Serial 6K:
The Five Doctors


While the Fourth Doctor is trapped in a time vortex, the First, Second and Third Doctors are drawn to the forbidden Death Zone on Gallifrey, together with many of their companions. They are joined by the Fifth Doctor, who is fading from existence. The Doctors journey towards the Dark Tower at the heart of the Death Zone, encountering some of their deadliest foes en route -- including the Master, who has been recruited by the High Council. When the Fifth Doctor teleports himself to the Capitol, he uncovers evidence of a traitor amongst the Time Lord elite. All are embroiled in the Game of Rassilon, whose prize is immortality itself.


More than two years before Doctor Who's twentieth anniversary on November 23rd, 1983, producer John Nathan-Turner was already planning for the event. Originally, Nathan-Turner hoped to celebrate the milestone during the programme's regular season, but was concerned because the revamped schedule introduced for Season Nineteen meant that Doctor Who started broadcasting in January and ran only thirteen weeks. On July 21st, 1981, Nathan-Turner wrote to Head of Series David Reid, requesting that Doctor Who revert to an autumn transmission schedule by bringing the start of Season Twenty forward to the fall of 1982. A suitably celebratory adventure could then be included in the programme's twenty-first season.

Unfortunately, Doctor Who's leading man, Peter Davison, was also starring in a BBC sitcom called Sink Or Swim. This was recorded during the summer for transmission in the autumn, and these dates would have to be postponed to accommodate a revised Doctor Who schedule. Reid discussed the matter with BBC1 Controller Alan Hart, but Hart was not interested in delaying the successful Sink Or Swim.

The BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Commission came to terms on a coproduction arrangement for the anniversary special

Hart, however, was not unsympathetic towards Doctor Who, and suggested that a special could be recorded to air between seasons in November 1983. This was communicated to Nathan-Turner on August 25th. Hart suggested that the budget for two of Season Twenty's planned twenty-eight episodes could be diverted to this special, in much the same way that Season Nineteen had been truncated by two episodes in order to fund the spin-off K·9 And Company. It was thought that additional funding might come from BBC Enterprises, the commercial wing of the Corporation, who reaped a significant profit from their exploitation of Doctor Who. Nathan-Turner approached Bryon Parkin, Head of BBC Enterprises, about participating in the special, but although Parkin was interested, it soon became clear that an agreement could not be finalised quickly enough.

Another potential partner in the venture was the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which had been broadcasting Doctor Who since the Sixties and had already coproduced such science-fiction fare as Day Of The Triffids and the second season of Tripods with the BBC. Nathan-Turner had courted the ABC since he took over Doctor Who -- with Tegan Jovanka's nationality an explicit overture to the Antipodean broadcaster -- but thus far, the BBC and ABC had been unable to come to an agreement with regards to Doctor Who. Around May 1982, Hart approached the ABC about funding the anniversary programme. This time, the two parties were able to come to terms on a coproduction arrangement, with the ABC agreeing to contribute AUS$60,000 to the Doctor Who special.

With funding now in place, Nathan-Turner turned to the business of assembling the special. Following the lead of the tenth-anniversary adventure, The Three Doctors, he wanted to reunite the Doctor's various incarnations, and began by approaching the programme's past stars. His first point of contact was Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), whom Nathan-Turner felt might be the least interested in such a proposition. Baker had only just left Doctor Who after seven seasons, but in April indicated that he would consider appearing in the anniversary special, depending on the script. Jon Pertwee (the Third Doctor) and Patrick Troughton (the Second Doctor) were contacted during the summer, although Troughton noted that his availability might be an issue.

