On rare occasions in Doctor Who, two or more incarnations of the Doctor can actually meet on-screen and interact with each other, regardless of how many paradoxes such an event should cause. Episode to feature this phenomenon are known as multi-Doctor stories, and they are usually used to commemorate a milestone in the show’s history (though not always). As many of the Doctors incarnations differ drastically in terms of personality, often when two or more different Doctors meet they do not get along – and certain Doctors are actually known to have particular distaste for specific incarnations – which often makes multi-Doctor stories an interesting means of exploring the Doctor’s psyche. This ranking of multi-Doctor stories will feature televised stories only, although there are enough multi-Doctor audio stories to fill a separate list. So, without further ado:
6 – The Two Doctors
Doctors featured: Second and Sixth
This episode is certainly the ‘odd-one-out’ of the Classic Who multi-Doctor stories in that it was not intended to be a ‘special’, and it did not commemorate a milestone or event as such – in reality, The Two Doctors was a desperate attempt by the production team to inject some excitement into the Doctor Who fanbase after lukewarm reactions to prior episodes. The return of fan-favourite Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor could have been brilliant – but The Two Doctors falls flat for several reasons. For a start, it is far too long, and the episodes spends too long building up to the meeting of the Sixth and Second Doctors to the point that the payoff is less than satisfactory. The Second Doctor actually has very little presence in this story, and the Sontarans had long since lost their credibility as villains by this point in Classic Who’s run. The one saving grace of this episode is that, despite everything, it is fun having the Second Doctor and Jamie back and their interactions with the Sixth Doctor are good fun.
5 – Twice Upon a Time
Doctors featured: First and Twelfth
Steven Moffat’s era ended with an episode that was intended to be a dedication to Classic Who and its fans – but Twice Upon a Time actually ended up rubbing a lot of fans the wrong way with its distinctly odd characterisation of the First Doctor that made him out to be a sexist bigot. Despite the fact that Doctor Who began in the 1960s, and the First Doctor did occasionally portray 1960s values, his representation in Twice Upon a Time is radically overblown and comes across as a caricature at times. Still, overlooking this issue, Twice Upon a Time is an enjoyable episode and serves as a great sendoff for both Moffat and the Twelfth Doctor. Arguably the most interesting thing about this multi-Doctor story in particular is it features two versions of the Doctor in mid-regeneration, with both debating whether or not to go through with the change and having a distinct impact on each other’s decisions, a concept that had not been explored until this point.
4 – Time Crash
Doctors featured: Fifth and Tenth
Though this Children In Need special is short, it features all the best ingredients for a good multi-Doctor story – there’s banter between the Doctors, comedy of misunderstanding, and the inevitable development of a working friendship between two very different (yet also distinctly similar) incarnations. As the first Classic Who-New Who crossover, Time Crash features quite a few continuity references for its short run-time (hearing the Tenth Doctor say ‘Tegan’ will always be a bit strange) but also celebrates the differences between New and Old Who with both Doctors aiming jibes at the other. With a whimsical plot with a surprisingly emotional ending, Time Crash is always a joy.
3 – The Three Doctors
Doctors featured: First, Second and Third
The first multi-Doctor story laid much of the groundwork for others to come, and since the idea had never featured before on the show, The Three Doctors spends more time exploring the actual situation at hand rather than simply using it as a vehicle for the plot or for fanservice. Aside from the main plot, which features the debut of Omega, The Three Doctors has a lot of screentime dedicated to the Second and Third Doctors simply interacting – at first they dislike each other, but eventually they learn to accept their differences and work together. Ultimately the only real drawback to this episode is the unfortunate circumstances surrounding William Hartnell’s final appearance as the First Doctor – due to his ailing health, Hartnell was unable to feature as prominently in the episode as either Troughton or Pertwee, and his role is limited to popping up from time to time on a television screen and reading his lines from an auto-que. Regardless, The Three Doctors pioneered the concept of the multi-Doctor story and, despite its limitations, it did the job quite well.
2 – The Day of the Doctor
Doctors featured: The War Incarnation, Tenth and Eleventh
The 50th Anniversary Special The Day of the Doctor is the first (and until this point, the only) televised multi-Doctor story to feature only NuWho Doctors, and is unique in that one of the incarnations that it features makes his only substantial on-screen appearance in this story – The War Doctor. This previously unknown incarnation, played by John Hurt, makes a great impression in this episode and actually fills the role of ‘Classic Doctor’ to bounce off the more energetic personalities of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. This episode makes good use of the multi-Doctor format to present the conflict taking place within the Doctor’s psyche – his built up guilt and anger about the Time War is reflected in the modern incarnations’ dislike for the War Doctor, and the Doctor’s decision to end the Time War in a less destructive way redeems the War incarnation in the eyes of his successors and allows the Doctor to finally put the Time War behind him and move on. Overall, The Day of the Doctor is a fantastic multi-Doctor story with some great scenes between the three Doctors, but it doesn’t quite beat…
1 – The Five Doctors
Doctors featured: First, Second, Third, Fourth (sort of) and Fifth
The 25th Anniversary special, The Five Doctors. This episode is a hardcore Doctor Who fan’s dream come true, as it features the Fifth Doctor alongside his four predecessors, plus many returning companions including Sarah Jane Smith, K-9, the Brigadier and even Susan. Also featured are the Cybermen, a Dalek, and the Time Lords including the Master and Rassilon, and if that were not enough, the episode also divulges a generous helping of Time Lord lore. One of the genius things about this episode is that it doesn’t seem like there is too much crammed in – the episode dedicates roughly equal time to each character’s plot thread in a manner similar to Avengers: Infinity War, ensuring that fans of each specific Doctor will not be disappointed. All, that is, except for Fourth Doctor fans, who will be disappointed to discover that his role in this episode is minimal – this is due to the fact that Tom Baker refused to reprise his role for this episode, and all the footage of the Fourth Doctor that is used actually came from the unfinished episode Shada. The Five Doctors makes excellent use of its run-time to tell a compelling story and feature many classic multi-Doctor interactions, most notably the finale in which all the Doctors finally meet to fight Rassilon.
With several prior Doctor actors expressing their wish to return to the show, hopefully it will not be long before fans get another multi-Doctor story featuring the Thirteenth Doctor, particularly if recent favorites like Tennant, Smith or Capaldi decide to return. Not only that, but the 60th Anniversary is not far away, and who knows – with the recent announcement of Big Finish’s The Legacy of Time, set to feature not only the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors but also may characters crossing over from NuWho, there is a possibility for more Classic Who/New Who multi-Doctor crossovers in the future.