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Recap: Doctor Who 20th AS "The Five Doctors"
One of these things is not like the others.note 
"What?! No, not the mind probe."
The Castellan is mildly alarmed at his impending mental torture, but the actor just can't handle the lines.

This is a rarity for Doctor Who twofold over. First, it's a multi-Doctor adventure, which had only been done once before and has only been done thrice since then in the TV show proper. Second, this was also the 20th anniversary special for Doctor Who, aired during Children in Need night (though US broadcasting was two days before, on the actual anniversary date of November 23). Finally, this was presented as a Who-movie in one massive part rather than a multi-part adventure, though it didn't stop the BBC from turning it into a 4-parter a few years down the road.


The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough have a vacation from their last adventure at the Eye of Orion. (Kamelion, who joined last time, is off at Not Important to This Episode Camp.) Things are mighty peaceful, until the Fifth Doctor is suddenly struck by pain and has to be dragged back inside his TARDIS. The Fifth Doctor makes mention of something taking away his older lives. (Well, younger lives, technically. But still older. Earlier lives? Oh, it could give you a headache...)

As it turns out, a villain is taking the Doctor's previous lives out of time and space. The First Doctor (here played by Richard Hurndall, as William Hartnell passed away 8 years prior) is stolen away as he meanders around a garden. The Second Doctor is whisked away as he and The Brigadier reminisce about old times, just when the Brigadier is retiring. The Third Doctor is kidnapped along with his car Bessie as they drive along the countryside. Sarah Jane Smith is whipped away from her home and robot dog. The Fourth Doctor... well, something unspecified went wrong, and he's stuck somewhere in time with Romana. note  Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor, his companions and his TARDIS are finally dragged off somewhere else...

Cut to Gallifrey. The Time Lords are getting worried. Lord President Borusa, previously seen throughout many adventures, calls for a high council meeting. Someone has kidnapped the Doctor out of time and space, and the Fourth Doctor being stuck in time is a problem. There's only one person they can trust to rescue the Doctor...

The Master, of course!

Borusa promises the Master a new regeneration cycle if he can pull this off. This becomes important much later. And the Master seems all too happy to help out, because "a cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about." He takes a teleport recall device with him to keep in touch with the Time Lords. Hmm...

The First Doctor, wandering through an odd set of hallways, runs into his granddaughter Susan — whom we've not seen since 1964! Quickly, they both run into trouble as a Dalek shows up, albeit one looking like it needs some repair. The Doctor and Susan quickly outwit the Dalek, which shoots itself in the face and explodes. It takes out a part of the wall and showing that they have a rather unfortunate problem: outside lies the Tower of Rassilon. The Doctor correctly surmises that not only are they on Gallifrey, but in the evocatively-named Death Zone! As they continue walking on, they notice a familiar blue box off in the distance...

Meanwhile, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier run around and away from Cybermen and also find the Tower of Rassilon. This causes the Second Doctor to wonder if they're playing "the Game of Rassilon" while he recites an old nursery rhyme about the tower (the Nursery Rhyme of Rassilon?). The Third and his giant plaid mantle stumble across Sarah Jane, who has just helplessly fallen down what can only be called a gentle, harmless slope. Sarah Jane tries to figure things out for a few seconds before giving up: as she'd already seen the Third Doctor regenerate into the Fourth, she's confused by Three showing up again, but eventually decides to roll with it. (Three, for his part, is already familiar with "All Teeth And Curls".) They quickly run into his "best enemy" the Master, and the Third Doctor assumes that this is all his doing, steals the Master's proof of working for the Time Lords, claiming he'll return it later (he never does), and merrily drives off again, leaving the Master surrounded by a lot of random explosions.

Slowly awakening in his TARDIS, the Fifth Doctor finds himself staring into the face of his first incarnation and his granddaughter. Meanwhile, Tegan and Turlough go to get everyone tea... but come back with a feast, and absinthe! Let the partying commence! It's finally decided that the Fifth, Tegan and Susan will try to get to the Tower of Rassilon, while the First stays behind to munch on fruit and, presumably, Turlough drinks the absinthe. note  As the Fifth and companions head out, they quickly run into the Master, who does at least get a little trust from the Doctor before Cybermen show up and blow things up. The Master is knocked unconscious. The Fifth Doctor quickly steals his teleportation device and is whisked back to the high council. Tegan and Susan run off back to the TARDIS, leaving the Master for dead... and Susan sprains her ankle in a tribute to longtime Susan-tormenting writer Terry Nation.