With the blessing of William Hartnell's widow, Richard Hurndall was cast as the First Doctor

William Hartnell (the First Doctor) had passed away in 1975, so Nathan-Turner decided that he would have to find another actor to play the role. Nonetheless, he was eager that the special somehow acknowledge this recasting; he would later receive the blessing of Hartnell's widow, Heather. The two actors Nathan-Turner considered to replace Hartnell were Geoffrey Bayldon (who had played Organon in The Creature From The Pit) and Richard Hurndall (whom he had seen in the Assassin episode of Blake's 7, broadcast in November 1981). Nathan-Turner finally settled on Hurndall, as he had come to feel that Bayldon's time as the lead actor in the children's series Catweazle meant that he was too recognisable to effectively slip into the role of the First Doctor. Hurndall's career had begun with productions of Shakespeare, before branching out into radio, film and television. Hurndall's enormous list of credits included Spindoe, The Power Game, Oil Strike North, Love In A Cold Climate, The Avengers, Steptoe And Son and Doomwatch.

To write the special, script editor Eric Saward lobbied for Robert Holmes, a former script editor who had not written for Doctor Who since The Power Of Kroll in 1978. Saward had recently viewed a number of old Doctor Who serials, and had been impressed by Holmes' contributions to the programme, particularly stories such as The Talons Of Weng-Chiang. Nathan-Turner's preference since taking the reins of Doctor Who had been to avoid the use of writers who had preceded him on the programme, but he agreed to meet with Holmes.

For his part, Holmes also had reservations about participating in the project. He had always disliked using other writers' characters and plumbing past continuity, and he was well aware that the anniversary special would force him to do both. Indeed, Nathan-Turner had already decided that Anthony Ainley should return as the Master, while Saward wanted to include the Cybermen in a major role. It was agreed, however, that the Daleks would not be utilised: it was expected that much of the special would be recorded on location, and the Daleks presented extraordinary challenges beyond the confines of the studio.

On July 15th, the special was officially greenlighted by David Reid in the form of a ninety-minute telefilm. On August 2nd, Holmes was commissioned for a storyline entitled “The Six Doctors”, which would also feature the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, who had travelled with the First Doctor, as well as Jamie McCrimmon, companion to the Second Doctor. To account for the First Doctor's altered appearance, Holmes devised the notion that he and Susan would actually be cyborg infiltrators despatched by the Cybermen -- hence the additional “Doctor” in his working title.

In Robert Holmes' storyline, the First Doctor and Susan were cyborg infilitrators despatched by the Cybermen

As the summer progressed, Nathan-Turner began securing the services of his large principal cast. The current Doctor Who regulars -- Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson -- were contracted on July 29th, as were Pertwee and Ainley. They were followed on August 2nd by Troughton (who had been assured that the filming dates for the telefilm would not interfere with the April recording of his sitcom Foxy Lady), and on August 18th by Carole Ann Ford (Susan).

Meanwhile, it had become clear to Saward that Holmes was struggling with “The Six Doctors”. He recommended that a reserve storyline be commissioned, and approached Holmes' predecessor as Doctor Who script editor, Terrance Dicks, who had most recently written Season Eighteen's State Of Decay. Dicks agreed to step into the breach, should Holmes leave the project. Meanwhile, Nathan-Turner discussed the special with Nicholas Courtney, who was reprising his role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart for the forthcoming Mawdryn Undead. Courtney was eager to take part in “The Six Doctors”; he was contracted for the telefilm on October 4th, two days before Hurndall was booked.

On October 13th, Holmes told Saward that he was unable to proceed with “The Six Doctors”. Saward was understanding, and suggested that Holmes might instead be interested in writing a wholly original four-part story for Season Twenty-One (this would eventually become The Caves Of Androzani). Saward and Nathan-Turner immediately met with Dicks, who would start from scratch with a brand new storyline. Dicks' only request was that he be saddled with neither the Daleks nor K·9. He was commissioned to prepare an outline for the telefilm on October 18th.

