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The Five Doctors is a special feature-length episode of the Britishmarker science fiction television series Doctor Who, produced in celebration of the programme's twentieth anniversary. It aired in the United Kingdom on 25 November 1983, although it had its world premiere in the United Statesmarker, on the Chicagomarker PBS station WTTW-TVmarker and various other PBS affiliates on 23 November the anniversary date.


Someone is plucking all the incarnations of the Doctor out of time and placing them in the Death Zone on Gallifrey, where they will meet old friends and enemies and play out the deadly Game of Rassilon, for the ultimate prize. But to lose is to win, and he who wins shall lose...


A mysterious figure begins to use a Time Scoop to bring the previous incarnations of the Doctor, some of his former Companions Susan Foreman, Sarah Jane Smith, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and his archenemies including the Daleks and Cybermen, into the Death Zone on Gallifrey; though the figure is able to bring the First, Second, and Third Doctor into the zone, the Fourth Doctor along with Romana become stuck in the time vortex. The Fifth Doctor, while relaxing on the Eye of Orion with Tegan and Turlough, suddenly feels pains as his former selves are taken from the time stream, and returns everyone to the TARDIS, setting course for Gallifrey. The various Doctors and companions separately meet up, with each of the Doctors independently recognizing the Death Zone and directing their companions towards the single large tower sitting in the middle of it, avoiding the various foes and monsters that have also been brought to the Zone.

On Gallifrey, the High Council of Time Lords, headed by Lord President Borusa and consisting of Chancellor Flavia and the Castellan, learn of the reactivation of the Death Zone, the abduction of the Doctor's former selves from the time line, and the drain of power from the Eye of Harmony resulting from those. They reluctantly agree to call the Master to assist the Doctors in the Death Zone, offering him a pardon and a new set of regenerations should he cooperate. The Master agrees, and accepts a copy of the Seal of the High Council to prove to the Doctors that he is working for them, and a transmat device that he can use to escape the Death Zone. In the Death Zone, the Master first encounters the Third Doctor, who accuses him of faking the Seal, and then the Fifth Doctor; when they are attacked by Cybermen, the Master is knocked out. The Fifth Doctor discovers the transmat device and uses it to return to the Capital, where he is informed of the situation by the Council. The Doctor, suspecting foul play, discovers that the transmat device included a homing beacon that would lure the Cybermen to it, and the Castellan is arrested on charges of being a traitor. A search of the Castellan's chambers reveals the Black Scrolls of Rassilon, preportedly containing forbidden Time Lord knowledge. Borusa burns the scrolls and orders the Castellan to be mind probed for interrogation, but the Castellan escapes and is shot down by a Citadel guard. Borusa considers the matter closed, but the Doctor confides in Flavia his doubts. When the two try to find Borusa in the Council room, they find him missing. The Doctor discovers a secret room, where they find Borusa at the controls of the Time Scoop. Borusa, desired to be President Eternal of Gallifrey, is intent on seeking immortality from the Tomb of Rassilon, hidden in the tower in the Death Zone, and had brought the Doctor and his former selves to it to clear the various hazards and traps within it. Borusa uses the Coronet of Rassilon to overpower the Doctor's will, taking momentary control of him.

Meanwhile, in the Death Zone, the other three incarnations of the Doctor have entered the tower through separate points, passed the various traps, and have converged in the Tomb, and reacquaint themselves with the various companions. They decipher a message in ancient Gallifreyan on Rassilon's Tomb, describing that anyone who wants immortality is free to take it by wearing Rassilon's ring, but warns that "to lose is to win and he who wins shall lose". The Master appears and tries to take the ring, but the Doctors' companions overpower him. The Doctors are then able to disable the field preventing the TARDIS from materializing in the tower, and it shortly arrives. With the TARDIS, they contact the Citadel, where the controlled Fifth Doctor instructs them to wait. Borusa and the Fifth Doctor transmat into the room, Borusa subjecting the Doctors' companions to a force field to prevent them from interfering. The other Doctors try to fight against the power of Borusa's mind with the Coronet, but they are interrupted by the voice of Rassilon. Borusa asserts to Rassilon that he is here for immortality, and while the other Doctors attempt to stop him, the First Doctor tells them to hold off. Borusa dons the ring, but soon screams out in pain as he is transformed into living rock as part of Rassilon's Tomb, the fate described by the riddle as the First Doctor had figured out. Rassilon's spirit returns the Master to his own time, and frees the Fourth Doctor from the Time Vortex; the other Doctors quickly refuse any further reward from Rassilon. The Doctors all leave their separate ways, leaving the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough alone. However, they are soon joined by Flavia and Citadel guards; Flavia insists that with Borusa's disappearance, the Council appointed the Doctor as President, an offer he cannot refuse by Gallifreyan law. Hesitant to take power, the Doctor orders Flavia back to the Citadel, where she will have power until he returns himself in his TARDIS, and quickly departs. The Doctor notes to his companions that Flavia will remain in power for a long time as he has no intention on returning to Gallifrey any time soon.