The Fifth Doctor quickly figures out how badly things are going up at the Capitol, and the Castellan is found to have betrayed them all and his promptly executed. This doesn't sit right with Five, who sneaks around to explore. The First Doctor and Tegan set out to the Tower of Rassilon. The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane are menaced by Cybermen, but are unintentionally saved by a guardian robot that just kills anything that moves. (A "Raston Warrior Robot", which was such an immensely awesome "monster" it's bewildering they only ever used it once.) They quickly climb up a mountain through a series of cuts and climb over a massive ravine to reach the roof entrance for the Tower of Rassilon. The Second Doctor and the Brigadier, however, go through a cave system (the Cave System of Rassilon?) beneath, fight off a random Yeti, and enter the tower via the Basement Entrance of Rassilon. The Third encounters hallucinations of Mike and Liz, and the Second is confronted by Jamie and Zoe, but they quickly realise that it's all a bunch of holograms. Back in the Lobby of Rassilon, Tegan and the First Doctor encounter a hopscotch-shaped booby trap. Fortunately, the Master wanders by just in time to smirk smugly, defeat all the Cybermen, and toss off a cryptic hint to his old Academy buddy. Thank goodness for small favors.

Finally, the first three Doctors are together in the Hall of Rassilon and begin to work out exactly what in Rassilon is going on. Sarah Jane, the Brigadier and Tegan are happy to see one another. The Master shows up, revealing that... contrary to the Doctors' collective expectations, he's not the architect of mayhem this time around. But, as long as he's here in the Tomb of Rassilon, he still plans to steal the immortality-granting Ring of Rassilon from off the Corpse of Rassilon that's lying in state over there in the Casket of Rassilon. However, he will first enjoy killing everyone else in the room with his Tissue Compression Eliminator, including his greatest enemy four times over... until the Brigadier punches him in the face, and the Master is out cold for the rest of the story.

Off in the High Council of Time Lords, the Fifth Doctor plays the Harp of Rassilon, which trips a hidden door to the Secret Tree Fort of Rassilon, which means he finally finds out who is behind all of this: Lord President Borusa! It's pretty apparent that Borusa has gone mad with power and wants that Ring of Rassilon to rule Gallifrey utterly forever. He then uses the Coronet of Rassilon to brainwash the Fifth into helping him out, and goes off with him to the Tower to confront the other three Doctors...

The TARDIS finally shows up at the Tower. This allows Turlough and Susan to finally leave the TARDIS. They spent most of the adventure being menaced by Cybermen, who were trying to set up an incredibly lame bomb outside the TARDIS for some reason. They're immediately frozen in place by Borusa when he shows up with the zombified Fifth Doctor. The other three Doctors do some mental struggling and free the Fifth Doctor from his possessed form. But they're unable to stop Borusa from finishing off the Game of Rassilon and claiming the Ring of Rassilon from Rassilon himself. Rassilon is not even remotely dead, and booms at Borusa to decide if he really wants to be immortal. The First Doctor, having a lightbulb moment, tells Rassilon to go for it.

The so-called immortality (of Rassilon) is not as it appears. Borusa is instantly sucked into the Exposed Casket of Rassilon — forever to be a fully-aware chunk of stone, unable to move. Rassilon sends the other three Doctors and their companions off on their merry ways and frees the Fourth Doctor from whatever the Rassilon was wrong with him and Romana by copious application of the Stock Footage of Tom Baker of Rassillon. The other Time Lords show up in quick succession after the action is over (typical, really) and proceed to force the Fifth Doctor into becoming the Presidency of Gallifrey again. Since he has no choice, he names Lady Flavia his representative, tells the Time Lords to go wait for him in the Capitol for a bit, orders his companions into the TARDIS, and hastily vworps off with no intention of visiting Gallifrey ever again. After all, he explains with a grin, "that's how it all started."


This is it — one of the best tales of Doctor Who. The cast and crew loved working on it, the fans loved it... what's more to say? Well, aside from the fact that this story actually went through several iterations. One was that there was to be a story called "The Six Doctors", featuring an android version of the First Doctor called "Doctor Wil". Another was a full story featuring Tom Baker alongside the other Doctors... but it had a heavy focus on him (author Terrance Dicks would explain that he felt Tom's Doctor was the most likely to fall to evil, thus having the meat of the story). This was changed into the final version, with most of Tom's role going to then-current Doctor Peter Davison. A few of Tom's lines have snuck into Peter's lines, though.

