The Five Doctors aired in November 1983 as a 90 minute special to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Doctor Who. While this special has previously been made available on DVD, it was in the form of a special edition released on VHS in 1995 with some added footage, new visual effects and some new musical cues. Many fans were upset that the original 1983 version was not included, and they were not pleased that the special edition DVD was somewhat lacking in bonus features apart from a commentary track and a music only track.
The BBC and 2Entertain have since responded to both complaints with the release of a two-disc set commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original broadcast of The Five Doctors. This newer release contains both the original broadcast version from 1983 and the special edition version from 1995. And these DVD’s are loaded with plenty of bonus features.
Then-current Doctor Peter Davison (Number Five) was joined by predecessors Patrick Troughton (Doctor Number Two) and Jon Pertwee (Number Three). The late William Hartnell had passed on nearly a decade earlier, but is seen at the very beginning of the episode in a clip from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and Richard Hurndall does an admirable job stepping into Hartnell’s shoes as the First Doctor. Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, was unavailable to do the anniversary story, but is seen in clips from the unfinished story Shada (along with Lalla Ward as Romana), doctored up with some special effects and the subplot of the Fourth Doctor being trapped in a time vortex as an explanation as to why that particular Doctor is not part of the action in the story.
Several of the Doctor’s companions put in appearances–most of them cameos–including Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen), K-9 (voiced by John Leeson), the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Jamie McCrimmon (Fraser Hines), and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) among several others in addition to then-current companions Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson).
The story involves an area on the Doctor’s homeworld of Gallifrey called the Death Zone. A member of the High Council of the Time Lords has reactivated the Death Zone and used a timescoop to lift the Doctor’s earlier incarnations, along with several of his companions from their respective time streams and place them in the Zone. The Fifth Doctor and his companions are brought to the Death Zone when the TARDIS is caught in a tractor beam.
Several of the Doctor’s old enemies–Daleks, Yeti and Cybermen–have also been brought to the Zone. The Doctor’s archenemy the Master (the late Anthony Ainley) is sent into the Zone by the High Council to rescue the Doctors. The Doctors and their companions must journey to a dark tower (the Tomb of Rassilon) at the center of the Zone to disable the tractor beam holding the TARDIS, and find out who has reactivated the Death Zone to play the Game of Rassilon.
The special edition commentary track with Peter Davison and writer Terrence Dicks is once again included with that version. A commentary with actors Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, Carole Ann Ford and Mark Strickson has been added for the original broadcast version. A third commentary, featuring current Doctor David Tennant, along with New Series writer/script editor Helen Raynor and then-producer Phil Collinson.
Other bonus features include a documentary on the year-long celebration of Doctor Who‘s twentieth anniversary (hosted by Sixth Doctor Colin Baker), trailers, a photo gallery, as well as publicity clips with cast and crewm members being interviewed on various TV programs such as Breakfast Time and Blue Peter. Eighth Doctor Paul McGann narrates a featurette on continuity ties between The Five Doctors with the program’s past and future. “(Not So) Special Effects” is a documentary following a day in the life of the visual effects crew.
Altogether, The Five Doctors 25th Anniversary Edition is a tremendous improvement over the original DVD release of the twentieth anniversary adventure. It’s great to finally have the original version of the special available, and now it’s fully loaded with tons of features. This is one of the best classic series releases on DVD to date, and one of my favorite Fifth Doctor stories.
Other Doctor Who releases on DVD:
The Three Doctors (Tenth anniversary adventure)
The Web Planet
The Tomb of the Cybermen
The Caves of Androzani