these are treated not as concepts to be used effectively but objects of intrinsic symbolic power. They are used to mystically transfer power from the glorious past to the present. How else to explain the use of Omega in Arc of Infinity or the treatment of Susan here? This is the attitude of a cargo cult, reusing symbols without understanding the meaning that gave them power. This is the attitude that killed the series and has generated the new series' lamest moments (I'm thinking of The Sontaran Stratagem here, which stands or falls entirely on whether the Sontarans are intrinsically interesting).
The nadir is probably the Yeti. Yes, it's a tiny moment and I rather like the Yeti, if only because I've always wanted one to cuddle. But what is it doing in the Death Zone? Is the Great Intelligence animating one Yeti on Gallifrey, for no purpose but to attack hapless prisoners of the Time Lords? Or did the ancient Time Lords reprogram it so it's now just a furry robot, albeit one that can enable a namecheck? It's included because the production team wanted a moment of peril that reused a monster from the past and decided that the Yeti would be the one to get the green light, regardless of how little sense that made in relation to the concept as it had previously appeared. The arrival of Sarah in the Death Zone originally had her menaced by Autons, which have the same problem as the Yeti. There is no reason to put Autons or Yeti in this story, except that fans will recognise them, despite flying in the face of the logic of their previous appearances.
This is far more soulless a form of continuity-worship than Attack of the Cybermen. Attack, for all its faults, interacts with Doctor Who history (namely The Tenth Planet and Resurrection of the Daleks) in a way that treats them as part of a narrative, characters we understand and historical events to explore (the notable exceptions are the chameleon circuit business and Totter's Lane, which fit The Five Doctors' model). The Five Doctors treats the icons of the series' past as worthwhile in themselves, as though they obviate the need for compelling drama in its own right. Like a religious idiot in a Doctor Who story (The Hawaiian Shirt of Evil?), John Nathan-Turner is holding aloft the artefacts of the past, their true purpose and function long since forgotten, and mouthing incomprehensible incantations.
While the nadir of box-checking fetishism is the Yeti, Susan is surely the biggest victim. Susan haunts Doctor Who, a ghost from before continuity existed, which unsettles everything else. Once the Doctor regenerated for the first time, the series eagerly forgot her, creating a backstory and a character for the Doctor which seemed to categorically rule out any family, let alone offspring. In all the Gallifrey stories, the Time Lords never once ask after the granddaughter he took with him. In Arc of Infinity, both Romana and Leela are awkwardly brought up, but not Susan. So suppressed had she become in the series' psyche that Peter Davison found himself "fascinated" by the Doctor's offhand line in Fear Her that he "was a dad once". Today, with the Doctor clearly a sexual being and having categorically stated that he has had children and grandchildren (most recently in The Rings of Akhaten, I believe), Susan fits perfectly - except that he abandoned her in post-apocalyptic Earth and never returned, despite promising to do so.
(Craziest tongue-in-cheek explanation for Susan that I've heard: she is the remnant of a history overwritten by the Time War, along with the Morbius Doctors, his second heart and the reams of adventures between Planet of Fire and Androzani. The Time War was used by Davies as the perfect explanation for any continuity errors, so making the biggest "error" of all its responsibility is appropriate. This theory makes the Time War not merely important to the seventh and eighth Doctors (whose fractured lives are ascribed to Time War fall-out), but the most fundamentally important event in the history of the series, a giant volcano at the centre of the Doctor Who universe that has devastated what came before it as much as what came after it. Symmetry becomes it. It becomes symmetry.)
The Doctor's abandonment of Susan is what makes her treatment here so bewildering. The episode begins with a clip of Hartnell vowing to return. This is presented as the first Doctor (metaphorically) promising that he will eventually return to the series, but of course in its original context it is a vow to return to see how Susan's getting on rebuilding Earth after the Dalek invasion and learning to raise cows. A few minutes later, we meet Susan again. (Appropriately, she is introduced as a shadow on a wall, looming over the Doctor like a ghost.) She is now a middle-aged woman, and here is the grandfather who abandoned her and never returned. And nothing happens. A confrontation between them, no matter how mild, was never going to happen in this story; the old series simply never dealt with its characters like that. Furthermore, devoting ten or fifteen minutes to updating us on the circumstances and feelings of a character who had not appeared in nineteen years (in this, the show's twentieth anniversary!) would alienate every viewer under thirty. At this point in the series, the only way she was ever going to be treated, as a character in an ensemble cast, is as an interchangeable companion.
