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The Five Doctors

25th november 1983







Back in 1999, “The Five Doctors” was a pretty obvious choice for the BBC to use as a pilot to launch their Doctor Who DVD range. Not only does it feature the first five Doctors (or, as David Tennant more accurately put it, “three and a half doctors and a bloke in a wig”), but it is also replete with friends and foes from the first twenty years of the classic series, not to mention also existing as a ready-to-go remastered ‘Special Edition’ with a 5.1 surround soundtrack.



However, with the benefit of hindsight at least, the so-called ‘Special Edition’ DVD release of “The Five Doctors” was a remarkably barren affair. I would have thought that as the BBC were testing the market for future Doctor Who releases, the disc would have been brimming with captivating bonus material to show off the vast capabilities of the format, but regrettably the disc featured little else besides the main feature. Even the presentation of the release was poor – the cover design was plain and would not correspond with future releases, and even the menus on the disc itself were nothing like as impressive as they would be from

“The Robots of Death” onwards. Most importantly of all though, the 1999 DVD lacked one fundamental ingredient that many fans felt was bordering on blasphemy – the original transmission version of “The Five Doctors”. It is therefore of little surprise to anyone that the Restoration Team have gone back to “The Five Doctors” - almost twenty-five years after the special was first broadcast on BBC1! - to forge this hefty two-disc 'Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition' DVD box set and thus supersede their 1999 effort.


The first disc of the set contains the ninety-minute version of “The Five Doctors” that aired on 25th November 1983, together with over twenty minutes’ worth of continuities and a fifty-two minute blockbuster documentary that is quite simply (and rather fittingly) entitled “Celebration”.


Above: Sixth Doctor Colin Baker presents the blockbuster "Celebration" documentary


A wonderful example of why Doctor Who DVDs are still worth their salt irrespective of however many copies of each serial you already own, “Celebration” is presented by Colin Baker and features contributions from many of those involved with producing “The Five Doctors” back in 1983, as well as some of those who recall enjoying the finished product when it first aired. Personally, I found the latter to be the most interesting – to me, it was far more intriguing to hear Paul Cornell and his peers reminisce about the Longleat extravaganza and the Target novel “from the future” than it was to hear the cast and crew share their memories about making the story. Nevertheless, the ‘making of’ aspects of the documentary are still interesting, explaining how Terrance Dicks’ script for the special was borne out of Robert Homes aborted “Six Doctors” script, which featured an android

impostor masquerading as the first Doctor; how Tom Baker pulled out late in the day and was subsequently replaced in the programme by some footage from “Shada” and in the publicity shots by his Madame Tussauds waxwork; and how half the country went hunting

for Mark Strickson after he went incommunicado and the BBC needed him for a remount!



Now I am not normally one to take an interest in trails and continuities, but the selection on offer here are distinctive in a number of ways. Firstly, “The Five Doctors” was broadcast as part of the Children In Need telethon in between the series’ regular seasons. Accordingly, it is Terry Wogan who introduces the show rather than a disembodied voice emanating from behind a blue-green sphere. Furthermore, the ninety-minute special would later be divided up into four standard-length episodes for repeat transmission in the summer of 1984, and

so in view of this the continuities included contain each artificial episode opening and cliff-hanger, complete with titles and all.



The transmission version of “The Five Doctors” itself is every bit as good as I remembered. However, I must confess that it has been a while since I saw the story in its original form as the VHS copy that I won in a UK Gold competition back in 1995 has long since been lost to eBay. Fair dues, “The Five Doctors” is foppish, contrived and unconditionally mindboggling, but underneath all the deliciously excessive layers of companions; enemies; monsters; and Doctors, there is a plot screaming to get out - and it is actually quite good. Finally we get to put a face to a name with Rassilon, and he is far from the holier-than-thou founding father of the Time Lords that we previously believed him to be. We get to witness Borusa’s heartbreaking fall from grace. We are even made to feel a bit sorry for the Master - all he tries to do is help the Doctor (albeit it for his own selfish reasons) and he gets shot at; kidnapped by Cybermen; knocked out by the Brigadier; and tied up by three Doctors…

“The Five Doctors” certainly did what it set out to do - celebrate and pay homage to the first twenty years of the Doctor Who phenomenon. It was never going to be a classic story, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgic ride even twenty-five years on. My Mam still likes it.



