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Tardis Party: Doctor Who episode close-up ~ The Five Doctors (Special/ 1983)

October 10, 2013




Five minus one: “Hey look, it’s Tom Baker’s waxwork again – how the hell did it get up there…?”

So, as we’re now less than 50 days away from Doctor Who‘s (1963-present) 50th anniversary-celebrating special The Day Of The Doctor, why not take a look back at the last (proper) ‘multi-Doctor’ episode cooked up to mark a milestone in the show’s history? Why not, indeed? Here it is then, peeps, the latest post in George’s Journal‘s wee, little celebration of Who‘s golden anniversary – a close-up/ review of The Five Doctors, the November ’83 special that brought together the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Oh, and Pudsey Bear. Yes, that’s right, Pudsey Bear…





Doctors: Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor); Jon Pertwee (The Third Doctor); Patrick Troughton (The Second Doctor); Richard Hurndall (The First Doctor); Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor)

Companions: Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka); Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith); Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman); Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart); Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough); Lalla Ward (Romana II)

Villains/ Monsters: Philip Latham (Lord President Borusa); Anthony Ainley (The Master);  John Scott Martin (Dalek – voice: Roy Skelton); David Banks, Mark Hardy and William Kenton (Cybermen); Raston Robot (Keith Hodiak)

Ally: Dinah Sheridan (Chancellor Flavia)

Writer: Terrance Dicks

Script editor: Eric Sawad

Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Directors: Peter Moffatt and (uncredited) John Nathan-Turner








Season: 90-minute-long special (between the 20th and 21st seasons)

Original broadcast dates: November 23 1983 (US)/ November 25 1983 (UK)

Total viewers: 7.7 million (UK)

Preceding serial: The King’s Demons (Season 20)

Next serial: Warriors Of The Deep (Season 21)







Enjoying a rare, peaceful sojourn on the Eye of Orion (known the universe-wide as one of its most tranquil spots; although, must be said, it looks a great deal like the British countryside), the youthful, fair-haired and beige-cricket-themed-outfit-sporting fifth incarnation of The Doctor is suddenly struck by one of the most devastatingly debilitating afflictions he’s ever experienced – he can feel all four of his former selves being snatched out of their own natural times; the sensation seems to be like they’re being removed from time altogether. Worried, his present companions, Australian air stewardess Tegan Jovanka and previously duplicitous alien-cum-public-schollboy Vislor Turlough, are powerless to help him so carry the prone Time Lord back to his TARDIS, tending to him as he lies stricken on the console room floor.

Meanwhile, we witness his four other other selves indeed being scooped up by a menacing floating triangular whirlwind and out of the times and places they happen to be occupying. The First Doctor is taken from a rose garden; a giant, furry coat-wearing Second from the grounds of UNIT’s HQ with a 1980s’ Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, whom the former’s visiting on his retirement from UNIT; the Third while driving along in his beloved pseudo-vintage sportscar Bessie; and the Fourth and companion Romana as he punts her along in a boat on the River Cam beside a Cambridge college. The first three – as well as the Fifth and his companions in his TARDIS, but not the Fourth and Romana, whom get stuck in the Time Vortex – end up on the barren, foreboding landscape of an unknown planet – none of them aware the others are also there. But who has snatched them and plonked them down there? And why?

Whomever it is and their purpose, it has the Inner Council of the Time Lords worried. And as they discuss the fact the Doctors’ displacements from their correct times is draining the all-important Eye of Harmony (the source of the Time Lords’ time- and space-travel energy, which is located at the heart of the Capitol of their planet Gallifrey), we learn that it’s actually down on the surface of Gallifrey that the Doctors have all been placed. Not just there, though, specifically-speaking, they’re all in the über-hostile ‘The Death Zone’ –  a fatally dangerous environment that surrounds the Dark Tower, the tomb of the founder of Time Lord society, the great Rassilon. The Death Zone was apparently created way back in the ‘Dark Time’ by the Time Lords’ ancestors, whom cruelly devised it for their own sport – they would time-scoop aliens from different times and spaces and put them in The Death Zone to fight it out to the death. Nice.

As the Second Doc gets his bearings and passes on the bad news to the Brig, they’re suddenly chased by a squad of the ultimate cyborg killers, the Cybermen (also moved to The Death Zone it seems). For his part, the First Doctor finds he’s in a hall of mirrors and runs into Susan Foreman, his very first companion and, in fact, his grand-daughter (presumably she’s been time-scooped too), and quickly the pair have to escape from a, yes, time-scooped Dalek. Meanwhile, the Third Doctor – still driving along in Bessie – spies a young woman needing help after falling down a steep hill-face. Rescuing her, he immediately recognises her and she him, for the woman is Sarah Jane Smith, his and the Fourth Doctor’s journalist companion, whom we witnessed time-scooped herself from outside her London home just after being warned of danger by super robotic dog K-9 (she’d received him as a gift from The Doc in 1981’s one-off, Doctor-less Christmas special K-9 And Company).

