The Five Doctors

I am being diminished. Whittled away, piece by piece. A man is the sum of his memories, you know. A Time Lord even more so.

The Fifth Doctor


Who is kidnapping the Doctor from his time streams and placing him in the Death Zone on Gallifrey? As friends team up against old enemies, the answer may lie in Rassilon’s Tomb…


I personally have a lot of nostalgia tied up in The Five Doctors, as although I wasn’t alive when it was first broadcast, it is amongst the first five classic Doctor Who stories I remember seeing when I first started trawling through the original run of the show. I think it does do a very good job of celebrating the show’s past, however, it is an indicator of a turning point coming up in the show’s history. arguably, after The Five Doctors and the conclusion of the Fifth Doctor’s era, the show feels like it has an almost untouchable energy, which would prove to be misplaced by the end of Season 22. Once the show lost that swagger, it struggled ever to regain it.

Considering how late in the day that Terrance Dicks came on board the project, The Five Doctors feels incredibly coherent, especially considering the number of characters he has to incorporate. The sacrifice Dicks has to make is the plot, which sees the Doctors forced into playing the Game of Rassilon to escape the Death Zone on Gallifrey, and can be described as simplistic, but I don’t really think that he could give the audience the fan-pleasing appearances and a suitably complex plot. Another strength of his script is the quotable dialogue. Some of the best examples of it are placed through this review, but there are so many great lines in here that will occasionally pop into my head, whether they are incredibly effective (“Great chunks of my past, detaching themselves like melting icebergs”) or just good fun (“Like Alice, I try to believe three impossible things before breakfast”). It is perhaps extraordinary that this production team and its successors never thought to try and get Terrance Dicks back to write more regular scripts, considering his track record and just how well he wrote for Doctor Who. Dicks makes this story simultaneously accessible – we don’t feel beaten around the head by references to previous adventures when the Second Doctor reunites with the Brigadier, for instance, or Sarah Jane with the Third Doctor – and satisfactory to the fans. Perhaps Eric Saward, who is well known for being a fan of Robert Holmes, did not hold Dicks in such high regard, or the writer simply had no ambition to return, Dicks is held up as being one of the best writers in the show’s history, and perhaps The Two Doctors makes it clear that writing multi-Doctor stories is not for everyone.

Peter Moffatt is certainly not the show’s most inventive or creative director, but he is certainly considered a safe pair of hands to balance the large cast and it is safe to say that The Five Doctors is probably one of his best contributions to the show. The story is not necessarily visually interesting, and it is not helped by the fact that the scenes inside the Capitol of Gallifrey look rather bland as the lessons haven’t been learnt from the Gallifreyan coffee shop appearance seen in Arc of Infinity. There are moments that have a ‘that’ll do’ energy about them, like the fact that the rope we see the Doctor and Sarah use to gain access to the tower is slack, and then there is the infamous slope scene. Sarah Jane is seen to fall down a rather shallow incline in the Death Zone, which only serves to make her look pathetic when Pertwee and Bessie turn up and have to pull her up using a rope and the car, involving her essentially crawling on her stomach. It is extremely undignified for Elisabeth Sladen and with better or more sympathetic direction. There are moments where use of the location doesn’t seem to have been thought about, which usually involves characters spotting things later than they should have done, like Susan spotting the TARDIS when walking through the Death Zone with the First Doctor, or the Fifth Doctor and the Master not spotting the Cybermen.

The cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.

The Master

This is undoubtedly the best Anthony Ainley Master story, and it is perhaps unsurprising given that Terrance Dicks was half of the partnership that devised the Master all the way back in the production of Terror of the Autons. The story isn’t afraid to take the character moderately seriously, and Ainley takes the opportunity to be charming whilst equally devious. Having the character be introduced as a device to help the Doctor, but the Doctor obviously being distrustful in all of his incarnations is quite a good and fun dynamic and Ainley’s frustration at his offers of help comes across well. The High Council members who send him into the Death Zone are largely non-descript, but there is an idea that the Time Lords are so arrogant and ‘woolly headed’ that they don’t consider proper security measures for the Tomb of Rassilon. It is a pretty neat rug pull to have Borusa be the main villain of the piece, especially as in his previous appearances, he has been generally amiable towards the Doctor, and his ill-fated pursuit of Rassilon’s immortality ends in quite a horrific way – the eyes of the heads of the other Time Lords who have come also seeking immortality are truly freaky.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an anniversary special without a Dalek, which we briefly see chase the First Doctor and Susan through corridors shortly after they have both been time scooped, which feels like perhaps a little bit of a poor steer considering that the Daleks are part of the reason the show survived for as long as it has. The Cybermen are possibly the third tier villains in this story, behind Borusa and the Master, but it is perhaps a robot that makes it’s debut in this story that really captures my heart: the Raston Warrior Robot. Tasked with designing a creature that was cheap, Dicks has created one of the most lethal and memorable parts of this story, as we are shown how it is able to carve through the Cybermen like a knife through butter. I assume the writer had great fun writing this sequence, as his feelings about the Cybermen are well documented! I wish the Raston Warrior Robot would come back – at the time of writing, I’m holding out hope for the 60th Anniversary!

