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One of these things is not like the others.[1]

"No! Not the Mind Probe."
The Castellan is mildly alarmed at his impending mental torture, but the actor just can't handle the lines.

This is a rarity for Doctor Who twofold over. First, it's a multi-Doctor adventure, which had only been done once before and has only been done twice since then... as of this writing, anyhow. Second, this was also the 20th anniversary special for Doctor Who - aired during Children in Need night (though US broadcasting was two days before, on the actual anniversary date of November 23). Finally, this was presented as a Who-movie in one massive part rather than a multi-part adventure (though it didn't stop the BBC from turning it into a 4-parter a few years down the road).

The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough have a vacation from their last adventure (Kamelion, who joined last time, is ignored) at the Eye of Orion. Things are mighty peaceful, until the Fifth Doctor suddenly is struck by pain and has to be dragged back inside his TARDIS. The Fifth Doctor makes mention of something taking away his older lives.[2]

As it turns out, a villain is taking the Doctor's previous lives out of time and space. The First Doctor (played by Richard Hurndall, as William Hartnell passed away 8 years prior) is stolen away as he meanders around a garden. The Second Doctor is whisked away as he and The Brigadier reminisce about old times. The Third Doctor is kidnapped along with his car Bessie as they drive along the countryside. Sarah Jane Smith is whipped away from her home and robot dog. The Fourth Doctor... well, something unspecified went wrong, and he's stuck somewhere in time with Romana.[3] Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor and companions are finally dragged off somewhere else inside the TARDIS...

Cut to Gallifrey. The Time Lords are getting worried - someone has kidnapped the Doctor out of time and space, and the Fourth Doctor being stuck in time is a problem... There's only one person they can trust to rescue the Doctor...

The Master, of course!

Lord President Borusa (previously seen throughout many adventures) also promises the Master a new regeneration cycle if he can pull this off - and the Master seems all too happy to help out, taking a teleport recall device to keep in touch with the Time Lords. Hmm...

The First Doctor, wandering through an odd set of hallways, runs into his granddaughter Susan - whom we've not seen since 1964! Quickly, they both run into trouble as a Dalek shows up, albeit one looking like it needs some repair. The Doctor and Susan quickly outwit the Dalek, which explodes... taking out a part of the wall and showing that they have a rather unfortunate problem: outside lies the Tower of Rassilon. The Doctor correctly surmises that not only are they on Gallifrey, but in the evocatively-named Death Zone! As they continue walking on, they notice a familiar blue box off in the distance...

Meanwhile, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier run around and away from Cybermen and also find the Tower of Rassilon - causing the Second Doctor to wonder if they're playing 'the Game of Rassilon' while he recites an old nursery rhyme about the tower (the Nursery Rhyme of Rassilon?). The Third stumbles across Sarah Jane, who has just fallen down a gentle slope horrible cliff face. Sarah Jane tries to figure things out for a few seconds before giving up: as she'd already seen the Third Doctor regenerate into the Fourth, she's confused by Three showing up again, but eventually decides to roll with it. They quickly run into the Master, and the Third Doctor assumes that this is all his doing, steals the Master's proof of working for the Time Lords and drives off, leaving the Master surrounded by a lot of random explosions.

Slowly awakening in his TARDIS, the Fifth Doctor finds himself staring into the face of his first incarnation - and a meeting of the minds happens. Meanwhile, Tegan and Turlough go to everyone tea... but come back with a feast, and absinthe! Let the partying commence! It's finally decided that the Fifth, Tegan and Susan will try to get to the Tower of Rassilon, while the First stays behind to munch on fruit and, presumably, Turlough drinks the absinthe.[4] As the Fifth and companions head out, they quickly run into the Master... who does at least get a little trust from the Doctor before Cybermen show up and blow things up. The Master is knocked unconscious, the Fifth Doctor steals his teleportation device and is whisked back to the high council. Tegan and Susan run off back to the TARDIS, leaving the Master for dead... and Susan sprains her ankle in a tribute to longtime writer Terry Nation.

The Fifth Doctor quickly figures out how badly things are going up at the Capitol, while the First Doctor and Tegan set out to the Tower of Rassilon. The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane are menaced by Cybermen, but are unintentionally saved by a guardian robot that just kills anything that moves.[5] They quickly climb up a mountain through a series of cuts and climb over a massive ravine to reach the roof entrance for the Tower of Rassilon. The Second Doctor and the Brigadier, however, go through a cave system (the Cave System of Rassilon?) beneath, fight off the Yeti of Rassilon, and enter the tower via the Basement Entrance of Rassilon. Back in the Lobby of Rassilon, Tegan and the First Doctor encounter a hopscotch-shaped booby trap. Fortunately, the Master wanders by just in time to smirk and toss off a cryptic hint. Thank goodness for small favors.

