Doctor Who: The Five Doctors Special Edition DVD review
It's the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who: The Five Doctors. And to celebrate, there's quite a DVD treat in store...
As Terrance Dicks says on one of the two commentary tracks on this new, 25th anniversary release of The Five Doctors, it’s a bit of a pantomime, but a good pantomime. Few would argue that the adventure is one of the finest adventures of the infamous Time Lord, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in seeing the bringing together of five (well, four really) iterations of the Doctor in one place.
What’s more, because it itself was a 20th anniversary special, there’s plenty of nods to the heritage of the show. Assistants such as Susan, Sarah-Jane, Turlough, the Brigadier, Tegan and Jamie turn up, and there’s room for K-9, a solitary dalek, lots of Cybermen, a rastan robot, a yeti and The Master.
Given how much there is to squeeze in to the show, it’s unsurprising that very few manage to get too much of the limelight. Writer Terrance Dicks concedes that part of the challenge here was giving everyone something to do, and across the 90 minute feature length running time, he gamely has a go at doing just that. He also manages to underpin a storyline about Rassilon, corruption and Gallifrey.
Then he turns it over to a group of actors who clearly have a ball with the material. There’s a real delight in seeing so many of the Doctors in one place on screen for the last time, and The Five Doctors could have coasted through on novelty value alone. And while it has its problems – a few daft lines (although how can you not love “Not the mind probe!”), a bit of uneven pacing and an assortment of minor quibbles – it is good fun, and it is a fitting anniversary celebration. Plus I’ve got a soft spot for any story that digs into the world of Gallifrey.
There are two versions of the adventure on this double disc set. The first disc features the original broadcast version of the show, exactly as it was. Disc two, meanwhile, has an extended (although not really enhanced) longer cut, layered with fresh special effects. Personally, I’m never a huge fan of watching classic Who with new effects, but commend the Doctor Who Restoration Team for offering the option.
In keeping with the special anniversary celebration of The Five Doctors, there’s a terrific feast of extras to enjoy. Running over the original cut on disc one is a wonderful assistants’ commentary, which unites Carole Ann Ford, Elisabeth Sladen, Mark Strickson and Nicholas Courtney. It’s the latter who takes the lead, proving as usual to be a terrific font of knowledge regarding the show. But it’s refreshing to hear the assistants ripping the michael out of the action, while still keeping such high regard for it.
Their chat takes in the absence of Tom Baker (which accounted for the Brigadier’s involvement in the story, and which leads Sladen to note that in retrospect, she think he wished he’d done it), Elisabeth Sladen’s PVC, the fact that Richard Hurndall died before he received his paycheque for the show, and a Dalek crashing through a wall and uttering the line “Damn! Missed the buggers”. Sadly, that latter moment isn’t shown, yet the outtakes on disc two do offer “Bugger! I’ve lost them!” instead. Genius.
The infamous “not the mind probe” line gets royally ripped to bits, while Carole Ann Ford bemoans the fact that her clothing makes her “look ten stone!”. We also learn that Jon Pertwee really enjoyed returning to the role, that Anthony Ainley was a scaredy-cat around the special effects, and that Mark Strickson now has a science degree so understands the script a bit more!
Disc one also boasts a terrific 52-minute Celebration feature, hosted by Colin Baker. This covers the 20th anniversary celebrations, including The Five Doctors adventure itself. The story of the adventure’s gestation includes Robert Holmes originally being brought on board – apparently to the resistance of producer John Nathan Turner – to pen the story, which started life as The Six Doctors, and would have seen – quite brilliantly – the revived First Doctor being revealed as an android at the end. How good would that have been?
Terrance Dicks was eventually brought in quite late to pen the story, but then the Tom Baker situation cropped up. Nathan Turner and Baker weren’t close at the time, and that’s talked about, and the feature also covers the publicity machine surrounding The Five Doctors (including the Longleat celebration of 1983, and the waxwork Baker in the publicity materials!). It’s an interesting piece, and well worth a spin, fittingly dedicated to The Five Doctors and experienced Doctor Who director, the late Peter Moffat.
