Doctor Who

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors – A Love Letter to Series Fans

Written by Terrance Dicks
Directed by Peter Moffatt

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series that has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.

A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. The Five Doctors brings together the actors who have portrayed the Doctor up until the year 1983. It was a special designed to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the British television show and was something the fans generally delighted in.

There were problems with casting. William Hartnell, who originally portrayed the first incarnation of the Doctor, had died in 1975. His role was recast for the special, but Hartnell does make an appearance in the opening credits. Tom Baker, who had portrayed the fourth, and perhaps most popular incarnation of the Doctor had only given up the role in 1981 and wasn’t eager to reprise the role just yet. He does make an appearance, but it is cut from previously filmed and unaired footage. For the record, Baker did say later on that he regretted the decision.

Peter Davison is the actor currently portraying the Doctor. He is traveling with two companions named Teagan and Turlough. They are taking a break of sorts, in a tranquil place known as The Eye of Orion. The Doctor begins to show signs of being ill and his companions bring him back to the TARDIS where he appears to be fading away. Before he becomes too ill, he manipulates the controls and they take off seemingly to nowhere.

The first incarnation of the Doctor (portrayed by Richard Hurndall) is walking in a garden when a mysterious vessel appears and takes him away. The second incarnation of the Doctor (portrayed by Patrick Troughton) is at a UNIT reunion with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (portrayed by Nicholas Courtney) when they are both captured by the same mysterious vessel. The third incarnation of the Doctor (portrayed by Jon Pertwee) is captured by the same vessel while taking a drive on a country road. The Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan Foreman (portrayed by Carole Ann Ford) is captured out of time, as is Sarah Jane Smith (portrayed by Elisabeth Sladen), despite being forewarned of danger by the Robotic dog “K-9”.

The fourth incarnation of the Doctor (portrayed by Tom Baker) is traveling along a river with Romana (portrayed by Lalla Ward) when the vessel appears. For some reason, it cannot secure them the same way it has the other incarnations of the Doctor, and they end up trapped in a time vortex.

The audience soon learns that one being is responsible for the disappearances. In his lair, there are doll-like figures of all of the incarnations of the Doctor, plus Sarah Jane, Teagan, and Turlough.

Meanwhile, on Gallifrey, the High Council makes a deal with the Master (portrayed by Anthony Ainley) to rescue the Doctor, who has been snatched out of time and secured in what they call “The Death Zone” on Gallifrey.

The TARDIS lands in the Death Zone and soon all of the Doctors and companions find their way to it. Cybermen and Daleks turn up as well as the various incarnations of the Doctor do battle with these foes all the while attempting to figure out who is behind what has happened to them.

The Five Doctors is something strictly for fans of the series. I even had trouble with it as I haven’t seen as much from the pre-Tom Baker era as many other people. Still, it seems that many of the most beloved people are incorporated into the story, along with notorious villains such as The Master, Daleks, and Cybermen. If it sounds like there was a lot going on, there was and that is possibly the only negative part of The Five Doctors. It could have easily been a half hour longer and still felt like there were a lot of stories jammed into a little bit of time.

However, for fans of the series, just the nostalgia of having all of the actors and companions together is wonderful. Sure, there were those missing such as Leela, and not having Tom Baker who was the most popular incarnation is a strike against it, but all in all, it’s a pretty good story that doesn’t seem to reach too much to involve all of those who make appearances. Too often when a series tries to do a “tribute” type of episode, something gets lost as it tries to include as much as it can to please the fans. That doesn’t happen in The Five Doctors which is a blessing. The story is a lot of fun and works quite well.

The actors are all wonderful in their roles. I hadn’t seen much of the other incarnations of yet, but what I have seen blends in nicely. Richard Hurndall fills in for the late William Hartnell excellently and picks up on much of the characteristics of the first Doctor. Watching Elisabeth Sladen and John Pertwee together is a real treat as they seem to get along well and it brings back the time they spent together, although she’s better known for her time with the fourth incarnation. It seems as if she’s a natural opposite the Doctor here and I didn’t find her as annoying as I did at other times during the series.

The Five Doctors moves at a breakneck pace to get all of the story and incidentals in. That’s fine except some of the witty dialogue gets lost along the way. I actually watched it through twice and think it will be one to add to my collection, which is an unusual statement for me if it’s not the newest version of the series or a story arc with Tom Baker. It’s that good and that much fun.

Now, if we could only get them to do The Ten Doctors… Only it would have to be about five hours long…


• Who’s Who
• Special Music
• Commentary with Peter Davison, writer Terence Dicks