In addition to the five Doctors, Tegan, Turlough, Susan, Jamie and the Brigadier, Dicks was asked to include Sarah Jane Smith in his plans; this would ensure that each Doctor was paired with one iconic companion. Originally, Nathan-Turner had hoped that Lalla Ward would return to play Romana opposite Baker's Doctor, since the two actors had been married in 1981. Unfortunately, their break-up -- revealed by the tabloids on May 1st, 1982 -- scuttled these plans, and Nathan-Turner's thoughts turned to Elisabeth Sladen, who had recently returned to the role of Sarah Jane in K·9 And Company. Nathan-Turner continued to be anxious that Baker would opt out of the anniversary special, but to his surprise, the actor remained interested, although he would not confirm his involvement until Dicks' script was ready. There was also concern that the salary necessary to secure Pertwee for both studio and location work would be beyond the telefilm's budget.

Borusa was chosen as the villain to surprise viewers, since the Master was felt to be too obvious

By the start of November, Dicks' storyline had gained the title The Five Doctors; the notion of Hurndall playing an impostor First Doctor had now been abandoned. Ironically, Dicks decided to draw upon Holmes' own development of Gallifreyan culture in stories such as The Deadly Assassin, setting the action on Gallifrey and incorporating crucial roles for both Borusa, the Doctor's former teacher at the Time Lord Academy, and Rassilon, the legendary founder of Time Lord society. Borusa presented Dicks with the opportunity to surprise viewers with the identity of the mastermind behind events, since the Master was felt to be too obvious a culprit -- although he and the Cybermen would still appear as well. In addition, Dicks included the Autons, well-remembered monsters which had been introduced during his time as Doctor Who script editor. He was also inspired by the imagery of Robert Browning's poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came, originally published in the 1855 collection Men And Women.

Dicks' script for The Five Doctors was commissioned on November 16th. Baker was sent the first clutch of pages on December 9th, and the actor indicated that he was agreeable to appearing. Things were looking up: the issues with Pertwee's fee had also been resolved, the actor having agreed to a pay cut because he was so eager to play the Doctor once again.

The Five Doctors was allocated the production code 6K which had previously been reserved for “The Return”, a Dalek story intended to conclude Season Twenty which had been cancelled due to industrial action. The Five Doctors would be directed by Peter Moffatt, who had recently helmed Mawdryn Undead. Moffatt was not Nathan-Turner's first choice: he had originally approached Waris Hussein -- who had directed the very first Doctor Who serial, 100,000 BC -- but although Hussein considered the proposal, the two had not been able to come to terms. Nathan-Turner had then approached Doctor Who veteran Douglas Camfield, whose last work had been on 1976's The Seeds Of Doom. However, Nathan-Turner had previously refused an inquiry Camfield had made about returning to Doctor Who; still hurt by this rejection, Camfield had reluctantly declined the new offer.

Since the Fourth Doctor was arguably the most popular, Terrance Dicks assigned him the strongest role in the script

Since Baker's Fourth Doctor was arguably the most popular of the five incarnations, Dicks decided to assign him the strongest role in the script. It would be the Fourth Doctor who would travel to the Capitol using the Master's recall device and unmask Borusa as the traitor, although Dicks wanted to portray events as if this Doctor might actually be the villain. The First Doctor, on the other hand, would have a comparatively minor role: he would remain in the TARDIS with Susan and Turlough while the Second, Third and Fifth Doctors travelled via the three different routes to the Dark Tower. Several characters from the Season Twenty story Arc Of Infinity, also set on Gallifrey, were added to the script; in addition to Borusa (now Lord President, as in that serial), these included Chancellor Thalia, Commander Maxil and the Castellan. It was agreed that Kamelion, a new robot companion introduced in The King's Demons (now the final story of Season Twenty after the loss of “The Return”) would not feature in The Five Doctors.

Towards the end of December, problems with the cast began to surface. First, it became apparent that Frazer Hines would not able to reprise the role of Jamie McCrimmon, due to his obligations to the soap opera Emmerdale Farm. Dicks consequently adjusted his script to pair the Brigadier with the Second Doctor; it was now hoped that there might be money available to fly Katy Manning back from Australia to play Jo Grant opposite the Third Doctor.

