A brief return to actual Doctor Who for the next couple of nights, and tonight’s portion was particularly brief, but oh so special. I am incredibly glad that this thing exists. These days, the show frequently showcases its history with pride, but it simply wasn’t like that for the first few years of the revival. Remember how excited we got at seeing pencil drawings of past Doctors in Human Nature? How crazy was it that we went from that to a full-blown (albeit miniature) multi-Doctor story in the space of a few months?
Of course, at the time I was only vaguely aware of Davison’s Doctor – I think I’d seen Castrovalva, Earthshock and Caves, but that was about it. So naturally this viewing was even better than previous ones, as I was able to feel a facsimile of the nostalgia rush that long-term fans would have got on the night. It really was great to see the Fifth Doctor again, and a thrill to see Davison’s name in the new-style credits, plus the Radiophonic-esque motifs in the music.
He got all the best lines too, particularly “two minutes to Belgium”. He was at his best when mocking Tennant, continuing the long-standing tradition in any multi-Doctor story that the earliest incarnation must rip the piss out of the incumbent at every opportunity. Tennant was playing up his slightly annoying quirks in order to facilitate this, but then pulled it back at the end for the lovely, heartfelt speech about what a great Doctor Davison was.
It all gets very meta – this is David Tennant and Steven Moffat talking about “their” Doctor, like all fans do, but to their Doctor’s face, on national television in the middle of Children In Need. When the Tenth talks about what idiosyncrasies he “got” from the Fifth, that’s an actor telling his childhood hero that he was his inspiration. It’s lovely, and something only Doctor Who can do.
It’s basically perfect, but it does raise a couple of interesting talking points. This story taking place in the middle of events that we’ve already seen – namely the ending of Series 3 – opens quite the can of worms with regards to the nature of the medium and the reliability of the show’s portrayal of reality. It’s like Trial of a Timelord all over again.
Secondly, the Tenth Doctor only knowing what to do because he remembers watching it as the Fifth is a massive paradox, and it means that the Doctor’s memory works in a completely different way than it does in any other multi-Doctor story. You can explain it away as being a side-effect of The Master turning the TARDIS into a paradox machine if you like, but to do so would be to treat it as a bigger problem than it actually is, tbf.
Finally, the joke about The Master not having a beard, but having a wife… I totally did not get that joke when I first watched it. And yet it really made me laugh – I thought the gag was that the Master treats her like an accessory or an affectation, and that the humour was in the incongruity of the comparison. I guess it works on multiple levels.