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Recap / Doctor Who 20th AS "The Five Doctors"

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The image caption of Rassilon!
Starring three oldschool Doctors, one recast Doctor, and a Tom Baker waxwork along with several classic companions.note 

"What?! No, not the mind probe."
The Castellan (mildly alarmed at his impending mental torture, but the actor just can't handle the lines)

The one of Rassilon!

This is a rarity for Doctor Who twofold over. First, it's a multi-Doctor adventure, which had only been done once before ("The Three Doctors") and has only been done four times since then ("The Two Doctors", "Time Crash", "The Day of the Doctor" and "Twice Upon a Time"note ) in the TV show proper. Second, this was also the 20th anniversary special for Doctor Who, aired during Children in Need night on November 25, 1983 (though US broadcasting was two days before, on the actual anniversary date of November 23).

Written by Terrance Dicks.

The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough have a vacation from their last adventure at the Eye of Orion. (Kamelion, who joined last time, is not present.) Things are mighty peaceful, until the Fifth Doctor is suddenly struck by pain and has to be dragged back inside his TARDIS (which is now sporting a fancy new console design; he'd stick with this one for the remainder of the Classic Series). 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, with the retired Brigadier about to attend a reunion. 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 in a time eddy 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 (remember that the Time Lords can do that; it becomes important much later). And the Master seems all too happy to help out, both to finally have a Time Lord body again and 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 (as Daleks tend to do). It takes out a part of the wall and shows 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 (rather nostalgic, eh?) 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 Doctor 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 apparently 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 this time around before the 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 again 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 accused of betraying them all and is promptly shot dead while "trying to escape". 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 (which never happened onscreen during Three's era), but are unintentionally saved by a guardian robot that looks suspiciously like a man in a silver bodysuit and simply kills anything that moves through the power of extreme javelin tossing (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 some random Yeti (whether or not the Great Intelligence has any standing here is never clarified), 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 not Victoria on account of Deborah Watling being unavailable), however they quickly realise that it's all a bunch of Holograms of Rassilon. Back in the Lobby of Rassilon, Tegan and the First Doctor encounter a Hopscotch-Shaped Booby Trap of Rassilon. 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 (of Rassilon) with his Tissue Compression Eliminator (not of Rassilon), including his greatest enemy three times over... until the Brigadier punches him in the face, recognizing him on sight even though Anthony Ainley bears only a passing resemblance to Roger Delgado (it probably helps that he was holding a TCE and spouting some very Master-y aphorisms— do remember that the Brig is well aware of the trope this show named), 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 the Hidden Door of Rassilon 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 in a jarringly reedy voice (in the original version at least; the Special Edition makes it more booming) 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 of Rassilon, unable to move. After a bit of teasing, Rassilon sends the other three Doctors and their companions off on their merry ways and frees the Fourth Doctor and Romana from whatever the Rassilon was wrong with them by copious application of stock footage of Tom Baker. The Master also vanished, but Rassilon reassures them that he will pay for his crimes eventually before returning to the Eternal Rest of Rassilon (for now). 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 President of Gallifrey again. With no choice but to accept, he names Lady Flavia his representative, tells the Time Lords to go wait for him in the Capitol, orders his companions into the TARDIS, and hastily vworps off with no intention of visiting Gallifrey ever again (this would bite him in the ass a few seasons down the road). After all, he explains with a grin, "that's how it all started."

This is 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 part, though.

This story has had two DVD releases (of Rassilon): the 25th anniversary release (an anniversary of an anniversary?) is the one to get, as the initial release was one of the first DVDs ever, and consequently did not take full advantage of the format, as well as only including the BBC Video "Special Edition." Not only does the rerelease have the original version, it contains the Special Edition 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 Sixth Doctor Colin Baker and the other narrated by Eighth Doctor Paul McGann.

