DVD features (on 2 discs no less) include:
Since learning the proper chronology, I've always considered this story to be the finale of Season Twenty, a role it certainly lives up to since the season itself had been a bit of a nostalgic parade of characters from earlier eras. In looking at its effectiveness, I think it must be noted that the narrative exists first and foremost to facilitate a grand reunion party of Doctor Who characters. I think Terrance Dicks succeeds in making this work where Robert Holmes had failed before him because he accepts this fact and neatly incorporates such motivation right into his plot, while crafting an open-ended, quest-filled arena for his story that could easily assimilate or lose additional characters as actors' contracts were finalized. It also gives us tantalizing advancements of the series mythology, which fans following the series cannot afford to miss. While the finished tale won't quite knock the season's all-time great classics off their pedestal, it is as good as what we got in "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124) and "Mawdryn Undead" (story no. 126), while having enough celebratory elements and extra interest/hype to squeeze past these closest rivals.
Initiating the ViewerSome say this is a good story to use to initiate new viewers to the world of Doctor Who, but I don't think I agree. Sure, it exposes its viewers to most of the favourite elements of the series, but isn't necessarily showing why those elements are favourites or displaying them at their best. It's designed more to be a nostalgia tour, which is why I think new viewers are better off getting their feet wet elsewhere, then coming here to feel some nostalgia for the returning known elements amongst the discovery of other elements they may not have encountered before. Just how understandable would "The Five Doctors" be as someone's first story anyway?
Viewers have several edits to choose from these days, and the original 1983 movie kicks off with a healthy start and keeps up a good pace. Showcasing the brand new console in the TARDIS for our first shot is a good move. The Doctor and Tegan's dialogue in this first scene is a fun way to emphasize the new console as well - for those who already understand the show. Those who don't may well wonder exactly what the oft-mentioned "TARDIS" is, easily assuming they are referring merely to the console that they've been fussing over.
The newer 1995 edit is a bit better for clarifying the TARDIS for first-time viewers by using the shot of Peter Davison exiting the police box immediately after he leaves the console room. Excellent. It is better to include this shot. However, buggering up the logical flow of ideas during the entire opening sequence isn't called for. If it really bothered them to have all that footage of Turlough between Peter's first shot on location, and the shot of him coming out of the arch to join Turlough, (and it shouldn't), the ideal piece to cut out should have been the earliest part of Peter's 2nd location shot that shows him walking into position. In other words, show him walking from the TARDIS to the arch, then use all the solo Turlough shots, then show Peter already in position in the two-shot... implying that he's been there for some time already. Now you've preserved the two most important factors in your edit: the logical flow of ideas, and the demonstration of the TARDIS interior/exterior relationship. If you also want to follow an edict to use every last bit of footage you have and cram everything in, go ahead and lengthen the Peter/Turlough two-shot, and don't worry about how long it took Peter to walk through that arch. After all, he's sight seeing, and you'll be kissing your pace goodbye all throughout the show anyway.
Still, the police box exterior to the TARDIS isn't really given its due in early portions of this story. What's to keep new viewers from thinking that the TARDIS is a hexagonal console inside a crumbling stone building that has a mismatched blue door? This story gives the TARDIS a magnificent opportunity to demonstrate materialization and dematerialization early on, yet skips the opportunity for no apparent good reason. The idea that the main character and his friends can travel through time and space is a bit lost.
And while the Welsh countryside in March turns out to make a good location for the story's main action, it really didn't help to use that same location for the opening Eye of Orion setting. What is needed is as much of a contrast as possible, to show that the Doctor and friends travel. The 1995 edit is perhaps a bit more confusing in that regard by opening with cool footage of the tower of Rassilon, which new viewers can easily mistake as footage setting the scene for all the Turlough / Doctor / Tegan footage that follows. Really, the Eye of Orion should have been as spacey a setting as possible. I don't mind the crumbling stone building so much - it suggests history and ancient civilizations, which Orion certainly has. It's really the vista that needs an overhaul. Nowhere in sight is the relaxing purple haze that the script calls for. Me, I'd call for a nebula against the stars in the sky, and a bizarrely coloured glittering desert sparsely dotted with a mix of ancient statues, pyramids, and supra-modern buildings. But that's me. Sure, it was probably several years before colour tinting and sky-replacement were available to the show, but a good matte painting could have done the trick.
