Doctor Who - The Five Doctors

UK 1983, 90 mins
Director: Peter Moffatt

+ Q&A with actors Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, David Banks and Mark Hardy

Making ‘The Five Doctors’
In 1981, producer John Nathan-Turner was very aware that a significant date was just over the horizon – 23 November 1983 would mark the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who and clearly something needed to be done to celebrate. At first, Nathan-Turner thought that the celebrations could form part of a normal run of the programme, but those plans were scuppered when the BBC decided to change Doctor Who’s scheduling, moving it from its usual autumn/winter run to a truncated 13 weeks starting in January. Nathan-Turner tried to persuade David Reid, the BBC’s then Head of Series and Serials, to move Series 20 to the autumn of 1982 but Controller of Programmes for BBC One, Alan Hart, refused to change his scheduling plans. Instead, he suggested that the programme’s 20th anniversary be celebrated with a one-off, feature-length special, though this would need budget from Series 20 to be diverted, leading to the loss of two episodes. To rustle up additional funding for the special, Nathan-Turner approached BBC Enterprises who were interested but couldn’t make the money available quickly enough, so instead signed a deal with the Australian Broadcasting Commission who also co-financed the BBC’s adaptations of Day of the Triffids (1981) and Tripods (1984-1985). Perhaps convinced by the presence of an Australian companion, ABC agreed to pay AUS$60,000 towards the special.

As with the tenth anniversary special, The Three Doctors, Nathan-Turner planned to re-unite all previous Doctors, Tom Baker being the one least likely to return as he’d only relinquished the role the year before after seven series in charge of the TARDIS. He was the first actor approached in April 1982 and expressed interest in reprising the role, conditional on his approving of the script. During that summer, Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton expressed interest in the idea and Nathan-Turner set about looking for a replacement for William Hartnell, who had died in 1975. He considered Geoffrey Bayldon, much beloved as another traveller in time, in Catweazle (1970-1971) but eventually opted for Richard Hurndall, recommended to him by Ian Levine.

With the lead cast provisionally in place, a script was needed. Script editor Eric Saward suggested one of his predecessors, Robert Holmes, who, despite his reluctance to rely on old characters, monsters and continuity, agreed. Nathan-Turner had already decided that Anthony Ainley’s incarnation of The Master should appear and Saward was keen that the Cybermen take a key role, though both agreed that as the special was going to be shot largely on location that the Daleks and K9 would play little to no part in the story. Reid officially gave the go-ahead for the special on 15 July; on 2 August Holmes was commissioned as the writer and he set about writing what was then called The Six Doctors, with Hurndall to be revealed as a cyborg imposter, hence the ‘Sixth Doctor’.

But Holmes was soon finding himself struggling with the idea of so many Doctors and past companions and suggested to Nathan-Turner that he commission a stand-by storyline from another former script editor, Terrance Dicks, just in case he couldn’t come to grips with The Six Doctors’ problems. After returning from a Doctor Who convention in the States, Dicks met with Saward and agreed to have something ready, just in case. Then, on 13 October, Holmes contacted Saward to tell him that he felt unable to continue with The Six Doctors. Saward offered him the chance to write a four-parter for the main series (which would turn out to be The Caves of Androzani) and Dicks stepped in to replace him on the special, insisting that, despite the logistical difficulties, both the Daleks and K9 should at least be recognised in the special – and indeed he did manage to squeeze in very brief scenes for both.

Nathan-Turner had wanted Waris Hussein, director of the original serial An Unearthly Child, to take on the special, now known as The Five Doctors, but his career had taken him to the US where he was too busy to accept the assignment. He offered the job to Douglas Camfield instead, but he also turned it down due to ill health and a lingering resentment towards Nathan-Turner who had turned down the director’s previous requests to come back to the show. The job went instead to Peter Moffatt, who had recently directed the serial Mawdryn Undead.

Dicks’ script went through many changes, some of which were forced upon him. Originally, he’d planned for Baker’s Fourth Doctor to take the lead in the story, with The First Doctor largely confined to the TARDIS with Susan, Tegan and Turlough. On 9 December, Baker was sent copies of the scripts-in-progress and seemed pleased enough with what he read, agreeing to return to the role. But a bombshell landed on Nathan-Turner’s desk on 29 December when Baker’s agent contacted him to tell him that Baker had changed his mind and was no longer interested in appearing in the special. He agreed, however, to allow the production to reuse footage of him from the abandoned serial Shada.