Cast notes

  • The role of the First Doctor was played by Richard Hurndall, as William Hartnell, who originally played the role, died in 1975. William Hartnell does make an appearance, however, in a pre-titles sequence taken from the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
  • Tom Baker declined to reprise his role as the Fourth Doctor, as he did not want to reappear in the series so recently after his departure (a decision he would later say that he regretted), so his appearance in the story was pieced together from footage filmed for the unaired serial Shada.
  • The scene with Jamie and Zoe was originally written with Zoe and Victoria Waterfield in mind. The Doctor would have realised the truth when Victoria called Lethbridge-Stewart "Brigadier", since Victoria had met the Brigadier only when he was a Colonel, in The Web of Fear. However, Deborah Watling was unable to make the recording dates. Frazer Hines was able to free himself up for a day's shooting, so Jamie was written in instead.
  • In the original drafts of the script, the Doctor/companion combinations were very different. Before Tom Baker decided not to appear, the Fourth Doctor would have been paired with Sarah, the Third Doctor with the Brigadier and the Second Doctor with Jamie. When Baker declined to appear and Frazer Hines proved unavailable, the scripts had to be altered. However, Hines was able to step in later for a cameo appearance, as noted above.
  • John Levene was asked to appear as Sergeant Benton but objected to the way in which the character interacted with the Second Doctor- as his role called for Benton not to recognise the Second Doctor, Levene stating that Benton would not forget who the Second Doctor was- and declined to participate. The scene was filmed with an unnamed sergeant in place of Benton.


  • This is only the second time in the series' history that there was a pre-credits sequence. Castrovalva (1982) was the first such story. Subsequently, Time and the Rani (1987) and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) also featured pre-credits teasers. The pre-credits sequence became a regular occurrence starting with the 2005 series episode The End of the World.
  • This serial also featured the debut of the new TARDIS console and room, the first redesign since 1977. This console would remain until the end of series production in 1989.
  • This serial ended fan speculation as to whether or not Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee's Doctors were regenerations or merely "changes of appearance". It also explicitly indicated in dialogue that the Davison incarnation of the Doctor was in fact the fifth, officially contradicting the Morbius Doctors speculation that had circulated since the The Brain of Morbius serial that there had been additional incarnations of the Doctor prior to Hartnell.
  • When asked by the Third Doctor as to whether he has regenerated again, the Master says, "Not exactly", referencing his stealing of Tremas' body as seen in the Fourth Doctor story The Keeper of Traken (1981).
  • This is the first time it is suggested that a new cycle of regenerations can be bestowed on a person (in this case the Master), implying that it could be possible to circumvent the twelve-regeneration limit established in The Deadly Assassin. However, the Master is occupying a non-Time Lord body, so whether this can be applied to a Time Lord who has already reached his thirteenth incarnation is unclear. Years later, however, the episode "Utopia" shows the Master regenerating and in the following episode "The Sound of Drums" indicates that he had been "resurrected" (the Master's own word, left unexplained) by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War, suggesting a new regeneration cycle was indeed bestowed upon him.
  • Three incarnations of Borusa previously appeared in The Deadly Assassin, The Invasion of Time and Arc of Infinity.
  • Dinah Sheridan makes a guest appearance as Flavia. The character has subsequently been mentioned in spin-off fiction as becoming President of the High Council and then subsequently removed from office due to a scandal (as detailed in the New Adventures novel, Happy Endings). In the new series, a musical cue composed by Murray Gold with ethereal sounding vocals is jokingly referred to as "Flavia's Theme" by the production team, who say it is Flavia's voice singing out from the time vortex.
  • When Flavia informs the (Davison) Doctor that he has been appointed President she states that she announces this for the second time. Although the Doctor had been President before (The Invasion of Time), Flavia had not appeared on screen before The Five Doctors.
  • One of the jewels from the Coronet of Rassilion would later play an important part in the Big Finish Productions Bernice Summerfield adventure The Crystal of Cantus.
  • No explanation is given for companion Kamelion's absence from this story.
  • The First Doctor does not quite recognise the Master ("Do I know you?"), and has to be reminded of their time at the Academy together. The Third Doctor does recognise him, however, though it seems not as easily as usual. The Second Doctor also appears to recognise the Master without hesitation, as does the Brigadier.

