The conclusion, with spoilers.
Three of the four Doctors have reached Rassilon’s Tomb in the tower with their companions–Sarah Jane, Tegan, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
Amid some companion complaints and inter-Doctor badinage, the three Doctors examine and eventually translate the ancient inscription on a squat obelisk, which contains a welcome and an obscure warning. Only Dr 1 has any idea what the latter might mean.
While Sarah Jane and Tegan helpfully tie up the Master (he was knocked out when the Brigadier slugged him), the Doctors then turn their attention to the task which they all came here to perform: lowering the forcefield that keeps the Tardis from moving so they can exit the Death Zone and get back to their respective times. There’s a control panel on the wall behind them, and it’s Dr 3 who gets the job done by “reversing the polarity of the neutron flow.”
Once the Tardis is free of the forcefield, it disappears from the misty countryside where it’s been parked just in time to avoid being blown up by another group of Cybermen, thus evading the least suspenseful menace in the entire show (and there have been some pretty tepid menaces).
Turlough and Susan arrive to join the others, although I’m sorry to see that Drs 2 and 3 evince no interest in seeing Susan again. She’s their granddaughter too and they haven’t seen her since they were Dr 1. You’d think they’d at least say Hello.
Meanwhile at the Time Lords’ Inner Council chamber, Dr 5 has opened a secret panel behind a portrait of Rassilon and discovered the person responsible for time-scooping all his selves, as well as setting up the poor Castellan as scapegoat.
Brace yourselves for a surprise (although there were really only 2 possible suspects, and the other one’s lying tied up on the floor in Rassilon’s Tomb): It’s President Borusa. He’s changed from his white Council robes into a black garment with those gloves we saw back at the beginning and a new hat to match.
What’s he been doing all this for? Both Dr 5 and the audience would like to know.
Borusa explains: He’s ruled Gallifrey for so long… but not for long enough. He doesn’t intend to retire, and it’s not just a matter of carrying on from one regeneration to the next until they run out. He’s after the Immortality that Rassilon promised so he can keep himself in charge of Gallifrey forever.
Rassilon has left clues for his successors to follow, and Barusa has followed them to this secret control room for the Time Scoop, to that box of Forbidden Scrolls, and to the Coronet of Rassilon–i.e., his new black headgear.
“Very fetching it is too,” Dr 5 tells him.
Borusa has scooped up the Doctors, putting them in the Death Zone to do exactly what they’ve done: get into the Tower and lower the forcefield so he can go straight there without taking the trouble himself.
Dr 5 is disappointed, since Borusa was someone he respected. Not that the Doctor has much time to express his feelings, for now that he’s gained access to this ancient and forbidden technology, Borusa has also obtained certain powers. His fetching new Coronet enables him to control others, and he wants Dr 5 to serve him.
In essence, he hypnotizes the Doctor to put him under his command.
When Dr 2 in the Tower contacts the Inner Council chamber, Dr 5 responds in a trace-like state. He tells the other Doctors that he and President Borusa will be beaming right over and Borusa will take charge. Which they do; there’s a large transmat platform at the far of the Tomb chamber.
The first three Doctors sense even before they arrive that something’s wrong with Dr 5.
Borusa entrances the companions before they can say much of anything. With one “Be silent!” they’re all frozen through the dramatic climax of the story. He then thanks the Doctors for doing what he wanted and acknowledges that he sent them here. They all realize that he wants the Ring of Rassilon and try to stop him, but the three of them together aren’t enough to stand up against him with his new powers. They need more combined Doctor-power to win.
To that end, they speak to their most recent self and do that mind-meld thing we saw back in The Three Doctors to join together, and eventually draw Dr 5 back to their side. Once the spell over him is broken, he stands by Drs 1-3 against Borusa.
Will four Doctors be enough to combat Borusa?
Not that we find out. Just as the confrontation begins, Rassilon speaks. A floating head like the Wizard of Oz appears above the body lying upon its raised platform and announces: “This the Game of Rassilon.”
Borusa forgets the Doctors and goes over to the Tomb to talk to Rassilon’s floating head. After some conversation, Rassilon asks if Borusa is very sure he wants immortality. He asks it more than once, which should sound a note of warning to anybody, but Borusa insists that he does.
“And these others, do they serve you?” asks Rassilon. Borusa confirms that they are his servants.
Three out of four Doctors object and try to tell Rassilon that they aren’t anyone’s servants, but Dr 1 surprises everybody by telling Rassilon not to listen to them. Borusa deserves the immortality he seeks. Go ahead and do it–give him what he wants. The other Doctors are astounded and baffled, but from the moment they translated the text on that obelisk, Dr 1 has seemed to understand more about what’s going on than his successors.
