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Nov 23, 2005

Five Go Missing in the Death Zone

Before I start, Happy Anniversary everybody.

And as if by magic, anniversaries seem to be the flavour of this week’s Stripped Down sesh. Did you deliberately plan this, Neil or (like the anniversary showing of ‘Caves’ part four back in March) was this just pure luck? If it was meant, then it’s scheduling that even JNT would have been proud of. Just be thankful you didn’t have to contend with the Olympics mucking up your carefully timed plans…

I’m going to break with tradition - and indeed common decency - and review this story in what is commonly known as the ‘overseas’ version; in other words the four parts into which it was rather savagely sliced up for episodic distribution. Now I know this is against all rhyme or reason of logic, but frankly I haven’t got the time to absorb (not to mention review) it all in one sitting. Sorry - I guess we’ll just have to pretend we’re all watching Season 22 in Abu Dhabi (or something).

And at the risk of further offending the traditionalists out there, I’m also using the 1995 ‘special’ edition; not because I can’t get my hands on the 1983 original, but because there’ll be more to talk about (not to mention laugh over).

So here goes…And seeing as ‘The Five Doctors’ marked 20 years of our favourite programme, here are 20 things I noticed about ‘The Five Doctors’: Chunk One.

1. For those who were with us at the start of Stripped Down 2 back in September, here we have again Hartnell’s ‘One Day…’ speech from ‘Dalek Invasion‘, which for me captures the show’s indomitable spirit more than any other moment that I care to remember.

2. Unlike in 1983, we don’t then open on Davison polishing that (at the time) impressively techno new console; instead, there’s some left-over establishing shots of the Death Zone and its suitably grim looking Dark Tower. Whether this adds or subtracts to the Tower’s later impact is debatable; but for me this is a case of new material for old rope.

3. The Eye of Orion - for some people, the most tranquil place in the universe (despite the fact both it - and the later wilderness of the Death Zone - look unerringly like Welsh mountain ranges in drizzly March). Apparently the Eye’s ‘high bombardment of positive ions’ (think Earth after a thunder storm) help give rise to this feeling of well-being (strange this, as for me being pissed on constantly while walking up a hillock leaves me feeling as tranquil as a post-regenerative Colin Baker).

4. But saying that, I do like those scenes at the eye, with the TARDIS crew for once able to take time out for some R&R (even Turlough - psychotic pawn of the Black Guardian just two stories earlier, remember - is painting for God’s sake). And Peter Howell’s score is particularly atmospheric, sounding like self-hypnosis tapes.

5. Of course this feeling of contentment and relaxation cannot last - suddenly we’re following an old man on a gentle stroll through his garden; only for him to be abducted by what appears to be a giant, reflective ice-cream cone. Just where are social services when you need them most?

6. The old man turns out to be the First Doctor (you can only tell this only when a gloved hand removes a carved chess-piece and pushes it to the centre of a Tower-dominated diorama; as the figure’s features look a lot more like William Hartnell’s than the actor pretending to be him).

7. Back at the Eye, Doctor Five suddenly clutches himself in pain as though he’s just heard Matthew Waterhouse is coming back. ‘Cosmic Angst’, he explains; the side-effect of having too much blond-highlighting, more likely…

8. By now we’re quickly moving up the gears of nostalgia overdrive - oh look, there’s the Brig back for a reunion at UNIT headquarters; then a little old man in a coat that would make a thousand animal-right protestors lynch him appears, wittering on about ‘Tomorrow’s Times’ and barging in on the Brig and his (unpromising) replacement as though he owns the place. Needless to say, Patrick Troughton slips back into Doctor Two effortlessly; allowing Terrance Dicks to litter his script with in-jokes going back at least ten years.

9. So who was ‘The Terrible Zodin’, anyway (besides a ‘woman of extreme guile’ as we’re later told)? Ooops, no time for that - the ice-cream cone’s back and the Troughton Doc and Brig have joined Hartnell on the chess board. And just in case it hasn’t already dawned, you’re meant to think that those gloved hands pushing the pieces around are the Master’s by the way.

10. Next up, Pertwee’s test-driving Bessie’s latest modification, only to be rudely interrupted by the still-hungry ice-cream cone. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, he exclaims; though why he name-checks Jerry Lee Lewis at this point is anyone’s guess.

11. Apparently ‘The Master’ (as you’re meant to think it is behind all this) is too shit-scared to pinch Tom straight away; electing instead to throw old companion Sarah Jane Smith into the mix (Sarah appears to have given up her Miss Marple shtick in Morton Harwood, by the way; but K-9 (briefly seen patrolling Sarah’s new suburban semi) is still the know-all box of bollocks that we all knew (and loved?)).

12. At this point my tape appeared to skip to another story all together - Doctor Four and Romana are punting on the Cam, showing off about all the literary and scientific genii they’ve met (beside themselves). Ah, that’s a relief - the ice-cream cone’s just taken them off, but only for something to go wrong on the transference (so instead of the Death Zone they end up in pixellated purgatory). Serves one of them right for being too grumpy to come back, I say.

13. Back to Doctor Five - all this cosmic indigestion is taking its toll, leaving him faint and weak and pretty bloody useless to be honest (it’s like ‘Castrovalva’ without the silly hats). But as Davison does emasculated in his sleep, then who are we to complain?

14. Fear not - help’s on its way. Oh, apparently the Master was the only one free; still, he is cunning, experienced (and possibly expendable) and you just can’t get the staff these days (though why Flavia and the Castellan are so up for his involvement is anyone’s guess. No wonder Borusa’s looking so pissed off in his latest regeneration.)

15. Meanwhile, that old-man-who-looks-less-like-Hartnell-than-his-chess-piece is now wandering around some metal-walled corridors as though he’s got lost in a garden centre. And the woman who claims to be his granddaughter was evidently expecting rain when she left the house that morning. But just to cheer them up, an old acquaintance has dropped in for tea…

16. …or a quick extermination. On which note I must say is that it? Twenty bloody years and all we get is one Dalek blasting itself to smithereens in a reflective cul-de-sac (albeit revealing a nice mutant inside). If I’d been Terry Nation I’d have sued (but then knowing his agent of late, he probably did).

17. Doctor One and Susan recognise the Dark Tower and realise they’re on Gallifrey ‘in the Death Zone’ (which is more background than the two of them ever gave us in over a year back in the 60s).

18. The Brig and Mr I-hope-that-fur’s-a-fake have also arrived in the Death Zone (think the Eye of Orion, but with more slate and less ionic bombardment). I wonder what that silver figure in the distance could be (not to mention that silver hand that tries to relieve the Brigadier of his overcoat). It couldn’t be - could it?

19. Pertwee’s also in the Zone (though has happily been able to keep the car, seeing as he’s such a lazy sod). ‘Now what?’ he ponders, clearly the happy-go-lucky, patronising twat he always was.

20. Clearly the years have not been kind to Sarah-Jane - all that TARDIS travelling has made her unable to traverse gentle embankments without taking a dive like Michael Owen (giving us a ‘cliff-hanger’ of oxymoronic standards). Could she possibly have survived the ‘The Grass-Stains of Doom’? Tune in next time…

(‘The Bumper Book of Made-Up Doctor Who Facts’ has this to say about the first twenty-five minutes or so of ‘The Five Doctors’: in Terrance Dicks’ original draft, the Fourth Doctor was meant to be paired with a talking cabbage; until the cabbage took offence at being told to ‘Piss Off’ during rehearsals.)

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