Retroactive perspectives

  • This story takes place after The Dalek Invasion of Earth from the point of view of the First Doctor and Susan, given Susan's mature appearance and the implication that they have been separated for some time.
  • Although it is never made clear exactly where this story takes place within the Second and Third Doctors' chronology, it is made clear that it takes place after the events of The Three Doctors. The Second Doctor mentions Omega while reminiscing with the Brigadier, and also makes a comment about his own replacement being "unpromising" when he is in UNIT headquarters and meets Lethbridge-Stewart's successor. The Third Doctor also refers to “that fellow in the check trousers and black frock-coat” when he meets the illusions of Mike Yates and Liz Shaw. The familiar and mock-antagonistic way that the Second and Third Doctors interact also suggests that The Five Doctors takes place after the events of The Three Doctors for them both. Since the First Doctor refers to the Second as "the little fellow", it is reasonable to assume that the story takes place later in his chronology as well.
  • The Second Doctor's method of determining that Jamie and Zoe are phantoms, which references the events of The War Games, is, seemingly, a continuity error. The memories of Jamie and Zoe's travels with the Doctor, as opposed to their respective initial adventures with him in their own home eras (The Highlanders and The Wheel in Space) were wiped in The War Games when they were returned to their own times at a moment just after they had left in the TARDIS. There are various fan explanations for this and it is noted that it is the Brigadier only that they should not have recognised as neither of them would remember meeting him in The Web of Fear and The Invasion respectively. (see Season 6B)
  • This story takes place some time between Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Planet of the Spiders from the Third Doctor's point of view, as he is driving Bessie when he encounters and recognises Sarah Jane, for whom events take place after K-9 and Company.
  • The Third Doctor reacts to Sarah's mimed description of the Fourth Doctor by saying, "Teeth and curls?" and telling her the change has not happened yet for him. Although the Third Doctor may just be interpreting her gestures, his accuracy has led some fans to believe that it implies a previous unseen encounter with the Fourth Doctor. According to Lis Sladen, on the twenty-fifth anniversary DVD commentary, the line was supposed to be Sladen's, but Pertwee negotiated with her for him to say it instead, leading to the problem. In the short story The Touch of the Nurazh by Stephen Hatcher from the anthology Short Trips: Monsters, an injury makes the Third Doctor begin to regenerate into the Fourth but the process is reversed by an alien intelligence that was attempting to possess the Doctor. This is witnessed by Jo Grant, and the theory is that she subsequently describes the Fourth Doctor's appearance to the Third.
  • This story occurs after Mawdryn Undead from the Brigadier's point of view, given that he recognises both Tegan and the Fifth Doctor.
  • At the start of the episode, Sarah Jane Smith is shown with K-9, a direct reference to the spin-off pilot of two years earlier, K-9 and Company. The two characters later returned in the Tenth Doctor story School Reunion.
  • Rassilon is seen briefly in this story, but not in any other TV tales. He does return in some Big Finish audios such as Neverland and Zagreus, where he is revealed to still be alive in some form in the Matrix as he attempts to turn the Eighth Doctor into his assassin to eliminate a race that he perceives as a threat.
  • Sarah Jane shows no concern about K-9 being visible to passers-by in her yard, and her gate bears a sign, "beware of dog". In "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith", however, she hides him and panics when he rushes past her fiance, quickly making up a cover story. Her gate in the later series does not bear a warning sign.