This story has had two DVD releases: the 25th anniversary release (an anniversary of an anniversary?) is the one to get. Not only does it have the original release, it contains two versions of the story and three DVD Commentary tracks... one with Peter Davison and writer Terrance Dicks, one with most of the rest of the actors, and as an Easter Egg, a warm-hearted geekfest with 10th Doctor David Tennant, New Series script editor Helen Raynor and New Series producer Phil Collinson. There are even a handful of documentaries for the era that long outstrip the actual length of the special: one narrated by 6th Doctor Colin Baker and the other narrated by 8th Doctor Paul McGann.

It can be watched here.

The Tropes of Rassilon:

  • And I Must Scream: Borusa's fate.
  • Author Appeal: Script Editor Eric Saward demanded Cybermen, writer Terrance Dicks hated them.note  Notice that scene of the Raston Warrior Robot slaughtering the Cybermen, much less the Master making sure many, many more Cybermen died? Yeah...
  • Badass: The Raston Warrior Robot. Sliced apart an entire platoon of Cybermen.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: This is the entire premise of the climax. When they encounter the Tomb of Rassilon and Borusa is condemned to eternal stasis as the price of true immortality; the First Doctor clearly knew what the fate of anyone who sought such immortality would be, and states that Rassilon knew that "immortality is a trap", and therefore set up his game to ensnare anyone who actively sought it.
  • Black Cloak: The Master looks like he's cosplaying Dracula. Apparently, the Transmat was nice enough to give The Master the black cloak. Note that he isn't wearing one when he steps into the Transmat and is shown wearing it upon arriving at the Forbidden Zone.
  • The Blank: The Raston Warrior Robot
  • Broken Pedestal: Borusa's Face-Heel Turn.
  • The Bus Came Back
  • Call Back:
    • Within five minutes into the first episode of her last serial,, Susan injures her ankle. Guess what happens within her first five minutes of screentime?
    • Two to "The Three Doctors". The first is that the Second Doctor mentions Omega.
    • The second has two components from the First Doctor's final line from that serial:
      • The First Doctor was the only Doctor to be recast from the original (due to William Hartnell's death in the mid-70s).
      • The First Doctor is the one who finds the solution (by realizing Rassilon's trap).
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: The captured Time Lords in the Tomb of Rassilon.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Raston Warrior Robot vs. Cybermen. It rips roughly a dozen of them apart in seconds!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Two has a lot of fun constantly insulting the Brig and Three.
    Two: And who is this?
    The Brigadier: That's Colonel Crichton, my replacement.
    Two: (shakes Crichton's hand) Ah. Yes, mine was pretty unpromising too.
  • Deus ex Machina: Rassilon. However, considering he's alive even after death, it's understandable that he would have so much power.
  • Dull Surprise: The Castellan's mild alarm at the Mind Probe of Rassilon.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness
  • Evil Wears Black: Borusa changes from his normal white robes into black whenever he's operating the Time Scoop.
  • Fake Shemp:
    • The Fourth Doctor and Romana were portrayed using clips from the unaired "Shada". Tom had originally agreed to appear in the story until JNT rescheduled the shooting dates to fit in with Pat's plans.
    • As seen above, the Fourth Doctor was played in all publicity stills by Tom Baker's waxwork from Madame Tussauds. How realistic it looks is up to you, although in a few shots the other actors are clearly taking the piss.
  • Fanservice: Justified, since this was the 20th anniversary. Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, all five incarnations of the Doctor (more or less) and the lovely female companions were put on screen for the loyal viewers.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Good ol' Borusa.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: There's quite a few subplots to keep track of. Turlough and Sarah are Trapped by Mountain Lions, there's the Master's Heel-Face Revolving Door, Mindcontrolled Five and Borusa, and finally all the Doctors gathering at the Tower.
  • Future Me Scares Me: Devolved into a minor bitching match between Doctor-incarnations. Two and Three still can't stand each other and have a lot of fun trading insults. Everyone gets along pretty well with Five, though, although they're not impressed by his decorative vegetable.
  • Game Within a Game: Trope name even invoked by Lord President Borusa.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: All five Doctors (particularly impressive, as Tom Baker never showed up alongside the others), the Master, Rassilon, Borusa... it's a miracle any scenery was left for filming!
