Doctor Who: Revisiting THE FIVE DOCTORS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Revisiting THE FIVE DOCTORS

Moo is authorised to use the mind probe.

You mean you're deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people in a rackety old TARDIS?
Doctor Who celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1983. This seems minor, considering how far it’s lasted since, but at the time that was cause for celebration. Producer John Nathan-Turner decided to pull out all the stops. We’re on Gallifrey, loads of returning monsters, some new Time Lord lore, a script by Terrance Dicks, and what else? How about all five Doctors so far?

All five? Sort of. Tom Baker couldn’t be bothered and William Hartnell was inconveniently dead, but this is eighties Who, a little thing like that isn’t gonna stop them. So with Doctor Four trapped by plot mechanics and Doctor One recast, we’re all good to go.

Unfortunately Richard Hurndall’s portrayal of the First Doctor is a pale imitation of William Hartnell. He’s not terrible, he’s just a poor replacement compared to the original. He’s acted off the screen by all the others. Even though Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton both feel like they’re playing caricatures of their characters they do it well, and for Peter Davison it's business as usual, which for him means reliably excellent. But on balance, I think Troughton wins.

The Five Doctors isn’t a story you can watch in the hope of finding anything to move the show forwards or anything interesting. It doesn’t even care about being a story until the final act of the episode. Instead it’s just a silly runaround with loads of returning characters that provides a solid 100-or-so minutes of pure entertaining filler. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering what it’s trying to do. But equally, it’s not exactly anything special. The biggest disappointment is that we don’t even see the Doctors come together until right at the end, save for a few minutes around the middle where One and Five cross paths.

Similarly bizarre are the character pairings we see, and one must conclude that Tom Baker’s absence plays a role in this. The Third Doctor gets Sarah Jane when she should clearly be with the Fourth. As such the Brigadier, belonging with Jon Pertwee, ends up with Patrick Troughton instead. There is some good stuff here – Tegan and the First Doctor play off each other nicely and Turlough works surprisingly well with Susan – but it doesn’t feel like the fan service is done right.

Yet that’s pretty much the whole of it for negatives. Everything else this episode offers is – at worst – reasonably solid. The use of Gallifrey as a setting is genuinely fantastic. We get some new lore regarding Rassilon and the dark times. None of it feels forced and none of it is too laboured. It’s all incorporated into what little plot there is with sublime efficiency. By the time Rassilon actually shows up and is played by an actor so obscure that he doesn’t even have a wikipedia page it doesn’t dampen the brilliance of it, despite knowing that such great performers as Timothy Dalton and Donald Sumpter have played him since (as well as Don Warrington and Terrance Hardiman, if the audios count, which they do). And when Borusa is revealed as the villain it manages to feel earned.

Oh yeah, that’s right, Borusa is the villain. This is a brilliant twist on a number of levels. Having met the character in now four stories (each time with a different actor and increased prominence) it comes as a genuine shock to us, not just within this story but as followers of the show. The slow build-up with a shadowy figure dressed in black, and the entrance of the Master to the story once all the parts are in place, leaves us with the clear expectation he will be the villain. When we learn he isn’t and later that Borusa is, it changes everything.

Speaking of the Master, he’s a surprise highlight in The Five Doctors. It’s a mixed decade for him in the eighties but Anthony Ainley always gave it everything. In this story his moustache twirling is expertly used to great effect. For once he’s on the Doctor’s side, but they all disbelieve him. His ticket out of the death zone is stolen (the Doctor still has it as late as a 2013 episode) and the Master is stranded and surrounded by Cybermen. When he turns on the four Doctors at the end, it’s not planned but the result of what he’s dealt with in the story so far.

Then the Brigadier knocks him down and he spends the last ten minutes out cold on the floor where he presumably still is when the credits start.

The Cybermen themselves fare less well though, mostly just there to be slaughtered mercilessly by either the Master or a Raston Warrior Robot (the story’s greatest addition – bring this back Chibs!) in scenes that you just know Terrance Dicks was forced to write because they’re the Cybermen and we need the Cybermen in the anniversary special apparently. The token Dalek appearance feels similar actually. The same is true of the Yeti, appearing for the first and only time since The Web of Fear.

But there lies the genius of it. John Nathan-Turner seems to have given Terrance Dicks a shopping list of things that needed to be in The Five Doctors in some capacity. With so many pieces on the board (literally in some scenes), it was always gonna be short on story in favour of spectacle. That the end result is an episode that manages to entertain while it lasts is a credit to the late writer, truly deserving of Spyfall’s “masterful” epithet.

The Five Doctors isn’t a narrative-driven story. It isn’t a character-driven one either, besides seeing how many characters it can cram into ninety minutes. It’s a nostalgia-fest, pure and simple. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, not when you do it as well as this. You can’t point to this story and call it a masterpiece or even the best anniversary special (The Day of the Doctor and The Light at the End both have stronger claims), but for what it is you can’t complain about it. It’s nostalgia for the sake of nothing more than nostalgia, and viewed as such it’s a really solid piece of entertainment. I’m here for that.
Why not? After all, that's how it all started.
“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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