The Tropes of Rassilon:

  • '70s Hair: The oft-overlooked Muttonchops of Rassilon. Considering how much John Nathan-Turner prioritized modernizing Doctor Who for the '80s in season 18, this is likely just to drive home the fact that Rassilon is very, very old and has almost literally been living under a rock for ages.
  • '80s Hair: Sarah Jane dons a voluminous perm this time around, following the various styles of '70s Hair seen during both her adventures with the Third and Fourth Doctors and the temporally nonspecific hairstyle seen in K-9 and Company.
  • Actor Allusion: Three insults Two by calling him a scarecrow; Jon Pertwee had gone on to play Worzel Gummidge (not only that, but he had enjoyed a hit record with a song he recorded as Worzel).
  • Agony Beam: Castellan's reaction to being threatened with the mind probe implies that it's an unpleasant experience.
  • Alice Allusion: The Fifth Doctor misquotes a line from Through the Looking-Glass, saying "Like Alice, I try to believe three impossible things before breakfast." The actual line is "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast" and it is said by the White Queen, not Alice. Also, people and places appear and disappear without reason, including teleportation, and the central plot involves the Doctor (Alice) being promoted to President (Queen) by a Chancellor (another Queen). There's even a scene with Cybermen on a chessboard.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: In-Universe, the Second Doctor points out that while Rassilon is remembered as the greatest single figure in Time Lord history, who was interred in the Dark Tower upon his death. But he brings up stories that Rassilon was a ruthless dictator who was overthrown and imprisoned in the Tower as penance.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: Although not commercially available, RiffTrax did a live show in 2017.
  • And I Must Scream: Anyone who claims the Ring of Rassilon is granted true immortality, as an unmoving (but still aware) stone carving on Rassilon's tomb, which ends up being Borusa's fate. When Rassilon asked the collected incarnations of the Doctor if they wanted the same, you can understand why they all chorused, "No, no, no, no!" in sheer fright of sharing that fate.
  • Armed with Canon / 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... Yet, despite how easily they are outwitted and massacred in the story, the Fifth Doctor notes to the High Council that Cybermen had been banned from participating in the Game long ago, as "they play too well."
  • 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, stating that Rassilon knew that "immortality is a trap", and therefore set up his game to ensnare anyone who actively sought it.
  • Big Bad: Lord President Borusa
  • 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 in the Death Zone (although, contrary to popular belief, his actual arrival occurs off screen). Credit where it's due to Anthony Ainley — he pulls the cape off well.
  • The Blank: The Raston Warrior Robot is a faceless, featureless humanoid.
  • Broken Heel: Susan twists her ankle while fleeing from the Cybermen.
  • Broken Pedestal: Borusa's Face–Heel Turn.
  • The Bus Came Back: For Sarah Jane and definitely Susan, the latter having been waiting 19 years (in real audience time) for the bus to come back for her.
  • Busman's Holiday: The Fifth Doctor finally gets to the Eye of Orion and he gets roped into the story.
  • Call-Back:
    • Two to "The Three Doctors". The first is that the Second Doctor mentions Omega, and the second is the two references from the First Doctor's final line from that serial: "I shudder to think what you'll do without me." The First Doctor was the only Doctor to be recast from the original, due to William Hartnell's death in 1975; and he's also the one who finds the solution (by realizing Rassilon's trap).
    • The Brigadier recognizes Tegan and later the Fifth Doctor.
    • The Brigadier's line, "Wonderful chap, all of them," is a slightly altered version of a line he said in "The Three Doctors", "Wonderful chap, both of him".
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: The captured Time Lords in the Tomb of Rassilon.
  • Characterization Marches On: In his first actual on-screen appearance, Rassilon is characterized as a largely benevolent figure who nonetheless keeps a Fate Worse than Death in store for any would-be dictators. Most other appearances he's had in the franchise, both in the TV series and the expanded universe, has depicted him as a Bad Boss at best, and an Omnicidal Maniac at worst.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • 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.
  • Doesn't Trust Those Guys: The Cybermen on the Master: "He is an alien. Aliens are not to be trusted". The Cyberleader then disagrees: "It is not necessary to trust him".