The Inner Council – made up of Lord President Borusa, Chancellor Flavia and security chief the Castellan – now welcome into their midst the man who’s their very dodgy roll of the dice to aid the Docs’ escape from The Death Zone and put a stop to the Eye of Harmony’s drainage… The Master, The Doctor’s nemesis – the skunk to his mongoose. They suggest to him his sly, devious yet brilliant mind may just be the tonic for the Docs, if he can be trusted; they successfully bribe him into taking on the mission by promising a pardon for all his past crimes and a new cycle of regenerations (him having used up all his previous ones). Accepting, he is furnished with a transmat-recall device and is sent into The Death Zone.

Tegan: Doctor, what is it?
The Fifth Doctor: It’s fading. It’s all fading…
Turlough: What’s fading?
The Fifth Doctor: Great chunks of my past, detaching themselves like melting icebergs

His mission gets off to a sticky start, however, as when he comes across the Third Doctor and Sarah they instantly dismiss his claims he’s there to help and move on – so he then seems to seek an alliance with the squad of Cybermen. Meanwhile, the First Doc and Susan spy on the horizon the Fifth’s TARDIS and set off for it. Gaining entry into the machine (because, well, effectively it’s his), the First meets his Fifth incarnation and, learning the TARDIS can get no nearer to the Dark Tower owing to a forcefield, grudgingly agrees to form an alliance with the Fifth to gain entry to the tower – like both the Second and the Third, the two Docs have deduced the key to returning to their correct times must lie in the tower. Owing to the First’s elderly state, the Fifth suggests the former ought to remain behind in the TARDIS while he seeks a way into the tower; he’s accompanied by both Tegan and Susan. However, quickly the trio are surrounded by Cybermen – with their new ‘ally’ The Master in their wake. The latter, however, hasn’t allied himself with the Cybermen at all and is knocked out by a cybergun blast, dropping as he falls to the ground his transmat-recall, which the Fifth picks up, recognises and depresses to escape.

Materialising before the Inner Circle in the Capitol, the Fifth Doc realises he’s misjudged The Master and figures that the Cybermen found them both too easily – it’s as if someone was controlling or communicating with them. He examines The Master’s transmat-recall and discovers it contains a homer (which had presumably attracted the Cybermen to them both). It’s revealed that the Castelan had supplied The Master the transmat device, thus he is arrested; the assumption being he placed in it a homer and is the Inner Circle insider manipulating events. Furthermore, items that apparently contain secrets from the Dark Times are found in a search of his quarters, seemingly incriminating him beyond doubt. As he’s taken away to be interrogated via ‘the mind probe’, The Doctor, Borusa and Flavia hear a shot and a cry – a guard claims the Castellan was shot trying to escape, but the Doc has grave doubts about what’s going on…

Outside in The Death Zone, the Third Doctor and Sarah manage to gain entrance into the tower having got past ‘the most perfect killing machine ever devised’ the Raston Robot, when the latter attacks and one-by-one easily eliminates a number of Cybermen. The Second and the Brig too get inside after, journeying through subterranean caves, they escape  the clutches of an alien-devised robotic Yeti monster (the like of which the’d previously encountered together on Earth). Furthermore, on Tegan and Susan’s return to the TARDIS to inform the First Doctor of the Fifth’s plight, The First decides he must venture out himself, with Tegan in tow, and the pair eventually reach and enter the tower – through the front door, in fact, which seems far too straightforward.

Indeed, it is. Inside they meet the cunning Master, whom points out all they have to do venture into the tower proper is to cross a grid that resembles a chess board. The grid is booby-trapped, however, which the now arrived remainder of the Cyber squad is not aware of. Luring them across, The Master leads them to obliteration-by-laser. Yet, latching on to a cryptic clue made by The Master, the smarter-than-the-average-Time-Lord Doc quickly deduces that to cross the grid safely one must make calculations involving the mathematical Pi equation. Therefore, he and Tegan safely make it across the grid after the now disappeared Master.

On their way through the tower, the Second and Third Doctors too face obstacles; this time in the guise of previous companions: Scots Highland soldier Jamie McCrimmon and 21st-Century scientsist Zoe Heriot (for the Second) and UNIT alumni Dr Liz Shaw and Captain Mike Yates (for The Third). Soon enough, though, both Docs realises these are just spectres conjured up by the will of the long-since-departed Rassilon to – like the grid – prevent intruders gaining entry to his tomb. Denying their respective companion-spectres then, both Docs and their real companions are able to continue and, like the First Doc and Tegan, eventually find their way into the tomb, at which point everyone becomes (re)acquainted.

