Doctor Who: Multiplicity – “He can wear whatever face he likes!” (Whovember #2)

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A glorious end to the classic Whovember viewings as the anniversary hat is put on for a selection of six stories.  Multi-Doctor stories are woven into the fabric of the show and when it comes to Doctors plural, there’s one common link – the Time Lord who made regeneration possible – the Second Doctor. 

#2: Six Multi-Doctor Specials… The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors (with special cameos by Dimensions in Time, The Light at the End and The Day of the Doctor.

UNTIL SOME LATER FELLOWS CAME ALONG, THIS YEAR’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY WAS ALL ABOUT THE SECOND DOCTOR.  The timely rediscovery of missing episodes put him firmly at the centre of the build-up – And why not?  He’s the man who made it possible, who introduced the Time Lords, who banished straightforward historical romps, who meant that there could be undeniably, more than one Doctor.

Beyond the “before history” of the First Doctor, he’s the Doctor who gave us the first real continuity conundrum, with the potential of a missing season dreamt up based on countless paradoxical references and continuity blips.  As the only iteration to bring his mop top to every multi-Doctor story so far he’s had had plenty of chances.

It was an accident at first of course, that tradition of the multi-Doctor story.  The Three Doctors may have started the tenth season of the show, but it was broadcast almost a year before the tin anniversary itself.  It was dreamt up as more of an attempt to out-do Day of the Daleks, the season opener a year before.  Somehow though, it set a trend that would see multi-Doctor tales and anniversary years intertwine.

The Three Doctors (Season 10, 1972/1973)

The Three Doctors was certainly one way to start a season with a bang.  An episodic serial sat within the tenth season, it’s been described as a pantomime and for all intents and purposes, yes it is.  From the bright colours, squabbling, humour and shouty pantomime dame, sorry, Omega.

Perversely, it set a number of odd patterns within multi-Doctor stories.  In barely any do viewers get the number of Doctors that they were expecting.  Here it’s far more the Two Doctors than The Three Doctors.  Due to William Hartnell’s ill health he appears briefly but memorably and only ever on a video screen having been trapped in a time eddy in the adventure.

These The Three Doctors are not only the three originals, but also the most bickering of the Doctors incarnations.  We never see that level of inter-Doctor rivalry between any other Doctors, although each of them display their various levels of disdain and dismissal.  It almost necessitated a splintering of the original three, something that would become a tradition in its own right from The Five Doctors all the way along to Big Finish’s 50th anniversary adventure The Light at the End.

Another curious tradition is the reverence the First Doctor carries from his successors.  They may grumble, but he borders on having a greater knowledge or certainly rationale than his older versions. Certainly his problem solving is carried off with great authority.  Perhaps this is a primacy rule in Time Lord society, perhaps because the First Doctor had the longest life…

It’s not made clear that previous Doctor’s forget this story, although that idea would be loosely suggested later – with the exception of the Doctor seemingly on a concurrent time stream (the latest – Fifth in The Five Doctors, Sixth in The Two Doctors and 11th in Day of the Doctor).

The Time Lords presented here are certainly an extension of those seen earlier, but not totally at odds to the over-bureaucratic race of prudes that Robert Holmes would create in The Deadly Assassin. Predating Day of the Doctor, it’s not the High Council of Time Lords that dictate play here.  Instead they’re floundering amid their strict, un-bending roles and it takes a maverick hope to get them out of a total black out.

In the story itself, the Doctor is chucked into it before the Time Lords triple his efficacy – the old coincidence meets message to the Time Lords.  While the First Doctor is picked up in some form of time capsule, the Second Doctor rather interestingly fades into the Third Doctor’s TARDIS (“I’m just a temporal anomaly).  Presumably this appearance and the capsule are equivocal with a TARDIS dematerialisation but it’s not a trick that’s seen again.  Similarly, the “Connection” head-shaking method the Doctors use for rapid telepathic conflab is never seen again – although it does have a successor in the Eleventh Doctor’s method of quick information discharge.  The method of the Second Doctor’s arrival also precludes companions, although that’s something that UNIT personnel can more than make up for.

