We watched the original broadcast version of The Five Doctors. Sadly, I couldn’t source an off-air copy with the Children in Need ticker running across the bottom of the screen. I hope this doesn’t invalidate the science at the heart of this experiment.
Nicol: I’m not watching any William Hartnell with you. You can forget it.
Me: Be patient, Nicol.
Sue: Don’t worry, Nic. Neil’s promised me that it’s just the one episode. We can watch University Challenge when this has finished.
The story begins with a rousing speech.
Sue: That was poignant.
Me: Do you remember where that comes from?
Sue: Of course I do. It’s from a William Hartnell story. It must have been important because they gave him a very long speech. That was risky.
Me: It was when he left Susan behind on Earth.
Sue: Oh yes. That was so sad, I can almost remember it.
We are then thrown into the “modern” title sequence.
Nicol: Are there really going to be five Doctors in this?
Sue: I’m excited.
The Doctor is showing off the new TARDIS console to Tegan.
Sue: How many buttons?
Me: I thought you’d like it.
Sue: It looks like something made by Amstrad. I think I preferred it when it was a little bit rough around the edges. It’s too swish, now.
At least Tegan looks better.
Sue: That’s Tegan’s best outfit so far. Although that’s not saying very much.
Turlough is outside, drawing landscapes of the Eye of Orion.
Nicol: What’s he still doing there?
Sue: He’s one of the good guys, now.
Nicol: Doesn’t he want to kill the Doctor any more? Did they ever sit down together to discuss that?
Sue: No, Nicol, they’re men. It’s all unspoken and beneath the surface with men.
Nicol: I would have kicked him out. I don’t trust him.
Elsewhere, a mysterious, black-gloved hand is up to no good.
Sue: Is it the Master?
I think it’s safe to say that you could have put your mortgage on that.
Meanwhile, the First Doctor is strolling through a rose garden.
Nicol: Oh look, it’s William Hartnell. In colour.
Sue: No it isn’t. It’s a stand-in. Oh dear… Why are they doing this?
The First Doctor is kidnapped by a flying triangle which tumbles away into the distance.
Nicol: Death by PowerPoint.
The black-gloved hand places a figurine of the First Doctor on a brightly lit table top.
Sue: You’ve got a doll just like that. Yours is better, though. Forbidden Planet didn’t have their act together back then.
Nicol: Are they going to play a game of Doctor Who Subbuteo on that table?
The Second Doctor arrives at UNIT HQ. His entrance receives a hearty “Yay!” from Sue, but then reality sets in.
Sue: Blimey, he’s aged a bit. Hang on a minute… This isn’t possible.
Me: What do you mean?
Sue: That’s not his Brigadier. He’s arrived in the wrong order.
Nicol: He’s a time traveller, mother! Even I know that.
Sue: But he normally turns up in the right order. This isn’t right.
The Doctor and the Brigadier reminisce about old times. They fondly remember the Yeti, the Cybermen, Omega.
Second Doctor: And the terrible Zodin.
Sue: I don’t remember her. Which one was she again?
Me: Your memory is getting worse by the day, dear.
Meanwhile, on the Eye of Orion, the Doctor has an attack of cosmic angst.
Sue: I can see a little cottage in that valley. It looks lovely. I wonder what the property prices are like on Orion?
The mysterious figure in black places more pieces on the board.
Sue: Those things are a bastard to dust.
Sue: It’s Jon Pertwee in Betsy! I bet the fans went mental when they saw this.
Me: Aren’t you excited? Even just a little bit?
Sue: A bit.
The Doctor is kidnapped by the malevolent isosceles triangle of doom, and another collectible figurine is placed on the table.
Sue: Where’s his car? He should be sitting in a little model of his car.
Meanwhile, in Croydon.
Sue: Sarah Jane!
Sue: I can’t keep up with this. We should be playing Doctor Who Bingo. Two more companions and I’ve got a line. Ooh, I love Sarah Jane’s handbag. Don’t you, Nicol?
Nicol: Yes, it’s very nice. I’m not too keen on the coat, though.
Sue: Sarah Jane never had any fashion dress sense.
Sarah decides to leave K9 behind.
Sue: That’s right. If this is supposed to be a celebration of everything Doctor Who is best known for, then I’m not surprised that K9 has been left behind. Typical!
We drop in on the Fourth Doctor and Romana punting on the Cam.
Sue: Tom’s very good in this. It looks like he’s up for it, thank God.
Nicol is laughing at the script, unaware of its provenance.
The Fourth Doctor and Romana are swallowed up by the triangle.
Sue: They had better make a little model of his boat.
