by Mark Greig
‘The Five Doctors’ was a feature length Children in Need special produced to celebrate Doctor Who's 20th anniversary that tries to cram in everything from the show's history, including the Kitchen Sink of Rassilon.
Written by Who stalwart Terrance Dicks, 'The Five Doctors' is like a badly assembled greatest hits compilation, favouring the popular hits everyone knows over the hidden gems and classic b-sides, leaving the whole thing feeling overly familiar and somewhat predictable. Along with the promise of a multi-Doctor team-up we get Daleks, Cybermen, and the Master. Supporting roles for Susan, The Brig and Sarah-Jane. Cameos from Jamie, Zoe, Liz Shaw, Mike Yates and K-9. There are also some Time Lords, a Yeti, a load of malarkey about Rassilon, Bessie, and even a neutron flow getting a right good reversing.
If you think that sounds like too much you're right. 'The Five Doctors' is a turkey with way too much stuffing that has the various Doctors and companions play out a very boring game of Time Lord Dungeons & Dragons with Borusa as Dungeon Master. He's even got himself a collection of Doctor Who action figures for the occasion.
Guilty of false advertising, 'The Five Doctors' is actually 'The Three Doctors, a Tribute Act and Some Unused Footage'. Tom Baker, who had only left the show two years previously, refused to participate and his absence is deeply felt and no amount of leftover ‘Shada’ footage can make up for it. A story this pro-faced could’ve used some of his irreverent humour. William Hartnell, who passed away in 1975, has been replaced by Richard Hurndrall, who puts in an unconvincing impersonation of Hartnell. He just isn't nearly grouchy enough to be an effective First Doctor.
Of the actual returning Doctors, Troughton and Pertwee slip back into their old roles with ease but spend next to no time together, which is one of the biggest problems with 'The Five Doctors' in general. The best thing about multi-Doctor stories has always been that we get to see the different incarnations of the Doctor interacting with each other. The reason 'The Three Doctors' worked so well, despite an iffy plot, was because of the brilliant repartee between the Second and Third Doctors. This story, however, keeps the various Doctors apart until the very end, robbing the viewer of some prime comedy bickering.
The current TARDIS team, Davison, Fielding and Strickson, are reduced to supporting players with Strickson getting the least to do. While the others go off to save the day he’s left in the TARDIS to twiddle his thumbs with Susan. The other special guest companions are given little to do beside tag along with respective Doctors, asking important plot questions and occasionally falling down small hills for no clear reason. And the classic bad guys are all wasted. Surprisingly, after the overload of nostalgia, it’s the new stuff that impresses the most. The Raston Robot Warrior, a last minute addition by Dicks, is brilliant creation that ruthlessly slaughters an entire squad of Cybermen with gloriously brutal efficiency.
Notes and Quotes
--The DVD features a hidden commentary with David Tennant, producer Phil Collinson and writer Helen Raynor, in which we learn that Collinson fancied Mark Strickson while Tennant had a thing for Nicola Bryant (who didn’t?).
--Robert Holmes was initially commissioned to write the special, which had the working title 'The Six Doctors', but was unable to come up with a workable script, so Dicks was hired instead.
--Dicks wasn't overly fond of the Cybermen, which explains why the Third Doctor never fought them, and he was happy to have the Raston Warrior Robot destroy them.
--There was a hilarious parody version of this story on YouTube. Part one has sadly been removed, but luckily part two survives.
--Why in the name of Rassilon is fake Zoe wearing a bubble wrap dress?
Crichton: "What the blazes is going on? Who was that strange little man?"
Sergeant: "The Doctor."
Fifth Doctor: "Great chunks of my past, detaching themselves like melting icebergs."
The Castellan: "I am innocent. I have never seen that casket before."
Borusa: "Take him to security and discover the truth. Commander, you are authorised to use the mind probe."
The Castellan: "What? No, not the mind probe!"
Two out of four kick ass robots.
Mark Greig is gonna catch 'em all. More Mark Greig.