Of course, the scale of the adventure had to be huge and warranted a huge rule to break: The First Law of Time.  That’s the rule that forbids a Time Lord from meeting his earlier self.  Of course while I say Time Lord, it’s a rule imparted by the Time Lords that applies to anything and anyone, for the very good of the universe.  It’s not linked to generations, but any temporal difference.  Robert Holmes would have some fun dismissing Doctor meets over a decade later with a casual “it’s inevitable”.  It is strange that one exact season on from Day of the Daleks the far more devastating Blinovitch Limitation Effect is over-written by a law that sounds far more legal than physical.

Special mention must also go to Omega himself.  It’s only fitting.  In a world of rather weary and staid Time Lords, he’s a breath of fresh air – just look at the poor beardy-Lord in need of a good regeneration at the control panel on Gallifrey.  The wannabe tyrant’s costume isn’t quite explained away, but leads to a neat and rather off-structure reveal.  Omega clearly is far heavier in the Time Lord mental stakes than the Doctor(s). Madness is only to be expected and his random scenery stomping shouts of “What is this!?” is later matched by the Ali Baba Rassilon of The Five Doctors.  Those Ancient Gallifreyans certainly had far more fun.

Omega has a prescience that’s rather necessary for the plot.  While he may well have developed a way to observe the Time Lords in the millennia following his disappearance, he seems all to conscious of the fact that he’s become a bit of a legend.  Perhaps most perplexing is his quick comprehension of regeneration and crucially, the First Law of Time.  It’s quite possible that regeneration and the Rassilon Imprimatur was developed concurrently with Omega’s stealer engineering, but had the Time Lords developed the Laws of Time prior to gaining time travel?  That sits uneasily with other tales, including The Five Doctors. You may have thought that alongside having a great deal of fun and spoiling Minyans, the Ancient Time Lords made quite a few mistakes first.

The Three Doctors bring big concepts that befit such an adventure.  The brilliantly bizarre transportation of UNIT HQ after the strange invasion sits alongside the subtler set-pieces like the Brigadier’s long overdue arrival in the TARDIS.  But then there’s the story itself.  Full of black-plot-holes it may be, but the concept of travel beyond the event horizon, relativity, faster than light-speed travel and anti-matter matched with a core-concept denouement make for strong sci-fi stuff.

It’s impressive that what could easily become another Frankenstein homage is left alone.  Omega’s in much more of a mood for laying out his victory feast than creating creatures he can have a chat with.  Jelly’s rather crucial here.  It’s not only the personification, rather oddly, of antimatter – but at one point the Second Doctor offers round a jelly baby!  He really was a trend-setter.

By the end, two brilliant things have happened.  The villain’s been defeated by his own hubris and the Brigadier’s gone almost the whole adventure thinking that the Doctor simply changed his face to a previous model.

A pelting little homage to 10 years, there’s even a bit of time for dream-scape Venusian Akido, and you can’t say fairer than that. (though quite what the Second Doctor was doing during that section is anybody’s guess…)  And when it comes to creating a super-deranged Time Lord villain in the show’s tenth year, omega’s not a bad stab at it.  A villain of pure will, a Time Lord myth not involving vampires – it’s just a shame that Omega never quite reached his potential.  Although there’s always the new series…

The Five Doctors (Special, 1983)

One of my first DVD purchases, how over-used that clip from The Dalek Invasion of Earth looks now… But still, it is very good.  Similar to its use on the recent An Adventure in Time and Space though, I can see the token reference but it does slightly diminish the other actor(s) playing The First Doctor.