The Fifth Doctor: I’m certainly not the man I was. Thank goodness!

Having deciphered from ‘Old High Gallifreyan’ an inscription, the three Doctors find out that, before his death, the all-powerful Rassilon had discovered the secret to immortality and was apparently prepared to share it with any Time Lord whom might overcome the obstacles in the Dark Tower and gain entry to his tomb (see video clip above). Just then – and right on cue – The Master reappears and announces he’s arrived to claim said immortality (something he’s ventured to Gallifrey for before now); amusingly defeated by a spot of human brute force, he’s knocked out by the Brig and tied up by Sarah and Tegan. Manipulating controls in the tomb, the Docs now disable the forcefield preventing the TARDIS entry to the tower, allowing Susan and Turlough to pilot it into the tomb and join the others.

Meanwhile, left alone in the Inner Council’s chamber, the Fifth Doc’s attempts to discover who’s behind everything hit a breakthrough when he realises Borusa has disappeared, discovers the chamber’s transmat machine is disabled and is informed nobody’s got past the guards and so departed the Capitol. The Lord President must have left the chamber via some sort of secret door then. Eventually, the Doc works out a code that might open such a door and low and behold a concealed door opens – into a darkened room where he finds… Lord President Borusa. Using a Rassilon-related item of great power, the latter overpowers the Doc and forces him to obey his commands, informing him that, like the other three Doctors, he too had discovered Rassilon’s harnessing of immortality and grew to desire it so he might rule Gallifrey forever not just until he dies a natural death at the end of his regeneration cycle. Thus, he’d conceived a plan to bring all the Doctors to The Death Zone to gain entry to Rassilon’s tomb in order to get past the obstacles and make it far easier for him to gain entry by merely following them.

Thus, easily transmatting himself and the Fifth Doc to the tomb, Borusa now – via the controlled will of the Fifth – attempts to control the minds of the other three Doctors as well. This he accomplishes, but by combining their will, the latter trio and the Fifth manage to break his grip on them. Now, though, the voice of Rassilon booms around the tomb demanding to know whom wishes to gain immortality. Borusa takes his cue and claims he does; together, the Doctors step forward to try to prevent the inevitable, but the First holds them back. Borusa takes the ring from the finger of the prone body of Rassilon, only to be frozen still and his body transferred on to the side of the latter’s sepulchre – he has immortality, but it’s a living death for him and, like we see next to him, other Time Lords whom over the eons have successfully sought the same.

As Rassilon frees the Fourth Doctor and Romana from the Time Vortex and returns them to their correct time and space, he also sends away The Master (‘his sins will find their punishment in due time’). Smugly, the First Doc explains to the others that another part of the inscription they’d deciphered said ‘to lose is to win and he who wins shall lose’. From this he’d thus deduced that taking Borusa’s offer of immortality was an ingenious trap left by the great Time Lord to wheedle out and remove far too ambitious, nay evil, future descendants, so all that had been needed was for Borusa to seal his own fate.

Upon saying their farewells and – in the Doctors’ cases – insulting each other one last time, group-by-group the time-travellers step into the TARDIS and, via the latter separating into multiple TARDISes, return to their respective times and spaces, leaving only the Fifth Doc, Tegan and Turlough behind. After all they’ve been through, however, there’s another hurdle to jump – Chancellor Flavia appears on the scene with guards, claiming The Doctor must now take control as the rightful Lord Chancellor (him having assumed the position in a previous time of crisis and Borusa having essentially only inherited it on the Doc’s last departure from Gallifrey). Anxiously, The Doctor whispers to his companions to scarper into the TARDIS and, claiming he’ll follow Flavia back to the Capitol in the machine, he does likewise. Once inside, he explains to his bemused friends that he (and in turn they) are now on the run from Gallifrey – in fact, just as he always has been since the very beginning…






Fair dues, The Five Doctors is a pretty long way short of being the best Who serial/ episode ever made, yet for the simple reason it’s (so far) the ultimate ‘multi-Doctor’ story, it is unquestionably an essential serial/ episode in Who history. Intentionally produced and broadcast as a standalone special to mark the show’s 20th anniversary, it followed 10 years – and a few months – on the heels of the first decade-marking The Three Doctors (1973) special, which boasted then current Doc Jon Pertwee and the two previous incarnations of the character, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton (although the former of those two didn’t actually appear on-screen in it with the other two, owing to poor health; sadly he’d die just two years later).