Disc one also feature an info-text track to layer over the main feature, and the option to listen to the story with an isolated music score. Radio Times listings are provided in PDF format, and there’s a staggering 19 minutes of trails and continuity broadcasts (which takes in the openings and endings to episodes when the The Five Doctors was later rebroadcast in episodic chunks). An eight minute photo slideshow rounds off disc one’s features.
Disc two, as well as featuring the longer cut of The Five Doctors, also has a production commentary, this time with Peter Davison and Terrance Dicks. It’s just as interesting and entertaining as the terrific track on the first disc, and Dicks in particular has much to talk about. Talking about how he manages to cope in a crisis, he talks about his late commission to write the story, and how it came together for him when he came up with the idea of the gloved hand putting figures on the board.
When negotiations to bring Tom Baker back failed, Dicks talks about how it solved a problem for him, in that it allowed him to come up with a mechanic to endanger Davison’s Doctor, by locking Baker’s in a time vortex (“I’ll trap the bugger in a time warp and that’s him out of the way for the rest of the story”). He talks about fighting to get K9 in, the fact that Bessie’s number plate had to be bought off “some old codger”, and arguing to get the Daleks included at all in the story.
The latter point inevitably brings the two of them to talk about Terry Nation’s creations, “a great asset that he couldn’t profit anywhere else”. Apparently, Nation attempted to get one-off Dalek shows made, but failed.
Peter Davison has much to say as well, with he and Dicks agreeing that there were too many people in the Tardis around the time of Davison’s Doctor, with Davison noting that not many of the them (the characters, not the actors!) actually wanted to be there. He also talks about how frightening it actually is to be chased down a corridor by a Dalek!
The two of them then have fun with some of the new special effects. The infamous black triangles that trap the different iterations of the Time Lord have been replaced with new effects, that Dicks calls ‘Casper’, after Casper The Friendly Ghost!
There’s quite a bit else on disc two to explore, as well, not least the fact that you can watch the episode with another info-text track running.
Meanwhile, 'The Ties That Bind Us' is a fifteen minute feature that looks at the ways the script throws in affectionate elements that tie in to the past (and, inevitably, future) of the show. Things like the banging of the console, Patrick Troughton’s fur coat and the Eye of Orion getting namechecked.
We also get treated to the various promotional appearances that were done to promote The Five Doctors. A couple of minutes on Breakfast Time with Frank Bough and Selina Scott is the briefest and least interesting. Far better are the longer Blue Peter, Nationwide and (particularly) Saturday Superstore segments, that see the likes of Patrick Troughton, Peter Davison and Jon Pertwee in full-on promotional mode.
'Five Doctors One Studio' is an interesting feature, as it’s a nineteen minute continual take of the penultimate scene, where the assorted Doctors come together properly at the end of the story. Here we see them being directed and re-directed, with protruding boom mics, people missing the odd cue, Troughton offering Pertwee jelly babies and a director trying to manage his actors to get the shots he needs.
Next up are nearly seven minutes of outtakes, which are great fun, not least the aforementioned Dalek cussing when he loses the people he’s supposed to be chasing down the corridor! There’s also nine minutes of raw special effects work being done on-set, and as usual, it provides an insight that many other DVD productions would do well to match.
Finally, there’s a Coming Soon trailer for the upcoming DVD release of The Invasion of Time. It only runs for about a minute, featuring fast shots, thumping soundtrack and a bit of text, but does its jobs.
At first, I must admit that I was a little disappointed that The Five Doctors was being revisited for DVD release, not least because I still have the original DVD of it sitting on my shelf. After all, there are so many Doctor Who stories yet to get through that it’s frustrating that one of those has missed out. But such a terrific job has been done here that it’s hard to complain too much. The DVD brings together many of the key surviving players of the story, and while the pair of commentary tracks are the highlight, the only further feature we’d have liked to have seen in an ideal world would be something from Tom Baker discussing his thoughts on the story, and how he feels about not getting involved now.
Because, to the credit of all involved, pretty much every other base is very well covered here. A super DVD.
The Disc Update: There's also an Easter Egg, a full commentary track featuring Helen Raynor, Phil Collinson and David Tennant . You access it by switching audio options when the main programme itself has started.
The Five Doctors is released on 3rd March 2008.