So Susan, the first companion, the only member of the Doctor's family that we ever meet, remains a ghost, frozen as she was when she left (a middle-aged woman pretending to be fifteen), still haunting the series and unable to find peace. The moment that Susan meets the fifth Doctor is astonishing. The first Doctor introduces her to his future self, who does a good job of making "yes, I know" sound like "no shit, Sherlock, she's my granddaughter". Beyond that line and the oddly lascivious look Carol Ann Ford gives Davison, we have no clue how the two feel about meeting again after so long. (Although Patrick Troughton puts an unexpected amount into his perfunctory "goodbye" to Susan at the end.)
This bad situation is made worse by the spectacular anti-sex hysteria of the JNT years. According to Ford in 2013, the production team instructed her to avoid mentioning Susan's family connection to the Doctor, specifically on the grounds that they didn't want anyone visualising the Doctor having sex. Quite rightly, she told them to fuck off. At the time when the series was approaching the quality of a cargo cult, it had become, like so many real religions, hysterically, aggressively afraid of sex. The Five Doctors has her recognise Gallifrey, confirming that she is Gallifreyan, making plainer than ever that she is of the Doctor's blood, and yet the story attempted to suppress the most basic detail of her character. The series, at this point, has demonstrated itself to be comprehensively unable of living up to the past it fetishises. Carol Ann Ford is a good actress and I'm embarrassed that she is in this episode.
It is deeply ironic that in attempting to suppress any hint of a sexual or family life for the Doctor, Nathan-Turner was trying to appeal to the very fans who came to most vociferously denounce him. We all know the people I'm talking about, but I will name in particular Mark Campbell, author of the sadly inessential Pocket TV Essential Guide to Doctor Who, who lamented The Curse of Fenric's discussion of Ace's resentment of her mother on the grounds that the series had become "all so adult". In my "review" (more a homicide) of Campbell's book, I examined his professed love of The Green Death through a Freudian lens, and found him to be resentful of the unwanted arrival of sexual maturity in his life, epitomised by the (condom-based) giant maggots. I was being facetious, but only in the specifics. It's become a psychological cliche that those fans who yearn (and yearned in years gone by) for Doctor Who the way they remembered it really want their childhoods back, but it's not said that this ties inextricably into sex. Theorising hopefully that Susan is not really the Doctor's biological grandchild (despite there being no textual evidence whatsoever that she is not) is really a fear of sex in general.
It was this kind of attitude that entrenched the image of Doctor Who fans as sad wankers who couldn't talk to girls, a prejudice that remained until the new series brought in so many new female fans and emboldened old ones. Fear of sex naturally leads to fear and hatred of women, an anxiety that can still be seen in some corners of fandom in response to the Michelle Gomez incarnation of the Master and in Stephen Kidd's astonishing article on this very website, which accuses the new series of "pandering" to female viewers, as though half the population are some kind of special interest whose wants are at odds with those of "real" viewers; i.e., men. Looking at the crowds greeting Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in New York and elsewhere on their world tour, it seems that a majority of Who fans are now women. And I think that's wonderful. This is what makes the determination to quash any idea of sex or any emotion from the Nathan-Turner years so poisonous. Pitching the show at teenage boys (which JNT decided to do) is not a bad idea, particularly given the changes to viewing patterns that were breaking down the old family audience. But showing your emotions isn't effeminate, it's human. At the risk of getting Freudian again, a lot of the world's problems are caused by emotional and sexual repression.
What is the point of bringing back the Doctor's granddaughter with the intention of denying who she is? This is continuity fetishism again. To appropriate Lawrence Miles's description of Steven Moffat, Nathan-Turner uses continuity like a squidgy little voodoo doll through which he can absorb our love-vibrations. There is a strange lack of confidence in what is superficially a supremely confident era of the series. It seems wholly dependent on invocations of the past, as though there is nothing of its own that is worthy. The series is swaggering because it believes it has learned the knack of successfully executing fannish rituals, not because it is critically acclaimed. The same logic that brought us Warriors of the Deep (i.e. that bringing back the Silurians and the Sea Devils was worthwhile in itself) gives us the parade of misremembered characters, brainless monster cameos and one of the greatest concentrations of continuity error in Doctor Who history.
I don't mind continuity problems normally. The fact that Kill the Moon is irreconcilable with The Moonbase doesn't really bother me, though I play the "how does it fit?" game like the best of them. But if your entire story is about the past, embracing it, bathing in it, venerating it, then you should make the effort to get it right. The stuff-ups in this story are legendary. Apparently the original draft of the script had Sergeant Benton in the role of Colonel Crichton, but John Levene turned it down because he objected to Benton not recognising the second Doctor. Benton, of course, met the second Doctor in The Invasion and again in The Three Doctors (and recognised him). Like the original instruction to Ford, this speaks volumes about the story. A past character was to be included, only to get a crucial detail startlingly wrong, just to shoehorn in the unbearable "Who?" joke that makes Crichton look like an idiot. This isn't even treating Benton as intrinsically worth watching. This is simply pillaging the past.
