Monday, July 15, 2013

The Five Doctors

Dear Gary—
The Five Doctors is a grab bag of Doctors, companions, and enemies; the plot is merely an excuse to throw them all together.
“It’s a game within a game,” Borusa, the mastermind behind the plot, states as he caresses a tiny figure of the Master. Using the Time Lord’s long forbidden Time Scoop, the Lord President of this vaunted society has gathered his cast of characters in the sealed off Death Zone.
“I am being diminished; whittled away piece by piece,” the Fifth Doctor states as his previous selves are being snatched from out of their own time lines. “A man is the sum of his memories, you know; a Time Lord even more so.” Doctor Five has no choice but to leave the tranquil Eye of Orion for the inhospitable landscape of his home planet in order to reunite his shattered self.
“Wonderful chap; all of them.”
All five of them. Except only three appear in The Five Doctors; the Fourth is trapped in the time vortex and represented by some unaired footage from Shada, and the First, William Hartnell, had sadly passed away several years before and is represented by a stand in (although there is a wonderful clip of the Original that introduces this twentieth anniversary story).
In the absence of One and Four, it is the Second and Third Doctors who steal the show, along with the Brigadier and Sarah Jane Smith.
“Ah, yes,” Doctor Two tells the Brig of his own replacement (Doctor Three), “mine was pretty unpromising, too.” Two and Three have met before, in The Three Doctors, and they have a great friendly antagonism, rather like sibling rivalry, although I guess this is more like self rivalry only much more complicated. It’s a pity Three and Four never met, based on the brief Sarah pantomime and Doctor Three translation of “teeth and curls,” this, too, could have been a classic confrontational chemistry.
As it is, the story only allows for the fake One and Five to come together early on; leaving Two and Three to follow their separate paths with the Brigadier and Sarah Jane in tow as they each make their way to the Dark Tower (the Tomb of Rassilon).
“Who unto Rassilon’s Tower will go, must choose above, between, below.”
Three and Sarah choose above; Five chooses between but gets sidetracked so One takes his place along with Tegan; Two and the Brigadier choose below.
Three and Sarah: After first being rescued by the Third Doctor from a fall down a less than treacherous looking cliff, and being pursued by Cybermen, Sarah shakes off her vertigo with her usual pluck. “If I don’t fall off that path, I’ll probably die of fright,” she says as she and the Doctor take the high road. Having a fear of heights myself, I admire the terrified Sarah; I’d never be able to zip line across to the top of the tower as she does.  But she puts her complete faith in the Doctor as always while he does what he always does, as he says, “improvise.”
One and Tegan: Someone somewhere along the way thought it would be funny to pair a chauvinistic Doctor with the feminist Tegan. Problem is: they forgot that the First Doctor was never a chauvinist. Paternal, yes; chauvinistic, no. He also wasn’t full of simmering venom as this substitute First Doctor seems to be. The only reason the First consents to allow Tegan along in the first place—get this Gary—is because Susan twists her ankle. I simply can’t believe that Carole Ann Ford agreed to come back just to have this gag pulled on her. (At least she gets more screen time than poor Turlough; he would have been better off staying behind in the Eye of Orion sketching until the Doctor could return to pick him up.)
Two and the Brigadier: “Charming spot, Doctor.” The Brigadier is as delightful as ever. “You attract trouble, Doctor, you always did.” The Second Doctor is in rare form as well: “Age hasn’t mellowed you, Brigadier.” Dodging Cybermen of their own, Doctor Two and the Brigadier scramble through underground passages while the Doctor empties his copious pockets of numerous items in search of a Galactic Glitter to scare off a stray Yeti.
The three paths all leading to the Tower.
Meanwhile Doctor Five has found a shortcut to the Citadel via the Master’s transmat device and is intent on ferreting out who is the traitor within the Time Lord High Council, and Susan and Turlough passively watch as Cybermen prepare to blow up the TARDIS.
It is a grab bag and an excuse and a game; and predictably, it is hit or miss; but inevitably it is great fun to see a reunion of familiar faces. How wonderful to see phantom Jamie and Zoe warning Doctor Two off (although the Doctor’s claim that he realizes they are fake because they had their memory erased is faulty since they did retain the memory of their first adventure with him—it would only be the memory of the Brigadier that would no longer exist). Equally pleasant is the sight of phantom Yates and phantom Liz Shaw confronting Doctor Three. Not to mention creepy.
