Home : Archive : TSV 51-60 : TSV 52 : Review

The Five Doctors - Special Edition

Reviewed by Graham Howard

It is a little difficult to know how best to approach the Special Edition. The 1983 production was not necessarily the best Davison story, yet it was imbued with an irresistible nostalgia that made it my favourite, and left me wanting more. The announcement that an extended version of this story was to be released was therefore gladly received. Unfortunately, it is clear from the additional ten or so minutes in the Special Edition, that there was very little of any real significance left out of the 1983 story, from what was filmed. And in some ways, seeing this extended version actually gave me a new appreciation of the pacing and construction of the original.

My original intention had been to review the Special Edition on its own merits, and not offer too many direct comparisons with the original. However, my familiarity with the 1983 production meant it was difficult to watch the Special Edition without forming opinions as to what compared favourably, and what did not. Since the Special Edition is essentially a reworking of someone else's 'product', I believe it is appropriate to assess it against its predecessor, and not pretend that it is a wholly original creative work. And I suspect the production team behind the Special Edition hoped fans would treat it as a companion to the transmitted version, rather than as an attempt to supersede or replace the original.

'The Main Problem'

My only significant gripe with the Special Edition is that the production team did not content themselves with merely updating special effects or inserting new footage. In addition, they sought to 'improve' on the original, by re-editing and rearranging scenes, and by using different takes or different camera angles of scenes they 'did not like' from the 1983 version. Paul Vanezis, the instigator and leader of the project, also noted (at the time the project was unveiled in 1995) that sometimes he 'actually removed shots or tightened them up to heighten the dramatic impact'. It may sound narrow-minded, but I don't believe the Special Edition team should have tampered with the dramatic construction of The Five Doctors in this way. They were not involved in the 1983 production in any way (as far as I know), and were therefore not privy to the creative processes of that production team. In my view, control over the narrative structure of The Five Doctors rightly resides with the 1983 team.


The new opening scenes are an example of changes that were deliberately made because they were thought to 'improve' upon the original. In the 1983 production, the action opens in the TARDIS, where the Doctor is admiring his newly completed modifications to the control console. He then engages in some banter with Tegan before going outside. However, in the Special Edition we get instead a brief scene of the Dark Tower, followed by several shots of ... corridors. Yes, empty corridors within the Dark Tower! Following this we switch to the Eye of Orion, with a superfluous shot of Turlough outside, before finally getting to the scenes that began the 1983 version.

According to Paul Vanezis, the new opening was created because 'one of the problems with the original version was a rather lack-lustre opening in the TARDIS console room ... This didn't strike me as a traditional opening, which usually begins with a teaser for the rest of the story'. For what it is worth, I believe the new opening to be the lacklustre one! I have been told that the new scenes are 'atmospheric', but they just seem tacked on and ill-fitting, perhaps because they weren't originally intended to be used in this way. As a teaser, the scenes are, in my view, pointless because they don't provide any drama, or offer potential for drama (corridors just don't do it!).


As far as I can tell, the changes that have been made have no significant effect on the basic plot of The Five Doctors, as established in the 1983 story. This includes the artificial additions (such as the new opening scenes), and the alterations to the narrative structure (see 'Time Scooping' below). Much of the extended running time comes from the reinstatement of footage removed from the beginnings or endings of scenes in the original Five Doctors. But in terms of major or even minor plot developments and revelations, the footage is far from momentous. The cuts were presumably originally made either for reasons of timing, or to tighten up the pace of the action. Since the Special Edition is an 'extended version' release, it's more interesting to have most of it than not have it, though I can't help wondering whether Paul Vanezis left out any legitimate additional material because he 'did not like it'!