One Man Five Times OverAnother critical piece of information to get across to new viewers, and one that is unique to multi-Doctor stories like this one, is the fact that all these wildly different men called "Doctor" are actually the same character at different periods of his life. Sadly, this never really comes across. The word "regeneration" is thrown about liberally, without the process getting any explanation or demonstration anywhere. Turlough is about the only companion in the adventure who wouldn't have either seen it, done it, or learned about it at school; therefore it is his duty to new audiences to beg for some answers. But apart from a few all-too-vague allusions in the dialogue later on, "The Five Doctors" doesn't really make clear the scenario of one main character meeting himself five-times-over via time travel, and certainly goes nowhere near the idea of each successive Doctor remembering everything that his previous versions have seen or done. Viewing "The Five Doctors" as a first time Doctor Who experience, one could easily come away with the impression that these five are all non-identical clones of each other, continuing to lead separate lives independently.
"Wait a minute! It's a matter of memory!"Memory is an unresolved question in this one, and just as in "Mawdryn Undead" (story no. 126), when an early Brigadier lost his memory of meeting himself until he lived through the other half of that experience, so now the Doctors have no memory of each other's complementary experiences. One additionally wonders how intact memory remains through the regeneration process. Having a radically different mind/body and personality each time seems to eliminate the effect the Brigadier had when coming into contact with himself.
Of course, continuity nitpickers can find lots of holes in this story to complain about - usually all based on the thought that there is only one straight line of history, or more accurately, one straight line along which the Doctor's life has progressed, and additional appearances of past Doctors must somehow fit into the finite era of their part of that one life. However, if decisions branch out into parallel universes and an unlimited field of outcomes, and one travels through time regularly, one could easily meet versions (or "doubles") of oneself that have had far different lives, and/or lengths of lives, than what one remembers. Perhaps these are parallel Doctors, instead of, or as well as, past ones. If so, it seems even more likely that it would be impossible to achieve a state where the Doctor could not still be additionally found somewhere out there in time and space (and choice).
The Adventure Party Trumps AllOkay, so "The Five Doctors" doesn't really explain itself properly to new viewers, or in fact have its own characters treat its premise seriously in ways that would be natural for them. Ultimately, it's a case of: Who cares? The premise exists to facilitate a mystery-adventure-quest party, and this is where it succeeds.
Early sections begin intercutting between many, many different story settings and characters, yet this at least remains effective for several reasons. A rhythm is quickly established for how all these separate elements relate to each other and relate to the emerging story. Most newly introduced characters get at least one uninterrupted scene of good length to establish themselves, while a common video-effect adversary shows up in each one to connect them to the dark control room scenes, and the effect that Peter's Doctor is feeling. For my money, the 1983 edit gets better bang for its buck by going from a Doctor being nabbed directly to Peter's Doctor feeling the pain, and tacking on the related control room scene afterwards. 1983's video effect was also clearer, and reminiscent of the dimensional prison from the first and second Superman movies. Cool. The 1995 editing sequence puts each logical trio of scenes in a different order that lacks punch, and features a more complicated effect that lacks the clarity of the original.
What "The Five Doctors" does do so successfully is to craft a story with the right feel packed into nearly every moment. Each previous Doctor and his companions had been tried and tested on television for years during his own era, and now here we intercut between scenes of each of them exploring and setting out on a common quest, facing dangers, solving riddles, and heroically bringing exciting adventures to conclusion. This is the real essence of the main character of this show, and "The Five Doctors" has it in spades.