The second Doctor is a veritable continuity wrecking ball in this story, swinging through the narrative smashing the past as he goes. Troughton was paired with Nicholas Courtney late in the writing process (the original intention was the more natural pairing of Courtney and Pertwee), so I'll forgive the weirdness of Troughton "bending" the laws of time to attend the reunion party of someone he hardly knows. Dicks is aware that he was largely responsible for the continuity hole that birthed "Season 6b", so I might suggest in that vein that the second Doctor wants to check up on the man he knows he's going to have to work with after he's exiled to Earth to see whether his influence was a good one.
But the script does nothing with this strange, ahistorical Doctor/companion duo - the Brigadier after UNIT and the Doctor before it. Terrance Dicks has a wonderful, economic writing style in print, and his authorial pragmatism would undoubtedly have been an asset as a script editor. But here he's just trying to jam as many signifiers of Doctor Who into the story as possible without a thought as to how it all goes together. The Troughton/Courtney slice of the plot is delightful, being a sort of crazy buddy cop film with the Brigadier as the straight man, as he always was, and the Doctor constantly winding him up. Much of the story's reputation for fun comes from their scenes together. "Are you in pain, Doctor?", "Age has not mellowed you, has it, Brigadier?" But there is never the slightest hint that the Brigadier actually knows vast swathes of the Doctor's future of which the Doctor is ignorant. Looking at it, I couldn't help but wonder why this never comes up between them.
So ahistorical is the second Doctor in this story, the moment in which he realises that Jamie and Zoe are phantoms because they recognise the Brigadier is startling, since he's been committing similar continuity errors throughout.
To be clear, I'm not going through The Five Doctors and finding every continuity error for the sake of it. Rather, it is this story that is using these characters and creatures just for the sake of it. A twentieth anniversary is an opportunity to be indulgent, but it is not Doctor Who that is being indulgent, but someone being indulgent with Doctor Who. How do Sarah and the Brigadier feel about meeting and interacting with "past" Doctors? How do the first Doctor and Susan feel about returning to Gallifrey? How does Sarah feel about meeting the Doctor again? How do Tegan and Turlough feel about meeting the past Doctors? The actors laudably try to layer their reactions into the script, which gives them nothing. The only emotional drama in this entire story is the Doctor's reaction to Borusa's treachery, the element added by Eric Saward to give the traitor's identity some weight. Philip Latham's Borusa is wonderfully powerful, and he does a great job of looking genuinely demented. But even after Borusa, his old mentor and friend, has suffered a fate worse than death, the Doctor's first reaction is to giggle at his own cleverness.
The story is almost meticulous in avoiding interactions that might generate drama. The later Doctors, except for the fifth, never get to interact with Susan. (And Davison shows no desire to talk to Susan while they tramp across the Death Zone.) The Brigadier shares only three lines with the third Doctor, i.e. the one he is most associated with. Sarah mentions that Pertwee regenerated into Baker, but Pertwee brushes this off and they depart together, despite being from different times. I read recently that Louise Jameson offered to return as Leela, but was turned down because they didn't have a Doctor to pair her with. Even though she was left on Gallifrey by the Doctor and is actually mentioned as being alive and well in Arc of Infinity, less than a year ago. Unless Nathan-Turner was simply trying to exclude elements introduced under Tom Baker out of spite, the only interpretation of this seems to be that they wanted to avoid depicting Leela in any way different to how she had been in her TV appearances. Perhaps even JNT and Terrance Dicks realised that the Doctor would have to ask how she was, how Andred was, what she was doing, and so on, and they recoiled. Like the Susan near-miss, this speaks volumes. Heaven forbid that the series do anything new and interesting with the past it is pillaging. The whole idea of advancing the series it claims to be celebrating seems to be anathema.
The Cybermen are brought back, but written as blatantly emotional drama-queens ("Ah!"). They've reached a stage of open ridicule where no one takes them seriously (making the Doctor's claim that the Time Lords never let the Cybermen play the games because they "play too well" inadvertently hilarious), and they serve no function other than to be splattered en masse by the Raston Warrior Robot and the Master. The Cyber-massacre is justly praised, but it's worth pointing out what it says. The Cybermen are Doctor Who's "second greatest" monster after the Daleks. This very story claims that they are too good at war to be a sporting opponent. And yet one android in a silver catsuit wipes the floor with them in five minutes. This is the point when the Cybermen, as they have existed since The Moonbase (tin soldiers), become superfluous.