Dicks was forced to perform his biggest rewrite so far, switching the focus of the story onto Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, and having the Fourth and his companion Romana trapped in a time vortex, leaving Baker and Lalla Ward to appear in a few minutes of previously unseen footage shot in Cambridge for Shada. Adding to Nathan-Turner’s woes was the huge cast of companions he’d hoped to assemble. Some had readily agreed to reprise their roles, others were less sure, and a period of uncertainty followed, with Dicks unsure who he should be writing scenes for. Indeed, not everyone was in place when filming began with the Eye of Orion scenes featuring the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough and the First Doctor being abducted by the time scoop from the rose garden which took place at Plas Brondanw in Llanfrothen from 5 March 1983.

Further location filming took place at not one but two quarries, Carreg y Foel Grom and Manod Quarry, near Blaenau Ffestiniog, standing in for the Death Zone on Gallifrey. Nathan-Turner assisted with some second unit work while Moffat had to deal with the fact that the original material shot for the Eye of Orion scenes had been damaged and needed to be reshot – though Mark Strickson as Turlough, believing that he wasn’t needed on location again, had gone on holiday leaving no way of contacting him. He was only found when a family member heard a radio appeal for him to get in touch and he returned to the Welsh locations. Elsewhere, the Third Doctor’s planned entry into the Dark Tower aboard a makeshift hang-glider was abandoned when the effects team couldn’t come up with a decent prop and Pertwee objected to how silly it all looked, leaving Moffatt and Nathan-Turner to improvise the Doctor crossing precipice on a wire.

Location work also took place at Cwm Bychan lake near Llanbedr, at Denham Green in Buckinghamshire and in Uxbridge, London before the production relocated to BBC Television Film Studios in Ealing, London on 18 March and then to BBC Television Centre Studio 6 in White City, London on 29 March. In post-production, Nathan-Turner had a scene from The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964) edited into the start of the special so that William Hartnell would be present in some form and composer Peter Howell worked on a new version of the theme tune for use over the end credits, one that would combine his revamped version with Delia Derbyshire’s original.

With the arduous production finally complete, plans were being laid for broadcast. Nathan-Turner had wanted it to go out on the anniversary date, 23 November 1983, but the BBC decided to push it back by two days to include it in their annual charity telethon Children in Need, much to Nathan-Turner’s dismay. This meant that the special would be seen first, on the 23rd, in the US on over a hundred Public Broadcasting Service stations before it was seen in the UK. In later years, the special was released several times on home video with new special effects added and a different ending.
Kevin Lyons,

Director: Peter Moffatt
©: BBC
Producer: John Nathan-Turner
Production Associate: June Collins
Production Manager: Jeremy Silbertson
Assistant Floor Manager: Pauline Seager
Technical Manager: Derek Thompson
Production Assistant: Jean Davis
Script Editor: Eric Saward
[Written] By: Terrance Dicks
Studio Lighting: Don Babbage
Film Cameraman: John Baker
Camera Supervisor: Alec Wheal
Visual Effects Designers: John Brace, Mike Kelt
Video Effects: Dave Chapman
Film Editor: M.A.C. Adams
Videotape Editor: Hugh Parson
Vision Mixer: Shirley Coward
Designer: Malcolm Thornton
Design Effects: Jean Peyre
Graphic Designer: Ian Hewett
Properties Buyer: Robert Fleming
Costume Designer: Colin Lavers
Make-Up Artist: Jill Hagger
Title Music Composed by: Ron Grainer
Incidental Music: Peter Howell
Studio Sound: Martin Ridout
Film Sound: John Gatland
Special Sound: Dick Mills, BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Peter Davison (The Doctor [the Fifth Doctor])
Jon Pertwee (The Doctor [the Third Doctor])
Patrick Troughton (The Doctor [the Second Doctor])
Richard Hurndall (The Doctor [the First Doctor])
Tom Baker (The Doctor [the Fourth Doctor])
William Hartnell (The Doctor [the First Doctor in archive footage])
Janet Fielding (Tegan)
Mark Strickson (Turlough)
Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith)
Carole Ann Ford (Susan)
Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier [Lethbridge-Stewart])
Lalla Ward (Romana)
Anthony Ainley (The Master)
Philip Latham (Lord President Borusa)
Dinah Sheridan (Chancellor Flavia)
Paul Jerricho (The Castellan)
David Banks (Cyber leader)
Mark Hardy (Cyber lieutenant)
Richard Mathews (Rassilon)
Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon)
Wendy Padbury (Zoe Herriot)
Caroline John (Liz Shaw)
Richard Franklin (Captain Yates)
David Savile (Colonel Crichton)
John Leeson (voice of K9)
Roy Skelton (Dalek voice)
John Scott Martin (Dalek operator)
Stuart Blake (commander)
Stephen Meredith (technician)
Ray Float (sergeant)
John Tallents (guard)
William Kenton (Cyber scout)
Keith Hodiak (Raston robot)
Lee Woods (Yeti/Cyberman) *

UK 1983
90 mins


Courtesy of BBC Studios

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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