Sarah Jane is kidnapped, too.
Sue: Is this thing going to take all the Doctor’s companions away? Even Adric? We’ll be here all day.
Sue is warming to the new TARDIS console.
Sue: That thing that goes up and down.
Me: The time rotor.
Sue: Yes. Well, this one is a lot steadier than the last one. I like it. I like it a lot. It looks like it means business.
And that’s not all:
Sue: I like the music, too. I like it when they put the Doctor Who theme in the middle of the incidental music.
Nicol: Oh, mother! What’s happened to you?
Before we can catch a breath, we find ourselves on.
President Borusa is now in charge.
Sue: It’s whatshisface from Dad’s Army.
Me: It isn’t John Le Mesurier. But thanks for playing.
The Master (aka “The thin Ricky Gervais”) has been summoned to Gallifrey. The High Council want him to rescue the Doctor.
Sue: What an excellent twist. Does this mean it can’t be the Master playing with those toys? Or is it a double-bluff?
Me: It must be somebody else. I wonder who it might be.
Sue: It’s the Black Guardian. It’s his black gloves that give him away.
The First Doctor finds himself in a metallic corridor.
Sue: It’s a decent likeness. They are just about getting away with it.
Nicol: His mannerisms aren’t quite right.
Me: And how the hell would you know that, Nicol?
Sue: Oh look, it’s Susan. The real one! My, she’s grown up. She looks like Valerie Singleton.
The Doctor and Susan are chased by a Dalek.
The Dalek ends up shooting itself. Stupid Dalek.
Sue: The laser beams were rubbish but this is fantastic.
Nicol: Yeah, that’s not bad, actually.
They are referring to the Kaled mutant which is thrashing around in the Dalek casing.
Sue: They must have thrown some money at this. The new series couldn’t have done much better than that.
Nicol: So are there old monsters in this as well as old Doctors and companions?
Sue: I hope the Cybermen are in it. And the Yeti. You have to have a Yeti.
The First Doctor and his granddaughter have been transported to the Death Zone on Gallifrey.
Sue: What kind of planet has a Death Zone? That’s a bit weird.
The Second Doctor and the Brigadier find themselves in the very same location.
Sue: Patrick Troughton’s wig reminds me of the very first hair cut I ever gave someone. It was for my friend Tucker, and I may as well have stuck a bowl on her head. She didn’t forgive me for weeks.
Sarah Jane is wandering around the Death Zone as well. She loses her footing in the fog and careers down a gentle slope (and that’s being generous).
Nicol and Sue are too stunned to say anything, but when the Doctor arrives to rescue Sarah, I can’t shut them up.
Sue: That will kill her. If he accelerates too quickly, he’ll drag her face into that rock. It’s a health and safety nightmare.
Nicol: She could walk up that!
Sue: It’s ridiculous. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Who directed this?
Me: Peter Moffatt.
Sue: Oh, for ****’s sake.
Sarah is amazed to see the Third Doctor instead of the Fourth (at least we think it’s amazement, it could very well be disappointment).
Sue: Everything is in the wrong order. I’m sure they shouldn’t be allowed to do that.
Nicol: Didn’t she just tell him that he would end up looking like Tom Baker? Is that allowed?
Sue: It’s very timey-wimey.
Meanwhile, the First Doctor and Susan stumble across the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS.
Sue: Why didn’t they see the TARDIS five minutes ago? That really is shoddy direction.
Me: It’s a celebration of bad peripheral vision in Doctor Who.
Sue: **** off.
The First and Fifth Doctors meet in the TARDIS.
Sue: Shouldn’t they blow up when they touch each other? I’m confused.
Tegan can’t believe what she’s seeing, either.
Fifth Doctor: It only happens in the gravest emergencies.
Me: And birthday celebrations.
The First Doctor sends Tegan away to make some tea. But before she can knock his block off, the Fifth Doctor sends Turlough to help her.
Sue: I like that. It shows how the Doctor has changed over the years. It also reminds me that he used to be a sexist git.
The Second Doctor explains the concept of the Death Zone to the Brigadier.
Second Doctor: They set up this place, the Death Zone, and walled it around with an impenetrable force field, and then they kidnapped other beings and set them down here.
The Brigadier: But what for?
Nicol: To die, I expect. I think the clue is in the title.
The Master is sent to the Death Zone to rescue the Doctor via an open-ended transmat beam. It’s Sue who spots the continuity error first:
Sue: He’s suddenly wearing a cloak. Where did he get that from?
Me: The transmat beam has a cloaking device.
Meanwhile, the TARDIS crew are enjoying some light refreshments.
