In planning the 20th season of the programme, producer John Nathan-Turner asked his bosses if he could move the series' transmission start date back to the autumn of 1983. This way the season would be on air during the week of the 20th anniversary itself, on 23rd November. The request was turned down, as the BBC still saw Doctor Who
as a key fixture in their New Year schedules. However, there was some additional funding in reserve, with the addition of some co-production monies, to record a one-off, 90 minute, anniversary special that could be broadcast that week.
Script editor Eric Saward felt that the special really ought to be written by someone who knew the series and its history well. He was too busy working on the regular season to write it himself. His first choice as writer was Robert Holmes, whose stories for the series he greatly admired. JNT had scrupulously avoided using any writers from before his time, and was resistant to using Holmes. He had only agreed to Terrance Dicks writing for his first season because the script cupboard was bare, and State of Decay
was the only thing that could be resurrected in the time available. Saward eventually won him over.
Holmes agreed to the proposal, but quickly came to regret doing so.
JNT came from a production background, primarily a budgets and logistics person. Unlike most of his predecessors, he had never been involved in scripting and had little or no knowledge about writing for TV. Saward and his predecessor Christopher H Bidmead are on record as explaining JNT's role in the storytelling process - mainly to come up with things that he wanted to see included. Often these seemed to be random thoughts that had simply popped into his head, which exasperated the script editors. These story element ideas of his would come to be known as his "shopping lists", and some stories will be very much based around these - often to their detriment. We've already seen how well a story set in Amsterdam, with the return of Omega, turned out.
This time, JNT's shopping list was understandable. He wanted as many elements from the series' history as possible to be included - Doctors, companions and monsters.
Taking the Doctors first, he already had Peter Davison, and both Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee were keen to participate, having been sounded out at conventions. Only one of the Doctor actors had passed away at this stage, William Hartnell, and so it was decided to recast the role. JNT had seen Richard Hurndall in an episode of Blake's 7
, sporting long white hair, and thought that he would suit. Tom Baker was initially interested, but then began to get cold feet. His unhappy departure from the series was still too recent, and he was already realising the damage to his career from type-casting. Holmes proceeded with his script, which would be called "The Six Doctors". This would refer to the First Doctor turning out to be an android duplicate created by the Cybermen, hence him not looking exactly as he had done previously.
As far as companions went, the plan was to team Carole Ann Ford with Hurndall as First Doctor and his granddaughter Susan; Frazer Hines with Troughton as Second Doctor and Jamie; Nicholas Courtney with Pertwee as Third Doctor and Brigadier; and Lis Sladen with Baker as Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. Other companion actors such as Debbie Watling wanted to appear but had theatre commitments. Katy Manning, the obvious person to pair with Pertwee, was living and working in Australia and unavailable. Hines had just returned to his ITV soap Emmerdale Farm
after a break, and was told that he couldn't take any more time off. This would lead to some rearranging of companions with their Doctors. Hines was told by JNT that if he had any days off he was welcome to join the story if only for a cameo.
Monster wise, JNT did not want the Daleks to feature. It was already planned that the 20th season would end with a Dalek story anyway - Saward's "Warhead". The script editor pushed for the Cybermen to be the chief monsters as he really liked them, and JNT agreed following the success of Earthshock
. After a bad experience having to rewrite The Revenge of the Cybermen
, and thinking them boring to write for, Holmes was no fan. It was also intended that the Third Doctor might meet the Autons, which Holmes himself had created.
It soon became apparent that Holmes was struggling with the story, with JNT asking Saward to give him new character and plot additions on a regular basis. Realising that the project could collapse, Saward decided to call upon a back-up writer. The obvious candidate was Dicks. He was attending a US convention when Saward called him - forgetting the time difference and waking him up in the middle of the night. Dicks initially agreed - until he learned that his was to be the reserve storyline. He felt that not only was this a great insult to Bob Holmes, it was also a great insult to himself. He told Saward to get back to him only if Holmes withdrew - and this is what happened next.
