Friday, November 11, 2011

Doctor Who - The Five Doctors

 Well after watching Pete's Dragon this morning I re-visited The Five Doctors, a 1983 telly-movie made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of UK television series Doctor Who. Now I'm a Doctor Who fan but not aficionado. Unlike its almost cousin the Bond films I know virtually nothing about this series. I've always wanted to read up more on it but other things have always taken priority. So I've tended to just watch and enjoy the series alone. After watching this I found it hard to believe that we are now up to Doctor number eleven in Matt Smith!

 I have seen all the Doctors since Jon Pertwee. I can just, just recall him in the early-1970's. But besides re-runs of his time as the intrepid time lord I remember from Tom Baker onwards with more clarity. In reference to my Bond as almost cousin statement I mean how both Bond and The Doctor have both been through multiple actors and have remained popular for almost the same length of time. Remember the first Bond film was released in 1961 and Doctor Who first aired in 1963. Another is having Roger Moore as the longest serving Bond with seven films of which Tom Baker semi-mirrors as the longest serving Doctor from 1974 to 1981.

 I wasn't old enough to really know, let alone recall, the change from Pertwee to Baker. But I can vividly re-call the change from Baker to Peter Davison. I remember how it was announced Baker was retiring and there was to be a new Doctor. Of course speculation was rife and the secret was well kept until he was unveiled in the show. It was one of the few times Doctor Who aficionados, and fans world wide, didn't know who it was to be before hand. It was one of things that made the show so appealing as it could go on even without its lead actor. So many shows die when a major character/actor leaves. And yet, because Doctor Who under goes ' re-generations ', a new actor can come in and take over.

 And like the role of James Bond it is coveted. Many of the Doctors have been played by very accomplished actors. Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Christopher Eccelstone for example have all had long distinguished acting careers outside of playing the Doctor. Like Bond each actor has brought not only a new face to the role but a new interpretation and style. Just look at how different Pertwee is from Davison for instance. This is what has helped keep the series fresh even though it was controversially dumped by the BBC in 1989. It then went through several attempts at a revival through the 1990's, but it wasn't until 2005 it again became a settled series on worldwide telly.

 Interestingly whilst the Doctor has undergone many regenerations his nemesis, The Master, has had one actor who outlasted several of them! Of course I refer to Anthony Ainley who played the third Master from 1981 to 1989. For my mind of all the actors who I have seen play the Master Ainley is the best and most memorable. In this particular film his character is called ruthless, vile, despicable by President Borusa. I couldn't have put it better and Ainley played the part exceedingly well! And like his Doctor counterparts he also had a distinguished career outside of Doctor Who appearing in Bond film You Only Live Twice and BBC productions such as the impressive Secret Army and Upstairs, Downstairs.

 But here we are in 1981 and The Doctor is twenty years old. I'm not sure if this aired on NZ telly back then. Before I got the DVD about eight years ago I hadn't seen The Five Doctors before. Actually the last episode of the latest Matt Smith episode finished here only a matter of weeks ago so this was an interesting comparison between the Doctor of 2011 and that of thirty years ago. Now the first thing is is that Jon Pertwee is now deceased ( 1996, aged 76, whose death I remember well as he is my favorite of the Doctors )  as is Ainley ( 2004, aged 71 ). Patrick Troughton who played the second Doctor died in 1987 aged 67. Richard Hurndall died in 1981 just six months after completion of The Five Doctors. He of course stepped into the shoes of the deceased William Hartnell ( 1975, aged 67 ) who had played the first Doctor. It is a remarkable performance and he captured Hartnell's movements and voice uncannily.

We shall never see so many Doctors together again.
 Peter Davison is still alive and presently aged 60. He remains the second youngest actor behind the then 27 year old Matt Smith to have played the Doctor. Tom Baker declined to appear in The Five Doctors as he didn't want to play in the role he had all but just left. It was a decision he came to regret later on in life. It is a shame he done so because to have had all five actors/Doctors ( barring of course the original Hartnell ) together for this one and only time was something quite unique. Baker's scenes were out takes from previous episodes that were never used.