Then, on December 29th, Nathan-Turner was flabbergasted to learn that Baker had changed his mind, and was no longer interested in appearing in The Five Doctors. Baker subsequently visited Nathan-Turner in person to explain that he could not bear returning to the programme that he had just left after so many years. However, he did consent to the idea of incorporating material from Shada, the original finale of Season Seventeen which had been abandoned partway through recording due to labour strife. Nathan-Turner had already investigated this option as a back-up plan to ensure that the Fourth Doctor was represented in the telefilm, and the use of these scenes was cleared on January 10th, 1983.

The loss of Baker forced Dicks to perform substantial rewrites on the script. The focus now shifted to the current Doctor, with the fifth incarnation taking over the Fourth Doctor's investigation in the Capitol. However, the subplot concerning this Doctor's possible villainy was deleted, as it was felt that it was not appropriate to Davison's portrayal of the Time Lord. Sarah Jane would now accompany the Third Doctor, while the First Doctor would journey with Tegan to the Tower of Rassilon, and Turlough and Susan would remain behind in the TARDIS. The Fourth Doctor and Romana would now be trapped in a “time eddy”; Dicks' idea was that this halted the process of each Doctor being kidnapped, explaining why the Fifth Doctor did not fall victim to the Time Scoop.

It was briefly hoped that John Levene might appear as Benton in the scene at UNIT HQ

The cast remained in flux throughout early 1983. It was briefly hoped that John Levene might be able to appear as Benton (now promoted to sergeant major) in the scene at UNIT HQ. Ian Marter was also contacted about reprising his role as Harry Sullivan, but the actor had commitments in New Zealand. Of the four guest artistes from Arc Of Infinity invited back for The Five Doctors, only Paul Jerricho (the Castellan) was able to accept. For the fourth time in four appearances, Borusa would assume a regenerated form, with Philip Latham taking over for Leonard Sachs. The unavailability of Elspet Grey and Colin Baker meant that Chancellor Thalia and Commander Maxil would be replaced with two new characters: Chancellor Flavia (played by Dinah Sheridan) and an anonymous Commander (Stuart Blake).

On February 11th, writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln agreed that their beloved Troughton-era monster, the Yeti, could appear in The Five Doctors. By now, it had also been decided that a lone Dalek should appear in the story, in a scene that could be recorded in the studio. However, Saward had dropped the sequence involving the Autons, which he felt was too long and costly. This would have seen Sarah Jane materialise in the Death Zone in a ruined replica of a high street. A collection of fallen mannequins is revealed to be a battalion of Autons, and Sarah Jane is saved by the Third Doctor in Bessie.

During February, Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield), Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot), Caroline John (Liz Shaw) and Richard Franklin (Mike Yates) all agreed to make cameo appearances as phantom images in the Dark Tower; Watling, Padbury and John were contracted on February 21st. Unfortunately, Watling was cast in The Dave Allen Show several days later, and reluctantly backed out of The Five Doctors. Another former companion, Louise Jameson (Leela), offered her services for the telefilm, but there was no opportunity to insert her into the storyline.

Location filming largely took place in Gwynedd, Wales, beginning on March 5th when the Eye of Orion scenes were recorded at Plas Brondanw in Llanfrothen, the estate of Lady Annabel Williams-Ellis. (Her late husband, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, was the architect who had designed Portmeirion, the Italianate village at which The Masque Of Mandragora had been filmed.) Also completed at Plas Brondanw was the glimpse of the First Doctor in the rose garden, marking Richard Hurndall's first performance in the role.