Sue: It’s a bloody cocktail party. They were only supposed to make some tea! They’ll be too pissed from drinking piña coladas to do anything constructive now!
Nicol: They should be playing ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ in the background.
The Third Doctor and Sarah are driving down one of the Death Zone’s perfectly tarmaced roads.
Sue: Hang on a minute… Where’s Tom Baker gone?
Nicol: Something went wrong with his triangle. Pay attention, mother.
Sue: So Tom Baker isn’t in this?
I pause the DVD.
Me: He didn’t want to do it.
Sue: But I saw him. Did he walk off in a huff or something? I don’t remember seeing that bit on the river before.
Me: They used a clip from Shada. You know, the story they never finished.
Sue: Oh, that.
Me: In fact, that scene was written by Douglas Adams.
Nicol: I thought it was good.
Sue: So Tom refused to do it, did he? What a bastard.
The Third Doctor and Sarah run into the Master.
Sue: This is a bit weird. It doesn’t feel quite right. It’s making me feel a bit sad.
Laser bolts start raining down from the sky and the Time Lords make a run for it.
Sue: The Master is running faster than the Doctor is driving!
When we cut back to the Doctor, we see that Bessie has taken a direct hit.
Sue: They killed Betsy!
Me: Bessie. Show some respect, love.
Sue: I never really liked that car. It was a toff’s car.
The Second Doctor tells the Brigadier about Rassilon.
Second Doctor: The greatest single figure in Time Lord history.
Me: Rassilon was played by Timothy Dalton when David Tennant was the Doctor. Do you remember? It happened just before he regenerated.
Sue: Yes. They were the days.
Me: Are there any old monsters you’d like to see in the Death Zone?
Sue: The Yeti, obviously. Autons would be nice, too. Oh, and some Ice Warriors. And maybe a giant snake.
The Fifth Doctor and the Master meet face to face. A Cyberman spots them during a stroll.
Nicol: If he had his phone with him, he could have posted a photo to Instagram.
Tegan and Susan spot a phalanx of Cybermen coming over a hill (eventually) and they make a run for it. Unfortunately, Susan snaps her ankle on some shrubbery.
Sue: How the **** did she trip over that?
Me: It’s Susan’s party piece. It’s a celebration, remember.
It appears that someone on Gallifrey is misusing the Death Zone. Well, misusing it more than normal, that is.
Sue: It’s either the Black Guardian or it’s Colin Baker. I don’t think it’ll be O-mega again, because it’s far too soon to have him back again. Or maybe it’s the Toymaker. He is making toys after all. Or it could be the Monk.
Me: Unless, of course, the Monk and the Master are the same person. Shall we pause the DVD and chat about that possibility for a couple of hours?
Sue: No, I’m fine, thanks.
The Cybermen plot their next move.
Sue: At least the bad weather lends this scene some much needed atmosphere. But it’s a complete accident; it isn’t down to the director at all.
The Doctor escapes to the Capitol, leaving the Master to forge an uneasy alliance with the Cybermen.
Cyberleader: Promises to aliens have no validity. When the Tower is in our hands, he will be destroyed!
Sue: The Master has been betrayed and he hasn’t even done anything yet. That has to be a new record.
Back in the TARDIS, Turlough and Susan can hear somebody knocking on the door.
Sue: Ooh, are they going to knock four times? It must be Rassilon.
Sue is easily confused.
Sue: It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings. It’s got a Dark Tower in it and there are all these journeys to get there. And there’s Gollum.
She’s pointing at the Raston Warrior Robot.
Sue: That’s scary. I like that. Is this new? It’s not an Auton, is it?
Me: No, it’s a new monster.
Sue: I thought so. I wouldn’t have forgotten that in a hurry. Nice arse.
Back at the Capitol, the Castellan is shown to be a traitor. As the chancellery guards escort him away, Borusa authorises the use of a mind probe.
The Castellan: No! Not the mind probe!
Sue turns to me and laughs.
Sue: It is supposed to be a pantomime, isn’t it?
And then we hear a scream.
Sue: They didn’t waste any time, did they? They must have had a mind probe waiting for him in the corridor.
In the Death Zone, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier are menaced by a Yeti.
The beast corners them in a cave.
Sue: Just play your recorder at it!
The Doctor chucks a firework at it instead.
The Brigadier: You’ve maddened it!
Sue: Maddened it? Who talks like that?
The Cybermen advance on the Third Doctor and Sarah.
Sue: They aren’t very nimble, are they? That one almost slipped on some slate.
But this is the least of the Cybermens’ worries.
