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Nov 23, 2005

Five Star

Forty-two years eh? Blimey. Don’t panic, you won’t find any Douglas Adams references here. But still, even though it’s not a stand-out anniversary, its still a remarkable achievement. Whoever would have thought forty-two years ago that twenty-five minutes of BBC television would lead to so much? They were having rather a good night, what with the That Was the Week That Was Kennedy special as well, but still… Added to that, now in 2005 we have probably the most optimistic anniversary, with Doctor Who enjoying its greatest period of public affection and high profile since… Well, maybe since the twentieth.

Speaking of which, it does have to be said that The Five Doctors is not exactly the greatest tribute to the show. It’s not that it’s bad as such, more than it can’t ever hope to capture everything that’s special about the programme, perhaps precisely because its best qualities have always come through being worked at naturally rather than through any specific effort or list of precise ingredients. And there are so many different eras – moody black and white, scary mid-seventies, humorous later seventies, flashy nineteen eighties – that one anniversary could never hope to satisfy fans of them all. I should not at this point that this review is of the ‘special edition’ version as available on DVD, although as we’re probably all going from the DVD copy I don’t suppose it makes a great deal of difference. (I do miss that ridiculous ‘Ah!’ from that Cyberman, though…).

Terrance Dicks does his best with the script, though, bringing together a pick ‘n’ mix of elements from across the years in a kind of ‘Greatest Hits’ approach. So we get Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, and even – despite his unwillingness to be involved – Tom Baker, courtesy of a clever use of available footage from the unfinished Shada, which actually works quite well and could easily fool non-fans into thinking it was shot specially for this episode. It’s fun and it just about gets away with stretching the audience’s credulity, so long as you don’t concentrate too hard on it and just allow yourself to go along with the celebratory theme.

One of the Doctors is, however, a fake – aside of course from his appearance in a tacked-on old footage cameo at the start, which despite its decent sentiment doesn’t seem to sit too well, the First Doctor is played by Richard Hurndall. I know he doesn’t really look all that much like Hartnell, but personally I’ve always been quite pleased with his performance. There was never going to be an adequate substitute for the original actor, but Hurndall does a decent job of capturing the spirit at least, if not the precise characteristics, of Hartnell’s performance, and they could certainly have done far, far worse. (Imagine, for instance, if the current production team ever wanted to do a multi-Doctor story and got, say, Jon Culshaw in to play the Fourth Doctor. Urgh. On the other hand though, if they wanted to feature the First, has anybody been struck by Charles Dance in the current Bleak House adaptation? No…?).

The Second Doctor probably comes off the best of all the Doctors, even the current incumbent Davison, thanks to a perfect performance from Patrick Troughton and a wonderful double-act with Nicholas Courtney. Yes, fans can complain that the two characters never really would have shared such close affinity given they’ve only really met three times before, but as I said earlier, if you ignore the details the spirit of the thing can keep it going. It’s also been mentioned how odd it is that the Second Doctor seems to be aware of the events leading up to his own regeneration already, but it’s always seemed to me as if all of the previous Doctors in this story were taken from some sort of nether world after their own regenerations, given their reactions to people they should have only just seen a little while ago before they were scooped up. How that would work is beyond my comprehension, but it is not beyond my imagination. The best policy, however, is probably not to think about it too hard at all.

Pertwee’s just Pertwee, really, although sadly his companion for this adventure Sarah Jane Smith isn’t well-serviced by Terrance Dicks’s script, and comes across far more moaning and helpless than she usually did during her original run on the show. The point’s been made often enough in the past about her pathetically falling down that gentle slope, and she only seems to be there in the first place as a kind of second choice after Borusa fails to land the Fourth Doctor and Romana, something I’d never actually twigged before. Odd how we never see Susan, the other companion snared on her own without the Doctor present, being taken – perhaps they felt depicting the 22nd century would be too much of an effort on the budget they had, but given that on previous evidence the place looks like the 1960s, you wouldn’t have thought it’d take that much doing.

Once he’s grabbed all these older characters, Borusa has for some reason decided to make little toy figurines of them all for his Death Zone playset. Not only that, but once he’s placed them on the board he has a silly little croupier stick thing to move them about three inches across its surface, which you have to wonder whether its worth the effort, and why couldn’t he have just put them down where he wanted with his sodding hand? The bloody board’s only about three feet across in total. Still, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without some total and complete idiocy on behalf of the villains.

Much of this idiocy is provided by the Cybermen, who I’ve never particularly liked and thus it does not thrill me that they’re such a big part of this special. It’s nice to see them getting massacred by the Raston Warrior Robot, but when on other occasions in the episode they – for example – don’t spot the First Doctor when he’s right in front of them, in much the style of that Dalek from the last episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, you have to say they deserved it.

I’m not a massive fan of Ainley’s portrayal of the Master either, although that’s chiefly down the piss-poor scripts he was usually served with rather than anything against the actor himself. He does quite well here, and the idea of him being called in by the desperate Time Lords to go and save the Doctor, who has vanished, is a good one that could have done with being given a bit more drama to it. Sadly, this is being directed by Peter Moffat, a man who could give lessons to Keith Boak on how to direct Doctor Who badly.

There are plenty of other things to pick at – why do the Time Lords still only have black and white TV sets, the cheap bastards? Why does the Brigadier only get to see other worlds when the Doctor’s having one of his anniversary get-togethers? Why are the Time Lords all so bloody stilted and why do they live on a planet that looks so shit? Why does that soldier at the UNIT reunion change from not knowing who the Doctor is to seeming almost fond of him in the space of two minutes? And come to that, why is a top secret organisation having a reunion with reporters from The Times invited along anyway? Why is Tegan wearing that costume? In fact, in a general moan, why are any of the regular characters from the 1983 era wearing those costumes?

Ah well. We can look back a little more light-heartedly now that everything’s sweetness and light in the world of Doctor Who again, and it is quite good fun when all’s said and done. Even a Dalek manages to poke its head around the door and join the party for five minutes, and I do like the mix of theme tune versions at the end, even if the Doctor’s final line is a touch saccharine.

You can’t help but wonder how much more interesting it might have been if Tom had been in the mix, though. Do I mean interesting? Or do I mean confused…?

Comments

Paul - I'm posting this here because I couldn't find an email address for you anywhere. I spotted this ...

http://backstage.bbc.co.uk/ideas/archives/2005/11/rss_feed_for_wh.html

Now assuming its you (and apologies if it isn't) I discovered this fantastic site a few days ago...

http://www.bleb.org/tv/

Which allows you to set up an RSS feed for tv schedules -- so it'll send you a list of everything that's going to be on BBC Four in the morning for that evening. You can also search the schedule ...

http://www.bleb.org/tv/search.html?q=doctor+who

And assuming that the search terms are in the description it pulls them up. So I have a link to this search ...

http://www.bleb.org/tv/search.html?q=shakespeare&all

But it hasn't pulled up a broadcast of Taming of the Shrew on BBC7 tomorrow because it doesn't mention the playwrite by name.

Not me I'm afraid! Thanks for the thought, though.

Oh well. Interesting stuff though eh?

(walks away quietly)

Another reason Moffat is a shit director: he doesn't like Paddy Kingsland's on The Visitation.

*BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO*

The blog's never covered this one, but I don't suppose there's much point after this particular Davison/Moffat snoozeathon. Not even for the spectacular knockout by cardboard boxes.

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