The Five Doctors
In a lot of offices, people take in cakes on their birthday to share with their colleagues. Children give out cake and party bags to their friends as a ‘thank you’ for coming to their birthday party. You’re celebrating your special day by thanking those who’ve been with you on life’s journey – perhaps they’ve even made it better. The cakes and sweets and small plastic toys may not be the healthiest or classiest things ever, but every now and then it’s nice to wallow in sugar and junk and just feel temporarily, blissfully happy.
So in 1983, as we were all shouting ‘Happy 20th birthday, Doctor Who!’, Doctor Who was busy assembling the goodie bag to end all goodie bags. Every cake, every sweet, every small plastic toy that a Doctor Who fan had ever craved were presented in one glorious 90 minute whole.
The opening seconds – the original Doctor giving his beautiful speech from the end of Flashpoint. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! The party’s barely started, and it’s already hard to see how that can be topped. There’s someone who looks a bit like the First Doctor in his garden (at least he looks more like the First Doctor than that robot double in The Death of Doctor Who). And then… oh, then… UNIT! The Brigadier! The Second Doctor! Omega is name-checked! The Third Doctor! Bessie! Sarah Jane and K9! Actual clips from Shada, the story we thought we’d never see! Susan! The sugar rush is never going to end. Old monsters, even more past companions (even if they weren’t real). Yes, we might have complained that the Second Doctor couldn’t possibly have remembered that Jamie and Zoe had their memories wiped, but (a) we were just so excited to see them, and (b) it led to a million theories to make it work, which is the sort of thing fans love doing and demonstrates their endless ingenuity.
And on top of this, it’s dramatic. The Doctor, our current Doctor, is fading away. A sinister figure is putting models on to a game board, which looks even more fun than the boardgame you got on the Weetabix box in the 1970s. It turns out we’re on Gallifrey, in the terrifyingly named Death Zone. There are hints of the Time Lords’ dark past – and their dark present too; after all, this is a place where they subject people to the Mind Probe.
And the icing on the cake – the genius edible ball bearings – is that the conclusion to this story is astonishing. When Borusa claims immortality – and the Doctor lets him – we see not the mere death of a favourite old character, but a nightmare-inducing eternal horror visited on him. It’s scarier than the Daleks, Cybermen, Master and Raston Robot put together.
Goodbyes are said. We take our last bite. “You mean you’re deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people in a rackety old TARDIS?” “Why not? After all, that’s how it all started.” And we are completely satisfied.
Here, we’re counting down to fifty. To (and I can’t quite believe this, but it’s true) Doctor Who’s fiftieth birthday. Are we going to get another party bag? I hope so. I would like, please, all the surviving Doctors and all the surviving companions. I would like Ace to roar up to the party in her sports car. I would like Peri and Yrcanos to come along, and Steven, Vicki and Dodo too. Donna must be there, as long as we’re quite sure her brain won’t burn out this time, and she will of course bring Wilf. Ian Chesterton, Doctor Who’s first hero, will be guest of honour. Sarah and Harry and the Brig and all those we have loved and lost would get namechecks and we’d shed a few silent tears.
And then on top of that, I’d like Monoids, Chameleons, Axons, Rutans, Tractators, Sil, the Rani and the Kandyman, and let’s throw in Tree People, Clockwork Robots and Weeping Angels. And Duggan, the TARDIS food machine, the Doctor’s magnetic chair, the Whomobile, and Mrs Farrel’s kitchen.
Somehow I doubt I’m going to get my wishlist. It’s the equivalent of Steven Moffat giving us nothing but jelly babies to eat for a week, and he’s more stylish than that. But back in 1983, the jelly baby diet won. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think that The Five Doctors, looked at objectively, is just the tiniest little bit rubbish. But at the same time, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t adore it utterly. It wouldn’t be good for us to have Doctor Who like that every day. But for special occasions – absolutely nothing can beat it.
(Incidentally, this article is appearing in DWM 450. Congratulations, DWM! Please don’t forget to put a piece of cake inside the polybag of this issue for every reader.)
1. “We’re on Gallifrey.” It was astonishing to think that Susan had come home for the first time since fleeing in the TARDIS. The words ‘Gallifrey’ and ‘Time Lord’ and ‘Susan’ had never even been written in the same script before…
2. “No. Not the mind probe!” Framed for betraying his own people, the Castellan is horrified to learn that he is to be submitted to the agonies of Time Lord interrogation – and delivers a line now infamous in the history of Doctor Who.
3. “Try it Doctor! It’s as easy as Pi!” In the Tower of Rassilon, the Master lures a squad of Cybermen to their deaths on an electrified chessboard, but kindly gives the First Doctor and Tegan a cital clue to the safe route across.
4. “Your place is prepared, Lord President Borusa.” One of the most horrific moments in Doctor Who. Borusa is given an eternity of living death, his terrified eyes darting from side to side on Rassilon’s tomb…