  • Doom as Test Prize: Rassilon's promise of immortality is actually And I Must Scream.
  • Doom Magnet: The Brigadier outright calls the Doctor this, telling Two that "you attract trouble, Doctor; you always did."
  • Dull Surprise: The Castellan's infamously mild alarm at the Mind Probe of Rassilon.
  • Easter Egg: In the pre-Internet era, many viewers didn't realize that the footage of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward was taken from a never-broadcast story, "Shada". This was the first broadcast of any footage from the story.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Tower of Rassilon.
  • Evil Wears Black:
    • Borusa changes from his normal white robes into black whenever he's operating the Time Scoop.
    • The Master, of course, is always dressed in black.
  • Extra-Long Episode: The story was presented not as a typical serial (as was the case with the previous anniversary special), but as a complete ninety-minute episode, making it the longest single episode in the show's history, outrunning even the 1996 TV movie by just a minute. That said, it didn't stop the BBC from having "The Five Doctors" Edited for Syndication into a 4-parter a few years down the road.
  • Face–Heel Turn: This incarnation of Borusa serves as the story's primary antagonist, orchestrating the Game of Rassilon in a selfish and power-hungry bid to become Lord President for all eternity.
  • Fake Shemp:
    • The Fourth Doctor and Romana were portrayed using clips from the unaired "Shada". Baker had originally agreed to appear in the story, but declined to return so soon after his departure from the series two years before.
    • 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.
  • Fatal Fireworks: The Second Doctor uses a firework to drive off a Yeti in the tunnels under Rassilon's Tower.
  • Fatal MacGuffin: Borusa uses the Coronet to prevent the Doctors' companions from interfering while he speaks to Rassilon. An image of Rassilon appears above the tomb and offers Borusa his ring as the key to immortality. The other Doctors try to stop Borusa, but the First Doctor tells them to hold off. Borusa dons the Ring, but then shortly disappears, becoming living stone that is part of Rassilon's tomb. The First Doctor realised what fate the tomb's writing foretold: immortality, but at a cost.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Good ol' Borusa gets his immortality alright... as a bas relief on Rassilon's elaborate stone bier.
  • Flash Step: The Raston Warrior Robot is described by the Doctor as "fast as lightning", and indeed it seems to teleport from spot to spot rather than moving.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: There's quite a few subplots to keep track of. Turlough and Susan are Trapped by Mountain Lionsinvoked, there's the Master's Heel–Face Revolving Door, mind-controlled 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: The trope name is even invoked by Lord President Borusa.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The 1995 Special Edition, which reinstated all the known deleted scenes (irrespective of whether or not they actually made sense), updated the special effects, deepened Rassilon's voice, and remixed the sound in stereo.
  • Giving Them the Strip: The Second Doctor waltzes into UNIT headquarters like he owns the place in order to visit The Brigadier. A sergeant tries to stop him and grabs his coat, only for the Doctor to spin around so that he has just handed the coat to him, and thanks him for taking it.
  • Gorn: Terrance Dicks uses the excuse that they're cyborgs to go absolutely wild on the Cybermen, who (between the Raston Warrior Robot and the chessboard trap) get stabbed, shot, beheaded, dismembered, fried, burned and melted, all while screaming and groaning pathetically. One even pukes up liquid (apparently very milky tea) as it dies!
  • 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.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: The story starts with the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough on the Eye of Orion for a bit of relaxation thanks to "the high bombardment of positive ions."
  • 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.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The musical code that will unlock Rassilon's secret chamber appears on a piece of sheet music depicted in a nearby painting.
  • High Collar of Doom: The Master not only wears one of these (and regulation evil villain's cloak), he appears to obtain it while teleporting (via a "power-boosted open-ended transmat beam").
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place:
    • The Death Zone!
    • The Tomb of Rassilon. Or the alternate name the First Doctor gives it: The Dark Tower.
  • I Hate Past Me:
