The title, Doctor Who - The Five Doctors, is a bit of a giveaway really and it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out what this Special Edition is going to feature. If you are one of the many who have only seen Doctor Who on television, you are probably most familiar with Jon Pertwee and/or Tom Baker who played the third and fourth Doctors respectively. Here then is your chance to become better acquainted with the two earlier versions of this most intriguing chap.
Doctor Who was originally broadcast in November 1963 and ran for an incredible thirty-three years. It maintained a respectable fan-base until it ceased production in 1996 due to BBC funding cuts. Interestingly, the BBC claim the show was never officially axed, so there is still a very slim chance it may once more grace our screens. Nine actors have played the eight TV Doctors and it is the first five that are the focus of this story. I say nine actors for eight Doctors because at the time of filming, William Hartnell, who played the original Doctor, had passed away and look-alike actor Richard Hurndall faithfully played his character. Even these actors' surnames are strikingly similar. The Five Doctors was penned by longtime Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks, the man responsible for many of the best loved Doctor Who storylines and it must have presented quite a challenge when the idea was first pitched.
|"Ah, The Doctor! Wonderful chap - all of them."|
So who is the Doctor, and why are five versions of him gathered in one place? Glad you asked.
The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He has the ability to travel through time and space in a TARDIS, which should camouflage itself in each new world but is permanently stuck in blue Police Box mode. He also has the ability to change his body (regenerate) up to twelve times - a very handy way of keeping a series alive when the lead actor dies or wants out. The first Doctor was a grumpy, yet kind, grandfatherly figure. The second was quite cheeky and resembled Moe from The Three Stooges. Doctor number three was a charming, white-haired chap with a penchant for gadgets. The fourth was almost hyperactive with very curly hair, a floppy hat and a long scarf. Doctor number five was a younger, blonder, cricket loving humanitarian. Doctors six to eight, not featured here of course, were just as eccentric in their own way.
The five Doctors, assorted companions and villains have all been whisked away from their various homes and time zones with little warning or explanation. Only as the story climaxes do we begin to learn why they have all been "summoned" to the same place and, suffice to say, with all five Doctors involved, the news is not good.
This story celebrates the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who and must have presented quite a challenge to come up with a storyline that allowed so many friends and enemies to come together, remain credible and not bow too greatly to nostalgia for the sake of it. It is also unusual in that it does not follow the multi-episode, cliffhanger format of almost every Doctor Who adventure. I would say Terrance Dicks has done a fair job of writing a passable storyline that will more likely appeal to older fans that better remember The Doctor's many companions, enemies and gadgets. The Master, Susan, Sarah Jane Smith, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, K9, Bessie, Mike Yates, Liz Shaw, Jamie, Zoe, Tegan and Turlough all aid or hinder the various Doctors, and while some are here purely for their nostalgic value, it's great fun trying to remember who traveled with who - no pun intended. Monster lovers are catered for by way of Cybermen, the Yeti and everyone's favourite - Daleks.
It must be said for the benefit of those who love Tom Baker's portrayal of The Doctor, that he wanted no part of any reunion and as such only appears briefly. The short piece of footage in which he and Romana (TV companion and real-life wife at the time) feature is salvaged from a story entitled Shada that was never completed due to industrial action. Sadly, the scene is not relevant to the story and is spliced in as a way of including the fourth Doctor. His non-attendance is covered by sticking his character in a state of limbo somewhere along the Space-time Continuum "...unable to be of any assistance I'm afraid." Handy.
As with the entire series, the acting is all over the shop and the special effects are cheap. The costumes are ridiculous, the 'camp-o-meter' is off the scale and the one-liners will make you cringe. The dialogue is often predictable to the point of self-parody, there are plot-holes large enough to steer a Dalek through and the baddies couldn't shoot straight if their lives depended on it (which they do). However, this is Doctor Who and these are the very things that make it special.
It's hard to believe that this was first shown on Australian television almost twenty years ago. When you take into account it was filmed cheaply and quickly for television, it actually holds up rather well. The scenes filmed in the studio are very clear and sharp with good colouring, acceptable black levels and fair shadow detail. There is some minor evidence of aliasing but it is infrequent and not at all distracting. Scenes filmed outdoors are not as clean and impressive though, and suffer from grain. Colours, too, are noticeably paler in outdoor scenes but it may be the film stock has faded over time.
Film artefacts, though infrequent, are quite severe. There are a few noticeable scratches on the film and these are mildly distracting, as are black and white flecks that occasionally flash up. The most annoying aspect of the transfer however, noticeable in the early outdoor scenes, is background 'throbbing' (for want of a better term). It is similar to watching a cartoon character's thumb getting hit by a hammer and seeing it 'throb' to indicate pain.
All in all this is an acceptable transfer though. It is presented in full frame and is not 16x9 enhanced.
The layer change is placed between chapters 15 and 16 at 53:49.
It is rare for a release originally destined for television to have a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but that's what we get. Most releases of this type have, at best, a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track - so how does it measure up? Rather well as it happens.
Dialogue is mainly from the centre speaker and is always clear and in sync. The surround speakers get a fair amount of use during the outdoor scenes and when the background music is playing. The Dalek weapons also sound great as stray shots ricochet around the set. The explosions are not overly loud though and with almost no other low frequency levels, the subwoofer is mostly silent.
Hiss could be detected during the first outdoor scene and again much later during a loud and decisive voiceover. As both of these are over quickly, it is tolerable.