John Nathan-Turner was able to arrange for Frazer Hines to replace Deborah Watling in the Dark Tower sequence

On March 7th, Nathan-Turner was able to arrange for Frazer Hines to be released briefly from Emmerdale Farm so that he could replace Watling in the Dark Tower sequence. Originally, the phantoms were identified when Victoria referred to Lethbridge-Stewart as “Brigadier” instead of “Colonel” (the character's promotion having occurred after Watling's departure from Doctor Who); now the Doctor would recall that the Time Lords had erased Jamie and Zoe's memories of their travels in the TARDIS, which meant that they shouldn't recognise Lethbridge-Stewart at all. As Dicks completed the final rewrites necessary for The Five Doctors, he also brought to a close his association with televised Doctor Who. He would continue to be involved in the writing of spin-off media, however, and became a frequent contributor to the range of Doctor Who DVDs.

The 7th was also the first of three consecutive days at Carreg Y Foel Grom near Ffestiniog, where scenes in the wasteland of the Death Zone were filmed. More of this material was recorded at the nearby Manod Quarry on the 10th and 11th. This included the subterranean scene involving the Yeti -- the costume for which was a relic from 1968's The Web Of Fear, and which was now found to be infested with fleas. The Raston Robot sequence was filmed at Manod, with Nathan-Turner stepping into the director's shoes for some second-unit shots due to the large amount of material that needed to be captured. By now, it had been learned that the Eye of Orion footage had been irreparably damaged, forcing the production team to return to Plas Brondanw for a remount on the 11th. Strickson had to cut short a holiday in order to return to Wales.

Further work at Manod Quarry took place on March 13th and 14th, including the scene of the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane reaching the Dark Tower. As scripted, this involved the Doctor constructing a makeshift hang-glider using the Raston Robot's spare equipment and his own cloak. Unfortunately, the visual effects department had been unable to construct a realistic prop, and Pertwee refused to go ahead with the scene, which he felt to be preposterous. Moffatt and Nathan-Turner worked together to come up with an alternative version of the sequence, with the Doctor now throwing a line across to the Dark Tower instead.

The last day of filming in Wales was March 15th, with the remaining Death Zone material completed at Cwm Bychan near Llanbedr. Moffatt's team then returned to England for additional recording on the 17th. Denham Green in Buckinghamshire provided two locations: Tilehouse Lane was the roadway from which the Third Doctor is abducted, while Haylings House, a disused building owned by the Ministry of Defence, posed as UNIT HQ. Sarah Jane's home and its environs was actually on West Common Road in Uxbridge, Middlesex. Dicks had relented in his objection to the use of K·9 in this scene; John Leeson returned to provide the robot dog's voice.

In case Tom Baker did not appear at the photocall, a wax replica from Madame Tussauds was available

The same day, a photocall was held with Davison, Pertwee, Troughton, Hurndall, Ford, Courtney, Sladen and the K·9 prop. Baker had also promised to attend this event, but did not appear. Suspecting that this might occur, Nathan-Turner had arranged for a wax replica of the actor in costume, normally on display at Madame Tussauds, to be available. The presence of the dummy was a source of much merriment for the cast.

One day at the Ealing Television Film Studios then took place on March 18th, for the scene of the Doctor and Sarah Jane on the roof of the Dark Tower, as well as the material at UNIT HQ. The Five Doctors then moved into BBC Television Centre Studio 6 for three days beginning on the 29th. The set for the TARDIS console room was needed throughout the block, while the first two days otherwise concentrated on scenes in the Capitol, including Borusa's secret sanctum. Also completed on the 30th was the First Doctor and Susan's encounter with the Dalek. The final day, March 31st, was dedicated to sequences set in the Dark Tower.

In post-production, a clip from the final episode of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth was added to The Five Doctors as a pre-titles sequence, ensuring that Hartnell had a presence in the special. This was sepia-tinted by video effects designer Dave Chapman, to make the transition from monochrome to colour less jarring. For the Fourth Doctor and Romana's release from the time eddy, an extract from Shada part one, in which the pair approach the gates of Cambridge, had originally been selected. However, Nathan-Turner was keen to depict all the Doctors departing in the TARDIS, and so a clip from episode three was used instead, even though it did not match up as well with the abduction sequence (which was also taken from the opening installment). Meanwhile, composer Peter Howell devised a special version of the Doctor Who theme for the closing titles, combining the original Delia Derbyshire version with the contemporary arrangement devised by Howell himself.