    • As the First to Fourth Doctors are heading back to their respective times, the Fifth states, "I'm definitely not the man I was. Thank goodness!"
    • The Third Doctor still doesn't get along particularly well with the Second, calling him "scarecrow" at one point. Humorously, in the 1960s comic strips, scarecrows kill the Second Doctor later in his timeline.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: The Doctor's fifth incarnation experiences this trope at length, complete with ambiguous chest pains. He puts this down to "a twinge of cosmic angst", chunks of his past "detaching themselves like melting icebergs", "being diminished— whittled away piece by piece", and "being sucked into a time vortex". Staggering around, repeatedly fainting, and eighties special effects ensue.
  • Improvised Zipline: The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane use a cable stolen from the Raston Warrior Robot to zipline onto the roof of the Tower of Rassilon.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: The large, blinking tracking bug that is concealed inside the Master's recall device. The High Council smash it once they find it, but by then it has done its job and led the Cybermen to the Master.
  • Indy Ploy: The Third Doctor certainly says something along those lines in "The Five Doctors":
    Sarah Jane: Look, do you think this is wise, Doctor? I mean, well, whatever's in that Tower, it's got enormous powers and... well, what can we do against it?
    The Doctor: What I've always done, Sarah Jane: improvise.
  • Irony:
    • A meta-example; at one point the First Doctor, when challenged that he isn't the Doctor, declares that he is in fact "the original, you might say!" Of course, the actor playing him was actually a stand-in for William Hartnell, the actual original Doctor, who'd passed away several years before.
    • invoked While the story is called The FIVE Doctors and five Doctors are seen, only THREE of the original actors are seen in new footage as their Doctors between The Other Darrin and Written-In Absence. In effect, this special has the same number of actual doctors as "The Three Doctors" ten years previously. Bonus points with two of them being in both specials.
    • The Second Doctor was called "scarecrow" by the Third Doctor. Later in the former's life, he's executed by scarecrows brought to life by the Time Lords in order to enforce his sentence of forced regeneration.
    • For once the Master actually isn't the villain of the story and is genuinely trying to help the Doctor (albeit for his own selfish reasons)... but of course, the Doctors he actually comes across have had far too much experience with his villainy to actually trust him.
  • Jerkass:
    • On one hand, come on 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. On the other hand, it's the Master. Can you really blame them for being Properly Paranoid?
    • 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."
  • Klingon Promotion: The Doctor becomes president of Gallifrey by default after Borusa's quest for immortality wasn't what anyone (except Doctor #1) thought it would be.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Borusa uses the mind-power enhancing Coronet of Rassilon to force the Fifth Doctor to kneel before him.
  • Large Ham: Try to name just one.
  • Legion of Doom: Many of the Doctor's worst foes are brought together to finish him off — but they are merely pawns of The Man Behind the Curtain, and apart from the Master and the Cybermen don't even interact.
  • Literal Cliffhanger: Sarah Jane suffers the embarrassment of a cliffhanger, which was used as the end point to part one when the special was re-aired as a conventional Multi-Part Episode. Unfortunately, due to bad camera work and a poor location, it ends up coming across as more the embarrassment of a gentle slope.
  • Living Motion Detector: The Raston Warrior Robot.
  • Logo Joke: As if the '90s BBC Video ident didn't sound ominous enough, the 1995 VHS release ended with the "out" logo being time scooped after doing its thing. It was also included on the 25th Anniversary DVD release as an Easter Egg.
  • Magic Music: Playing a specific melody on the Harp of Rassilon opens the door to Borusa's hidden chamber.
  • The Master: He helps the Time Lords in exchange for a new regeneration cycle.
  • 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.
  • Mechanical Monster: The Raston Warrior Robot. Built as the ultimate killing machine, a single one is able to destroy an entire squad of Cyberman without taking a scratch in return.
  • Mind Probe: No, not the mind... probe.
  • Mouthful of Pi: The correct path across a trapped chessboard is based on pi... somehow. The Master has it memorized well enough to dance across the chessboard, and the First Doctor knows enough to get himself and Tegan across.
