Thursday, February 11, 2010

6K - The Five Doctors

The Five Doctors is possibly John Nathan-Turner's greatest achievement during his tenure as producer of Doctor Who. The buildup to and eventual broadcast of the 20th anniversary special saw Doctor Who achieve a public notoriety and popularity that it seldom seen before, and would never come close to seeing again in the 20th century. And it was all because of JNT's shrewd marketing initiatives. Criticize his creative decisions all you like, but JNT was a showman to the core.

The Five Doctors is also a remarkable, impossible feat pulled off by writer Terrance Dicks. Cramming five Doctors (then four, more or less), countless companions, Cybermen, Yeti, a Dalek, The Master, the Time Lords, and having it all, somehow, fit into the canon of the show (with a little help from Season 6B, to be fair) is incredible. Mess up those ingredients, even only slightly, and you wind up with Dimensions in Time. As it stands, The Five Doctors is such an enjoyable romp that you don't even notice how much glue and glitter is holding the thing together.

This is a programme celebrating itself and it's own accomplishments, revelling in its own past and bringing out all the greatest hits that it knows the fans would love. It's good that The Five Doctors exists outside of a normal season because it just feels different from your standard Doctor Who story. For one, it's one single, feature length episode, written without the standard cliffhangers occurring every 25 minutes. This is critical to the success of the story. The point of The Five Doctors is not to increase the suspense, but to entice the viewer to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

And there are many moments to cherish in this. Patrick Troughton is, as always, brilliant, forming a great double team with the Brigadier, although the relationship between the two is not at all like the one they had in The Web of Fear and The Invasion. Jon Pertwee isn't necessarily Jon Pertwee, he is Jon Pertwee as Jon Pertwee as The Doctor. Pertwee gradually lost his edge as The Doctor during Season 11, and he continues that trend in this story. It would have been odd to see Tom Baker fraternize with other Doctors, in retrospect, but Peter Davison is the benefactor of the increased attention given to his Doctor. It's a shame that Colin Baker couldn't have returned to play Maxil, as that would have been plain cheeky. It's just a shame that Geoffrey Bayldon wasn't cast as the First Doctor, as, while Richard Hurndall does a reasonable impersonation of William Hartnell, Bayldon would have nailed it. Although it was nice to see the clip of Hartnell during the pre-credit sequence, it may have been detrimental to Hurndall's portrayal. Having not seen Hartnell for years (as long as you skipped The Five Faces of Doctor Who repeats of 1981), it may have been easier for viewers to accept Hurndall in the part without being reminded of the genuine article.

The best moments in this story, again, and unusually, come from John Nathan-Turner himself, as he directed the sequence where the Raston Warrior Robot destroys a squad of Cybermen. Sure, the scene starts a trend of Cybermen dying spectacularly when they should be dominating their attacker, but who cares? The scene looks superb to this day, and stands as one of the best action scenes seen in Doctor Who.

Everything is sweet and lovely about The Five Doctors. The music, the new set, the fact that the most tranquil spot in the universe is a rainy day in Wales, "No, not the mind probe!", and so on - it's all best watched with a giddy grin on your face, knowing that you are watching the best show ever made give itself a giant pat on the back because it knows it deserves it.

*Kamelion Watch: he's the wicker table, and shorts out when the First Doctor accidentally squirts pineapple juice on it.


Brackers said...

Speaking of DiT, will that be included in the marathon?

I *love* it, but I was 5 years old and it was the first Doctor Who I'd ever seen on TV rather than on video. I'm biased.

donn said...

I adore The Five Doctors, though I've only ever seen it broken up into four parts, with cliffhangers. They work well enough.

I'm often tempted to use The Five Doctors to introduce Who to somebody new, but I know that to be a mistake. It works only because I've been a fan for so long; the story is one gigantic in-joke.

Robert Konigsberg said...

This is the third time I've watched it, but the first time after getting a decent sense of all five doctors. Now it seems more like candy than anything, and I wish it was twice as long, because I want twice the candy.

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