Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Five Doctors written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Peter Moffatt

This story in a nutshell: ‘The Doctor has been taken out of time…’
Hmm: Lovely to see Hartnell appear at the beginning of the story and that his contribution to the series is acknowledged. It’s a brilliantly chosen clip too, a moment that saw us experience the Doctor’s first life changing decision on screen. It’s a first rate spot of acting from Hartnell too without a fluff in sight. Some people refuse to enjoy Richard Hurndall’s performance as the first Doctor but I think he achieves an extraordinary amount of authenticity in the role. Of course I would have given my right arm to see Hartnell reprise the role but that was never going to be possible and Hurndall brings to the role all the gruffness and authority I associate with Hartnell and at the same time manages to make the role his own. I find him thoroughly engaging in the part. It's great that the first Doctor ignores the feelings of fear that the Dark Tower provokes – at his age there’s little left to worry about. His interaction with Tegan is interesting because it is clear he is not going to put up with any of her nonsense.  It’s entirely appropriate that the first Doctor is the one who figures out what the old proverb means and foils Borusa.He shows all these young (or rather old) whippersnappers that first is best.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: Not allowed? He’s allowed everywhere! Troughton is such a shameless scene stealer and in all honesty none of the others had much of a chance when once he turned up. Of all of the returning Doctors he is the one who seems to be enjoying himself the most and his scenes with Nicholas Courtney are delightfully warm and wonderful to watch. His replacement was pretty unpromising, he says naughtily. The Brigadier thinks he is in pain when he’s trying to sing the nursery rhyme that conceals the information to gain access to the Dark Tower. I want a galactic glitter! Wonderfully Troughton barges between Hurndall and Pertwee making his presence felt and then hides behind them later when Rassilon offers them immortality.He's so cheeky you almost long for him to be the frontrunner for this show again.

Good Grief: If the third Doctor hadn’t been introduced flying around corners in Bessie I would have been disappointed but his line of ‘Great balls of fire!’ sounds oddly out of character considering the script editor of his era put the line in his mouth. As soon as he hooks up with Sarah Jane that dazzling season eleven chemistry sparks up between them (Sarah is so happy to see him but its not long before she’s having a go!). He’s quite pig headed in refusing to believe the Master is there to help him but given their history you can’t really blame them. The Doctor happily pointing out that he was right and Sarah was wrong feels authentically Pertwee. Naturally he thinks they will get the inscription wrong without his help. The third Doctor rubs his neck thoughtfully whilst declaring ‘there’s something wrong, you know!’

Fair Fellow: Poor Peter Davison is left clutching his chest and vanishing on the TARDIS floor whilst all his previous selves get to have all the fun.  I can’t help but laugh…I’ve always been a hit or miss kind of guy with the fifth Doctor but when he started fading away I can barely say I noticed the difference between this and his occasionally vacuous characterisation! Fortunately one mellows with age…hmm...but that shouldn't be to the point of indolence. If he wasn’t dull enough he’s the poor sod who gets lumbered with the scenes on Gallifrey. The youngest model and certainly the most impudent. It's lovely how Davison alters his performance to say goodbye to his previous selves; coughing like Hurndall, giddy like Troughton and gentlemanly like Pertwee. The thought of having to return to his own people and take charge terrifies him to the extent that once again he goes on the run from his own people ‘in a rackety old TARDIS!’

The Doctor’s friends: If I was planning on writing a review that exceeds the length of all the others put together I would have a little section for every single companion. But I want to finish it tonight. What’s this? Tegan smiling in her first scene, asking to stay where they have landed and describing it as beautiful – this must be something special! Or perhaps it makes a world of difference having a writer of the calibre of Terrance Dicks penning her. And Turlough has taken up art as a hobby but judging by the Doctor’s reaction he should stick to assassination. The Brigadier is back on UNIT territory. Nice to see the K.9 and Company continuity creeping into the series and thank goodness it did or we might not have enjoyed all those priceless K.9 scenes in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Who could be more appropriate to lie back and enjoy the beauty of somewhere as romantic and intellectual as Cambridge than Romana? Have you ever known a woman toss away her handbag in a moment of danger as Sarah does here? My friends would have to be unconscious to prise their purses from their hands…and even then it would be a struggle. Finally someone to put Tegan in her place! Her scenes with the first Doctor are an absolute delight (‘Now look young lady make yourself useful!’) and you can see how a far more authoritative presence in the TARDIS would have made this era far more amusing (it actually makes me wonder how much fun a sixth Doctor/Tegan combination might have been). Turlough is such a pansy boy of course he has to make the tea! Sarah snatches the Seal of Rassilon pretty quickly from the Doctor – now we know how she could afford that fabulous house on Bannerman Road. The Brigadier doesn’t seem half as clueless as he used to be, clearly he’s used to this lark by now. In a celebration of all that is wonderful about Doctor Who somebody had to twist their ankle and it feels right that it should be Susan (she always was useless). Poor Turlough is lumbered with the Nyssa role stuck in the TARDIS whilst everyone else is off having fun. Tegan still hasn’t quite got the hang of this futuristic technology (remember when she stared in astonishment in Four to Doomsday gasping ‘look a door!’) and she gapes in astonishment at ‘an entry coder!’ Surely Tegan knows some basic mathematics? She looks genuinely devastated that it could soon be goodbye – who ever knew that she cared?