That aggressive undermining of the Cybermen looks almost deliberate when you consider at how the episode treats the rest of the series' icons. A lone Dalek glides slowly around yelling "exterminate" without shooting anything (with a much less effective voice than usual to boot), and is defeated by an old man pushing it into a wall. This was the first appearance of the Daleks in four years, and here they're depicted as the cliches they came to be remembered as. And why would Borusa bring so many of the Doctor's enemies to the Death Zone when he wants the Doctor to succeed? (Unless he didn't bring the Dalek to Gallifrey. Maybe it came from Gallifrey's future, from the next time multiple Doctors would descend on Gallifrey. Falling through time, crippled but alive... )
As for the Master - well, what is there to say? He is openly portrayed as a buffoon, going through a Tom-and-Jerry style series of mishaps, from being pursued by fireballs to getting zapped by the Cybermen. The third and fifth Doctors don't take him seriously for a second. He gets two good moments: "I may be seated?" and "Did it occur to you to go and look?" The moment in which he threatens the Doctors with the tissue compression eliminator, which looks the way we all know it looks, while giggling is only made funnier by the Brigadier casually thumping him into unconsciousness and ending his role in the plot.
It's no surprise that the Master's first scene has become infamous, since it is unable to go five lines without something hilarious. From the Castellan's emphatic statement ("The constitution clearly states that when in emergency session the members of the inner council are unanimous!" Huh?) to Philip Latham and Anthony Ainley both enunciating sentences as though they're one word ("Let him enter" is so difficult to understand it is transcribed as "Elementer" on the original DVD release of the special edition) and Ainley's unforgettable delivery of "Chancellor Flavia!", this scene is a comic masterpiece. I'd never show it to anyone with taste, of course.
I'm sounding like a grouch, I know. There is a lot to enjoy here. Patrick Troughton, of course, is a genius, and his thread with the Brigadier deserves its own spin-off. Elizabeth Sladen demonstrates again why she is the ultimate Doctor Who companion by giving a blood-curdling yell as she falls down the Shallow Incline of Doom, and, despite having nothing to work with dialogue-wise, she manages to sort of condense humour out of the air in her scenes with Pertwee. Interestingly, both Troughton and Pertwee have clearly decided to abandon any idea that they have been plucked from the past and are acting like old pros coming out of retirement for one last mission. It's appropriate that Davison is given the important part of the plot with the Time Lords, since if any Doctor would be overshadowed by Pertwee and Troughton it would be Davison's.
On that note, I think Tom Baker was right to turn down the return. The first three replacements for William Hartnell each made the role their own, each was more popular than the last. Jon Pertwee became an icon, and yet Tom Baker effortlessly displaced him. The sheer length of his time in the role and the raw, charismatic power he brought to it consumed every aspect of the show. The Doctors that came after had to follow an act that could not be followed, and the program cannot help but seem to be fallen. In 1996, the BBC suggested having Baker regenerate into McGann, but Philip Segal, in a rare moment of correctness, refused to disrespect Davison, Baker and McCoy, but it's nevertheless telling. Baker's shadow loomed over the show until David Tennant beat him in a best-Doctor poll more than a quarter of a century later. If he had returned (and originally he would have been given the Gallifrey segments) it would have been "Tom Baker and some other guys". Peter Davison would have faded away as the Doctor nearly does on the floor of the TARDIS. Peter Davison is a better actor than Tom Baker and I like his Doctor, but put the two on the screen together and see who the audience watches.
Richard Hurndell is obviously not coming close to approximating William Hartnell's performance, but he does a good job filling that role. He even gets a great moment, in the TARDIS with Turlough: "Well, well, well, so two of them made it. I wonder what happened to the other." A simple line in itself, but Hurndell sneers the first sentence then snarls the second. For a moment he's terrifying.
If only JNT used The Five Doctors to get all this fetishism out of his system. Using the twentieth anniversary to aggressively undermine the iconic villains of the series and cram as many past characters and monsters in as possible would at least serve a purpose. It could be a clearing of the decks before the series set out on its second twenty years of brand new adventures. Instead, Nathan-Turner decided to double down on continuity fetishism and reintroduce whatever monsters had managed to escape the anniversary. The very next story operates on entirely the same logic, and marked the beginning of the end for Nathan-Turner and the series.
The Three Doctors and Day of the Doctor look forward to the future, while The Five Doctors resolutely, unquestioningly looks back, as though the series' glorious past is the only thing of value. Yes, it's a lot of fun to watch as a fan, but it is devised and operates based on exactly the same logic that led to Warriors of the Deep and Attack of the Cybermen. This celebration of the series' past, beneath the shiny, cheerful surface, reeks of the stench of death.