  • The Movie: A 90-minute special with 5 Doctors, 6 companions and a host of Monsters. It remains the longest single episode of Doctor Who ever produced (even the 1996 TV movie, sans commercials, falls slightly short).
  • Multi-Part Episode: Non-omnibus-oriented re-airings turn the special into this.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: A downplayed example; he's hardly too broken up about it and had valid reasons for doing so, but the Fifth Doctor seems genuinely regretful to have mistrusted the Master once he learns from the Time Lords that the latter actually was trying to help for once.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The Second Doctor reminisces with the Brigadier about an unseen adventure he had in the future with the Terrible Zodin and something 'that used to hop like kangaroos'. Although only referred to once again in the series itself (in "Attack of the Cybermen"), Fan Fic and the Expanded Universe have frequently played with what Zodin could be, with suggestions including everything from an evil Monster of the Week to a terrible meal the Doctor once had.
    • When the Third Doctor meets Sarah Jane, he gives a spot-on description of the Fourth, implying the two had an adventure together.note  He also implies at the end that he hasn’t met Sarah Jane yet in his personal timeline ("Yes, Sarah Jane. Nice meeting you too."), leaving it unknown how he came to know of her and her association with him.
  • Not Me This Time: The Third and Fifth Doctors both suspect that the Master is the one using the Time Scoop, which wouldn't be too unreasonable given his previous schemes. Both times, however, the Master is adamant that he's not the one responsible this time around, pointing out how he was instead summoned by Gallifrey to rescue the Doctors.
  • The Nth Doctor: In spades!
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Par for the course for Doctor Who. The "recall device" looks like a bicycle bell stuffed with electronic trickery. On the commentary, Terrance Dicks even snarks, "A Time Lord bicycle bell! Ding-ding!". David Tennant, in his commentary, refers to it as "The Master's yoyo". Also, the Raston Robot is an "Earthshock" android costume painted silver.
  • Offered the Crown: The Doctor is offered the presidency. He isn't keen on it.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: The Fourth Doctor and Romana on the Cam in a punt.
  • Ominous Opera Cape: The Master wears one, which is ironic because, for once, he isn't the villain of the story.
  • Paradise Planet: The Eye of Orion, a pleasant Arcadia where a regular bombardment of positive ions imbue visitors with a sense of peace and tranquility.
  • Phantom-Zone Picture: The time scoop is represented as this in the original televised version. The special edition DVD, meanwhile, changes this to a weird swirly-cone effect via the power of mid-90's CGI.
  • Prepositional Phrase Equals Coolness: The Snowclone of Rassilon.
  • Pretty in Mink: Tegan spends much of the episode in a fur coat.
  • Put on a Bus: What happened to the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker would later come to regret not appearing in the special. But he made up for that by appearing in the 30th and 50th specials (truly back in the 30th; for the latter, in a role that leaves it ambiguous whether or not he's the Doctor).
  • Reassignment Backfire: Subverted when the Doctor is made President of Gallifrey in the hopes of tying him to the the position and halting his endless gallivanting across time and space, and instead of coming quietly to rule from behind a desk, he gives an order placing the one who promoted him in command until his return and dashes off in the TARDIS with no intention of returning.
  • Re-Cut: The 1995 Special Edition adds literally everything recorded and deleted during the story's production, much of which ends up feeling like Padding. It also notoriously includes a shot that was cut from the original version because Peter Davison as the Doctor and Carole Ann Ford as Susan appeared to be experiencing mutual sexual tension, which is in-universe incestuous.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: The Master. Though his motives are more for personal gain than any kind of reformation, he does genuinely want to help the various Doctors in their current predicament, but none of them believe him. Ultimately, he decides it's easier just to be a villain. Five did admit his own fault and unlike the other Doctors, he showed remorse for disbelieving the Master on this occasion (of course, it's not like the Doctors had good reason to believe him in the first place).
  • Robotic Psychopath: According to the Third Doctor, the Raston Warrior Robot is the universe's most perfect killing machine, and it does not discriminate in its choice of targets.