My appreciation of the story this time around was heightened further by what is being branded ‘the best DVD Easter Egg ever’. With a little bit of jiggery-pokery, viewers can select to watch the transmission version of “The Five Doctors” with a commentary by Helen Raynor, Phil Collinson and the man himself - David Tennant. Recorded back in 2006 during the filming of “Gridlock”, this exclusive commentary is a champagne-fuelled but heartfelt look back at the show by three people who vividly remember being blown away by it in their early teens. At one point Tennant goes so far as to say that “The Five Doctors” was “one of the most exciting things that had ever happened”, and that every time another old companion or monster reared its head he felt like he was “overdosing on e-numbers”. The less said about his crushes on Lalla Ward and Nicola Bryant (or Collinson’s crush on Turlough!) the better, though…


The second disc of the set features the one hundred-minute 1995 special edition of “The Five Doctors”, together with a further glut of special features, including the Peter Davison / Terrance Dicks commentary originally recorded for the Region 1 DVD release.



The special edition itself features over ten minutes’ worth of new and extended scenes, as well as new visual effects and a 5.1 surround soundtrack. I think it is fair to say that I am probably more familiar with this version of the story now than I am with the original, but even so it is difficult to say which I prefer. Whilst the original transmission version is shorter by a good ten minutes, the pacing of the special edition seems faster somehow; perhaps due in part to the re-ordering of certain scenes. The merit of the new visual effects is something

that is often feverishly debated in fan circles, but to be honest I am not that bothered either way. Both the ‘ominous’ black triangle and ‘Mr Whippy’ are just about on a par with each other, and so it all comes down to which of Rassilon’s voices you prefer. The 5.1 mix is undoubtedly the special edition’s greatest selling point – it really adds a whole new layer to the story.



The bonus material on disc two is spread across several shorter featurettes. The most notable is “The Ties That Bind Us”, narrated by Paul McGann, which looks back at the multifarious continuity of “The Five Doctors” with a worrying level of precision. I liked how once again the new series was not excluded; it is great to see both series being examined in the same breath.



The half hours’ worth of studio footage and outtakes is no more than amusing nonsense;

only those who are amused by a Dalek trundling round screaming “bugger, I’ve lost them” will really get anything out of these features, and only the most hardened completists will appreciate the “(Not So) Special Effects” skit. The disc is rounded off with a generous selection of publicity clips that, if nothing else, serve to highlight just how comprehensive this release is when compared to its 1999 forerunner.



In all, my only frustration with this bountiful release is the markedly half-hearted cover art. Normally I love Clayton Hickman’s work and, until I flogged it a couple of weeks ago, my ‘Special Edition’ DVD of “The Five Doctors” was clad in his breathtaking alternative cover that he made available to fans as a ‘Christmas Present’ on the BBC website in 2004. It is a shame he could not have just cribbed that design for this release. Nevertheless, such trivial gripes are hardly worth mentioning.



On a final note, I am pleased to say that the Gallifrey Chronicles are set to continue on DVD this May in the erratic Tom Baker six-parter “The Invasion of Time”, but precisely what the future holds regarding further re-releases is uncertain. Whilst I sincerely hope that the

special edition of “Remembrance of the Daleks” sees the light of day as a stand-alone release sooner rather than later, I cannot say that I am in any particular rush to replace the

likes of “The Robots of Death” and “Spearhead From Space” with newer, flashier versions. As gratifying as this 'Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition' release is, I would hate to think that it is the precursor to a whole host of re-releases at the expense of serials that have yet to be released on DVD. Time will tell, I suppose.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006, 2008


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.



The first Doctor was taken out of time shortly after The Daleks’ Master Plan, as is explained in the short story Roses.


The second Doctor is aware that Jamie and Zoe’s memories of their travels with him were blocked following his trial at the end of The War Games, suggesting that for him, these events occur some time afterwards. Given the tight continuity between The War Games, World Game and The Two Doctors, we posit that the second Doctor was taken out of time subsequently. Indeed, given his comments about bending the Laws

of Time here, we suspect that for him, these events take place towards the end of his time spent working for Celestial Intervention Agency; perhaps even just prior to his forced regeneration and exile.


The third Doctor appears to have been taken from a point late in Season 11, as he is already well-acquainted with Sarah Jane Smith. Given that he is on Earth and alone when he is abducted, and that he has a palpable rapport with Sarah Jane here, we posit that for him, these events take place just prior to the radio drama The Ghosts of N-Space. The pre-Monster of Peladon placement obviates potential difficulties when considering the ramifications Faction Paradox (temporarily) altering the Doctors history in Interference. Also of note, the fact that the third Doctor knows what his next incarnation will look like suggests that he has already encountered his fourth incarnation at least once previously, in some (as yet) undocumented adventure.


The fourth Doctor is abducted from the events of Shada. As a result, in his eighth incarnation, he would take Romana and K-9 back to Cambridge to effectively remount the adventure.


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