Before he gave his life to the service of the Church, the Reverend Peter Organ dedicated his passion to spaceships, sticker albums, orcs and laser-swords. Now married with two children of his own, he’s yet to find a cassock which covers the geek completely, and wonders how he’s going to explain his Warhammer collection to the Bishop…
Half-term at the vicarage, and by Monday the sprogs are already bored, so what’s a geek to do?
Why, stick The Five Doctors on the DVD player of course.
The sprogs had already been exposed to Doctors Nine to Eleven, and have been following the exploits of "Sarah-James and her magic compta-puter"1 on CBBC, so it seemed only logical to introduce them to the story that cemented my relationship with Doctor Who way back in 1983. I’d been watching on and off since season 17‘s Nightmare of Eden, but I’d been so traumatised by the Mandrels (a nasty complaint), that I’d not been allowed to see the series again until Logopolis, well-over a year later2. Various traumas meant further parental banning periods (I seem to remember Kinda was pretty scary stuff), so The Five Doctors marked the point at which I was so invested in the series that I wouldn't stop watching however scary things got, at least until that dire American movie (the showing of which to sprogs ought to constitute child abuse).
It could be argued that the series’ 20th anniversary celebration might not be the best jumping-on point for newcomers to the original run, featuring as it does four and a half Doctors3, one of whom is barely featured other than in the off-cuts from a story that was never broadcast. The story also contains more references to the series' continuity, both accurate and bizarrely off-kilter (Jamie and Zoe, I'm looking at you) than you could shake a sonic screwdriver at. But whilst it may not be the easiest story to follow, the Sprogs are not really old enough to follow plots in detail, and the fact is The Five Doctors is just a barrel of fun, a lark, a daft run-around in the series’ dressing-up box of heroes and villains.
Things did not get off to a good start admittedly, as Sprog One decided quite quickly that Doctor Five was not that interesting, and walked out of the room for a bit. I admit to having some sympathy with his first reaction. As much as I love Peter Davison as an actor, I've always found his Doctor to be extremely, well - vanilla, nuttin special, "meh" in cricket whites. This was not helped by the fact that the first Doctor I was exposed to was the amazing Tom Baker, compared to whom even Brian Blessed seems a bit ordinary. I never felt Davison really got any real character or depth to his incarnation until The Caves of Androzani, which was leaving things a little late.
Once the other Doctors started appearing and then getting disappeared by the "Deadly Triangle"4, the kids' attention was grabbed, and they seemed to take the multiple Doctors mostly in their stride, getting more confused by the fact that "Sarah-James" looks a lot younger in the 1980s. My daughter loved the pink décor of Gallifrey (no accounting for taste), and the appearance of the Dalek in the Time Lord hall of mirrors was very exciting for them both, just going to show that the old Skaro terrors haven’t lost their mojo ("The Dalek broke his head!").
The highlight for them both though, was the multiple destruction of Cybermen scenes, both against the Raston Warrior Robot (who gave them the giggles, unsurprisingly), and through the machinations of the Master. Cries of glee erupted as heads and limbs were chopped off ("He broke their heads!"), and Cybermen were cut down in showers of sparks. I remember those scenes being my favourite when I first watched the story too, and whilst some of the effects don’t stand up so well, those moments are still as exciting as anything in the modern day series.
Overall, the kids seemed to enjoy the story, though the presence of David Tennant was missed by my daughter ("Where’s the real Doctor?"), which I guess means he’s her Doctor; unsurprising considering how many stories of his she’s seen now. Maybe modern day children are always going to prefer the new series you might be thinking, but despite his brief, "clips from Shada" presence, my son declared that Tom Baker was his favourite incarnation, so I’ll be digging out a Fourth Doctor adventure next, though nothing as "scary" as Nightmare of Eden, obviously.
1. Which is how my five year-old daughter refers to The Sarah-Jane Adventures.
2. This, despite Mandrels looking like moth-eaten, skinny Teletubbies.
3. I count Richard Hurndall's vague impression of William Hartnell as half a Doctor.
4. (C) Sprog One.