“I’m not the same as when I began”
Public Image Ltd, Public Image
This adventure features the first five Doctors.
Well, um, four of the first five Doctors because technically the First Doctor is played by a different actor.
Er… Alright, three of the first five Doctors. Tom Baker didn’t appear in it so they have to use footage from an unfinished story to fill the Fourth Doctor-shaped hole.
But three Doctors are better than one, right? What other story can boast three Doctors? None except for The Day of the Doctor and, ah, The Three Doctors. Besides these, none. What? Dimensions in Time? Hush! We don’t talk about that…
The question I assume you are asking, so I have an excuse for mentioning my answer, is this: Is this story any good given that it only features three proper-job Doctors? The answer is a resounding “Hell, yeah!” It is three times better because it has three Doctors. Although, following that logic, Dimensions in Time is a masterpiece because it features five real Doctors. Perhaps the Doctor quota isn’t an accurate measure of quality after all.
Back in the days when I was a teenage werewolf, The Five Doctors was my favouritest Doctor Who story ever. Not so much nowadays. But it is still one of my favourites. With hindsight it reads like fan fiction when you hear it described but don’t worry, it isn’t the bad fan fiction where Kirk inappropriately groks Spock. This is the good stuff. Primo numero uno fan fiction.
All the previous Doctors have been half-inched out of time. As if that wasn’t bad enough, so are some of his companions (thankfully not Adric although imagine if they had used as a device to rewrite time and save him from his fiery death in Earthshock? That would have been equally cool and terrible) and a few of his old enemies. They have all been time-scooped and dropped into the Death Zone.
Despite the name, the Death Zone isn’t a place where you’d expect to find Richard O’Brien running about with a bunch of incompetent suburbanites. The Crystal Maze this ain’t. Although it would have been fantastic if this story had ended with the five Doctors trying to collect gold tokens in the Crystal Dome.
Surprisingly there are only four monsters in this: Cybermen, a Raston Warrior Robot, Yeti and a Dalek, oh my! Five if you consider the Master to be a monster. Six if you count Borusa (more of this will be mentioned later). Not much, is it? Where are the Sontarans, the Autons, the Zygons? Not even an errant Quark? I assume the writer Terrance Dicks didn’t want to overcrowd the story since he would have probably gone doolally-tap if he had attempted to add all the fan favourites. Rule 1 of writing: don’t over-egg the pudding.
The Macra were going to be in this story but at the last moment they decided to rob a jewellery store instead. The newspapers reported it as a smash and crab.
What I like about Terrance Dicks is that he took the time to invent a throwaway assassinish robot thingy, the Raston Warrior Robot. This is, without a doubt, one of the coolest things about this story. Why hasn’t the RWR been used since? Such a waste. The petition to bring them back to Doctor Who starts here or at least it would if I wasn’t such a lazy so-and-so…
In a way, the Raston Warrior Robot feels like something that Steven Moffat would have created. Oh, just thinking about it, imagine if Steven Moffat had written Die Fünf Doktoren. How cool would that have been? He might have given each Doctor an apt nickname just like he did in The Day of the Doctor.
1: Grampa Simpson
2: The Fifth Beatle
5: Celery Sid (or the Beige Avenger)
And in case there is a slim hope that you found all that funny, here are the rest of the Doctors:
7: Egg McMuffin
8: Lord Byron
9: Big Ears
Back to the monsters though. The Dalek appears at the beginning and it is quickly nobbled by mirrors as it slowly chases the First Doctor and Susan.
The Yeti? Yawn, no thanks. Just a cameo from a much-missed monster. But it does make me wonder who is controlling the Yeti? Or has the Great Intelligence been time-scooped too? Food for thought…
Oh, the Cybermen! They have a much bigger role than any of the other monsters although that role does include being ruthlessly slaughtered by the RWR, electrocuted, and vomiting milk. The other monsters got let off lightly.
The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough all look like they should be grooving to David Bowie Let’s Dance rather than mooching about a planet that looks like the English countryside. Not that the countryside is bad but who would deny the fact that this story would have been greatly improved if the TARDIS crew had been dancing to a Bowie track instead? Who wouldn’t want that? In any case, all this mooching is ruined when the Doctor feels the impact of his previous incarnations getting temporally bushwhacked.
The First Doctor (in his moth-resistant underwear) and Susan have already been pooper-scooped when we see them. We don’t get to see Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter lest you forget, being kidnapped. I like to think that she went to work on a kibbutz after the Dalek invasion. I don’t know why but it is an image that makes me smile. The First Doctor was kidnapped from a public convenience. Possibly.