Sue: Bloody hell, look at that! This is brilliant.
The Raston Warrior Robot makes short work of the Cybermen.
Sue: I love it. I just wish his poles were a bit shorter. I don’t see how he could keep them up his arms like that. There’s no room for them.
Me: Maybe he runs over to his cave to get another spear and then he runs back to throw it. Because he’s quantum locked, you can’t see him when he’s running backward and forwards.
The robot decapitates a Cyberman, just for kicks.
Sue: He’s ruthless and well hung.
Me: That sounds like a strap line from The Jeremy Kyle Show.
The Fifth Doctor confides in Chancellor Flavia that he doesn’t believe the Castellan was a traitor.
Fifth Doctor: You saw his reaction to the Black Scrolls. It wasn’t that of a man discovered, but of sheer disbelief.
Sue: Really? I think he’s crediting the actor with more talent than he actually has. He was staring blankly at them, like he was waiting for his cue.
At this point, Nicol threatens to retire.
Me: Stick around, Nic. There’s a maths riddle coming up soon.
The Third Doctor steals the robot’s equipment and he manages to lasso a zip-line to one of the Dark Tower’s turrets.
Sue: No ****ing way. I can buy just about anything in Doctor Who but I don’t buy that. And why is Sarah Jane so hysterical? She never used to be this bad. Get a grip, woman!
Turlough and Susan watch helplessly as the Cyberman attach a bomb to the TARDIS.
Turlough: Big, isn’t it?
Sue: That’s what he says to all the girls.
The Master leads the Cybermen into the Dark Tower.
Sue: Did the Master just have a stroke? Either he was in terrible pain or he was trying to hold back a fart.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Sue: Yes, it was definitely a fart.
The Master shows the Cybermen how to cross the Electrified Chessboard of Rassilon.
Sue: That wasn’t suspicious at all.
The Cybermen follow, only to be sliced and diced by laser beams.
Sue: The direction is a joke. It makes no sense.
With the Cybermen disposed of, the Master demonstrates the safe path across the board once again.
Sue: The Doctor can’t jump like that! He’ll break his hip!
Before he departs, the Master leaves a tantalising clue.
The Master: Try it, Doctor, it’s as easy as pie.
Sue: He means Pythagoras.
The Doctor: The Greek letter pi!
The Doctor can recite two digits more than Nicol, but I’m still very impressed.
The Doctor crosses the board.
Nicol: I don’t get it. He just walked across it! What the hell?
Me: Don’t worry, Nicol, we’ve tried to make sense of it for the last thirty years.
Nicol: Can I go to bed now?
Sue: That scene was a disaster. The director clearly didn’t understand what was supposed to be happening, but they went ahead and shot it anyway. The Doctor should have walked on the third square, then the first, then the third.
Sue: Whatever. It’s not rocket science, you know!
Deep inside the Tower, the Third Doctor encounters some very familiar faces. Well, sort of.
Sue: Mike Yates! Liz! No, wait, that’s never Liz. No, hang on… Yes, it is her. I think… So where’s Benton?
The First Doctor pauses to give Tegan a quick pep talk:
First Doctor: Fear itself is largely an illusion. And at my age, there’s little left to fear.
Sue: He should mess his lines up a bit. That would make it more authentic. He’s too good an actor. Actually, I think I prefer him to William Hartnell. Is that bad?
The Second Doctor comes face to face with his own phantoms.
Sue: Why is Zoe dressed in bubble wrap?
But the Second Doctor sees through the deceit.
I pause the DVD.
Me: Did you spot the continuity error?
Me: Okay. So how does the Second Doctor know that Zoe and Jamie’s memories were wiped? It hasn’t happened yet, because if it had, he should have regenerated by now. You know what that means, don’t you?
Me: The comments section will be full of people talking about Season 6B instead of The Five Doctors. It will be torture.
Sue: I don’t see how I’m supposed to remember this stuff if the bloody writer can’t. And I thought they had Ian Levine to deal with this kind of thing? Where the hell was he?
Back at the Capitol, the Doctor is playing the harp of Rassilon.
Sue: Does he play the Doctor Who theme music on it? That would be funny.
Me: No, it wouldn’t.
The First Doctor is, appropriately enough, the first incarnation to reach the Tomb of Rassilon.
Sue: Please let him bump into Ian. Please.
He is joined by his future selves. The Doctor’s companions huddle together for a quick chat.
Me: This is what it’s like in the bar at a Doctor Who convention. You’ll find out in a couple of weeks.
Sue: Oh joy.
The Fifth Doctor confronts the real villain of the piece – Borusa.