The Five Doctors had a rather tortured production with Robert Holmes’ initial The Six Doctors script eventually getting the better of him.  Some of those ideas would be picked up in his script for The Two Doctors a few years later, but in 1983 it was left to the inimitable Terrance Dicks to step into the breach.  Casting ‘issues’ further tortured the production – with one Doctor deceased and one declined, the team were back in The Three Doctors territory.  With the First Doctor recast (rather well), further companion shuffles mean that the Second Doctor is once again rather hard done-by in terms of assistance, although he at least gets some banter with the Brigadier.

The canon part?  Well, when are these Doctor’s from?  The Second Doctor is clearly doing slightly more than bending the First Law of Time when he visits a Brigadier clearly established to be in the Fifth Doctor’s time stream a few stories earlier.

Much has been made of the Third Doctor having some apparent pre-cognition of his future beyond his regeneration.  While some theories about regenerative memories are confusing (This is a post-regeneration Third Doctor!?) it’s far more likely that… Sarah’s hand signals are enough to prompt him.  That in itself is astonishing considering that she survived that terrible cliff fall…  The Third Doctor is wonderfully casual about his next self (surely two iterations who wouldn’t have got on).  But if he’s not a post-regenerative version (as Day of the Doctor’s Great Curator may very well be), when are these Doctors from?  They look far older than when they regenerated (pick, pick, pick – it’s the time differential you know…).  In the case of the Second Doctor, we know that there’s an adventure involving The Terrible Zodin taking place in the Brigadier’s future, likely with multiple Doctors and that’s significant – She must be the premier never seen Who villain… But maybe there are further clues to that in the Second Doctor’s next appearance…

With no Omega (he’d popped up a few stories before) it’s left to a rather sad reversal of a known character.  The idea of regeneration lying behind Borusa’s devilish turn is an interesting one, although must make for a very paranoid society (“You never know what you’re gonna get!”).  Perhaps it’s more likely in a Time Lord like Borusa, who speeds through his regenerations like fish fingers dissolving in custard (that would happen)..

Having established a new Time Lord elite just the season before, it seems a bit wasteful to squander it all.  It wouldn’t be corrected either.  When the Time Lords next returned they’d be anonymous jurors…

Another tradition is continued in this Time Lord biopic.  It’s implicit that the Death Zone was active when after the Time Lord’s mastery of time travel.  They were certainly a nasty bunch at the beginning of that, despite their care in establishing Laws… And re-establishes that the Doctor/ Time Lord’s involvement with Cybermen massively predates that of the Daleks.  Still, the Game of Rassilon (Rassy himself, settling into being a nicely ambiguous figure in Gallifreyan-lore) is a simple device to get as many companions, Doctors and monsters together as possible.

Perhaps the worst miss?  The light greeting Susan receives from the Fifth Doctor is pretty much all the acknowledgement she gets from the other Doctors!  While recognising the Dark Tower is the most overtly Time Lord (or Gallifreyan) thing she’s ever done the Doctor’s granddaughter soon settles into the role of simpering companion.  Perhaps she’s used up all her regenerative juices and there’s just none left for her ankle…

With the demands of such an endeavour and the problems that it encountered during its production, it’s rather unsurprisingly that the end result is a bit of a bloody shambles.  In many ways, it’s pretty damned awful actually.  Compared with some of the finer moments of Who – recent and soon to happen plots included – it’s frothy, plot-holed nonsense, far ropier than The Three Doctors.  But then again, it’s The Five Doctors and it’s a feature-length 20th anniversary special.  And for that reason it’s fantastic.  But the flip-side of that celebration is that such acceptance forces awkward inconsistencies into Doctor Who canon.  I won’t touch on the fact that it premiered in the United States first…

The Two Doctors (Season 22, 1985)

At last a multi-Doctor story where the Time Lords don’t appear.  Or do they?  They may just be a little more ominous about their absence than the story suggests (Holmes would pull of a similarly effective trick with Ravalox in The Trial of a Time Lord the following season all you The Deadly Assassin haters…)

For once we do get the right number of Doctors – not a Doctor more, not a Doctor less.  Not that it isn’t left until the final part for them to meet…

The broadcast structure at the time hides the fact that this is Colin Baker’s only six-part story.  While much of it is padding, it’s effective – particularly the stomping around the future space station.  While his creations, the Sontarans, may have been forced on writer Robert Holmes, he still manages to rinse out some lovely science fiction and time related points, some picked up from his aborted Six Doctors script.

