The Five Doctors was originally transmitted in the UK (twos days after its US broadcast) as part of the BBC’s Children in
Need fundraising programme. A quick glance at the cast list reveals something of an embarrassment of fiches and The Five Doctors
has often been criticised for trying to cram far too much into ninety minutes.
It is fair to say that Terrance Dicks doesn’t really have time to do justice to several Doctors, a plethora of companions and a few
villains, but, wisely, he does not appear to try, opting instead for a pleasing runaround with a slightly reflective ending to remind
everyone of what the series is all about. Given the many ingredients going into the story, it is difficult to imagine how anything too
different from this could have been made.
So, in being a nice story allowing an hour and a half of cameos, The Five Doctors is undoubtedly a success. Viewers looking
for a multi-layered tale with hidden messages aplenty should perhaps look elsewhere, but those wishing to be hurried through ninety
minutes of old faces making welcome returns, with time to wonder about whether it all made sense later, are most certainly on to a winner
Neither of the returning past Doctors (Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee) appear to have forgotten how to play the role and are,
as ever, a delight to watch. However, as has been pointed out by Terrance Dicks on more than one occasion, devoid of the individual
characteristics of the actors, the roles of each Doctor are somewhat interchangeable, as can be seen within the transcript. The same
can be said – more so, even – for the companions, who suffer far more than the Doctors from having next to no time to establish their
individual characters. But this is, perhaps, all part and parcel of trying to cram too many cherries into one cake.
The Five Doctors does not really deserve to be judged in comparison with the stories which surround it, as it has a completely
different set of goals. Neither is it fair to compare it with the other multi-Doctor stories, as it has by far the highest Doctor- and
companion-count – The Three and Two Doctors do not really suffer from the problem to anywhere near the same extent.
At the end of the day, The Five Doctors deserves to stand a small distance away from the crowds and rightly proclaim itself
as a handy place to go if you want a little bit of a lot of things, but haven’t really got time for any of them.
Introduction by Adam Westwood (firstname.lastname@example.org).
BBCi - Doctor Who Episode Guide
BBCi - The Twentieth Aniversary Special
Doctor Who Reference Guide