Finally, the first three Doctors are together in the Hall of Rassilon and begin to work out exactly what the Rassilon is going on. Sarah Jane, the Brigadier and Tegan are happy to see one another; most have encountered one another before. The Master shows up, revealing that... contrary to the Doctors' collective expectations, he's not the architect of mayhem this time around. But, as long as he's here in the Tomb of Rassilon, he still plans to steal the immortality-granting Ring of Rassilon from off the Corpse of Rassilon that's lying in state over there in the Casket of Rassilon... until the Brigadier whacks him upside the head and he's forgotten about for the rest of the story.

Off in the High Council of Rassilon Time Lords, the Fifth Doctor plays the Harp of Rassilon, which trips a hidden door to the Secret Tree Fort of Rassilon, which means he finally finds out who is behind all of this: Lord President Rassilon Borusa! We're not really told why, but it's pretty apparent that Borusa has gone mad and wants that Ring of Rassilon to rule Gallifrey utterly forever. He then uses the Coronet of Rassilon to brainwash the Fifth into helping him out, and goes off with him to the Tower to confront the other three Doctors...

The TARDIS finally shows up at the Tower. This allows Turlough and Susan to finally leave the TARDIS[6]... only to be frozen in place by Borusa when he shows up with the zombified Fifth Doctor. The other three Doctors do some mental struggling and free the Fifth Doctor from his possessed form - but they're unable to stop Borusa from finishing off the Game of Rassilon and claiming the Ring of Rassilon from Rassilon himself (who is apparently not as dead as we thought, as they even have a conversation!).

However, the so-called immortality (of Rassilon) is not as it appears. Borusa is instantly sucked into the Exposed Casket of Rassilon - forever to be a fully-aware chunk of stone, unable to move. Rassilon sends the other three Doctors and their companions off on their merry ways and frees the Fourth Doctor from whatever the Rassilon was wrong with him and Romana. The other Time Lords show up in quick succession, after the action is over,[7] and offer the Fifth Doctor the Presidency of Rassilon Gallifrey. The Fifth Doctor... accepts and orders his companions into the TARDIS, where he'll take them home and show up on Gallifrey later - naming the one who offered him rule his replacement in the meantime.

Once inside the TARDIS, however, the Doctor grins and says he utterly lied about taking the Presidency and that he's going on the run from his own people again. After all, he explains with a grin, "That's how it all started."

This is it - one of the best tales of Doctor Who. The cast and crew loved working on it, the fans loved it... what's more to say? Well, aside from the fact that this story actually went through several iterations. One was that there was to be a story called 'the Six Doctors', featuring an android version of the First Doctor called 'Doctor Wil.' Another was a full story featuring Tom Baker alongside the other Doctors... but it had a heavy focus on him (author Terrance Dicks would explain that he felt Tom's Doctor was the most likely to fall to evil, thus having the meat of the story). This was changed into the final version, with most of Tom's role going to then-current Doctor Peter Davison. A few of Tom's lines have snuck into Peter's lines, though...

This story has had two DVD releases; the 25th anniversary release (an anniversary of an anniversary?) is the one to get. Not only does it have the original release, it contains two versions of the story and three DVD Commentary tracks... one with Peter Davison and writer Terrance Dicks; one with most of the rest of the actors; and, as an Easter Egg, a warm-hearted geekfest with 10th Doctor David Tennant, New Series script editor Helen Raynor, and New Series producer Phil Collinson. There are even a handful of documentaries for the era that long outstrip the actual length of the special - one narrated by 6th Doctor Colin Baker and the other narrated by 8th Doctor Paul McGann.

The Tropes of Rassilon

  1. Tom Baker is a waxwork.
  2. Well, younger lives, technically. But still older. Earlier lives? Oh, it could give you a headache, I swear...
  3. The real reason is that Tom Baker refused to appear in this special, so writer Terrance Dicks used some footage scavenged from Shada, which is unaired to explain his absence.
  4. It's not like he has much else to do in the story, poor guy.
  5. A "Raston Warrior Robot", which was such an immensely awesome "monster" it's bewildering they only ever used it once.
  6. Sorry, they spent most of the adventure being menaced by Cybermen, who were trying to set up an incredibly lame bomb of Rassilon outside the TARDIS for some reason
  7. Typical, really.
  8. In retrospect, this helps explain why the Third Doctor never encountered them. For those who don't know, Terrance Dicks was the script editor during that time.
  9. Particularly impressive, as Tom Baker never showed up alongside the other Doctors