 Of course all the Doctor's partners are also present. It made me laugh because I read recently that Karen Gillan ( mmmm Karen Gillan......grrrrrrrrr!! ) has been called the sexiest of all the Doctor's female companions. And yet whilst Karen is hoooooooooot ( and I mean grrrrrrrrr hot! ) I think that several of the others are just as grrrrrrrrrrr hot. For instance both Sarah Jane Smith ( Elisabeth Sladin ) who accompanied Pertwee's Doctor and Tegan Jovanka ( Janet Fielding ) who accompanied Davison's were both grrrrrrrrrr babes in their day. Even the ( possibly? ) mis-guided character of K-9 makes a cameo appearance. But he is only a metal robotic dog and isn't so grrrrrrrrrrr!

 Of the others Liz Shaw, Captain Yates, Vislor Turlough ( played by Mark Strickson who now lives in Dunedin NZ!! ), and the erst-while Brigadier Leth-Bridge Stewart played by Nicholas Courtney who died in February of this year aged 81. So yep they all there which makes this a really unique and special piece of Doctor Who history. Just think as a comparison there have been six actors to have played James Bond and with both Sean Connery and Roger Moore into their eighties they won't be with us that much longer. I use this an analogy because earlier this year Connery spurned an anniversary party held for the James Bond franchise.

 So this was a real television event. The strange thing is that it aired on US television two days before the UK got to see it! I've always read that Doctor Who wasn't particularly popular in the States. I'm not sure how true this is but for me this is by far my favorite sci-fi TV series ever. For some reason I much prefer British sci-fi over its American counter parts. Series like the brilliant Blake's 7Doctor Who and  the sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf just had a certain something the US TV studios couldn't emulate. If anyone doubts Doctor Who's pedigree just remember this. It is the longest running sci-fi series in the history of television and the most popular!

 But it does have its flaws. Its main one is budgetary. The UK studios could never compete with their American counter parts in this area. So unfortunately Doctor Who episodes visually date very, very quickly. But where money was short for better looking special effects it made up for in great weekly sci-fi scripts. And this is where a 90 minute telemovie like this shines. It has dated but the script is excellent and showcases the talent that has seen the programme endure for so long. I really enjoyed this and was surprised by it as I had watched it twice before. And yet this time round I saw past the datedness and saw how good a script/plot it really was.

A fibreglass TARDIS. Note the wheels to move it about!
 In short someone is pulling all five incarnations of the Doctor out of time and placing them in the Death Zone on Gallifrey, home planet of the Time Lords. There old enemies like the Daleks and the Cybermen are encountered, as Davison's Doctor finds a traitor among the Time Lord elite. It transpires, as his identity is revealed, that he wants to gain immortality by acquiring an old ring belonging to a long dead Time Lord of dubious background and knowledge ( Rassilon ).

 What follows is each individual Doctor finds his way to the Tomb of Rassilon where they all finally meet. Along the way they each face their own trials and tribulations before the finale. It is classic Doctor Who and it is a very solid script. I liked how each Doctor makes their own way to the tomb and only slowly encounters his old incarnations. Suffice to say once together there are any number of tongue in cheek jokes about I, me and we! The telemovie ends with the traitor getting his deserved comeuppance as he finds out immortality is actually a curse. It all ends with final goodbyes from the past cast members until the then Doctor of Davison is left. It is here he finds out he has been chosen to replace the traitor and goes on the run we all know him for.

 The Five Doctors then is an excellent Doctor Who adventure. It not only combines a great script but it was the last time the entire cast surrounding the first five Doctors was to ever assemble. This makes this a unique piece of Doctor Who history and thankfully it delivered the goods. I thoroughly enjoyed it more this viewing than in the previous two! My only criticism is that it has dated visually.Some of the special effects are almost cringe worthy now, but all the same, after watching Matt Smith in the new version of the TARDIS, it was really cool to look back and see how it was in 1983!

 Click here for the BBC site:

Here for a thorough synopsis and more:

And here for wikipedia's very thorough and comprehensive page on the series and character:

All eleven Docs!!

No comments:

Post a Comment