In fact, in many ways, The Two Doctors feels like the jumping off point for the Virgin New Adventures and Missing Adventures ranges.

Even with the casual dismissal of the First Law of Time and similarly sketchy disposal of temporal displacement, the Second Doctor’s appearance here is one of his most interesting.  What a wonderful thing that Patrick Troughton enjoyed The Five Doctors so much that he volunteered to come back.  While his character does look noticeably greyer than he did in The Five Doctors, a timing for the adventure is almost given.  The TARDIS crew have dropped Victoria off, so in season terms it would clearly takes place during the first portion of Season Five.

The horribly confusing element comes from the fact that the Doctor has been dispatched, with companion no less, on a mission for the Time Lords. It’s this total contradiction of the The War Games that led to speculation that there was a Season 6b – a suggestion now taken to be as near as possible to canon. Of course, this builds on his presence in front of Time Lords in both The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors (The First Doctor too). It also helps explain – or doesn’t at all if you think about it – how the Second Doctor knows that Jamie’s memories were wiped when the Dark Tower tried to deceive him in The Five Doctors.  There’s also the small fact that the Second Doctor’s TARDIS looks a lot different in this adventure.  (There’s one of the oddest things – that the adventure starts off with the Second Doctor in flight, in black and white – not the greatest reflection on the Sixth Doctor).  As a recruit of the Time Lord’s Celestial Intervention Agency, it seems a fair enough explanation for the Second Doctor getting his hands on a Stattenheim remote control device that the Sixth Doctor can’t remember.

Surely the only feasible explanation is that following the War Games (or just before the end), the Second Doctor and Jamie are used as agents by the Time Lords, during which they pick up Victoria again and all the Second Doctor’s multi-Doctor stories take place.  Phew.  Presumably they knew that a sentence would be carried out at the end of this, but were happy to become agents anyway.

It does raise a few neat points – that, while part of the civil service establishment, the first Doctor undertook various diplomatic missions for the Time Lords.  There can’t have been that many.  And it’s not worth considering how that Gallifreyan timeline fits in with these advanced non-humans of the third Zone.  While it’s imperative that little is revealed about the Doctor, Holmes continues to build up Time Lord civilisation– this time bringing the Rassilon imprimatur and murky levels of observation and control to temporal intrigue.  It wouldn’t be a multi-Doctor story, nor an anniversary nod, without a little addition to the myths of Rassilon, Omega and the Ancient Gallifreyans.  As usual, and as would be picked up in his next and final script for the series, there are few Who writers who can dig out such dark aspects from the Time Lords.

Sure, the Jamie as marooned and feral beast plot may be overlooked, but Holmes doesn’t overcook it.  It makes for a mean and neat line running through the piece, accompanied by the staple computer versus intruders and simulated deaths.  The Androgums are a wonderfully sketched primitive species, mainly down to casting, but Shockeye also highlights some of the series’ faults.  The death of Oscar is all very well and Hamlet, but it’s also shockingly violent.  Unfortunately, Holmes and Saward’s agenda just fed the show’s critics.

On the whole, the Two Doctors is considered favourably in the Sixth Doctor’s short run.  It’s a solid and fascinating story, even if it could have made an easy four-parter and the Seville filming is rather unnecessary.  It’s a shame that the Doctors don’t see more of each other, but that allows for companion swapping and an easy sense of menace.  No fading out of existence here, it’s all down to Colin Baker’s performance.   And when the Doctors do meet it’s a bit of a delight.  Few Doctors lend themselves to mangling tenses and pronouns like the Sixth Doctor and in that initial “snap” meeting – just catch the quick glance that the Second Doctor flashes over his successor’s coat.  Patrick Troughton, a delight as ever.  In fact we’re rather lucky to have The Two Doctors at all – and at least it claimed a prize figure when Holmes, rarely, adapted it to be the 100th TARGET novelisation.