The Second Doctor turns up at an UNIT shindig and meets up with the Brigadier who has recently recovered from being a teacher (don’t ask). I am loving the Doctor so much in this opening scene. Pity they both had to get scooped for the plot.
The Third Doctor is time-scooped as he drives Bessie the yellow Edwardian roadster. He and and the car both get taken to the Death Zone. It is very clear that the Doctor should exchange Bessie for a car made from scissors. They are much better at doing sharp turns and evading time-scoopers.
The Fourth Doctor? Ah, thereby hangs a tale. As I alluded to earlier, Tom Baker agreed to be in the story but then famously backed out. So a clip from the unfinished Shada was used instead. And you know what? If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have guessed. This is a good thing because, from what I know of the behind-the-scenes events, The Five Doctors would have had Baker as the lead Doctor with Peter Davison’s Doctor unfairly overshadowed.
But who is operating the super-dooper time-scooper? You’ll never guess unless you’ve seen this story before or remember me mentioning his name earlier. Yes, Borusa! Given his past appearances as the Doctor’s former teacher, this comes a surprise to those that liked this genial old duffer. A good twist of a surprise though. You would have thought it would be the Master but no, not this time.
The Time Lords, in case you are interested, asked the Master to help the Doctor in exchange for a cuddly toy, a set of stainless steel saucepans and a brand spanking new life-cycle of regenerations. Suffice to say he decides to save the Doctor.
Richard Hurndall plays the First Doctor and he isn’t at all Hartnellish. Not a single billyfluff passes his lips. He doesn’t look like him either. It does make me think though…
Geeky Whovian fan theory time: In Time Crash, the Fifth Doctor’s age synchronises with the Tenth Doctor’s age. Which is why the Fifth Doctor we see there is now the same age as the Tenth. Hasn’t he aged well? This makes sense for a given value of ‘sense’. But what happens if the incarnation is about to regenerate due to old age? Especially if he meets an incarnation many hundreds of years older than him? The First Doctor can’t look any older because his body isn’t able to get older. So my theory is that the Hurndall Doctor looks like he does because his second self is infringing on him. Hurndall is therefore playing a Doctor whose personality and appearance is overcast by the Second Doctor, a shadow over him. This makes sense for a slightly lesser given value of ‘sense’.
Second geeky Whovian theory: Do you remember Tom Baker’s appearance as a future Doctor in The Day of the Doctor? If my first theory is true, how come the Eleventh Doctor’s age doesn’t synchronise with the Umpteenth Doctor when they meet? My second theory is this: Tom Baker is not playing the Umpteenth Doctor but is in fact playing the Fourth Doctor. This is why he looks so much older than when we last saw him. Yes, his age synchronises with the Eleventh Doctor instead of vice versa and my first theory is proved! Huzzah! But the naysayers among you may be asking why the Eleventh Doctor doesn’t remember meeting his Fourth self. Well, um, given the amount of times the Doctor has been rendered unconscious, some memories may have been lost. There! No more theories, I promise.
In case some of you newbie Whovians were wondering what a billyfluff is, shame on you. Every proper Whovian knows that a billyfluff is what Barbara Wright kept finding in the TARDIS’ plugholes.
Borusa is after Rassilon’s immortality maguffin. This story isn’t really about this scheme, not really. It is just an excuse to get all the Doctors, companions and monsters together for a jolly runabout. Borusa turning evil isn’t all that important. Besides, his plan isn’t even worth it. If the Time Lords can hand out extra regeneration life-cycles willy-nilly, then what would Borusa need with immortality? It would be like God asking for a starship. All he has to do is keep rewarding himself with them until either he gets tired of life or the universe ends. Borusa is therefore an idiot. His convoluted plan to bring the first five Doctor to the Death Zone cannot be simpler than, say, simply having a new life-cycle every couple of millennia. Is it simpler? Is it heck! Borusa’s plan is as sensible as taking sleeping tablets and laxatives at the same time.
Every time I watch this, I can’t help but laugh when Paul Jerricho utters that immortal line “No! Not the MIND probe!” Better the mind probe than a rectal probe me thinks.
I suppose for the sake of brevity that I had better wrap this unreview up. As usual, I could have mentioned far more about this story but, hey, why ruin the surprise completely? There are so many more brilliant things in this story such as ghostly Jamie, Sarah Jane, and the Fifth Doctor French-kissing his previous incarnations goodbye. I haven’t mentioned the performances of the actors but you know that they are good actors, right? Why bother mentioning it when we all know that they knocked it outta the park?
This is a story that every Whovian should watch at least once in their life. So bung it on the DVD player and enjoy. It really is as easy as pi.