The Bearded Wonder: Survival aside this is clearly Anthony Ainley’s finest story as the Master. In the hands of the script editor who knows the character better than anyone the Master is cheeky, gleefully mocking and given a deliciously ironic plotline. During the scenes on Gallifrey Ainley is chundering on the scenery and makes the dull old politics an absolute riot. Just look at his delighted expression when the Time Lords read out all the evil crimes he is responsible for! He seems to love the paradox of being asked to rescue the Doctor as much as the audience do. When I first watched this story with Simon he fell to pieces at the Master’s pantomime reaction to the transmat device and to this day Simon does boggle eyed Master impressions whenever I am feeling low to cheer me up. He’s enjoying himself immensely as he drives the Cybermen like sheep across a minefield and then takes great delight in gunning down the Cyberleader. What a nut job. Give the man a clap for stretching‘immmmortality!’ to a new Guinness World Record of syllabic length for a single word. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Wonderful chap. All of them.’
‘Doctor look out! Cybermen!’ – come on you know you love that line!
‘Sorry must dash!’
‘The Black Scrolls of Rassilon!’ ‘Interesting, I thought they were out of print.’
‘No, not the mind probe!’
‘On the other hand where there’s a wind there’s a way!’
‘Big, isn’t it?’
‘How long d’you plan to play pitch’n’toss?’
‘Or I shall destroy you! – the schoolboy bullying tone of the Cyberleader makes this line an instant winner!
‘He knew full well that immortality was a curse, not a blessing…’
‘Splendid fellows - all of you.’
‘Why not? That’s how it all started!’

The Good Stuff: As ever with these things I am watching the DVD special edition because I want the fullest possible experience. I know Peter Moffatt has argued strongly that this isn’t his vision of The Five Doctors but to put it simply it is all material is shot by him and the opening shots of this edition taking us for a chilling tour through the corridors of the Dark Tower is so infinitely superior to the transmitted version (the Doctor dusting the console) my decision was easily made. The Eye of Orion scenes might look like a wet weekend in Wales but it does genuinely feel remote and fresh and beautiful – for once we experience a location the Doctor enthuses about. Of all the stories to introduce the spanking new console in this was the right choice and it is a brilliant piece of design with so many screens and buttons – any kid would give their right arm to have a tinker. It seems like old tat now but take yourself back to being a kid and surely the thought of a mysterious dark figure kidnapping all these Doctors and companions and placing them on a chessboard within the Death Zone. It's an ingenious concept that Dicks provides to give JNT his greatest wish, a splurge of continuity, and it makes the story work within a dramatic structure. Having David Saville back in the scene that introduces Troughton’s Doctor (he played Carstairs in The War Games) was a great touch. Peter Howell’s creepy, dynamic, exciting and thoroughly atmospheric score is one of my favourites. It’s interesting that the Shada sequences are directed by Pennant Roberts who along with Moffatt are considered amongst the worst of the eighties directors and yet their styles match beautifully here with long, lingering exterior shots at sumptuous locations – these sequences showing the fourth Doctor and Romana punting down the Cam slot into this story seamlessly and it is a joy that such delightful material finally sees the light of day. Who said Moffatt cannot produce an atmosphere? Go watch the scene where the TARDIS lands in the Death Zone and the scanner opens to reveal the Dark Tower and that unforgettable fog horn of Rassilon. Lots of shadows and lightning atmospherics in the scenes where the first Doctor and Susan reunite (the Dalek shadow on the wall is especially effective). There’s a wonderfully gross moment when the Dalek explodes and the mutant writhes about as green goo dribbles from its casing. There really is a remarkable amount of location work in this story, isn’t there? The slate quarry the second Doctor and the Brig find themselves in is truly desolate and uninviting and look at those horrid gnarled trees that Bessie drives by – where do they find such weird landscapes. Oh yeah, Wales. The Cybermen look really menacing on that misty hillside when they talk to the Master. The Raston Warrior Robot is still one of the finest Doctor Who creations; balletic, deadly and with some nasty armaments – the scene when it dispatches an entire platoon of Cybermen is unforgettably exciting. The long shot of the Tomb of Rassilon feels vast.