Elements of Holmes' unused script would reappear a couple of years later, in The Two Doctors
Dicks selected the Quest structure for his story, as well as a game element. He was inspired by the Two Towers of Tolkien, and the epic poem Child Roland to the Dark Tower Came
, by Robert Browning, first published in 1855.
Dicks was fond of the Time Lords, having been partly responsible for their creation, but he especially liked the darker version which Holmes had introduced with The Deadly Assassin
. This led to him setting the story on Gallifrey. The recently seen Castellan from Arc of Infinity
was reintroduced. Dicks originally intended the villain of the piece to be the Master. Saward pointed out that this would be a rather obvious thing to do, and Dicks readily agreed. Instead he decided to go for a more unlikely villain - someone who had generally been seen as a friend of the Doctor. President Borusa became the main protagonist, with the antagonistic Castellan being set up as a red herring.
Things did not go smoothly for Dicks either, though he proved to be far more adaptable than his old friend. The biggest problem which arose was Tom Baker's decision to pull out, after blowing hot and cold on the project for some time. This led to a companion reshuffle, with Sarah now joining the Third Doctor, the Brigadier having moved to join the Second Doctor when Hines had become unavailable for a sizeable role. JNT still wanted Baker's inclusion in some way, so it was agreed with him and director Pennant Roberts that some footage from the never broadcast Shada
would be incorporated into the story, with the Fourth Doctor remaining trapped in a time eddy for much of the running time. Dicks had faced this problem before when William Hartnell's health had precluded him from playing a more active part in The Three Doctors
- the story which The Five Doctors
is most closely modelled upon. This footage gave fans the added bonus of the inclusion of Romana II, as portrayed by Lalla Ward. (It's unlikely she would have participated otherwise).
With other companion actors making themselves available, Dicks was able to include them in cameo roles as "phantoms", sent by the mind of Rassilon to force intruders back from his resting place. The Second Doctor met Jamie and Zoe (Wendy Padbury), whilst the Third Doctor encountered Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) and Liz Shaw (Caroline John).
Dicks argued that you couldn't have an anniversary special and not include the Daleks in it, so it was decided to give one of them a cameo also - an obstacle for the First Doctor and Susan to get past. (Dicks also fought for the inclusion of a cameo for K9, not liking it very much but knowing that it was a popular character with the kids). With the Cybermen already in the mix, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier were given a Yeti to confront - both having first met in The Web of Fear
, which is also the story which was in production when Dicks first joined the programme. The Auton sequence was dropped as being too expensive to mount on location. The Doctor and Sarah were to have come upon a deserted high street, with shop window dummies that would come to life. Some extra jeopardy was still needed for the Third Doctor and Sarah before they got to the Tower, otherwise it would have been too easy for them, so Dicks devised the Raston Warrior Robot as a cheap but effective menace.
Disliking the Cybermen almost as much as Holmes did, he took great delight in having the robot wipe out a patrol of the creatures.
It had been hoped that the series' very first director, Waris Hussein, would return to the show to direct this, but he was unavailable, now living and working in the States. Peter Moffatt was given the job instead, seen as a safe pair of hands for such a mammoth production, with a great deal of location work. This took place in North Wales, a stone's throw away from where Troughton had previously filmed The Abominable Snowmen
A clip of the real First Doctor was added to the beginning of the programme so that he might also feature - Hartnell's farewell speech to Susan from The Dalek Invasion of Earth
. Unfortunately this only served to show how not very like him Hurndall actually was. The closing music segued from the original arrangement into the current version.
The original plan was for the finished story to be broadcast on the evening of the 23rd November 1983, but the BBC then decided on a change of plan. That week was to see the annual Children In Need
charity event, which was always staged on a Friday evening. The Five Doctors
would be held back a couple of nights to form the centrepiece of that event. Viewers in the USA got to see it on the 23rd, making it the first ever story not to debut in the UK on BBC1 first. Some fans were further excited to see the novelisation, by Dicks, in the shops prior to broadcast. (Some of them even managed to resist temptation and not read it until after it was screened).
Next time: an exercise in how not to handle continuity. Mrs Thatcher helps to ruin a waterlogged story involving Silurians, Sea Devils, and a pantomime horse...