The plot itself is largely a contrivance to get all of the characters together in one setting, but it happens to be ideal for an anniversary tale. I don't claim to be able to understand it all. For example, the concept of removing regenerations of the Doctor from time is nonsensical, given the way the concept is presented on screen. Another thing that puzzled is how the Master could be given new regenerations? And surely the Master is the last person you would get to help the Doctor/s! The ankle twists and falls (Susan and Sarah respectively) seem even more silly in 1997 (what were the production team thinking?!). Yet weaknesses such as these seem not to matter, being indulgencies justified by the celebratory nature of the story, and because the viewer is more interested in the ongoing action and in the antics of the characters.

Time Scooping

The two-dimensional black obelisk shape that appears as the Doctors are 'grabbed' has been replaced with a more effective three-dimensional translucent glass-like dome.

A less obvious, but more significant change has been made to the initial shot of the First Doctor as he walks in the garden. The original version shows the operator of the time scoop observing the First Doctor on the device's viewing monitor, just prior to 'scooping' him. This brief scene provides the viewer with a visual reference point for subsequent scoops, in terms of how the time scoop device is operated. In the Special Edition we do not see the First Doctor framed in the time scoop viewing monitor, so this initial visual link is missing. A trivial point? I don't think so. I found it far more satisfying to suggest - in an overt fashion - that the operator of the time scoop visually homed in on his target before 'scooping'. A further implication of the change is that the unfamiliar viewer can only guess that the miniature figurines (representing the successfully 'scooped' victims) have actually been materialising in the viewing monitor of the time scoop. Although brief shots of the trapped Fourth Doctor are shown, there is still no visual link between viewing monitor, time scoop target and 'scooped' figurine.

A further general change has been made to the ordering of the scooping sequences. In the original, at the point of scooping we cut immediately to the Fifth Doctor and witness his distress ('temporal angst') due to an earlier regeneration having been 'removed from time'. Then we switch to the time scoop control room, to see the figurines being collected. However, in the Special Edition these sequences have been reversed, i.e. we go to the time scoop control room first, and then switch to the Fifth Doctor. Again it may seem a small point, but these changes seemed less dramatically effective and more awkward in terms of maintaining continuity between scenes (in that we see the Fifth Doctor's distress some time after the actual scoop).

Mention must also go to the 'repairs' that have been made to the scoop of the Fourth Doctor, as these scenes were glaringly weak in the original. The scenes now are considerably tighter. Following the failed scoop attempt, we cut immediately to the frustrated time scoop operator, and on this occasion I believe that the re-ordering of scenes works. The Doctor and Romana's mysterious costume change in the original has been replaced with a more consistent image of the Fourth Doctor, and at the end he is returned to the same point in the story from which he was taken.

Borusa 'Makes an Entrance'

The first wholly new scenes in the special edition show President Borusa making his way towards the conference room to meet with the Castellan and Chancellor Flavia. Paul Vanezis says that he 'wanted to make something of Borusa's entrance', and that it irritated him there 'wasn't some sort of fanfare to introduce him'. To my mind Paul has tried to impose something on the script that - if it was ever there in the first place - was not properly followed through by the production team. It is clear from the extended footage that there was no fanfare: Borusa was not making a 'grand entrance'. Some suitably regal music has been added to the soundtrack, but in the end all the sequence shows is Borusa making his way along some corridors to go to a meeting with two members of the High Council; one would think a fairly ordinary event. For all Paul's efforts, I believe it is the Master's entrance later in the scene that is the more imposing.

To my mind, this example highlights the fact that the Special Edition production team was very much constrained by the available material provided from the 1983 filming. It was therefore also constrained, to a large extent, by the intentions of that production team with regard to the presentation of scenes, and their purpose within the overall story.

Other Changes

The new scene with the Second Doctor and the Brigadier after they enter the caves below the Dark Tower ('Cheer up - we're getting on very nicely') is a delight. As is the new scene where the Brigadier experiences the fears 'projected from the mind of Rassilon' in the same way that Tegan and Sarah did. This provides a consistency with the other teams' experiences that was missing in the original.

