Doctor Who: When Doctors Collide! Let's Look Back on Those Crossovers

November 23rd was Doctor Who Day, the anniversary of the premiere of the show on television back in 1963, so all kinds of announcements were made by the BBC. No news on the new series, of course, but the show's official YouTube channel put out a 37-minute compilation video of multiple Doctors meeting on the show.

Doctor Who: Multiple Doctors Meet in Compilation Video at last
"Doctor Who Day" key art, BBC

The Old Show Totally Made it Up as It Went Along

It's fun to watch the clips that went all the way back to the first multiple Doctor Who crossover, "The Three Doctors," where the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) met the Second (Patrick Troughton), then a cameo by the First because William Hartnell's failing health prevented him from showing and shooting whole scenes with them. Multiple Doctor stories were often produced to celebrate the show's anniversary, so "The Three Doctors" was written to celebrate the show's tenth year of broadcast in 1973. The script defaulted to them bickering as part of Screenwriting 101: instant conflict.

"The Five Doctors" was produced for the show's twentieth anniversary in 1983 and was an interesting mess. Tom Baker refused to return to the show, so they used footage from the then-incomplete and shelved story "Shada" so they could have the Fourth Doctor at least show up in the story. William Hartnell had by then passed away, so they cast Richard Hurndall as The First Doctor. The First Doctor interacted with the Second, Third, and Fifth (Peter Davison) as they were trapped and manipulated by corrupted and power-mad Time Lord President Borusa (Philip Latham) in his bid to achieve immortality. You can tell Terrance Dicks was kind of making it up as he went along when he wrote the script. Time Lords were practically immortal already, so why would Borusa need that? Because they weren't considered immortal by the writers then. The story of "The Five Doctors" made virtually no sense, and the Doctors and their respective companions were just doing a lot of running around and didn't really do much except let Borusa walk into the trap that put an end to his career as a baddie on the show, never to be seen or heard from again.

At least the next crossover on Doctor Who, 1985's "The Two Doctors," didn't feature any convoluted Time Lord or Gallifrey lore. Here it's some goofy time travel shenanigans where an alien wanted to steal the secret of time travel from the Second's DNA, resulting in some plot contrivance where the Sixth (Colin Baker) came to the rescue of his former self. Then script editor Eric Saward never really had a grasp of how Science Fiction worked.

Doctor Who: Jo Martin's Fugitive Doctor is the One We Want Next
Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin in "Doctor Who", BBC Studios

Crossovers in the New Era Had Emotional Arcs

The next two Doctor Who crossovers were under the pen and run of then-showrunner Steven Moffat, who managed to find emotional arcs and poignance to drive the stories. "The Day of the Doctor" was for the show's fiftieth anniversary and introduced John Hurt with the Tenth (David Tennant) and Eleventh (Matt Smith) with a surprise appearance from Tom Baker, who finally agreed to come back to the show. "The Day of the Doctor" was about war crimes, guilt, and atonement. The next crossover was "Twice, Upon Time," a Christmas special and Peter Capaldi's final story as the Twelfth Doctor refuses to regenerate in his dying hours and meeting the First (David Bradley in a brilliant interpretation of Hartnell's original performances) in his final hours as he faces regeneration. Moffat turned the story into a Buddhist parable about a man facing death and re-evaluating the life he lived.

The next Doctor Who crossover was "Return of the Judoon" by Chris Chibnall, who introduced a brand-new "lost" Doctor played by Jo Martin. Martin arrived fully formed with her own personality and style immediately. What became obvious was her chemistry with Jodie Whittaker, and we should have had several episodes or a miniseries featuring the two of them in a buddy movie kind of story, but Chibnall came up with the character at the last minute, and nobody thought Martin would be so good with Whittaker.

Multiple Doctors are now a tradition, and Russell T. Davies will probably write some during his time as the next showrunner. Funny that he didn't write one during his last term as showrunner, but he probably considered it too soon and too gimmicky when he was trying to re-establish the show in the mainstream. Now Disney kids are going to get to experience multiple Doctors, too, when the show hits Disney+.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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