Lots of lovely moments that make you beam with fanboy delight – the first Doctor, Susan and the TARDIS in the same shot, the second Doctor and the Brig with Cybermen recalling The Invasion, the third Doctor meeting the Cybermen and tidying up that little gap plus his and Sarah’s magical meeting with Ainley’s Master (lovely to see Pertwee and Delgado meet and Sarah only missed a meeting with the Doctor’s arch enemy by three stories one side of her tenure and one story at the other end!). Susan seeing the Master is another great moment as is the second Doctor, the Brigadier and the Yeti (the conditions under which they first met). The first Doctor seeing the Cybermen is like a portent of his own death. Even though they are phantoms it's wonderful to see Mike Yates and Liz Shaw together only missing each other by one story in the Pertwee era. The meeting between Tegan and Sarah is unfortunate however as the dazzling past meets the unfortunate present (although neither of them is especially good at silent gossiping). The Brigadier meeting Sarah and Tegan shows how long his association with the Doctor has been and it wouldn’t have been quiet right had Pertwee and Courtney not had a moment together. The Brig gets to punch the Master – yay!

The Bad Stuff: Is the pathetic trickle from the Fountain of Rassilon supposed to suggest the grandeur of Gallifrey? Despite some attempts to bling up the sets a tad the Gallifrey scenes still feel every bit as artificial and studio bound as they did in Arc of Infinity. Poor Sarah Jane falling down that incline and needing to be pulled up and over by Bessie – I realise this was supposed to be a mountainous drop but unsympathetic direction means that the unthinkable happens, Sarah is made to look pathetic. Has there ever been a more 1980s scene than Tegan, Turlough and Susan gossiping on wicker furniture and drinking synthetic looking drinks? Nice of Rassilon to provide some roads in the Death Zone. How blind must the Doctor and the Master be to miss that Cyberman who comes strolling out of the rocks? The Doctor accuses a rather important Time Lord of abusing the Time Scoop and Peter Davison realises a little too late that he is staring directly at the only suspect so he quickly looks at Flavia and the Castellan too. The framing of the Castellan is pointless padding. The abseiling sequence is deeply implausible given how it is shot. In Simon’s words the first Doctor walking casually over the chessboard of death pretending he is worked out its secrets is ‘a load of sweaty bollocks!’ Is this proof that the second Doctor had a life after The War Games or is his spelling out of the events in his last story a tragic continuity error on Dicks’ part? The Lord President was behind it all along, how unsurprising! I suppose given his four incarnations on TV he had to turn rogue at some point. Are the Doctors’ memories erased when they return to their own time otherwise why don’t the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Doctors remember the events of this story?

The Shallow Bit: Proof if it was needed that our Sarah Jane was influenced by the tragic fashions of the 1980s and her frilly pink blouse, purple carrier bag mac and attached mittens are all hideous! I think she might have been at the red hair dye too. In her crazy clothes and severe haircut Tegan looks more a like a militant lesbian than ever. Zoe is clothed in bubble wrap.

Result: Somehow (and please don’t ask me how) this doesn’t feel like Terrance Dicks has dumped a load of Doctors, companions and monsters together but a rock solid narrative with clear plot progression and plenty of space for great set pieces. If you ever needed proof of the skill of this writer then bask at this menagerie of continuity and how well it all hangs together. The Five Doctors is ridiculously entertaining and in many places inspired and it gives every participant a priceless moment. Of the Doctors Troughton shines brightest and Davison the dullest, Hurndall does a mighty fine job considering what he has to live up to and Pertwee is as effortlessly solid as ever. It’s a wonderful story for Ainley’s Master too who manages to weave his way through the story outshining all the monsters on display. The production is similarly impressive with some stunningly bleak locations that really sell the danger of the Death Zone. With more great lines you can possibly handle, so many delightful old faces back and a real sense of occasion, the 20th anniversary special is non stop fun from beginning to end: 9/10

1 comment:

Anthony Pirtle said...

Some people might not appreciate Hurndall's performance, but I'm not one of them. It's easy to see why Hartnell's widow approved of him. He captures the spirit of the role created by Hartnell without ever slipping into base impressionism. At any rate, I can't keep myself from smiling when he's on screen.