Dimensions in Time (Special, 1993)

Special or, maybe, travesty.  But, there is a lot to forgive in John Nathan Tuner’s only Doctor Who script.  Sadly, one of those is not the plasticine heads used to cover the passing of Messrs Hartnell and Troughton.  The most explicable thing is the time hole that the Rani traps the first two iterations in… But best not look at that logic too carefully.  The canon of Eastenders and Doctor Who co-existing in the same universes has been subsequently ruined by the fact that many on the Square watch Doctor Who on Christmas day.  That’s a shame – because surely the Doctor’s one of the few people who could deduce what Mitchells and Brannings watch on Christmas Day when Eastenders is on…

The Light at the End (Big Finish 50th Anniversary Special, 2013)

Big Finish’s 50th stab actually brought all the Doctors (up to their last, the Eighth) together.  As such, the polished and finely produced production extolled the best and the worst of Big Finish’s take on the Time Lord, particularly since the series returned to television.  A combination of fiction-physics and time rams, hyped far beyond the classic television series’ remit, it’s not really the most inclusive tale.  The first three Doctors are present and correct and in a surprisingly effective homage to The Three Doctors, they’re kept rather at arm’s length, boxed up and packed off to bicker and squabble between themselves.  It’s not surprising that it’s the range’s flagship Doctors Four and Eight are thrown together in the first instance, but they certainly don’t get straight down to insults, even when Five, Seven and – particularly Six – turn up.  Lovely stuff, but we had to leave a simpler take on The Five Doctors to Peter Davison and the BBC Red button after the 50th anniversary’s main event…

The Day of the Doctor (Special, 2013)

Alas, the Second Doctors only appearance in this year’s biggest special is near the end, from stock footage… But what a scene, what a ‘Moment’.  All 13 Doctors working together, wilfully allowed to dodge the Time Locked fate of Gallifrey, breaking every possible Law of time and setting their final self (until The Time of the Doctor) and his successors a pleasing  conundrum.  Day more than ever gets to grips with two inherent puzzles around multiple-Doctor stories.  It is the past Doctors who have no or muddled memory of multi-Doctor stories, while the current time stream Doctor (latest – although Capaldi’s interference muddles it slightly, who’s complaining!) retains (records) the memory.  In Day it’s more interesting as the guilt we’ve seen the Doctor carry since the Time War (John Hurt’s War Doctor clearly regenerating into Christopher Eccleston’s) was simply assumed.  He remembered the moment, but had no idea that he’d chosen not to – there’s no suggestion that Day is writing a reversal of that original decision.  It’s takes slightly too much assumption on the side of the audience, but then that’s a Moffat standard.

The appearance of the Great Curator at the end must sit squarely with the infamous Morbius flashbacks – wonderful fan fodder.  There’s every suggestion that it’s a future Doctor, although I find the idea of a alternate Fourth slightly more engrossing – that a personality could retire, rather than a far distant Doctor who’d returned to an “old favourite”.  As Russell T Davies may say, that’s he’s the 508th Doctor…

And so the Second Doctor is even further removed from the current – although, thankful for small mercies, his cameo is much better than The Five Doctors grab seen in The Name of the Doctor.

As time spirals on and over 50 years and the Doctors suddenly reach 14… There’s little chance that the Second Doctor’s future appearances will be more than those brief cameos.  So much hope must lie with the quest to rediscover his missing serials.  Still, with so many classic adventures lost and following his near-takeover of the 50th anniversary with The Web of Fear, there’s certainly life left in the Cosmic Hobo yet.  He always carried more hope than most.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read on for the Third Doctor’s era-ending tangle with the Daleks in Whovember #3!

7 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Multiplicity – “He can wear whatever face he likes!” (Whovember #2)”

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