In which the Doctor and his companions are enjoying a tranquil break at the Eye of Orion. Some malevolent force starts to abduct his earlier incarnations from their respective time-streams. The First Doctor is taken from a garden, the Second - along with the Brigadier - from a reunion at UNIT HQ, and the Third Doctor is taken as he drives along the road in Bessie. An attempt to lift the Fourth Doctor and Romana from Cambridge fails, the pair becoming trapped in a time eddy. Sarah Jane Smith fails to heed a warning from K9 and she is also abducted. The Fifth Doctor experiences these attacks on his past. He sets the TARDIS co-ordinates for Gallifrey, as he is sure the answers to this assault must lie there. Instead of the Capitol, the ship materialises in a bleak expanse of wasteland - the Death Zone. The First Doctor has found himself in a network of metallic corridors. He is reunited with his grand-daughter Susan, and they are attacked by a Dalek. They force it into a cul-de-sac where it is destroyed by its own firepower. A break in the wall reveals that they are also in the Death Zone. The Second Doctor explains to the Brigadier that this was once the site for games during the time of Rassilon. Alien races would be abducted using a Time Scoop and made to fight for the entertainment of the Time Lords. Once these games were abolished, the Zone had an impenetrable barrier placed around it. Rassilon was buried in a tomb at the heart of the Zone - the Dark Tower.
The Third Doctor is reunited with Sarah. In the Capitol, the Inner Council of Time Lords is forced to take drastic measures to save the Doctor and discover who has reactivated the Death Zone. President Borusa is not happy that they have called in the Master. He is asked to venture into the Zone to rescue his old enemy. He will be granted a new regeneration cycle if he agrees. Once in the Zone, he meets the Third Doctor and Sarah. The Doctor refuses to believe him, and confiscates the Seal of the High Council which he had been given to prove he is acting for them. The First Doctor and Susan find the TARDIS and meet with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough. The answer to the mystery must lie within the Dark Tower. The Second Doctor and the Brigadier are making for its underground entrance. After losing Bessie, the Third Doctor and Sarah are making their way towards the ridge overlooking the Tower's upper entrance. There is a third entrance, the main one, and the Fifth Doctor decides that he should use that. He, Tegan and Susan set off, but soon come upon the Master - who is once again not believed when he claims to have come to help. A party of Cybermen attack. Susan and Tegan hurry back to the TARDIS. The Doctor finds the Master's transmat recall device and uses it to transport himself to the Capitol. The Master quickly forges an alliance with the Cybermen. He will help them storm the citadel of their enemies the Time Lords - the Dark Tower.
Susan has sprained her ankle, so she will stay in the TARDIS with Turlough whilst the First Doctor and Tegan follow the original plan of accessing the Tower by the main entrance. The Second Doctor and the Brigadier have entered a cave system at the foot of the Tower where they are attacked by a Yeti. They escape and manage to find the lower entrance. Pursued by Cybermen, the Third Doctor and Sarah come across a cave on the mountain. This proves to be the lair of a Raston Warrior Robot. These super-fast robots are among the most deadly killers known. The Cybermen blunder into its path and the whole force is destroyed. In the confusion, the Doctor takes some rope from the cave, which he and Sarah will use to get over to the top of the Tower. Back in the Capitol, evidence seems to point towards the Castellan as being the person responsible for what is going on. The ancient Black Scrolls from Rassilon's time are found in his quarters, and the transmat recall device he gave to the Master has a homing beacon hidden in it - which was why the Cybermen found them so quickly. Before the Chancellery Guards can use a mind probe on him, he is killed in an apparent escape attempt. The Doctor is suspicious about this.