Old friends and old foes, too. A Dalek, easily outwitted by Doctor One and Susan into blowing itself up; the Cybermen in hot pursuit of them all (but really, why do they let the Doctor live in order to pilot the TARDIS for them when they only mean to blow the TARDIS up?); the Yeti; and of course, the Master. The scenes of the Master first trying to establish his identity with those Doctors who have never met his current incarnation and then trying to convince them that he is actually on their side are among some of the best and most effective Anthony Ainley Master scenes.
Ultimately it is all a bit shaky, though. Borusa engineered the whole thing simply to get inside the Dark Tower to learn Rassilon’s secret of immortality. The only rational explanation for him going about it the way he does is that he is insane (the sight of him fondling the miniature figure of the Master only confirms this). Why else would he use a fractured Doctor? Why else would he set the Cybermen in the Doctor’s way? Why else would he provide a homing beacon for the Cybermen in the Master’s transmat device? Why else would he provide various companions and enemies to help and hinder? Why else would he change into his evil mastermind outfit of black when he enters the secret chamber to play with his toy statuettes? It is all a game to him; an insane game.
Further proof of his insanity—his goal is to be immortal, to be Lord President of the Time Lords forever. That sounds like a sentence to eternal hell; which in the end is what he gets.
“To lose is to win, and he who wins shall lose.”
Rassilon’s game of torture. Rassilon, yet another insane Time Lord. Of course, that is the dirty little secret of Time Lords—they are prone to madness and evil. Omega. The Master. Morbius. Goth. Rassilon. Borusa. The two guards who delight in gunning down the Castellan. (I’m not always certain about the Doctor, either—he occasionally skirts the edges, and sometimes I think he regenerates in the nick of time to avert the tragic fate of others of his race.)
Rassilon’s game is more sadistic than Borusa’s. Borusa is taking some childish glee in his game; Rassilon is merely being malicious. Borusa plays with deadly foes; Rassilon plays with fears and forebodings. Borusa plays with Daleks and Cybermen; Rassilon plays with Jamie and Zoe and Yates and Liz Shaw.
I have to say, if Borusa had not set up his obstacles, the two Time Lords that had been sent in before the Doctor probably would have succeeded in lowering the barrier around the Tomb and Borusa could have waltzed in (as he ultimately does once the Doctors arrive) and claimed his prize. I’m sure Borusa is well versed in Old High Gallifreyan and could have done his own translating.
The only real threat to overcome within the Tower is the deadly checker board; although, Gary, “easy as pi” indeed. What rubbish. There is no ‘safe path’ across that board except at the actors’ and director’s convenience. Other than the unfortunate Cybermen, they all seem to simply walk across at their leisure; there is no mathematical application or intricate maneuvering involved.
Once all of the Doctors and companions meet up in the middle we are treated to some more wonderful character interactions, however brief. These are the moments that shine. The final entombment of Borusa is also quite effective and macabre. However, I can’t bring myself to believe that the First Doctor would so thoughtlessly condemn Borusa to such a fate and then gleefully twitter at the meaning of “To lose is to win, and he who wins shall lose.”
And then they all make their departures; “I must say, I’ve had the time of my lives;” “Goodbye, Fancy Pants;” “Scarecrow;” "Splendid fellows, all of you;” “I’m definitely not the man I was, thank goodness.” One by one they leave and all that is left is the mopping up.
 Flavia arrives and assumes Borusa’s treachery without being told and offers the Presidency to the Doctor. The Doctor has run out on that before, however, and he does it again, leaving Flavia in charge. (I would suggest that as her first act she invest in some good psychiatric training facilities.)
“You mean you’re deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people in a rackety old TARDIS?” Tegan enquires.
“Why not?" the Doctor replies. “After all, that’s how it all started.”
And that, Gary, is quite a nice note to end on . . .

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