The Five Doctors was the first Doctor Who episode to premiere outside the UK

Although it was originally hoped that The Five Doctors would air on November 23rd to precisely mark the twentieth anniversary of Doctor Who, this was ultimately delayed by two days so that it could be transmitted as part of the BBC's Children In Need charity appeal. This meant that, for the first time ever, an episode of Doctor Who would premiere outside the UK, as PBS station WTTW in Chicago transmitted The Five Doctors on the anniversary date itself, to coincide with the Spirit of the Light convention about to take place in that city.

The Five Doctors was promoted with an appearance on the front cover of the Radio Times, its first since the debut of Season Eleven ten years earlier, and the only time during the Eighties that the programme would be honoured in this way. The Target novelisation of The Five Doctors was originally scheduled for release on November 24th, with the idea that this would be the day after transmission. In the event, it actually began appearing on store shelves two weeks before the telefilm's airdate, much to Nathan-Turner's dismay. This was the only instance in which a Doctor Who novelisation was published in advance of a story's broadcast.

  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fifth Doctor by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker (1995), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20458 9.
  • Doctor Who: The Eighties by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1996), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 680 0.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #313, 6th February 2002, “Archive: The Five Doctors” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #1, 2001, “Diamond Life” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In·Vision #69, January 1997, “Production” edited by Anthony Brown, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Date 25th Nov 1983
Time 7.20pm
Duration 90'23"
Viewers (more) 7.7m (54th)
· BBC1 7.7m
Appreciation 75%

The Doctor
Peter Davison
Jon Pertwee
Patrick Troughton
Richard Hurndall
Tom Baker
William Hartnell
Janet Fielding
Mark Strickson
Sarah Jane Smith
Elisabeth Sladen
Carole Ann Ford
The Brigadier
Nicholas Courtney
Lalla Ward
The Master
Anthony Ainley
Lord President Borusa
Philip Latham
Chancellor Flavia
Dinah Sheridan
The Castellan
Paul Jerricho
Cyber Leader
David Banks
Cyber Lieutenant
Mark Hardy
Richard Mathews
Frazer Hines
Wendy Padbury
Liz Shaw
Caroline John
Captain Yates
Richard Franklin
David Savile
Voice of K·9
John Leeson
Dalek Voice
Roy Skelton
Dalek Operator
John Scott Martin
Stuart Blake
Stephen Meredith
Ray Float
John Tallents
Cyber Scout
William Kenton
Raston Robot
Keith Hodiak

Written by
Terrance Dicks
Directed by
Peter Moffatt
Produced by
John Nathan-Turner

Title Music composed by
Ron Grainer
Incidental Music
Peter Howell
Special Sound
Dick Mills
BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Production Manager
Jeremy Silberston
Production Associate
June Collins
Production Assistant
Jean Davis
Assistant Floor Manager
Pauline Seager
Film Cameraman
John Baker
Film Sound
John Gatland
Film Editor
MAC Adams
Vision Mixer
Shirley Coward
Visual Effects Designers
John Brace
Mike Kelt
Video Effects
Dave Chapman
Camera Supervisor
Alec Wheal
Technical Manager
Derek Thompson
Design Effects
Jean Peyre
Graphic Designer
Ian Hewett
Videotape Editor
Hugh Parson
Properties Buyer
Robert Fleming
Studio Lighting
Don Babbage
Studio Sound
Martin Ridout
Costume Designer
Colin Lavers
Make-Up Artist
Jill Hagger
Script Editor
Eric Saward
Malcolm Thornton

Updated 31st January 2010