  • The working title for this story was The Six Doctors. It would have been written by former script editor Robert Holmes and would have featured the Cybermen and their kidnapping of the five incarnations of the Doctor; in their attempt to extract Time Lord DNA to turn themselves into "Cyberlords", the twist being that the First Doctor and Susan would actually be android impostors (the former being the "Sixth Doctor" of the title) and the Second Doctor would have saved the day. However, Holmes dropped out at an early stage and another former script editor, Terrance Dicks, was brought in instead. Some elements of this plotline would be reused in Holmes's own The Two Doctors.
  • The original script featured an appearance by the Autons, last seen in Terror of the Autons. After being dropped into the Death Zone, Sarah would have been attacked by a group of them before being rescued by the Third Doctor. However, due to budgetary restrictions, the scene was dropped and replaced in the finished version.
  • Just before she meets the Third Doctor, Sarah falls a few feet down what fans have generally considered a rather unconvincing slope. In the novelisation, Sarah actually steps off a cliff. This was what was originally intended in the script, but for budgetary reasons the sequence was changed.
  • Nathan-Turner's first choice of director for the story was Waris Hussein, who had directed the first ever Doctor Who serial, An Unearthly Child, in 1963. However, Hussein was in America at the time and was unable to accept the offer. Nathan-Turner then asked another veteran director, Douglas Camfield, to direct but he also declined. Camfield was also very ill with heart disease, and this may have had an impact on his decision not to direct the production. He died of a heart attack early in 1984.
  • The programme is officially a co-production with the Australian Broadcasting Corporationmarker, although the production team were not aware of this during production and the agreement in effect amounted to little more than a pre-production purchase pact.
  • The story was prepared in two formats: the ninety-minute version and a four-part version, the latter designed for international distribution or repeat broadcasting in the ordinary series run. The episode breaks were, respectively: Sarah falling down the slope, the Cybermen placing their bomb outside the TARDIS while Susan and Turlough watch; and the Master appearing behind the First Doctor and Tegan while in the Dark Tower.
  • In the various publicity photos of the five Doctors from this story, a waxwork model of Tom Baker from a 1980 Doctor Who Exhibition in Madame Tussaud'smarker was used. According to producer John Nathan-Turner, Baker had agreed to do the photocall for the 20th anniversary but, suspecting that he might not turn up, Nathan-Turner organised for the waxwork to be on location.
  • This is the only programme from the classic series of Doctor Who for which all recorded and filmed material, including alternate and unused takes, fluffed scenes and so forth, still exists in broadcast-quality format. This allowed for the creation of the 1995 version of the story.
  • The end credits featured a specially mixed version of the theme music, which began with Delia Derbyshire's original 1960s arrangement and then segued into the Peter Howell arrangement being used by the series at the time (the former being played at a slightly higher speed to match the tempo of the latter). This arrangement was only used on this one occasion and was the last time that the Derbyshire version was heard during the show's original run. A unique arrangement of the opening credits music was also used, which ended in a brief coda phrase that was never used in any other serial.
  • The Five Doctors sound was recorded in 4 channel stereo, but broadcast in mono. The later DVD releases had a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

Outside references

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in November 1983; it was the only Target novelisation to be published before its story was transmitted.

Broadcast, VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD releases

Original UK DVD release front cover.
  • The Five Doctors was first broadcast in the United Statesmarker on the actual date of the programme's 20th anniversary. The broadcast in the United Kingdom was delayed two days so it could coincide with the BBC's Children in Need charity night. There were a few segments in the BBC broadcast that had not been shown in the US airing: for example, the Fourth Doctor's recitation of former Cambridge alumni (in the sequence lifted from Shada) and some of the Dalek chase scene.
  • A four-part-serial version of the story was shown on BBC One, nightly between 14 August and 17 August 1984 at 6.15pm.
  • The story was first released on VHS and Betamax in September 1985, accidentally using the slightly shorter version sold to the USA. In 1990, the story was re-released, on VHS only, using the original UK broadcast edit. This version was also released on US Laserdisc in 1994.
  • A Special Edition of the episode, with updated special effects, surround-sound compatibility and an alternate editing of the raw material was released on VHS in 1995 in a box set with the video of The King's Demons and a limited edition postcard album.
  • The Special Edition was the first Doctor Who story to be released on DVD, on 1 November 1999. The Region 1 version has a commentary track by Peter Davison and writer Terrance Dicks. This would later be carried over to the 2008 Re-release in Region 2.
  • On 22 August 2005 it was announced that The Five Doctors would be the first Doctor Who story to be made available to download to mobile phones, in a deal between BBC Worldwide and the technology firm Rok Player.
  • The story was re-released as a 25th. anniversary edition DVD on 3 March 2008. This release contains both the original broadcast version and the special edition.
  • The special was a free gift of issue 4 of Doctor Who DVD Files.

Special Edition differences

  • Several scenes have been extended with previously unused footage. Some scenes also have new musical cues.
  • The Time Scoops's black triangles have been replaced with a new effect, resembling an upside-down whirlwind.
  • Thunder sound-effects have been added to the scenes of the First Doctor trapped in the mirror-maze as well as to the scene of him outside the front gate.
  • All beam effects including the boobytrapped checkerboard floor have been redone.
  • The effect of the Fifth Doctor and the phantoms fading away have been altered to look less similar.
  • The image and visual-effect of the Fourth Doctor stuck in the time-vortex has been changed, it no longer features Romana.
  • Rassillon's voice has been altered to sound more dramatic.
  • The last scene of the Fourth Doctor returned to his proper place in space and time has been changed to a different clip from Shada.
  • The scene at the end in which the various Doctors depart in their TARDISes has been replaced with "Time Scoops" departing instead.
  • Whilst the fifth Doctor and the Master are talking (having just met), the cyberman who catches sight of them no longer says "Ah!" to himself.


External links


Target novelisation

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