Peter's Doctor has the additional challenge of sorting out the latest intrigue in the political system of his home planet - granted there isn't time to make this too complex amongst everything else that is going on, but it does build nicely on what has gone before with many of the characters involved. And this is one reason why I think it would have been a mistake to give that role to Tom Baker's Doctor. Only Peter's Doctor can be on top of everything that has happened on the show in this society so far, and only Peter's Doctor experienced the latest events affecting Borusa and Paul Jerricho's Castellan in "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124). I'd have loved to see Tom Baker participate actively in making this adventure, but his place should have been on a quest to the tower. The intrigue must remain the domain of the current Doctor.
Gallifrey UnboundThe realization of Gallifrey is quite an interesting achievement this time around, though still sporting one of its trademark omissions, and perhaps creating a few new ones as well. This is an adventure blessed with an unusually high percentage of filmed location footage, almost always featuring our main character and/or the more complicated action sequences, giving great value for the higher cost of film. This story also gives us more footage of the Gallifreyan outdoors than any other before or since, which is a good and eye-opening thing. I like the fact that it was filmed in March rather than mid-summer, because the leaflessness of the trees emphasizes their gnarly, twisting qualities - reminiscent of the devious logic of the Gallifreyan mind, while the cold yellowy plains suggest an aged society that is past its prime. I don't mind seeing roads either, suggesting civilization has been there.
The story features excellent model work for the exterior of the Tower of Rassilon as well, with the emphasis on the tower from today's script making it impossible to avoid. Good show. I'm particularly fond of a matte shot of Jon Pertwee and Lis Sladen at the top of the tower looking out at the vista of the surrounding Death Zone, and also of the introductory motion shot of the tower opening the 1995 version (although that shot could probably be put to better use later on in the story).
Some have said that "The Five Doctors" has a somewhat homemade quality to it, encouraging a warm & fuzzy, cosy feeling in fans towards this show. While I find that most of this story is quite professionally excellent, the parts that still feel "homemade" to me are the ones concerning "mainland" society on Gallifrey, outside of the Death Zone. Once more there are no exterior model shots of the main city or the Capitol building where scenes of the High Council and their guards take place. Confusingly, the main city seems to have no name of its own, and also gets called "Gallifrey" which was established as the name of the planet back in "The Time Warrior" (story no. 70).
But main city Gallifrey is missing other elements that would help it rise above the "homemade" stigma. The audio atmosphere is still wrong, lacking a good background sound effect like the constant quiet hum of the TARDIS interior, or the courtroom "waves" from "The War Games" (story no. 50), and also lacking the echo effects as in the Tower of Rassilon or the large panopticon cathedrals seen in "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88) and "The Invasion of Time" (story no. 97). The sets for mainland Gallifrey, though fairly decent, always manage to provide a sense of being in an obscure back corner of the Capitol, rather than a holy chamber for the inner cabinet of the High Council. Maybe it's just a matter of the corridor leading off to the opposite side of the set than in all of the previous Gallifreyan stories thus far.
Enemy PantheonThe list of returning villains for this story is long and sees most of these great adversaries being underused. The Doctor's arch rival of the Master turns up very early, making probably his blandest entrance ever into a scene that stretches believability for his character and that of the high council members. His TARDIS remains absent all story, eating into his ability to appear powerful and interesting, not to mention his ability to make satisfying entrances and exits. The lack of a musical sting, or better yet, a Peter Howell theme for the Master over his entrance is also quite conspicuous by its absence, in both versions. At least some music went into the 1995 version of the Master's entrance, but reusing an old cue for this moment is disappointing to say the least.
The Master's usual motivations are somewhat put to the side in this adventure, and what we get instead is of questionable effectiveness. Although we get a bit of the Master's ambition near the end, it's little more than a half-expected afterthought. He's not lost anything that he needs to regain in this particular adventure, although in the long term the High Council is attempting to entice him by offering a complete new life-cycle of regenerations. And while that might work for the Master, it calls into question how Borusa could possibly be able to offer it to him, but not to himself. Borusa's whole motivation is to find that very ability to regenerate forever. There could be good reasons for this discrepancy, especially ones that have something to do with what the Master gained during his time with "The Keeper of Traken" (story no. 115), but the script fails to take care of this particular hole itself. Revenge too is put aside in this adventure, as it chooses instead to focus on the side of the Master that was a friend of the Doctor's back in their days together in the academy. Fair enough.
