Well, look at this. I got to the twentieth anniversary special, a 90 minute special episode called The Five Doctors, celebrating a show that, I am sure, no one figured would possibly last this long.
And yet, here it is, and here I am, and we got all kinds of Doctors doing what each Doctor does best, all from a script from a longtime Doctor Who scribe by the name of Terrence Dicks.
It’s not perfect, but it sure is fun.
To be fair, only two Doctors returned for the special while two others didn’t. Peter Davison was, of course, still the regular Doctor so he was a given, and Patrick Troughton (still my favorite Doctor) and Jon Pertwee both returned. First Doctor William Hartnell had a good reason to pass: he was dead, having died shortly after he filmed his scenes for the tenth anniversary special. The series did see fit to use a clip of him in the role, namely the speech he gave when Susan became the first companion to depart the show. It’s actually a very appropriate speech, perhaps the one that more firmly established the character of the Doctor going forward.
As for Tom Baker, he was asked, apparently thought it over, and then declined. He was concerned about type-casting having not that long ago left the role, and likewise he may not have been too happy with how the adventure would be divided five ways. Then again, from what I’ve gathered, Baker may have occasionally been a little tough to work with, so maybe it worked out for the best.
Baker, of course, wasn’t the only hold-out. He was most likely just the most high profile. Frazer Hines probably would have gladly come back to play Jamie McCrimmon again, but he couldn’t clear his schedule for more than a day. He does appear, as a trap designed to look like Jamie while another Second Doctor companion Zoe stands off to the side, but that’s it for both of them. We likewise get brief appearances from illusionary versions of Liz Shaw and Mike Yates, while K9 appears to give a warning to Sarah Jane before being left behind.
That said, the producers found ways around the missing Doctors to make sure the title wasn’t a lie. The First Doctor’s role was recast with actor Richard Hurndall, a man who certainly looks like Hartnell’s First Doctor but doesn’t do a Hartnell impression, something I actually approve of. Baker was included by using a minute or two’s worth of footage from the incomplete serial “Shada,” showing the Fourth Doctor and the second Romana enjoying a row down a stream and then later bouncing up to the TARDIS. There’s something there about a time vortex, but what are you gonna do?
By the by, I do have plans for “Shada” at some point in the future. Be patient, hypothetical reader.
As it is, an unknown force has been kidnapping incarnations of the Doctor from across time and space. The First Doctor finds a garden stroll interrupted, only to be soon afterwards fleeing a Dalek with his granddaughter Susan. The Second is nabbed visiting the Brigadier before the old UNIT commander has a retirement ceremony. The Third is out driving Bessie, and after the Fourth is stuck in that vortex, whoever is behind all this grabs Sarah Jane Smith instead. The Fifth Doctor, sensing something wrong, bundles himself, Tegan, and Turlough into the TARDIS to investigate.
Of course, ideally, the Briagder would be teamed with the Third Doctor, Sarah Jane with the Fourth, and Jamie with the Second. Instead, no Fourth and Sarah Jane goes with the Third. The Time Lords, sensing something wrong, dispatches the Master to help, promising the evil Time Lord a pardon and another set of regenerations. And in the mix, beyond the one Dalek, are Cybermen that bother all the Doctors, a Yeti, and a few other traps.
Now, the threats the Doctors face are arguably interchangeable, but each Doctor does things his own way. The First grumbles his way through things and comes across as the wisest. The Second bumbles along with endless stuff pulled from his coat that somehow save his hide from various predicaments. The Third improvises a zip line after he and Sarah Jane dodge a robot killer that’s lightning fast, and the only thing that saves them from that is a Cybermen patrol stumbling across the robot along the way.
And the Fifth, well, he goes right to the source, talks things over with the Time Lord president before he learns the president is the villain, and the whole thing involves the Doctors figuring out their way through the Death Zones of Gallifrey to win the Game of Rassilon, the first Time Lord. The Master attempts to warn a few but none believe he’s there to help. The Cybermen make good cannon fodder, and each Doctor does a little fan service, all the while proving for whatever reason the Doctor seems incapable of getting along with himself.
It’s not perfect. Susan and Turlough spend most of the story hanging around the TARDIS not doing much, and aside from pessimistic feminist Tegan and the cantankerous, old-fashioned First Doctor, there isn’t a lot of mixing and matching of Doctors and companions, and the Doctors only interact much with each other at the end, again aside from the First and Fifth. But there’s still a lot of fun. I do enjoy seeing the Third Doctor grumble about the Second, or that the Second when he senses danger from Rassilon’s waking up opts to hide behind the Third. Even the Fifth gets a few licks in, and I think in hindsight I appreciate Pertwee more now than I did when I first started his serials. He’s shows some genuine warmth when he and the Brigadier meet up again with a simple handshake. Sure, a better adventure might have included Baker, who was replaced with a wax statue for the publicity photos, and the Doctors interacting with each other more, but we got to see the Doctors do their thing again, each in their own manner, in a satisfying story that may not have added much to the Doctor Who canon, but does have a good deal of fan service and fun.
I even get a kick out the Fifth Doctor saying Cybermen and Daleks don’t generally get to play the Game of Rassilon because they’re too good at it.
So, the four Doctors that are in most of the story finally get to work together, they get something done, and then go about their respective ways in their own TARDISes while the Fifth avoids the presidency of the Time Lords. And at some point during filming, Troughton advised Davison to quit after three seasons to avoid typecasting, advice Davison would pass along to his future son-in-law David Tennant, creating what fans of the show think of as the Troughton Rule.
But that’s for the future. Anniversaries are for celebrating the show’s past. From here, we do have one more season (mostly) of the Fifth Doctor, and on to the future.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll still be doing this when I get to the 50th anniversary.