When he goes to see Borusa, he finds the President's rooms empty - though the guard on the door maintains no-one left them. In the room is the Harp of Rassilon, facing a painting of the ancient ruler with the instrument. A piece of music is visible. Playing the piece on the harp acts as a key to open a hidden panel. In a room beyond are the controls for the Time Scoop. Borusa is here. He knows that the secret of immortality is to be found within the Tower. He wishes to be President for all eternity. The Coronet of Rassilon allows him to subjugate the Doctor's will. The Second Doctor and the Brigadier meet phantom images of Jamie and Zoe, warning them to go back. The Third Doctor encounters similar apparitions of Captain Mike Yates and Liz Shaw. The First Doctor and Tegan, meanwhile have been forced to hide as the Master and a group of Cybermen enter the Tower. The floor is booby-trapped, and the Cybermen are destroyed when the Master tricks them into crossing it. He gives the Doctor a clue as to how to cross the floor safely before he vanishes into the Tower.
Soon the first three Doctors and their companions have reached the main chamber where Rassilon lies on his bier. They find a cryptic message on a plinth - "to lose is to win and he who wins shall lose". Out in the Death Zone, the Cybermen are about to blow up the TARDIS when the Third Doctor deactivates the force-fields. Turlough and Susan are able to join the others. The Master arrives and tries to take the ring from Rassilon's hand - it being the source of immortality. The Brigadier knocks him out. With the force-field now down, Borusa and the Fifth Doctor arrive via a transmat link. The first three Doctors learn what he is after and combine their wills to free the Fifth Doctor and hold Borusa at bay. Suddenly, an image of Rassilon appears - offering his secret. The First Doctor surprises everyone by agreeing that the secret should be bestowed upon Borusa - for he has worked out the riddle. Borusa gets his immortality - trapped forever in stone within the bier. The earlier Doctors and their companions are able to return to their proper time-streams in different versions of the TARDIS. The Master is also sent back to where he came from. Chancellor Flavia arrives by transmat with a party of guards from the Capitol. She insists that the Doctor take up the Presidency of the High Council. He bundles Tegan and Turlough into the TARDIS, claiming he will follow on shortly. However, he has no intention of doing so...
This story was written by Terrance Dicks, and broadcast on 25th November, 1983. It comprises a single, 90 minute episode. It had always been intended that it would be broadcast on the 20th Anniversary night - a Wednesday - but the BBC decided to hold it back until the Friday so that it could form the centrepiece for that year's Children In Need charity event. Viewers in the United States got to see it on the 23rd - making it the first Doctor Who story to have its debut outside the UK.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had an aversion to using writers from before his time, but script editor Eric Saward argued that any big anniversary story - containing as many elements from the past as possible - could not be done by any of the current writers. It had to be offered to someone like Robert Holmes first. JNT reluctantly agreed. Holmes disliked "shopping list" approaches to story writing, but JNT insisted on a multi-Doctor tale (as with the Tenth Anniversary), with a few of the old companions, and the Cybermen.
The first problem was the fact that William Hartnell was no longer with us. The part would be recast. Richard Hurndall had been spotted in an episode of Blake's 7, and was thought to be ideal. (Hurndall would refuse to view tapes of Hartnell stories - preferring to base his performance on how he remembered him). To explain the different actor, Holmes would make him a slightly inaccurate android copy of the First Doctor, created by the Cybermen. Susan would also be a robot duplicate. The Cybermen lured all the Doctors to the planet Maladoom in order to find out why Time Lords could travel through the Vortex - so they could steal this secret for themselves. Once he had dropped out, this plot idea would be reused by Holmes for The Two Doctors. Holmes' script would have been titled 'The Six Doctors' - the sixth being the android copy.
When it appeared that Holmes was struggling with the brief, Saward approached Terrance Dicks as a back up. Dicks said he got the call in the middle of the night as he was in the US attending a convention. He was happy to write the special - until he learned that he was being used as a contingency plan. He was understandably furious - not for being thought second best but because he thought it underhand and disrespectful to his old friend Holmes. He gave Saward an ultimatum - either commission him to write it for broadcast, or push off. Holmes stepped away, and Dicks took over - with a lot less time than Holmes had had. Dicks thought the most obvious reason for having Doctors and companions from different times coming together would be due to the Time Lords - so he switched the action to Gallifrey. Originally, the Master would have been behind the scheme, but Saward pointed out that this was too obvious. The Doctor's old friend Borusa was then made the enemy. This would be Borusa's fourth appearance in the programme - each time played by a different actor. This time it would be Philip Latham.