But perhaps the biggest hole in Master motivation this time around is how the High Council of Gallifrey treats him. You'd think they'd incarcerate him immediately, no questions asked, and find some other way of helping the Doctor, like sending in a squad of their best guards. This hole continues through to the end of the story, as the Master is set free. Weird, and not adequately explained.
Perhaps it's more of the same reason why the first and second Doctors can go free at the end as well even though they were on the run from Gallifrey during their own eras. In the Master's personal timeline, this adventure seems to fit in better before "The King's Demons" (story no. 129), rather than after. Maybe the Time Lords are afraid of preventing the Master from doing things they know he should be allowed to do in his future.
Most of the other returning villains work best by feeding off of the audience's memories of them from previous stories. If you haven't seen them before, they do all seem a bit simplistic and one dimensional. All Doctors find themselves in some kind of peril immediately after landing in the Death Zone, with the biggest three villains of Doctor Who (The Master, the Daleks, and the Cybermen) all making their entrances in these early segments. Thus, even though not that much action actually ensues later on, the audience is primed to expect and anticipate lots of action with the biggest adversaries of the show. Meanwhile, writer Terrance Dicks spends much of the rest of the time slipping in dialogue scenes with mythological backstory and mystery, engaging the audience in a good story instead. Nicely done.
The Cybermen manage to fair a bit better than many of the other returning adversarial forces, in that they get good screen time and an opportunity for their leaders to assess the situation and form plans to respond to it appropriately. Nice. Sadly, they seem to be getting out of shape, and their effectiveness erodes a bit too quickly in the second half to keep them at the level they should be at while they continue to appear. Surprisingly, none of the Doctors still have very much interaction with them, but perhaps making up for this is the extensive and fascinating interaction that the Master has with them. Much better than he had with the Daleks in "Frontier in Space" (story no. 67).
The Dalek and the Yeti are also throwaway dangers for various Doctors to skirt around, unable to make themselves truly interesting during their brief appearances. Had the Autons been able to make their brief planned appearance, their impact would no doubt have been similarly fleeting and unfocused.
The Raston Warrior Robot is a completely different case. Not having ever appeared on the show before or since, it needs to make all its impact now or never. It succeeds, getting all the proper exposition and demonstration it needs, resulting in one of the better sequences of the story. Still, I had a big problem with its encounter with the Cybermen. The Cybermen should be guns-ablaze as they tackle it, even if they can't hit it. The 1983 edit is atrocious in not showing any Cyberman fire his weapon even once. The 1995 edit thankfully fixes this a little bit, but still doesn't go far enough for me. In the edit I made for myself in the late 80's, I added about 2 to 3 times as much cyber weapons fire, and made sure the blue energy rings from their weapons finally travelled from the barrel of the weapon to the target as they always should have.
Cliff-less CliffhangersIt really is a shame about the loss of the Auton sequence, not so much because I wanted to see the Autons, but because of the lame fall that Lis Sladen was asked to perform to replace it. One of the most embarrassing sequences for sure, along with Susan's cliché and unconvincing ankle-spraining trip.
It does show that this story was designed first and foremost as a 90 minute movie, as the cliffhangers that we end up with in the four-part version feel exceedingly arbitrary. Sarah's unconvincing stumble makes an embarrassing ending to Part One, making one miss the Auton sequence even more, while a little creative editing could have built up a classic triple threat cliffhanger instead as various Doctors encounter initial dangers without being seen to overcome them until next week. Part Two's cliffhanger feels like the most natural of the bunch, while Part Three's is definitely anti-climactic considering what has come before.
Sharing the Final FixI often say that the Doctor should reach a dark new room for the first time in the final episode (typically the villain's innermost lair), and with so many Doctors in this one, it's appropriate that he makes it to two such places in this story. The Doctor gets a few critical things to do in each place, not least of which is confronting the true villain of the piece and solving the central riddles of the story. Good stuff. I've no problem with it being the earliest Doctor who figures the riddles' meaning out, but I think the older Doctors might have been better off keeping quiet as though they remember the answer.
The TARDIS finally makes its one and only materialization of the story in these final portions, and it should do something like that at this point anyway, but it's a bit late to cover the ground it should have done at the beginning.
Is the Doctor served well enough for a final, climactic, heroic act? It's harder than usual to assess, since he's present at the climax several times over. Give one Doctor a typical good heroic action, and several other Doctors miss out on it. Jon Pertwee gets to free the TARDIS, arguably the most important reason any Doctor has for entering the tower, although a bit too stuck in the "Marco Polo" plot mistake to be as riveting as figuring out the ancient Time Lord legends, and without the first Doctor and Tegan telling him that the TARDIS was trapped, he may not have realised that act's importance. Troughton's Doctor gets to use the video phone, which only really becomes cool because he gets to talk to himself and have some really good lines - this scene is still miles better and more sci-fi than the numerous scenes of cellphone over-use witnessed in the ninth and tenth Doctors' eras. Davison's Doctor's most effective contribution is the discovery of the secret room where he entertainingly confronts the main villain.
All Doctors also get a chance to add another final heroic act to their belts as they join their minds together against the villain's unnaturally augmented mental powers. Nice one. Too bad this sequence didn't have additional complexities, such as the manifestation of pawn creatures to visually represent the battles taking place in the mind - instead we have to settle for watching which side Peter Davison stands on, which still works well enough. In addition to some earlier scenes where reportedly "the mind of Rassilon is reaching out to attack us", this story continues the good trend of emphasizing the power of the mind that began in "Time-Flight" (story no. 123) and ran throughout each and every story of season twenty. Excellent.
But the real climax is handed over to Rassilon, where the first Doctor plays the most significant role in ensuring that Rassilon does the right thing. I'll buy it. Each present Doctor has an individual action, plus a concerted one. It may not be the strongest heroic climax the show's ever had, but each Doctor has been fairly well served by the quest nature of the story already, and the finish has enough mythology and surprises to satisfyingly cap off the adventure and make the Doctor, as the complete amalgamated character of all portrayals present, look pretty solidly good. Nice one.
And of course the fun continues with an enjoyable wrap-up and one of the strangest collections of good-byes ever on the show, saving the best one of all for the fifth Doctor. Nice. I do find it bizarre that, while each Doctor must have left his respective TARDIS on Earth or wherever before being picked up in the time-scoop, they expect to travel back in yet another TARDIS splitting off from Peter Davison's. Again, more continuity plot holes. The newer edit is perhaps a bit cleaner for reusing the time scoop effect instead of the splitting TARDIS thing, which was a bit cheesy anyway. And although the new edit cuts back to the outside world as the fifth Doctor leaves in the TARDIS, it is bizarre for not including a reversal of the effect of the TARDIS arriving before using the cool new long shot. Again, easy obvious points lost for making ideas clear, on both versions. What are they thinking...
And of course, the fourth Doctor will want to continue right from where he left off when the time-scoop nabbed him, in the midst of the adventure "Shada" (story no. 109) which we all want to believe also happened in proper Doctor Who chronology, in the boat with Romana, answering her question of whether or not he can hear voices, while the villain Skagra skulks by on the bridge overhead with his mind-sucking silver ball. The new edit is seen to put Tom Baker back at more or less the right spot, but fails to give us as entertaining a scene as the 1983 version. Ultimately, the 1983 edit is better, not so much showing the exact moment Tom was put back, which this film is under no obligation to do, but rather showing what happened a few hours later when the fourth Doctor and Romana had a scene with the right mood and flavour for their exit from "The Five Doctors" - which also gives a decent and proper dematerialization of the TARDIS that this story has skimped on too frequently, and one which is unique and shows off a bit more of Tom's humorous trademarks. With or without showing the return from the timescoop to the boat, "The Five Doctors" needs this clip for Tom's exit to make everything right.
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