A scene has been added with Susan and Turlough aboard the TARDIS, while the Cybermen are placing their bombs (causing the TARDIS to shake), which serves to underscore their growing anxiousness. This new scene, along with the above two examples, were presumably cut from the original for reasons of timing.

In another new scene Sarah is shown throwing a rock at some advancing Cybermen, in an attempt to hold-off their advance. The scene is actually amusing because of its absurdity: the Cybermen are well out of throwing range, and even if they hadn't been, it's difficult to see how they would be delayed by a thrown rock.

I hope the reason Rassilon's voice has been electronically treated, is to encourage the impression that it is not actually Rassilon speaking, but some computer generated remnant. If that wasn't the reason, then the sense of humanity and the hint of eccentricity in the original voice has been needlessly sacrificed.

Dolby Surround

The Special Edition is almost worth getting for this feature alone. Peter Howell has composed a music score that is very much in keeping with the original, and many of the sound effects have been recreated especially to make use of the capabilities of stereo. The surround soundtrack adds a dimension of depth never before utilised in the TV series, although obviously certain aspects of the sound are limited by the original recordings.

Doctors and Companions

Certainly the highlight of The Five Doctors, both in the original and in this version is the assortment of current and past companions, and their interaction together. As is perhaps fitting for an anniversary story, a general feeling of bonhomie can be sensed throughout most of the story. Patrick Troughton is wonderful, and shines in all of his scenes. Jon Pertwee slips back into his old role effortlessly. As I'm sure has been said many times since 1983, it is such a pity that Tom Baker didn't reprise the Fourth Doctor. Richard Hurndall is perfectly cast as William Hartnell's Doctor. Peter Davison doesn't seem fazed by the appearance of so many other potential scene-stealers, and fits in well. And, thankfully the Brigadier is back to form following on from Mawdryn Undead.

Cybermen and a Dalek

Perhaps the most cringe-worthy aspect of the original Five Doctors was the portrayal of the Cybermen and Daleks. Yet even if the Special Edition team had wanted to improve the light in which the Doctor's supposedly most fearsome adversaries were presented, it is not obvious how this might have been achieved. For example, the fact that the Cybermen behaved like stupid lumbering oafs and were consequently slaughtered is important to the story. Major re-editing or even deletion would therefore not be viable options.

According to the Doctor, Daleks and Cybermen were banned from the Death Zone 'games' because they 'played too well'. Unfortunately this skill is not in evidence in either version of the story. The sole Dalek of the story is a screeching moron that, having been given the lightest of shoves (down a dead-end passage) by the people it is trying to 'exterminate', proceeds to blow itself up. Quite why it recklessly lets off its weapon in a confined space, rather than turning around and simply picking off its unarmed intended victims is a mystery. If anything, the Special Edition emphasizes the Dalek's idiocy by extending the scene prior to its self-destruction.

Of course, the Cybermen come off even worse, being little more than comical cannon fodder. The massacre scenes are largely unaltered, however with improved visual effects the Cybermen are now disposed of more impressively! Like the Dalek, we witness their astonishing ineptness at aiming and using their weapons. Their witless gullibility during the 'chessboard' sequence in the Dark Tower, and their pitiful non-response to the Raston Warrior Robot, still irritates after all these years! And to cap it all off, the Cyberleader is outrageously emotional in both behaviour and speech.

Final Thoughts

I daresay the changes that bothered me the most in the Special Edition won't unduly trouble most fans, especially those less familiar with the original Five Doctors. Although I have focused mainly on the things I didn't care for, there are still things to commend this version. The strengths (and weaknesses!) of the original are largely still present. To sum it up, I would say that the purist in me would have preferred it if the Special Edition team hadn't tried to change or fix things that weren't broken in the original. But that there is still enjoyment to be had from this version. And BBC Video will be happy - they've now cunningly managed to sell three different versions of the same story!

This item appeared in TSV 52 (November 1997).

Index nodes: The Five Doctors