Companion-wise, this was a bit of a nightmare. Everything depended on the actors' availability for the filming and studio dates. Ideally, the First Doctor would be paired with Susan, the Second with Jamie, the Third with the Brigadier, and the Fourth with Sarah. Katy Manning was too busy in Australia to reprise Jo Grant. Debbie Watling was also unavailable for Victoria. Wendy Padbury and Caroline John were approached for smaller cameo roles. Frazer Hines could not get time out from Emmerdale, so he ended up in a cameo also. Tom Baker was initially interested in coming back, but eventually decided that it was too soon after his departure and so withdrew. The Brigadier was therefore reassigned to the Second Doctor, with Sarah going to the Third.
The Fourth Doctor was ultimately represented by two clips from the unfinished Shada - featuring the second Romana, Lalla Ward.
Monster-wise, the Cybermen would be the main ones seen. Terry Nation gave permission for a Dalek cameo to meet the First Doctor, whilst the Second would have another encounter with the Yeti. The Third Doctor was supposed to come upon an abandoned high street - with windows full of Autons. This was dropped and Pertwee finally got to encounter the Cybermen instead. The Raston Warrior Robot sequence was added only very late in the day - filmed by a second unit under JNT. The costume is, ironically, a reused Cyberman sentinel costume from Earthshock.
Filming took place in Snowdonia, North Wales, around the same locations which had been used for Tibet in The Abominable Snowmen.
We've already mentioned Philip Latham playing Borusa. Apart from the returning regulars there is only a small guest cast. Flavia is Dinah Sheridan. Paul Jerricho reprises the role of Castellan from Arc of Infinity. The Brigadier's replacement at UNIT is Colonel Crichton - played by David Savile (The War Games and The Claws of Axos). Rassilon is Richard Mathews.
When later edited to be shown as four parts, the episode endings were:
- Lost in a mist, Sarah falls down a ravine... (Sounds a lot more exciting than gently rolling down a small slope, doesn't it).
- The Cybermen begin to lay explosives around the TARDIS as Susan and Turlough watch on the scanner...
- The First Doctor tells Tegan that there is nothing here to fear...
- Tegan accuses the Doctor of running away from his people in the TARDIS. He agrees - after all that was how it all started...
Overall, this is a story that should not be scrutinised too closely. If it looks like a celebratory run around then it's because that was all it was ever really meant to be. Nice to see so many old faces, even if some are just confined to cameos.
Things you might like to know:
- Due to a mix up, the Target novelisation of this story came out before the story was broadcast. Most people chose not to wait until after they had seen it before reading it, from what I can gather. Personally I wasn't faced with this conundrum as I had stopped buying the books by 1983. Would I have read it straight away? Probably yes...
- Philip Latham and Patrick Troughton both played Dracula's manservant Klove opposite Christopher Lee. Latham was in Dracula - Prince of Darkness, Troughton in Scars of Dracula.
- This story was released on both VHS and DVD in a special edition format. Both JNT and director Peter Moffatt were unhappy that they were not consulted.
- Waris Hussein was the first director approached, seeing as how he had directed the first ever episodes.
- Pertwee reverses the polarity of the neatron flow - only the second time he said the full line on screen (the first being in The Sea Devils).
- In a nod to the his comment on the TARDIS console room in The Three Doctors, Troughton says he does not like the redecoration of the Brigadier's office at UNIT HQ. David Tennant will in turn nod to this with his comments about the Eleventh Doctor's TARDIS in Day of the Doctor.
- William Hartnell is represented in the finished programme with a clip from the final episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth - his farewell speech to Susan. Whilst it is lovely to see this, it does somewhat show up the fact that it is another actor playing him throughout the story.
- It was decided to keep the Doctors apart for so long as JNT was worried about ego clashes on set. He was particularly worried about how Troughton and Pertwee would get on - after stories from the days of The Three Doctors. The pair had concocted a rivalry for convention audiences as well.
- Roy Skelton's over-enthusiastic Dalek vocals have made for one of the more famous out-takes from the programme.