The Five Doctors ★★★★
Time Lords, companions and monsters gather for the triumphant 20th anniversary special, but could it have been a classic? RT speaks to Ian Levine and Waris Hussein...
“Wonderful chap – all of them!” – the Brigadier
The first three Doctors and various companions are seized by a time scoop and deposited in the Death Zone on Gallifrey, a wilderness where forbidden games once took place. With the fourth Doctor trapped in a vortex, the fifth Doctor must enter the Zone and find his other selves. They come under attack from a Dalek, the Cybermen and a Yeti, but the Time Lord High Council enlists the Master to lend assistance. Paths converge on the Dark Tower and the Tomb of Rassilon. President Borusa has used the Doctors to breach the tower’s defences. He seeks the Ring of Rassilon to gain immortality and become President Eternal.
First UK transmission
Friday 25 November 1983
Location filming: October 1979 in Cambridge (Shada footage). March 1983 in Bucks at Halings House and Tilehouse Lane, Upper Denham; 2 West Common Road and 15 North Common Road, Uxbridge. In Gwynedd at Plas Brondanw, Llanfrothen; Cwm Bychan nr Llanbedr; Carreg y Foel and Manod quarry in Ffestiniog.
Filming: March 1983 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: March 1983 in TC6
The Doctor - Peter Davison, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Richard Hurndall, Tom Baker, William Hartnell
Tegan - Janet Fielding
Turlough - Mark Strickson
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
Romana - Lalla Ward
The Master - Anthony Ainley
Lord President Borusa - Philip Latham
Chancellor Flavia - Dinah Sheridan
The Castellan - Paul Jerricho
Cyber leader - David Banks
Cyber lieutenant - Mark Hardy
Rassilon - Richard Mathews
Jamie McCrimmon- Frazer Hines
Zoe Heriot - Wendy Padbury
Liz Shaw - Caroline John
Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
Colonel Crichton - David Savile
Voice of K•9 - John Leeson
Dalek operator - John Scott Martin
Dalek voice - Roy Skelton
Commander - Stuart Blake
Technician - Stephen Meredith
Sergeant - Ray Float
Guard - John Tallents
Cyber scout - William Kenton
Raston robot - Keith Hodiak
Writer - Terrance Dicks
Incidental music - Peter Howell
Designer - Malcolm Thornton
Script editor - Eric Saward
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Peter Moffatt
RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
You cannot be a proper Doctor Who fan and not love The Five Doctors – or at least find much to love about this story. It’s a celebration and, like the best parties, a huge amount of effort and planning has gone into it. You cannot wait for it to start. You’ll see old friends and enemies. There are moments to treasure for ever. And yes, when it’s all over, you may feel just a little deflated.
The 20th anniversary special is a remarkable achievement by John Nathan-Turner, a challenge I doubt any other producer would have attempted. In his memoirs, JN-T said The Five Doctors remained a favourite, presenting “the whole history of Doctor Who – or near as dammit – there on screen”.
In truth, JN-T delivered three proper Doctors and elements of others, but juggling essential characters and actors’ availability was no mean feat. William Hartnell, of course, was dead, and Tom Baker declined to appear. JN-T also ended up with his third-choice director and second-choice writer, but Terrance Dicks, former script-editor and scribe of dozens of Target novelisations, knew the series and its characters inside out and brought the flavour of each era alive.
Richard Hurndall, though hardly a Hartnell doppelganger, creates a passably haughty first Doctor – “the original, you might say!” It’s wonderful to see him reunited with Susan and hear our hero called “Grandfather!” for the first time in 19 years. The 1963/4 vibe is complete when they’re pursued through metallic tunnels by a Dalek.
It’s easy to forget that in 1983 Daleks had been absent from Who for four years; extraordinarily, Dicks had to insist on including one here. My only regret is that we never see this Doctor (or a later one) asking how his middle-aged granddaughter has coped since he abandoned her on 22nd-century Earth.
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Patrick Troughton is a hoot, slipping effortlessly back into the second Doctor’s shoes and massive fur coat. Showing his age (63) on the freezing location, he now seems less Chaplinesque and more like one of the Three Stooges. Yet his teaming with the stoic Brigadier (“You attract trouble, Doctor. You always did”) works like a dream, even when they’re pursued by a peculiarly agile Yeti.
With platinum bouffant and tartan cloak, Jon Pertwee seems more than ever the eccentric granny. Though 63, he’s still up for action – a swerve in old banger Bessie, high-wire heroics… A couple of bum notes occur: his OTT exclamations “Great balls of fire!” and “Jehoshaphat!” recall the third Doctor from TV Comic, rather than the BBC1 characterisation that Dicks nurtured. And why does this Doctor greet the Brig like a long-lost friend?
Also, a reunion with the overprotective third Doctor, rather than the fourth, reduces Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) to the state of a timorous nitwit: “I can’t go along there. I get vertigo”; “I don’t think I can take much more of this”; and, as the Doctor tells Mike Yates, “She’s nervous enough as it is.” That doesn’t sound like the plucky Sarah Jane Smith we so admire.
Tom Baker’s Doctor, the little we see of him, is fully in character – quite naturally because, in Baker’s absence, clips from his aborted 1979 story Shada are used. Thus, briefly, Douglas Adams is once again writing pearls for Doctor Who.
As fifth and current Doctor, Peter Davison gets the lion’s share of the action. He fares well against larger personalities, although he’s saddled with some dull tracts within the Time Lord Capitol. And while Turlough is almost redundant, Tegan (whose dress fabric looks torn from the seat of a Tube train) enjoys a spiky pairing with the first Doctor.