One of the flaws of the story is that there are a lot of companions here, and there is simply not a lot for them to do. For me, this is particularly evident for Turlough and Susan, who do very little, and none of them really get any development. For the casual viewer, we briefly get it established that Susan is the Doctor’s granddaughter, for instance, but there is no mention of the fact that they haven’t seen each other since the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. We also get cameos once we get into Rassilon’s Tower, with the return of Richard Franklin, Caroline John, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury as the Mind of Rassilon attempts to stop the Second and Third Doctors reaching the tomb. Again, here, we get a mention that Jamie and Zoe have had their memories wiped by the Time Lords, which enables the Doctor to realise that the illusion isn’t real, but the audience doesn’t need to have seen The War Games to know why this has happened. I think that this story would be much less entertaining if the Brigadier had not been included, with Nicholas Courtney bringing the character’s sardonic charm to puncture the Doctor’s pomposity.

You attract trouble Doctor, you always did!

The Brigadier

We have, of course, got five leads in this show, or more accurately, four and a half after Tom Baker declined the opportunity to return, and I think it works really well. They are largely kept apart, something which I believe was due to concerns about how some actors may have reacted when face to face with other actors playing the same character. I think that is a real shame, as the scene where the four are united is one of the best of the story and it would have been nice to have more scenes of them together, besides the brief picnic scene that the First and the Fifth Doctor share in the TARDIS. It is, perhaps, hard to see how a story like this would work with the Fourth Doctor, and it is rumoured that he would have been the lead, had Baker been able to appear. It may be because I have seen The Five Doctors more than I have seen Shada, but I think of the scenes they use from the infamously disrupted production as coming from this multi-Doctor story, rather than where they originally came from.

The man with the biggest challenge is undoubtedly Richard Hurndall, who has to step into the shoes of the late William Hartnell. Hurndall doesn’t particularly look like Hartnell, but he does do a pretty good job of capturing some of the First Doctor’s characteristics, especially in his scenes with Janet Fielding’s Tegan. His Doctor is ultimately the one who saves the day – which is a little weird if you think about it too much – but his lines talking to Rassilon in his tomb are delivered so well. If you had to recast a Doctor, then the example of Richard Hurndall is one to hold in high regard – it’s not a direct impression, rather a new interpretation, which is something that can certainly be seen in the way that Big Finish have recast the first three Doctors more recently in the shape of Tim Treloar, Michael Troughton and Stephen Noonan.

Goodbye, fancy pants.


The Second Doctor and the Third Doctor

Talking of best case scenarios, the way that Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee seem to slot effortlessly back into their roles. It’s often said that Troughton’s Second Doctor is different in the multi-Doctor stories to his appearances when he was the main lead, which is certainly true to an extent, but I think Troughton takes the opportunity with the spotlight shared to completely steal the show. He is such a great actor, emminently watchable and entertaining. My wife, who has not watched much Classic Who would possibly say that her favourite Classic Doctor is the Second, based purely on his appearance in this story, which is an understandable viewpoint. The way that he pushes the other two Doctors away from the stone obelisk is just pure perfection. Pertwee’s Third Doctor is also a welcome return, and he slots back into that more action-orientated Doctor so well, despite nearly a decade away from the role. In her autobiography, Elisabeth Sladen states that she thinks that Pertwee never truly got over the show moving on without him, and he certainly seems to be having a ball here, back with Bessie, and of course, he is the Doctor to take the route to Rassilon’s Tower via the roof! He and Anthony Ainley’s Master bounce off each other so well – it is almost like watching Pertwee and Roger Delgado all over again – and the way he gives him the little kick after the Brigadier has punched him on the jaw is just perfect.

It would be entirely possible for the incumbent Doctor to become lost amongst the returning characters, but it shows how much Peter Davison has grown into the part that he more than holds his own in this story. It is undeniable that he is the lead in this story, given the most to do and given the meat of the story – he is the Doctor who finds out that Borusa is behind himself and his four predecessors, endangering his continued existence due to his Fourth incarnation being stuck in the time vortex. It is, perhaps in his meeting with Susan that should see Peter Davison draw the most plaudits, in a presumably unscripted moment. Davison looks so fond and pleased to see his granddaughter again, which must be a decision made by the actor.