Yet, while The Three Doctors was certainly well received in its time (it also introduced splendid Time Lord villain Omega, after all), The Five Doctors would fundamentally trump it in two significant areas. First up, in spite of it not ‘properly’ featuring Tom Baker as The Fourth Doctor (see reasons below) and the obvious lack of Hartnell, it nonetheless offered its only-too-eager early ’80s Who-dience a quintet of Docs – Davison’s then current Fifth, Pertwee’s Third, Troughton’s Second, Baker’s Fourth (sort of then) and filling in as the First, an excellent impersonation from seasoned thesp William Hurndall. Moreover, aside from Baker’s, all four of them appear on-screen together.

The other area where it stands head and shoulders above its anniversary-celebrating predecessor special is in just how many companions it features. Understandably, the Fifth Doc’s entourage of the time, Janet Fielding’s Tegan ‘The Mouth on Legs’ Jovanka and Mark Strickson’s Turlough feature prominently (although both are far from great), but we’re spoilt with reappearances from Elisabeth Sladen‘s rightly adored Sarah Jane, Nicholas Courtney’s ever popular Brig and, surely best and most surprising of all, Carole Ann Ford’s Susan, The Doc’s grandaughter and his very first companion. There’s even cameos from Troughton era associates Frazer Hines’ Jamie and Wendy Padbury’s Zoe (not seen since their sad farewell in 1969’s The War Games), Richard Franklin’s Mike Yates and Caroline John’s Liz Shaw from the Pertwee era (the latter not seen since 1970’s Inferno) and we also get the briefest of moments from Baker-era companion Lalla Ward‘s Romana II and that Doc’s faithful friend K-9. Plus, lest we forget, there’s Anthony Ainley’s then current version of The Master too – this time, though, intriguingly taking on a would-be Iago role instead of out-and-out villain duties.

All the same, The Five Doctors does have its drawbacks – mostly to do with the script. On the surface, there’s little really wrong with Terrance Dicks’ writing (as Who serials/ episodes go, it’s solid enough; certainly by the time of the ’80s when the quality dipped in general), but measured against the best, the dialogue lacks spark and there’s plot problems (The Death Zone isn’t exactly original – it’s effectively a retread of the plot conceit in The War Games, which was way more compelling) and incongruities (why do the first three Docs and their companions seemingly all leave in their own TARDISes at the end when only one TARDIS – the Fifth’s – actually travelled to Gallifrey?). Mind you, the revelation of Borusa as the villain ain’t bad – while maybe predictable, it’s conceivable and interesting to witness a twice previously featured lofty, by-the-book Time Lord (1977’s The Deadly Assassin and 1983’s Arc Of Infinity) become drunk with power – and it’s nice finally to meet Rassilon (albeit his Jor-El-like, echo-from-the-past face) and the Raston Robot is a fine idea for a monster that generates some genuine tension; pity it’s not more imaginatively deployed, mind.

Overall, though, the best thing about The Five Doctors is, well, what was also best about The Three Doctors: the interaction of all the Docs themselves. As mentioned, William Hurndall does something of a remarkable job of bringing the stubborn, high-minded First Doctor back to life, while watching the Second and the Third bickering once more is a delight (the former, when they depart, insulting the latter as ‘fancy pants’ and the latter calling the former ‘scarecrow’). Plus, even Davison’s Fifth version irritates the others by proclaiming of all of them he’s ‘the most agreeable’; a sign The Doc has always thought a great deal of himself, despite however modest he likes to be – at times. Indeed, let’s not forget too, the latter’s dash away to his TARDIS at the very end, evading fulfilling his duties as Gallifrey’s rightly appointed Lord President (which references what took place in 1978’s The Invasion Of Time) and echoes ‘how it all began’ in the first place – his running away from his planet in a stolen space- and time-machine. All said then, The Five Doctors is an episode that, despite its faults, is a highly continuity-friendly and jolly, smile-inducing love letter to the show for surely every Who fan.








For right or wrong, The Five Doctors‘ journey to the screen was almost as torturous as that of the five Doctors themselves through The Death Zone to old Rassilon’s tomb. Then producer John Nathan-Turner had been intending a Three Doctors-style special to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary from an early stage and planned to get the thing in place so it could be shot at the end of the 20th Season’s final filming block (which, with its focus on returning villains/ monsters from the show’s past, had already been something of a consciously celebratory season anyway).

