Saturday, 22 November 2008

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors

Long ago, I promised a review of The Five Doctors, Doctor Who's grand 20th anniversary celebration, but never got round to it. Now, the day before the programme's 45th anniversary, I've jotted a couple of very quick notes. The problem is, it's been a while since I last watched it, so this will be decidedly brief.

The Five Doctors, I think it's fair to say, is a mess. Not as much of a mess as Dimensions in Time would turn out to be for the show's 30th anniversary, but a comparison of the two isn't unwarranted. The Five Doctors struggles to squeeze five Doctors, something like six companions (plus cameos from others), the Time Lords, and as many villains as possible -- including Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, and various new ones -- into 90 minutes. A tall order. Dimensions in Time, on the other hand, attempts to fill about 12 minutes with seven Doctors, at least as many companions, the Rani, a host of other villains... and the cast of EastEnders. No wonder it's a God-awful load of rubbish. (I always used to get annoyed with those fans who said "thank God it can't be released on DVD!" (for contractual reasons, as it was for charity), because I thought, "surely it would be best if the whole series could be released, somehow, even if it is rubbish, at least for the curious to see". But having seen it on YouTube a while ago, I can safely say that it really is best left unseen.)

By comparison, The Five Doctors looks like a masterpiece. It isn't, but what it is a lot of fun. The Doctors may not come together until the end, but when they do it's a riot. The final reveal of what immortality means is a wonderful conceit -- it's not a new idea, probably not even in 1983, but it's not what you'd expect from a "children's programme" and I'd wager most sci-fi of the era wouldn't have been so bold. These moments of cleverness are countered by some extreme silliness (Sarah Jane rolls down a hill and has to be rescued by the Doctor and Bessie -- and that's a cliffhanger if you watch the four-part version) and padded running around, but at the same time there's the Raston Warrior Robot, one of the series' finest ever creations, in its only appearance. Why oh why has that yet to be revived? Please Mr Moffat? Or even RTD -- he's got four specials left to do and has already mentioned his love for it.

If you enter into it in the intended spirit -- a jolly romp celebrating the show's startling age, bringing together as many things that are great about the programme as possible -- then it's quite hard not to enjoy it as a nice bit of fluff. Plus it has the Cybermen as a major villain and basically ignores the Daleks, which is something I'll always approve of.