Dicks knows how to write for the Master (he co-created the character in 1970) and as a result, this is Anthony Ainley’s most effective outing. Dicks ticks a box by having the third Doctor introduce Sarah to “my best enemy” (amazingly they’d never met before) and there’s another “Yes!” moment when the Master is knocked out by the Brig.
Crucially, the Time Lords offer the Master “a complete new life cycle” – which makes a mockery of Borusa’s quest for immortality, but allows for later incarnations played by Messrs Roberts, Jacobi and Simm. (Such a facility could also explain the unknown earlier Doctors seen fleetingly in The Brain of Morbius and provide the series with its get-out clause come the Doctor’s 13th regeneration.)
Despite a miasma of Doctors, companions and monsters, Dicks forges an admirably efficient narrative. He’s stymied by Peter Moffatt’s direction, however, which is at best sedate, at times sedated. The first half (reintroductions and reunions) inevitably satisfies more than the denouement, exacerbated by a lethargic Philip Latham as the fourth Borusa and the portrayal of legendary Rassilon as Jimmy Edwards with flu.
Notably, the one showcase action scene – the Cyber massacre by the Raston Robot – was directed by JN-T, for which Moffatt admitted he was “most grateful”.
All other departments impress. Visual effects designer Mike Kelt gives the Tardis console a much-needed upgrade, while Peter Howell’s moody music almost convinces us that a dreary Welsh valley vista could be the Eye of Orion, “the most tranquil place in the universe”.
The Five Doctors begins with a well-chosen clip of Hartnell and, watching in 1983, it was sad to realise the programme’s first star had been dead eight years. Watching again now in 2012, as the 50th anniversary looms, it’s even sadder to reflect how many luminaries from this special have since died: Troughton, Pertwee, Courtney, Sladen, Ainley and Hurndall, as well as Moffatt and JN-T.
FURTHER READING: PARTY POOPERS
Much as I love The Five Doctors, I can’t help thinking of what might have been, of those on the A-list who, for various reasons, did not attend the party – Tom Baker, Katy Manning, Robert Holmes, Waris Hussein, Douglas Camfield…
Had Baker not pulled out, we’d have had a better pairing of Sarah with the fourth Doctor; Jo Grant might then have appeared alongside the third Doctor (JN-T was prepared to fly Katy Manning out from her home in Oz). An encounter for Pertwee and Manning/Sladen with the Autons was abandoned for cost reasons. Now, that would have been my highlight of the entire special.
Other intriguing ideas fell by the wayside.
Aware that my old friend and überfan Ian Levine was heavily involved in the 20th anniversary, the Longleat celebration and writing for Radio Times (see below), I quizzed him for his memories. He insists that, had first-choice writer Robert Holmes remained on board, “the villain was definitely going to be Sutekh [from Pyramids of Mars]. No question about that. There’s no paperwork to corroborate this, but both John and Eric [Saward, script editor] told me so. I’d swear that on a stack of Bibles.”
Holmes also proposed The Six Doctors, in which the recast first Doctor would be exposed as an android. Eventually, Holmes withdrew from the project bemoaning the “shopping list” of companions and monsters handed to him.
“Eric was very frustrated because he respected Bob Holmes and loved his ideas,” recalls Ian, who acted as unofficial continuity adviser in the 1980s and was a confidante of both Saward and JN-T. The latter was annoyed that Holmes, an old-school writer, had been commissioned in the first place. “John hit the roof and said to me in Heaven one night, ‘I’m not having that ungrateful old ‘toot’ back on my show.’”
It seems the disco beneath Charing Cross Station, where Ian was resident DJ, became a hotbed for Whovian discourse. “One night at the bar I said to John, ‘You’ve got to let someone like Terrance Dicks write this.’ I nagged and nagged and finally he agreed to ask him. I really twisted his arm about that.”
JN-T had long hoped to engage Waris Hussein who directed the first story in 1963. “I felt that it would be a charming case of full circle,” said JN-T in his memoirs. But it wasn’t to be.
Waris tells me: “Nathan-Turner and I met socially, but never met formally on the Who project. I got the impression he spread himself thin on his reputation and suggested thoughts that never came to fruition. This is an observation, not a criticism. He enthused about my participation, painting a very promising picture, but nothing was resolved. And I was involved in a lot of prospective TV projects in the States, which proved more concrete than Nathan’s idea of involving me with Who – after all the years.”
JN-T’s second choice was Douglas Camfield, historically the programme’s most accomplished director. Again, Ian Levine: “Douglas phoned me up and said, ‘How dare he!’ He’d have done it with pleasure but knew he was a last-minute replacement and was given only a few weeks’ notice before production! He was insulted.”
On a less sour note, Ian claims to have suggested casting Richard Hurndall. “He was in a Blake’s 7 episode called Assassin and I sat JN-T in front of my TV at home and showed it to him. I said, ‘Look, William Hartnell, perfect!”
You may detect an ambivalent attitude towards John Nathan-Turner – as a producer and on a personal basis – from me and other people, especially as we progress through the 1980s. As for the 20th anniversary special, I still say this was a major achievement that only JN-T could have pulled off.
The Five Doctors is very good. But it could have been great.
Radio Times archive material
The RT edition (19–25 November) celebrating The Five Doctors was a collectors’ item even in 1983, since a printers’ strike meant that several UK regions received no copies at all.
RT commissioned Ian Levine to write Who’s Who’s Who, a feature re-introducing the series’ characters. Feature page one, page two, page three. (Levine later contributed to RT’s Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special.)
Original cover art by Andrew Skilleter
RT repeat billings when the story was turned into a four-parter.