  • Hand of Death: Used for much of the story until Borusa's role as the main villain is revealed.
  • Have We Met Yet?: The First Doctor asks this of The Master when they run into each other in Rassilon's Tower. While they both went to the same school in their youth (something The Master mentions), The Master had already changed his appearance due to regenerations and body-snatching. The Master actually finds The First Doctor's confusion amusing.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: The Master.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: The Brig sneaks up behind the Master, quips "nice to see you again!", and knocks him out.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The Death Zone!
  • I Hate Past Me: As One through Four are heading back to their respective times, Five states, "I'm definitely not the man I was. Thank goodness!"
  • Jerkass:
    • Seriously, Doctors, the Master was actually trying to help (mostly) this time. The fifth Doctor at least had the decency to admit to doing him a disservice.
    • In his commentary, Terrance Dicks admits that he'd had some difficulties with Jon Pertwee, and took quite some pleasure in portraying Three as "pigheaded and completely wrong."
  • Kneel Before Zod: Well, Borusa.
  • Large Ham: Try to name just one.
  • Logo Joke: As if the '90s BBC Video ident didn't sound ominous enough, the 1995 VHS release began with it being time scooped after doing its schtick. It was also included on the 25th Anniversary DVD release as an Easter Egg.
  • Magic Music
  • The Master
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: President Borusa, having manipulated the Doctors into granting him access to Rassilon's tomb, claims the reward of immortality promised to the winner of the game of death. Rassilon grants it, which, unfortunately for Borusa, takes the form of being turned into a living statue.
  • Milestone Celebration
  • Mind Probe: No, not the mind... probe.
  • The Movie: A 90-minute special with 5 Doctors, 6 companions and a host of Monsters.
  • Not Me This Time: Poor Master. He really was just trying to help.
  • The Nth Doctor: In spades!
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: The Fourth Doctor and Romana on the Cam in a punt.
  • Phantom Zone Picture: Though the CGI special edition DVD changes this to a weird swirly-cone effect.
  • Prepositional Phrase Equals Coolness: The Snowclone of Rassilon.
  • Put on a Bus: What happened to the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker would later come to regret not appearing in the special.
  • Rummage Fail: Trying to find something useful in his pockets, the Second Doctor first produces a slingshot (which he throws away), an apple (which he throws away), and a bag of jelly babies (which he hands to the Brigadier for safekeeping).
  • Running Gag: Susan twists her ankle, and Three decides to Reverse the Polarity of the neutron flow. He also tells Sarah Jane "I'll explain later".
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After the Fifth Doctor is crowned President of Gallifrey he waits until nobody's looking, and makes a beeline for the TARDIS.
  • Some Kind Of Forcefield: Actually, not really...
  • Songs in the Key of Lock: The door to Borusa's hidden chamber is opened by playing a specific melody on the Harp of Rassilon.
  • Take That:
    First Doctor:Well, well, well, so two of them made it. I wonder what happened to the other.
  • Taken for Granite: Poor Borusa.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: The Doctors remember their previous encounters with each other. Two also remembers Omega just fine. And he knows that Jamie and Zoe had their minds wiped, even though that happened just before he turned into Three, so there's no way for him to be aware of that when he's just travelling about freely. The BBC eventually officially declared that the "Season 6B" theory makes sense.
  • Tracking Device: The villain plants a tracking device in the transmat recall device. Faithful to the trope, it flashes and beeps (though, to the villain's credit, neither of these is apparent until the Doctor prises the recall device open looking for it).
  • The X of Y: The Snowclone of Rassilon.
  • Vanilla Edition: In 1999, the BBC launched their DVD range, choosing this story to represent Doctor Who in the first batch of BBC DVDs. The 1999 release of this story only contained the 1995 Special Edition edit (chosen to take advantage of the Dolby Digital sound), CGI TARDIS console menus, and an isolated music soundtrack (which was low-pitched and out of sync). The US 2001 release of the vanilla DVD added a commentary to it. In 2008, an updated DVD with tons of special features and the option of the original edition and special edition.


Doctor Who S20 E6 'The King's Demons"Recap/Doctor WhoDoctor Who S21 E1 'Warriors of the Deep"

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