  • 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 makes a beeline for the TARDIS and vworps off as fast as he can.
  • Some Kind of Force Field: In this case, 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. The melody in question is depicted on the painting that covers the door itself.
  • Stock Footage: Because Tom Baker was unavailable for filming, he's included using a scene from the unfinished and unbroadcast story "Shada", showing Four punting on the Cam with Romana Two shortly before being "trapped in the time vortex".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The UNIT sergeant was originally supposed to be Benton. John Levene didn't like how his character would be treated (mainly that Benton didn't recognise the Second Doctor) and declined to appear.
  • Take That!:
    First Doctor: Well, well, well, so two of them made it. I wonder what happened to the other.
  • Taken for Granite: The supposed "immortality" granted by Rassilon is actually a trap laid for megalomaniacs. Borusa becomes immortal by being turned into a paralyzed, living stone face on the base of Rassilon's coffin.
  • 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 "Season 6B" theory — that the Doctor was not actually regenerated at the end of The War Games but sent to work as an agent of the Time Lords — is a popular fan theory to explain the discrepancy.
    • In retrospect, it is possible that the companions might not remember these encounters unless they were companions of the then current Doctor. Sarah Jane Smith in "School Reunion" is depicted as though she does not remember briefly encountering the Fifth Doctor. She had little screen time with the Fifth and may not have been sure who he was at the time. The absence of the Fourth Doctor may have caused her to erroneously conclude that these events were taking place during the Third Doctor's lifetime. The Third did mention that he would explain later, but whether he did or not is debatable.
    • The Tenth also mentions in "School Reunion" that he regenerated "half a dozen times" since they last met, which at the time tallied with her last encounter being with the Fourth Doctor (leading to much discussion of memory, damages to time, the possible temporal side-effects of multi-Doctor encounters, and even canonicity regarding "The Five Doctors"). The later revelation of the unnumbered War Doctor, however, means that Ten might have counted six regenerations since her brief encounter with Five.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Some characters notes that since his regeneration, Borusa's gotten a bit more ruthless.
  • 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).
  • 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 reinstated the original 1983 cut for the first time on a home media release since 1994, with the option to watch either it or the Special Edition (as had become standard for Classic Series re-releases by that point).
  • Villainous Rescue: The Master is happy to try and rescue the Doctor from the Death Zone, including telling the First Doctor how to beat the chessboard trap, when the Time Lords offer him a new regeneration cycle as payment.
  • Wax Museum Morgue: Any Time Lord who claims Rassilon's prize of true immortality is turned into a still aware but immobile decoration on Rassilon's tomb.
  • A Way Out of a Cave-In: The Second Doctor and the Brigadier are trapped underground when a Yeti brings the roof down; they follow an air movement to find the underground entrance to the Tower.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The chessboard trap the Master lures the Cybermen in to get killed. He hints that it's easy as pie, which the First Doctor figures out that his former friend might be referring to the Greek letter pi, meaning that each square has to be pressed on that digit of the application of the letter. The problem is that the Master just zigzags across the room pressing random squares without triggering the lasers.
  • Written-In Absence: When Tom Baker declined to appear, the Fourth Doctor was caught in a time eddy.
  • The X of Y: Various objects and locations in the episode are known as the Something of Rassilon.
  • You Don't Look Like You: The Anthony Ainley incarnation of the Master bears enough resemblance to the Roger Delgado version for the Third Doctor to recognize him, yet different enough for this reaction.
    Three: My how you've changed. Another regeneration?
    The Master: Not exactly.

...and the VIDEO EXAMPLES of Rassilon!


Video Example(s):


"The Five Doctors" 1995 VHS

The 1995 VHS release of "The Five Doctors" includes a variation on the BBC Video bumper where it gets abducted by the Time Scoop seen in the episode.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / LogoJoke

Media sources: