5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE FIVE DOCTORS
'"I wear the Coronet of Rassilon!" "And very fetching it is too."'
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK no video available US
There are two ways you can go with anniversary specials. One is to grab the opportunity with both hands and bring on a rock 'em, sock 'em, pull-out-all-the-stops story that's way more than the sum of its parts. The other is to haul on as many past characters as the budget will allow, fill up any gaps with fanwank and aim no higher than nostalgia.
Actually, we don't think we've ever seen any of the first kind. So guess which kind The Five Doctors is?
It's not terrible or anything. With three real Doctors, one fake one and some outtakes from Shada, how could it be? It's just not all that interesting either. There's no doubt that it succeeds in what it sets out to do, which is to drag as many past Doctors and companions as would agree in front of the camera, trot briskly through the key Doctorly elements ticking them off one by one, and wrap them in a plot which if lacking in sense or logic at least won't frighten the horses.
So maybe it's not fair to criticise it for what it didn't set out to do. However, that's not going to stop us, so criticise it we will. Imagine what you could have done with that cast. Go on. Now try and tell us you would have set the plot on Gallifrey and, what's more, based it around the recycling of bloody Rassilon.
But it's an anniversary story, right? It's supposed to be fun! Well, OK. We've got no objection to fun. Probably the reverse, as the difficulties some of us have in meeting deadlines would attest. But you can have fun and an exciting, original story, you know. It's not compulsory for anniversary stories to be a safe, limp retread of things we know back to front.
There's just one moment where Five Doctors catches fire, and that's with the appearance of the Raston warrior robot. It's original, it's threatening, it's stunningly effective. (And as effects go, it's dirt cheap. As the amazing stuff achieved with a totally blank set in The Mind Robber and Warriors' Gate show, you don't need a pile of cash to create something memorable. All you need's a bit of imagination.) That's what all of it should have been like, instead of a load of arse about companions spraining their ankles, Daleks shrieking "Exterminate! Exterminate!" and the Voice, Ring, Coronet, Mind, Domain, Harp, Seal, Scrolls, Game, Tomb and T-Shirt of Rassilon.
Still, we didn't get that, did we? So what did we get?
Of the Doctors, the Second Doctor turns in far and away the best performance: he and the Brigadier's quip-trading double act is undoubtedly the highlight of the story. The Third Doctor is very recognisably himself, but he seems a little tired, his performance lacking the magnetic crackle we used to expect from Jon Pertwee.
As the First Doctor, Richard Hurndall does a very creditable job; he doesn't capture William Hartnell's eccentricity or manic glee, but all things considered, it's by no means a bad impersonation. The glimpse of the Fourth Doctor makes us sniffle into our handkerchieves - Waah! We miss him! - but we're not entirely sure that not having him involved in the main story was a great loss. Let's face it, can you imagine Tom Baker happily sharing the stage with four other Doctors? No, neither can we. We think he'd have trampled all over them, and that's not what you want for an ensemble story. Peter Davison on the other hand shares the limelight with great grace, which is a tribute both to him as an actor and, sad to say, to the dullness and wimpiness of his Doctor. He's by far the least interesting Doctor here. As usual.
Due to the crowded cast, the companions get the pointy end of the stick, as they're forced to play parodies of themselves. Susan with her sprained ankle's the worst off, but Sarah Jane also suffers: she does her best (and it's a very good best) with what she has, but it's atypically screamy. Tegan's just Tegan, Turlough's as utterly colourless as usual, and Jamie, Liz, Mike Yates and Zoe are wasted in Anniversary Special Cameos(TM).
As the Master, Anthony Ainley's as good as he ever gets, which is to say not bad at all but still no Roger Delgado. The Gallifrey crew are a fairly dull bunch, particularly Borusa, who drags the early Council scenes down by sounding as if he's taken a handful of barbiturates. We might possibly have been more interested in the whole Rassilon story if Borusa hadn't been so... so... sorry, we nodded off for a moment there.
The plot, unfortunately, has the structural integrity of a rusty TARDIS. If it's so easy to get another set of regenerations that the Council can give them to the Master just like that as a reward for saving the Doctor, why is Borusa jumping through all these hoops for immortality? Why don't the Council give the Master recall devices for all the Doctors? How does the Master know that pi is the key to getting through the chessboard - and how does that work, exactly? How come the Third Doctor knows what the Fourth Doctor looks like, but the First Doctor doesn't recognise the Fifth Doctor or know how many regenerations he's had? Why is the Second Doctor reminiscing with the Brigadier about the times they had when it's not the past for him? Why is there a big cliffhanger about the Cybermen bombing the TARDIS when the TARDIS is indestructible? And if Rassilon's immortal, why's he hanging round in a tomb?
It's nice to see them all, and it's sad when they all say goodbye. But as the credits roll, you're left with the feeling that attractively packaged as it is, it's hollow in the middle.
MORAL: Read the fine print.
Negative ions after a thunderstorm, Doctor. Not positive ones.
Why is the Cyberman in jeans trying to grab the Brigadier through a wall? Not very Cyberlike, is it?
WRAP UP WARMLY
We love the way the "power-boosted open-ended transmat beam" supplies the Master with a standard Villain's Cloak, complete with evil stand-up collar.
There's far too much of people telling other people the plot, over and over and over again.
QUICK, A WET HANKIE
When the Cybermen shoot at the Master, it's clear the shot lands well in front of him and he hasn't been hit. But the next minute he's flat on his face. Could he have... a sprained ankle?
The Second Doctor and the Brigadier yodel on about how they're trapped by the yeti. Why don't they look over their shoulders at the handily lit escape route?
It's really obvious by the way the Cybermen walk across the rocks, wobbling occasionally, that they can't see where they're putting their feet.
WE FEEL QUITE SORRY FOR THEM
The Cybermen don't exactly come out of this story covered in glory, do they? First of all, they let the Raston warrior robot shoot them full of arrows without ever firing a shot. And weren't they meant to be hard to kill? Here all it seems to take is an arrow through the arm. Then the Cyberleader not only doesn't object when the Master picks up a gun, he demands the Master shows him the safe path just after the Master's said the path changes after each journey!
"Hold both hold loops in one hand!"
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK no video available US