And everything went swimmingly until script editor extraordinaire of ’70s Who Robert Holmes was brought on board to write it. To begin with, Nathan-Turner had apparently had to be coaxed into giving Holmes the job – on the advice of turning to a very safe pair of hands for such a prestigious episode’s scripting – because he was always rather intimidated when working with previous ‘big beasts’ of the show. Not that that would have mattered as it turned out, as Holmes had trouble with the script right the way along. Originally he proposed entitling the episode The Six Doctors and having The First Doctor character (and Susan) turning out to be cyborg impersonators. This being deemed far too radical and thus thrown out, his other idea was to have The Doc experience peril by regressing through his five incarnations, meaning the episode would have begun with the Fifth and reached its climax with the First. Although this would undoubtedly have been interesting, it too was vetoed, presumably on account of the fact that current Doc Davison would have been out of the story very early on. Eventually, full of frustration, Holmes decided he wasn’t getting anywhere and walked, leaving Terrance Dicks, the man he’d previously replaced as the show’s script editor, to take his place.

Mind you, it wasn’t plain sailing for Dicks either, as he was asked to come up with a hasty 11th-hour rewrite of his final draft because one of the episode’s stars had decided to u-turn on his earlier decision to appear in it. Yes, that would be Tom Baker, of course. In two minds throughout (albeit amiable) negotiations with Nathan-Turner to appear, the last Doctor but one seemingly decided that starring alongside all the other Docs – and especially his replacement – would be too raw an experience for him. Or his ego simply told him he was above it all (knowing full well he was perceived by the public as ‘The Doc of Docs’, after all).

Either way, he blinked at the last minute, thus the production team came up with the ruse of using never-before-seen footage from the ill-fated, unfinished serial Shada (1980) for his and Lalla Ward’s involvement in the episode (hence why Dicks wrote in the explanation of why they didn’t make it to Gallifrey like everyone else; in fact, Baker’s Doc had been intended to be accompanied by Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane). But this potential calamity actually proved a blessing in disguise; years later Dicks admitted he’d originally made Baker’s Fourth Doc the one whom meets the dignitaries in the Capitol and discovers Borusa’s plot, but Baker’s withdrawal saw Dicks shift this role to Davison’s Fifth Doc, a fortunate change as it ensured the then current Doctor would fittingly play the dominant role in the story.

After the palaver of its writing, the episode’s shooting proved relatively smooth. This was despite ‘actors’ director’ Peter Moffat (whose existence had years before forced Peter Davison for performer-union-purposes to adopt the ‘stage’ surname ‘Davison’ in place of his real surname – yes, ‘Moffat’) being far more comfortable with helming the drama as opposed to the action, thus ensuring Nathan-Turner eagerly stepped in to direct the Raston Robot action sequence.

Indeed, to ensure things remained smooth, Nathan-Turner had also arranged that, as much as possible, Davison, Pertwee and Troughton were kept apart during filming until they were actually shooting their shared scenes in the climax. Yet, this turned out to be over-cautious, as ego clashes were far from the agenda when they eventually worked together. So much so that during a later photo-call in which they all appeared with other guest-stars (including K-9), they seemed to enjoy themselves greatly – at the absent Tom Baker’s expense, that is. As the latter had declined to turn up for filming, but (sort of) appeared in the episode, Nathan-Turner had slyly hired the thesp’s genuinely lifelike Madame Tussaud’s waxwork to fill in for these group photos. This would actually have worked rather well, had the other Doc actors not larked about around ‘Baker’ (even carrying ‘him’ about at one point), very much drawing attention to the fact this wasn’t the real Tom. Apparently, Elisabeth Sladen was rather put out by their antics, deeming them disrespectful, but the trio clearly had great fun (for images of the event – see here).

In a first for the show, The Five Doctors was actually broadcast in the States before it was in the UK, going out, as it did, on US screens on the evening of Who‘s 20th anniversary (November 23 ’83), while UK fans had to wait two days longer to see it (no illegal streaming back then, of course). The reason for this was the old Beeb had cannily held it back to form the centrepiece of that year’s Children In Need appeal (see video clip below), necessitating then it being broadcast on the last Friday evening of November (when the highly successful telefon has traditionally always been broadcast) rather than two nights before to coincide perfectly with Who‘s anniversary. Admittedly, no ‘Whovians’ in Blighty seemed particularly miffed at this; after all if it was good enough for Pudsey, then surely it was good enough for the rest of us, Who-nuts or not.





Next time: The Caves Of Androzani (Season 21/ 1984)


Previous close-ups/ reviews:

City Of Death (Season 17/ 1979/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (Season 15/ 1977/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Deadly Assassin (Season 14/ 1976/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

Pyramids Of Mars (Season 13/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Dæmons (Season 8/ 1971/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)


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