Rassilon gives Borusa one last chance to back out before accepting the gift of Immortality, then tells him to take the Ring. Others have done so before, he says. At least three others, I’d guess. Borusa will now join them.
And he does. This is the scene that impressed me most when I first saw it as a girl. Not a Behind the Sofa moment–I was well into my teens and hadn’t hidden from something on TV since Trilogy of Terror–but it is horrifying and one of the highlights of the show.
As Borusa puts on the Ring, the faces of the bas relief figures of Time Lords that form the decoration around the base of the platform become alive, eyes darting back and forth helplessly, silently pleading. Borusa begins to feel dizzy and clutches his coroneted head. He disappears.
On the blank panel on the base of the platform, a new bas relief figure appears–Borusa’s face. For a minute, his eyes flicker anxiously. Then all four become stone again.
As the obelisk warned, Borusa has won, and lost.
The Ring returns to Rassilon’s hand.
The Head of Rassilon asks the Doctors if they want immortality. Their unanimous response is a chorus along the lines of “No, we’re good, thanks very much.” It cracks me up that Dr 2 hides behind the others.
It’s also here that I wonder if the Master is conscious and has a chance to see that he’s dodged a hideous fate himself. He seemed to be awake at one point, but for the most part has been forgotten once they tied him up.
The Doctors do have a request to make. Dr 4 still needs to be rescued from the vortex where he’s been trapped while all this has been going on. Rassilon agrees to free him.
We see Dr 4 in another recycled scene from Shada: he’s lying in an alley in Cambridge while Romana urges him to get into the Tardis quickly. Which he does. Once he’s inside the Tardis, catching his scarf in the door, they’re off. Before I knew about Shada, this never made any sense to me.
Once Barusa became part of the Tomb decor, the spell that was holding the companions broke. They are now all free again. For them and for the rest of the Doctors, it’s time to go. Nobody wants to hang around the Tomb.
Affectionate insults are exchanged between the Doctors–“Fancy Pants,” “Scarecrow” and each in turn make their farewells. Dr 1 and Susan, Dr 2 and the Brigadier, and then Dr 3 and Sarah Jane go into the Tardis.
“Are we all going home together?” Tegan wonders. They weren’t going to have a reunion party in Rassilon’s Tomb, but I’m sorry to say that there’ll be no party in the Tardis either.
The different Tardises in different times split off to take everybody away.
Once everyone but Dr 5 and his companions are gone, Flavia beams over with some guards. Learning that Borusa is gone and no longer fit for the office of President anyway after everything he’s done, she wants Dr 5 to be President. She’s held a quick session with the Council and they’ve voted him in.
Dr 5 says he’ll take his Tardis over. Flavia is to beam back immediately with her guards; she’ll be in charge with full authority until he arrives to assume his duties. Then he hastens into his Tardis and takes off.
Tegan and Turlough think he’s going to accept office and, with all his new responsibilities, their adventures will be over. Nope. He’s obviously ditching Gallifrey.
“On the run from your own people in a rackety old Tardis?” wonders Tegan.
“Why not?” the Doctor responds, smiling. “That’s how it all started.”
While I enjoy quite a lot of this anniversary show–mostly the character interactions, especially the concluding scenes in Rassilon’s Tomb once everyone gets together–I also have a strong sense of wasted opportunities. So many people are brought back, and then given so little to do. Susan sitting in the Tardis for half the show watching Cybermen set up a bomb is the most irksome to me.
The various monsters/menaces are mostly ineffective: the Dalek in the mirror-maze and the Yeti in the cave make perfunctory appearances and are easily dealt with, while two thirds of the Cybermen are slaughtered by the Master or the Silver Killer android–which is the one thing in the Death Zone that really feels dangerous.
The Special Edition DVD set for The Five Doctors has a lot of great features, including a second version of the show with edits restored and the worst of the ’80s early computer-generated special effects updated. Most of the restored bits only add seconds here and there to various scenes, but the most interesting to me are the slightly longer greetings when Dr 1 and Susan meet Dr 5, and the companions’ conversation about the Doctors. As for the new effects, the most notable is the Time-Scoop triangles, dressed up with a shimmering surface, spiraling motion, and new images of the kidnapped Doctors; this effect is reused in place of the rather sad multiple Tardises splitting off when the Doctors each go their separate ways at the end.
There are also two commentaries, one with Peter Davison, and one with all the actors who played the companions–Nicholas Courtnay, Elisabeth Sladen, Carole Ann Ford, Janet Fielding, and Mark Strickson. They sound as if they were having a lot of fun watching the old show again after so many years, and are a delight to listen to… although it’s also a little sad now too, since the first two have since passed on.