Verdict: The nostalgia arguably plays a large part, but The Five Doctors is a comfort episode of Doctor Who for me. It works a lot better than it has any right to do, and it is lovely to see so many Doctors and companions sharing the screen. 9/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Tom Baker (The Doctor), William Hartnell/Richard Hurndall (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Carol Ann Ford (Susan), Anthony Ainley (The Master), Lalla Ward (Romana), Philip Latham (Lord President Borusa), Dinah Sheridan (Chancellor Flavia), Paul Jerricho (The Castellan), David Banks (Cyber-Leader), Mark Hardy (Cyber-Lieutenant), Richard Matthews (Rassilon), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Richard Franklin (Captain Yates), John Leeson (K9), David Savile (Crichton), Roy Skelton (Dalek Voice), John Scott Martin (Dalek Operator), Stuart Blake (Commander), Stephen Meredith (Technician), Ray Float (Sergeant), John Tallents (Guard), William Kenton (Cyber Scout) & Keith Hodiak (Raston Warrior Robot).

Writer: Terrance Dicks

Director: Peter Moffatt

UK Broadcast Date: 25 November 1983

Behind the Scenes

  • Robert Holmes was originally commissioned to write the special, which would have been called The Six Doctors, featuring a robot duplicate of one of the Doctors. It would have also featured the Cybermen attempting to become Cyberlords by extracting a gene from the Doctor(s) genetic code. Holmes was unable to come up with a workable script.
  • Tom Baker chose not to reprise his role as the Doctor as he believed that it was too soon to revisit the show, a decision he later stated he regretted. Lalla Ward was approached to return as Romana, however, declined as she did not wish to work with Baker again. Both the Fourth Doctor and Romana appear in footage shot for the unbroadcast (and at the time unseen) story Shada.
    • Baker’s decision to pull out of the story came after Dicks had delivered his first draft of the script. In this first draft, the Fourth Doctor betrayed his other selves.
    • When Baker’s Doctor was to appear, the Doctor and companion pairings were different. Sarah Jane would have appeared with the Fourth Doctor, the Brigadier with the Third Doctor and Jamie with the Second Doctor. However, when Hines was not available for more than a cameo appearance, it was rewritten to pair the Second Doctor with Victoria Waterfield. When Watling chose not to reappear and Baker pulled out, a further revision was required, resulting in the pairings as they appear in the finished version.
    • Two different end sequences were shot, which also involved using different sections of Shada. The originally broadcast version shows that both the Doctor and Romana were caught by the time scoop, whilst the other featured in the Special Edition shows that it was just the Doctor.
  • This story marks the first time that the Third Doctor comes close to an onscreen meeting with the Cybermen. The use of the Cybermen here was one of the alterations that Eric Saward made to Dicks’ script that he objected to, feeling that they were overused.
  • The Five Doctors was broadcast in America on Doctor Who’s actual anniversary, 23rd November 1983. It would be broadcast in the UK two days later, forming part of Children in Need.
  • The first Doctor Who story to be co-produced by overseas broadcasters, in this case the Australian Broadcast Corporation.
  • The final televised story written by Terrance Dicks.
  • The first appearance of the TARDIS console room designed by Mike Kelt, which would be used to the end of the 1980s. It was also one of the first Doctor Who stories to make extensive use of matte paintings.

Cast Notes

  • A number of past companions were approached to appear but declined or the option proved unworkable, including:
    • William Russell;
    • Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, although Wills was living overseas at the time and could not be located;
    • Deborah Watling, who chose to appear on The Dave Allen Show instead;
    • Colonel Crichton was originally intended to be Benton, played by John Levene. Levene turned the opportunity to return down as the part required him to not recognise the Second Doctor, something that he felt would be disloyal to the character of Benton;
    • Katy Manning was living in Australia at the time of production;
    • Ian Marter was in New Zealand;
    • Louise Jameson was willing to reprise her role but could not be worked into the story;
    • As mentioned above, Lalla Ward refused to reprise her role as she did not wish to work with Tom Baker. Mary Tamm was not approached.
  • David Savile had previously played Lieutenant Jeremy Carstairs in The War Games, and Winser in The Claws of Axos.
  • Stuart Blake had previously appeared as Zoldaz in State of Decay and would go on to play Scibus in Warriors of the Deep.

Best Moment

I do love the Raston Warrior Robot dispatching the Cybermen but it is probably tied with the scene of the Third Doctor trying to evade the time scoop in Bessie.

Best Quote

You mean you’re choosing to go on the run from your own people in a rackety old TARDIS?

Why not? After all, that’s how it all started.

Tegan Jovanka and the Fifth Doctor

Previous Fifth Doctor review: The King’s Demons

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