The Five Doctors (1983)

Back in 1973, Doctor Who celebrated it’s 10th Birthday by having the three actors to play the Doctor to return and work together to battle Omega. That was well received and fast forward 10 years and John Nathan Turner has decided to bring back the five incarnations of the Doctor back for a bumper Doctor Who episode. Sadly, William Hartnell died in 1975 and is replaced by Richard Hurndall and Tom Baker refused to take part so it’s technically three and a half Doctors. Terrance Dicks was given a tough job of trying to get five Doctors, six companions, four Timelords and the master into a story along with brief cameos by former companions and aliens. It’s a task that on the whole works – and works well.

The story sees previous incarnations of the Doctor as well as companions picked up from their own time and dumped on Gallifrey. It’s a mystery for a long time as to who or what is responsible for doing this though to highlight the fact that they have been picked up there are cute little statues placed on a sort of map. The revelation of who is responsible I must admit came as a surprise to me because Lord President Borusa seemed such a good character but alas I suppose that was the curveball that Terrance Dicks was working on. It was at the point of revelation that the character really stepped up and becomes the best baddie of the story and pays the ultimate price for his greed.

The pairings of the Doctor/Companions is very good. The First Doctor and Tegan is a good one because you have the Doctor who is a crochity (even though its Hurndall) and a gobby Australian and they clash in a fun way and Richard Hurndall and Janet Fielding work well together. Then we have the Second Doctor and the Brigadier which whilst is an odd choice (I would have gone for Jamie or even Zoe) its one that works the best partly because Troughton is having a ball returning to the role and Nicholas Courtney is bang on form. The third Doctor and Sarah Jane is a well worked one and despite the dodgy first moments it’s a relationship that is enjoyable to watch. Peter Davison was all on his lonesome having the majority of his scenes on Gallifrey with the various Timelords. He manages to shirk having to wander around the welsh countryside (sorry Gallifrey) but being the current Doctor it allows Peter Davison to have the best bits and the more dramatic scenes. But I thought that his scene with the Master was very good and I thought that Anthony Ainley was very good in this story because he was actually being a good guy for once but is mistrusted by everyone. His best moment comes when he tricks the Cybermen across the giant chessboard. The only partnership that didn’t work was the Susan/Turlough one. It seems like they suffered from too many characters and not enough story syndrome. They spend a long amount of time just standing at the console, looking at the scanner and being concerned with the Cybermen building a bomb. Sadly for Carole Ann Ford she suffers the same problem that she did during her time on the show from 1963 to 1964. She spent most of her time having her ankle bathed because she tripped over a leaf and she comes back and does exactly the same thing. She must have wished she never bothered turning up.

The most embarrassing scene comes when Sarah Jane falls down the hill and has to be helped by the Doctor dragging her up using Bessie. My mom could get up that hill and she has a bad leg and it clearly looks like a slight slope so it was an uncersary moment and they could either have a) not done it or b) found a slightly bigger hill. There is also the Richard Hurndall issue. Now I understand that William Hartnell was dead but to be honest, it didn’t work. Hurndell did look like Hartnell but he was too nice. He didn’t have any of the crotchetiness that we use to get with Hartnell. Also the Daleks and Cybermen were badly used in this story. The sole Dalek is on screen for just a few minutes and just gets blown up. The Cybermen got on better because they had much more screen time but the scene where they were blown up on that giant chessboard is rather weak. I remember the very first time watching it I quite liked it but watching with my 27 year old eyes I wondered what I liked so much about it. They were used well in one of my favourite scenes where the Raston robot kills them us and one gets it arm blown off and one is decapitated. This was a fairly dark moment.

The Five Doctors doesn’t quite have the punch that the first one did and that might have something to do with fitting so much into one story or the format. 90 minutes might be too long as with an episodic format it forces the writer to structure the story into have more dramatic moments. That said it’s an enjoyable episode and with the 50th Birthday coming up in just over two years time it puts all the positive things that made Doctor Who a success into one story and it screams THIS IS DOCTOR WHO AND THIS IS WHY IT’S THE BEST SHOW ON TV!!. Or is it just me that does that?

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