Now with those many credits someone new to Doctor Who may think that The Five Doctors would be a cluttered mess of a story, but anyone who has seen any Doctor Who will recognize at once that it is written by Terrance Dicks. Dicks by this point has written several Doctor Who stories along with most of the Doctor Who Target Novelizations, and is often regarded as one of the best who writers, so of course he was a shoe in for this job. Of course he masters it as he is often to do. The plot sees the Doctor’s four past selves being plucked right out of time and are dropped right into the Death Zone on Gallifrey, an archaic arena full of monstrous aliens from the Doctor’s past, which four of the five incarnations of the Doctor have to defeat until they get to the Dark Tower which holds the Tomb of Rassilon to win the Game of Rassilon. This allows us to have three plotlines play out separately as we get pieces of the puzzle as to who is behind all this until they meet up in the room where Rassilon’s casket is for a final confrontation with an old friend. While I won’t give away who the villain is, as it is a brilliant reveal and the way the Doctor’s get out of the problem they’re in is really clever.
Now to get down to the nitty gritty of the story almost all the acting is perfect as each character has some great dialogue and works well out of each other. I especially love Richard Hurndall’s interpretation of William Hartnell’s First Doctor, which shines through best when he is working off the other Doctor’s or during the scenes he has in the TARDIS with Susan, Tegan and Turlough. Patrick Troughton and Nicholas Courtney also get some of their best interaction as they are being the old friends who haven’t seen each other for years, just to be reunited for a short period of time while they won’t be able to see each other again. They get to have some of the best comedy as the Brigadier is basically the screaming companion who gets himself into danger often with the Cybermen and the Yeti. Elisabeth Sladen is also great minus the horrid outfit she was put in, but Dicks missed a trick in not having her meet the Fifth Doctor to confront why she was left in Aberdeen and not in South Croydon. The weakest of the main cast here is actually Mark Strickson as Turlough as here he really doesn’t have any character and is just dragged around as Dicks doesn’t know what to do with him. Strickson also is incredibly hammy in his acting method.
With the supporting cast, Anthony Ainley and Philip Latham are the definite show stealers, with Ainley giving his goofiest Master and shines when he tries to get the Third Doctor to trust him and when he meets with the High Council of the Time Lords. Philip Latham is also great as Borusa in his fourth form we’ve seen, living up to his other incarnations’ portrayals and elevating the character to new heights through Dicks’ great script. The other Time Lords in this story suffer from the Master and Borusa with the exception of the Castellan, who is way too over the top for his own good (Not the Mind Probe) or too subtle to distinguish from other Time Lords in similar roles (Flavia reminds me way too much as The Inquisitor from Trial of a Time Lord). That said Rassilon here is much better than Timothy Dalton’s portrayal in The End of Time.
The biggest problems with this story is its direction. The story goes that John Nathan-Turner wanted to get Douglas Camfield to direct this story and he had agreed to do it, but had fallen too ill to do the story. He would die a year later. With that plan fallen through, who did Nathan-Turner get for direction? He got the worst director in the show’s history, Peter Moffatt. While Moffatt doesn’t do his worst job here, he isn’t very good either. A lot of the shots stay in a wide shot while the story should really cut to close up. He also lingers on some shots for way too long. I also hear that John Nathan-Turner also took over direction for this story, and you can easily guess when he took over the duties. To summarize The Five Doctors has a great script with some great actors, but is let down by poor direction. The story is the quintessential Anniversary story, despite its flaws. It is one of those stories that every Doctor Who fan should see before they call themselves a fan even though my score isn’t 100/100. I give it an 85/100.