Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death
(4 episodes, 1999)
Five Doctors in twenty minutes: That must be a record.
Starting off with a little backstory, this was shown as part of the 1999 Comic Relief Red Nose Day telethon. This comedic special starred Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Blackadder) as the ninth incarnation of the Doctor, Richard E. Grant (Scream of the Shalka, Logan) as the “quite handsome” tenth incarnation, Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Paddington) as the slapstick shy eleventh incarnation, Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) as the (not “quite”) handsome twelfth incarnation, and Joanna Lumley (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Sapphire & Steel) as the thirteenth incarnation.
Alongside all those Doctors, we also had Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies, Brazil) as an over-the-top version of the Master and Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous, Chicken Run) as companion (in more ways than one) Emma, and the adventure was penned by Steven Moffat, who would go on to Coupling before coming back to Doctor Who.
Got all that? There may be a quiz later.
On to the story…
After a revival of the Fourth Doctor’s title sequence, we watch as The Master chases the Doctor through the temporal vortex, maniacally blustering about his evil plan to kill the Doctor and spoiling the important parts through his inability to operate a speakerphone. The Doctor and his companion Emma meet the Master on Tersurus – the planet was previously inhabited by a race that was peace-loving, shunned because they communicated by passing gas through precision modulation, and were self-exterminated after they discovered fire – and of course the Master traps them by arriving early. The Doctor and Emma trade traps with the Master, each party having arrived earlier than the other. Emma interrupts the roundabout party with a revelation: The Doctor has found love with Emma and plans to retire, get married, and settle into domestic bliss.
The Master is disgusted, and he travels back in time to convince the castle’s architect to install a trap door to the sewers. The Doctor turns the tables again by going back even further to place the trap door under the Master. Before they can leave, an aged Master arrives (after three centuries trying to escape the sewer) with Daleks to exact his vengeance. The Doctor traps the Master in the sewers twice more, and a chase commences with the Daleks and an even more aged Master.
The Daleks capture the travelers for the Master (now rejuvenated by superior and firm Dalek technology), who has promised them the means to conquer the universe. Of course, the Daleks plan to exterminate the Master, and the Doctor informs the Master of this double-cross in Tersuran. The Daleks figure it out anyway and shoot the Doctor, who then regenerates from his ninth body into his tenth.
After a brief memory refresher, the Daleks ask the Doctor to stop the overload that they started, but a few crossed wires results in another regeneration, exchanging the tenth incarnation for the eleventh. Another short circuit causes another regeneration, and a residual discharge forces another (which needs a little prompting from Emma, the Master, and the Daleks).
In a moment of foreshadowing, the Doctor’s new body is female.
Unfortunately, Emma is not keen on marrying the Doctor in her new form, but the Master and the Doctor spark something special and walk off into the end credits together.
This was certainly funny (in the British comedy tradition of sex and bodily function humor) but not particularly deep. Honestly, there’s no particular need for depth since it’s played for laughs to spur donations. That’s the whole drive of Comic Relief after all.
The element of the Doctor finding romance is still a key element, but it’s hard to tell if Steven Moffat and company are spoofing the idea or trying to further it in the franchise. The continual ramping up of the Doctor’s sexuality in this twenty-minute segment points to the joke, but we certainly know what he’ll think of the concept in years to come.
And even though this was a BBC-authorized television production bridging the gap between the TV movie and the 2005 revival, I certainly disagree with his notion that this could have been a legitimate continuation of the franchise.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.