Sue: Oh, I didn’t expect that.
Me: Are you joking? How many suspects were left?
Sue: I thought it was going to be somebody better than that. We’ve never seen this bloke before.
Me: Yes we have. Well, we haven’t, but we have. It’s Borusa!
Sue: I don’t remember him.
Me: He’s regenerated three times.
Sue: No wonder I can’t keep track of him.
Me: He was the Doctor’s teacher at the Academy.
Sue: Oh yes, he was really nice, wasn’t he?
Me: Yes, hence the massive twist.
Sue: I like the way he dresses in his kinky bad guy gear when he’s up to no good.
Borusa is seeking the secret of immortality.
Sue: But I thought Time Lords were immortal already?
Me: No, they have 13 regenerations.
Sue: Yes, but they offered the Master 13 more earlier on, and that means they must be able to top-up if they run out.
Borusa: Timeless perpetual bodily regeneration. True immortality!
Sue: What’s the ****ing difference? It’s like saying you’ll give 110% effort. It doesn’t make sense.
The last Time Lord who was truly immortal was Rassilon himself.
Sue: So where the hell is he? It didn’t do him much good, did it? He’s got a ****ing tomb.
Borusa explains his insane plan to the Doctor.
Sue: His game has some really silly rules. It’s worse than Monopoly. And if he wanted the Doctor to reach the Dark Tower, why did he put so many obstacles in his path?
The Fifth Doctor falls under Borusa’s spell.
Sue: Hypnotism. You have to have hypnotism in a Doctor Who special. It’s the law.
Four incarnations of the Doctor have to join forces to overcome Borusa’s will. Sue sighs.
Sue: This is where I miss Tom Baker. It doesn’t feel right, him not being there. The band isn’t back together. Not really. It’s like listening to Pink Floyd without Roger Waters.
The mighty Rassilon appears.
Sue: It’s the genie from Aladdin! If he gives out three wishes, one of the Doctors is going to be very disappointed.
Nicol: It’s not exactly Timothy Dalton, is it?
Me: Are you still awake, Nicol?
I ask Sue if she notices anything odd about the Tomb of Rassilon.
Sue: Yeah, there’s a panel missing. Did they run out of time? That’s funny.
Borusa takes the Ring of Rassilon and he ends up spending the rest of eternity as a Stone Relief of Rassilon.
Sue: What a fabulous comeuppance. I should have seen that coming, really. What happens if more Time Lords reach the tomb? Is there room round the back for more?
Rassilon returns the Fourth Doctor to his own time stream.
Sue: Was that from Shada as well?
Sue: That means we can never watch it. This story wouldn’t make any sense if we did. What a pity.
The crisis averted, the Doctors get down the important business of insulting each other.
Third Doctor: Our dress sense hasn’t improved much, has it?
Sue: You ain’t seen nothing yet!
The Second and Third Doctors gently rib each other. But forget about my slash fiction.
Second Doctor: Goodbye, fancy pants.
Third Doctor: Scarecrow.
Sue: That’s rich coming from Worzel ****ing Gummidge!
The Third Doctor introduces Sarah Jane to the Fifth.
Sue: (as Sarah) Can I stay with this one for a bit, please? He’s gorgeous.
The Doctors leave the Fifth alone with his thoughts.
Sue: It’s quite sweet, really.
Fifth Doctor: I’m definitely not the man I was, thank goodness.
Sue: You can say that again.
The TARDIS separates and disappears.
Sue: Nice Quantel overlay slice effect, there.
The Doctor is given the presidency of Gallifrey. He immediately passes the responsibility to Chancellor Flavia.
Sue: That’s funny. We worked for a woman called Flavia for years.
Me: Don’t remind me.
Back on the TARDIS, the Fifth Doctor tells his companions that he has decided to run away from his own people in a rackety old TARDIS.
The Doctor: After all, that’s how it all started.
Sue: That’s the first big close-up in the whole thing. Unbelievable.
The credits roll.
Sue: I like the way they’ve used the old music. It takes me right back.
Me: Well, it has been a couple of months since you last heard it. You must be overwhelmed by nostalgia.
Sue: Sshhh. Nicol’s fast asleep.
Sue: That was fun. The plot was a bit silly, and the direction was appalling, but I really enjoyed it. As a Doctor Who story it left a lot to be desired, but as a celebratory romp, it did the job. It helps if you’re drunk, though.
Me: Would you like me to show you the Special Edition? It’s got new effects and a 5.1 score and…
Sue: No. You’ve had you chance. I’m not going to watch stuff twice. I don’t care how much I enjoyed it, I’ve got better things to do.