Multiple Doctor Who Stories: The Positives & Negatives!

The truth is there are plenty of good things about multi-Doctor stories, it’s just that overall I think the cons outweigh the pros.

When I compiled my list of things I wanted to see in Series 7 of Doctor Who, I didn€™t expect my objection to multi-Doctor stories to be quite so controversial. With hindsight, it€™s my own fault. Wanting a snappy ending to the piece, I didn€™t really go in to enough detail about my reasons. The truth is there are plenty of good things about multi-Doctor stories, it€™s just that overall I think the cons outweigh the pros. So, here€™s a more detailed look at this €“ apparently divisive €“ issue. Reasons To Want A Multi-Doctor Story...

1. They€™re Fun!

Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee€™s bickering is a delight in The Three Doctors and the two actors play off each other beautifully. In its demented way The Five Doctors is even more fun, chucking Cybermen, Daleks, Yeti and The Master into the mix and giving each Doctor his own companion to tag along with him. Even The Two Doctors is fun in part three when Troughton gets out of that silly Androgum makeup and we see Two and Six working together. Time Crash proved that a multi-Doctor story could work just as well in the framework of New Who. What are we waiting for?

2. It€™s Tradition

The series celebrated ten years with The Three Doctors and twenty years with The Five Doctors. When it was time to celebrate twenty-five years, the production team abandoned the tradition and we got Silver Nemesis instead. Hardly an improvement!

3. Wonderful Actors

Actors who get cast in high-profile parts like this are bound to garner some detractors, but all of them have their fans too. From Hartnell to Davison to Eccleston to Smith, every one of them is a supremely talented performer and every one put his own personal stamp on the part. Of eleven leading men, eight are still with us €“ why not put them some of them back in the TARDIS where they belong, just for one wonderful anniversary night? Reasons To Avoid a Multi-Doctor Story

1. They€™re Always A Compromise

The Three Doctors is actually The Two Doctors plus two minutes of William Hartnell on a monitor screen, reading his lines off cue-cards. The poor chap was suffering from arterial sclerosis and was not well enough to take a bigger part of the action. The Five Doctors is actually The Three Doctors plus someone who looks a bit like the First Doctor (but not much) and some previously unseen clips of the Fourth Doctor. And, as noted, the Second Doctor spends much of The Two Doctors suffering under absurd ginger eyebrows and even when he takes them off, you have to ignore how grey he looks, which brings us to€

2. Actors Get Older

Almost none of the old Doctors look anything like they did last time they played the part. Bakers Colin and Tom are almost unrecognisable. Davison could just about cut it in Time Crash, but looking at him on Law & Order, I think the ship has sailed. McCoy, bless him, now looks like the Seventh Doctor€™s disreputable uncle. McGann could maybe just about pull it off, and Tennant and Eccleston obviously could but would they come back? Which brings us to€

3. Actors Are Temperamental

Tom Baker refused to take part in The Five Doctors, which filmed only a couple of years after he€™d left the part, saying he didn€™t want to be €œone of the five€. The tables were turned when the surviving Doctors were all offered parts in a thirtieth anniversary special, but the Fourth Doctor was planned to be the leading figure with the other incarnations only getting a handful of lines each, and so all of them except the Fourth turned it down. Tennant, whose movie career is suffering from some vertiginous ups-and-downs at the moment, may likewise feel that returning to the TARDIS right now won€™t be a good move. Eccleston has made it perfectly clear that he wants nothing more to do with the show, and so that only really leaves Paul McGann who both might do it and might look right. McGann and Smith, together at last€? Two out of eleven isn€™t much of a fiftieth anniversary celebration, is it?

4. Too Many Heroes

Doctor Who doesn€™t really work as an ensemble. It€™s hard enough to write good stories for one Doctor, let alone a bunch of them. Series like Star Trek with seven-or-eight regular characters have a definite hierarchy, with the Captain and one-or-two others getting lots of good stuff to do pretty much every week, with other cast members having to wait for a Geordi la Forge episode to come along (or a Scotty episode, or a Tuvok episode €“ whatever). Writing for multiple heroes while avoiding all the problems in the previous point and making it a satisfying narrative is not easy, and the problems get worse the more Doctors you add. So, tradition be damned. Let€™s start a new tradition for Doctor Who round-number anniversary years, beginning with 2013. I can€™t wait to find out what it is.
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Tom is a writer, improviser, teacher and trainer. His first book, The Improv Handbook, is going into its second edition later this year. His first play, Coalition, played to sell-out audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. He quite likes Doctor Who.