Monday, October 22, 2007

Pleading the Fifth (Doctor)

The BBC has confirmed that Fifth Doctor Peter Davison will be joining Tenth Doc David Tennant for this year's Doctor Who Children in Need Special, which will be screened on Nov. 16th. (The last time they did this was the post-regeneration scene between Billie Piper & Tennant.)

Multiple Doctor stories are special events for Who, even though they're usually full of plot holes and cause big logistical problems for series continuity. This time around Steven Moffat has been given the task of writing the scene, entitled “Time Crash”. There’s no word on the plot, but with Moffat scripting, no matter how short this piece is, it'll no doubt rock the TARDIS.

The first such story, “The Three Doctors”, came around in 1973 to celebrate Who's 10th Anniversary. It's really more like the “The Two ½ Doctors”, as Doctor #1, William Hartnell, was so ill by that point that his appearance was reduced to the actor appearing on a video screen and reading his lines off cue cards. Nevertheless, the verbal sparring between Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee was a delight to behold as was the numerous companions’ reactions to having to deal with two Time Lords: Jo Grant (Katy Manning) was unaware of the Doctor’s regenerative abilities, while The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sgt. Benton (John Levene) had both first met the Doctor in his second incarnation, so for them it was a reunion in addition to being a predicament. The story involves the Time Lord planet Gallifrey being plunged into peril by a renegade Time Lord named Omega, and Docs Two & Three must travel to a universe made of anti-matter to stop him. It’s a pleasant enough way to spend 100 minutes, but much of the production looks cheap compared to many of the stories of the era and the less said about Omega’s anti-matter blob monsters the better.

For the show’s 20th Anniversary, producer John Nathan-Turner unveiled “The Five Doctors”…which was really more like “The Three Doctors” (not the story mentioned above). William Hartnell had passed away ages before, so Nathan-Turner hired Richard Hurndall to play the First Doctor. Granted, Hurndall looked enough like Hartnell and played the part fairly well…but ultimately there was no substitute for the real deal. Next problem? Tom Baker (Doc #4) opted not to take part in the special, which led to script revisions and the Fouth Doctor’s presence reduced to a couple recycled scenes from his never-completed story “Shada”.

So this left Troughton, Pertwee and the then current Doctor, Davison, as the only “real” Doctors in the five Doc celebration. Luckily the story also brought back companions/actors from every era of the series as well as a number of villains. Again the story revolves around Gallifrey, only this time the bulk of the action takes place on the planet itself as the various Doctors and companions scramble around trying to figure out why they’ve all been brought there. It’s a goofy story with a threadbare plot meant as nothing more than a excuse to bring all these elements together for 90 minutes. If you’re looking for good storytelling you won’t find it here, but slickly produced nostalgia runneth amuck.

In 1985, Nathan-Turner again produced a multi-Doc tale entitled “The Two Doctors”, and this time, thankfully, there are two Docs on hand -- no more, no less. Patrick Troughton returned yet again for this lengthy story (3 episodes at 45 min. each) that reunited him with Frazer Hines’ Jamie McCrimmon and introduced him to Sixth Doc Colin Baker and his companion Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant). The story pokes a few holes in Who continuity, but is mostly an engaging yarn involving genetic manipulation, crossed time streams and humans as food (yes, you read that right) as well as a fair amount of location work in Seville. The Docs are kept apart for the bulk of the story and don’t actually meet until Episode Three, but when they do the pair get on like a TARDIS on fire and Troughton, aside from a grayer mop of hair, seems as if he never left the role. If you want to bask in a fun meeting of Doctors, this is the most engaging entry of the three.

The last time various Docs appeared in the same story was in 1993’s “Dimensions in Time”, which, like the upcoming special, was done for Children in Need. It’s quite frankly a dreadful two-part bit of nonsense that runs of all of 13 minutes and crams as many classic elements into that time frame. Moffat should have no problem topping the “Dimensions” script and the production team should find it just as easy to outdo the last multi-Doc entry. Davison looks great in the publicity shots, given that he last played the Doctor on-screen in 1984 when he was 33 – a younger man than Tennant is currently. Today Davison is 56 years young and while his hairline may have receded slightly and voice become somewhat more gravelly, he’ll no doubt do as wonderful a job at convincing viewers that he’s still the Doctor, as Troughton did back in ’85.

Discover Peter Davison as the Doctor for yourself by checking out either “Earthshock” or “The Caves of Androzani” (his final outing) on R1 DVD. Two new Davison-era DVDs will be hitting shelves on Nov. 6th – “Time-Flight” and “Arc of Infinity” (which saw the return of Omega from “The Three Doctors”). All three of the aforementioned multi-Doc stories are also available on R1 DVD.