Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor story. Today is the Fifth Doctor adventure The Five Doctors...
So Season 20 comes to an end with a big, sparkly party. The Five Doctors together. At last.
Except it isn't quite like that. Tom Baker doesn't really appear, except in bits of footage nabbed from the unscreened (& unwritten about by me - so far - Shada). Whilst William Hartnell's death means that the First Doctor is played instead by Richard Hurndall. Hurndall doesn't really look much like Hartnell but makes a fair stab at a version of the First Doctor that does the job. After all none of the Doctors - except Davison - are really doing much but a 'best of' performance. The clichés of each incarnation are given a run out. After all this is a ninety minute celebration not an attempt to recreate each Doctor's era.
This was my first proper introduction to most of the older Doctors & unsurprisingly it is Patrick Troughton who I enjoy watching the most. He's so much fun to watch & he's interaction with both the Brigadier, who in post-retirement mode is picked up & dumped in the Death Zone alongside the Second Doctor, & his other selves is delightful.
The plot is pretty mundane: a.n.other renegade Timelord has seized control of the 'Scoops of Rassilon' & has dragged the various incarnations of the Doctor to Gallifrey & placed them in the Death Zone to play the 'Game of Rassilon'. This is not a particularly cerebral form of Snakes & Ladders but a battle to survive. To add a bit of spice to the mix our nameless renegade sends a Dalek, The Master, a Raston Warrior Robot, a Yeti & a large number of David Bank's Cybermen there to. The purpose of the renegade's complex plan is to find out the secret to IMMORTALITY. He can't do it himself, it's dangerous. So he plans for the Doctor to do it for him. Why he decides to make the Doctor's mission more complicated by adding a load of things in there that'll get him killed I don't know. Gallifreyans never seem to want to do things the straightforward way do they?
All these monsters have very little function except as nostalgic threats to the Doctor. The loan Dalek is pretty summarily dispatched in a series of Skaro esque corridors that seem to have been built in an extension to the Death Zone, the Cybermen do a lot of marching but are mainly there to be butchered either by the Raston Warrior Robot or The Master. The Yeti, which must be a real one not a Great Intelligence infested robot, just does some roaring & clawing. (Classic Doctor Who has an uncanny knack of forgetting which of its monsters are robots & which are not. The Yeti are both but the monstrous ones are robots. The Daleks aren't just robots they have an organic content. The Cybermen aren't just robots...etc. etc. but I digress.)
Even poor old Antony Ainley is second banana here to the other renegade. Ainley gets to do some nice work, including the nice scenes with the High Council of Gallifrey (which due to budget constraints seems too consistent of three Timelord’s sitting in a Garden Centre) but eventually ends up tied up after getting a punch in the chops from the Brigadier.
Oh but he does get involved in one of Doctor Who's more stupid set ups. The chequered floor & pi. I'm not going to delineate precisely why this scene is ridiculous because I could be here all day but fundamentally the actions of the characters do not fit with the explanation. Pi is a mathematical concept that I always hated as a schoolboy that has something to do with circles. It does not in any way explain what the hell takes place with The Master, the First Doctor, Tegan & the Cybermen. It just doesn't make nonsense, let alone sense.
In the end the renegade is unmasked, the Doctor gets to meet up with old companions - real & imaginary - & the bad guys are defeated - and I do like the fate that awaits those who search for immortality. Rassilon, of whom we hear much awed talk, turns out to be a chubby moustached man who in a Pertwee story would get cast as the annoying civil servant. I prefer him as Timothy Dalton.
But in the end all these criticisms, the mocking of Paul Jericho's 'No! Not the Mind Probe' line, the clichés & all the rest of it do not amount to a hill of beans. This - like the Three Doctors - isn't a story to be judged on quality. It's almost impossible to juggle this many characters & get a smooth plot from it. We're not watching the Five Doctors for that stuff.
We're watching it as a celebration, as a 'best of' & we want to hear the Third Doctor 'reverse the polarity of the neutron flow' & see the Doctors mocking each other. We want a bit of fun. And that more than anything else is what the Five Doctors is about, fun. That & a little nostalgia.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.