50th Anniversary Special: The Five Doctors Plus Six?

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Guest contributor Elliot Thorpe wonders if The Five Doctors holds some hints for the future.


“Where are we going?”
“To Trenzalore!”
“Is that where he lives?”
“Not exactly, Clara. It’s his tomb.”

It can’t just have been me that has noticed the odd similarity between ‘The Name of the Doctor’, part one of, it now appears, an event to mark 50 years of our favourite Time Lord, and the previous gratuitous celebration in the show’s history: ‘The Five Doctors’.

In both, the respective current incumbent of the Doctor is forced to visit the labyrinthine burial place of a very dead Time Lord only to find that they’re not quite dead after all: something has survived. One has Rassilon, the other the Doctor himself: both hugely important figures in Time Lord society. In ‘The Five Doctors’ whether it’s Rassilon’s echo, a spirit or his actual sentience downloaded into the Matrix is not really explained – and we have yet to see the conclusion of the latest anniversary story to know that tale’s true outcome.

In 1983, four of the five Doctors coming together to beat a common foe or face annihilation amongst the symbolism of Gallifreyan hierarchy was a lovely celebration: old companions to help, old foes to fight, and everyone went off in their own time streams at the end, all smiles and friendly jibes. I still watch it regularly even now -- definitely more than once a year. With countless viewings under my belt, I know the script, the music, the direction, the pacing, all of it with my eyes closed. And it’s wonderful. It always has been and always will be.

This time around, it’s personal. Again the Doctor’s very existence is at stake and by all accounts we have old companions (Rose and…?) to help, old foes (Zygons and…?) to fight. David Tennant is onboard for sure alongside Matt Smith – and of course John Hurt. Paul McGann, too, please! Please? No, really: please!

So thirty years since the Death Zone shindig, is the fight the same and the outcome predictable? Are we potentially waiting for ‘The Five Doctors Plus Six’? That’s one of the best things about Steven Moffat’s stories. He’s very good at keeping you guessing. I just wish his resolutions were better.

Certainly with him as show-runner and lead-writer and with more complex plots that Terrance Dicks, Eric Saward and John Nathan-Turner were in a position to come up with back in the day, at least we know we’re going to be on a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey flight through eternity and back again.


Now call me Mr Picky, but I don’t quite believe Hurt is a long-lost Doctor who exists somewhere between McGann and Eccleston. Okay, I could be eating my words on November 23rd, but knowing Mr Moffat as we do, you can bet it won’t be as straightforward as a ‘missing’ or ‘forgotten’ Doctor. Matt Smith’s version himself said something along the lines of Hurt being ‘him’ but not being ‘the Doctor’. What that means we can, we will and of course we are speculating about until we’re as blue in the face as Dorium Maldovar. But whatever the outcome, whatever Tennant’s Doctor has to do with any of this, whoever John Hurt’s character really is, and if we do actually see proper interaction between classic and new series Doctors or not, we can be assured that our perceptions of regeneration, Time Lord incarnations and time streams in general will very likely never quite be the same again.

And that’s exactly what they did in 1983. And you know something? I can’t wait until they do it again.

Five months and counting…