Doctor Who review: The Light at the End – the fiftieth anniversary’s other multi-Doctor story

Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary gave us not one, but two major multi-Doctor stories. We’ve looked at the one for the new era, now let’s look at the one for the classic: The Light at the End.

Last month, we looked at several major anniversary stories in Doctor Who, including two multi-Doctor stories. We also looked at how problematic multi-Doctor stories can be if not handled right. And, while The Five Doctors was a fun enough romp, we also examined how The Day of the Doctor just might be the best multi-Doctor story on-screen.

But there was another multi-Doctor story released that year: The Light at the End. It was a story that, unlike the twentieth anniversary special, actually had five Doctors in it. Specifically: Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann.

In fact, even the first three Doctors showed up, to some extent. The first three incarnations appear only briefly, played by William Russell, Frazer Hines and Tim Treloar. (The last of which has gone on to play the role to a much larger extent in The Third Doctor Adventures.)

Many Doctors, one enemy

Including so many Doctors is risky, especially when each one of the main incarnations in the story has a companion with them. But The Light at the End avoids the trap The Five Doctors fell into by primarily focusing on the Doctors themselves, and avoids bringing back too many enemies.

For example, The Five Doctors brought back the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Yeti and the Master. But Big Finish wisely chose to only bring back the last one. Of course, it’s unsurprising that the catastrophe in this story is directly caused by him.

It also makes sense for the incarnation to be the decaying Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers is the last surviving Master of the Classic Series, but just as importantly, he’s also been playing the role at Big Finish for a long time. So it makes sense that it’s his incarnation that gets featured.

Just the right length

Along with a focus on one key villain, The Light at the End also benefits from a decent sized run-time. At almost two hours long, the story is noticeably longer than The Five Doctors or The Day of the Doctor. And it really needed to be, if writer Nicholas Briggs wanted to give each of the Doctors a good role in the story.

And he does. It’s actually quite impressive, really. Every Doctor plays their part in saving the day or solving the mystery. Sometimes interacting with each other, but mainly focused on their own problems, until they all unite at the end. It works really well, and gives us plenty of good multi-Doctor combinations (such as Four and Eight or Six and Seven) without overdoing it.

A lack of impact

If there’s one small criticism I have for The Light at the End, it’s that it doesn’t leave much of an impact. None of the Doctor’s lives are changed by what happens. And that’s something that all the anniversary stories on television at least have tried to do.

For example, The Three Doctors ended with the Third Doctor, after years of being stuck on Earth, finally having his exile lifted by the Time Lords. The Five Doctors ended with him becoming President of Gallifrey. And The Day of the Doctor had the biggest revelation – after years of believing Gallifrey destroyed, he actually ended up saving it on the final day of the Time War.

Now I know it’s hard to do when you’re dealing with past Doctors only. But still, it would’ve been nice to have some kind of long-term impact. Even Zagreus, the fortieth anniversary story that I’m certainly not as keen on, had the Doctor enter another universe.

A strong multi-Doctor story

But honestly, this is a minor quibble. Nicholas Briggs had a really difficult  task with this script. As I mentioned, multi-Doctor stories can be really tricky. But he handles it wonderfully here.

He doesn’t just feature a great deal of interaction between each of the Doctors. He also makes us feel like they really are the same character at different points in their lives. All sharing the same history, as well as the same future.

Overall, it’s a very enjoyable story, and an essential listen for fans of multi-Doctor stories. It’s not my favorite on audio, (that would be the adaptation of Cold Fusion,) but it’s incredibly close.

Have you listened to The Light at the End? Is it one of your favorite multi-Doctor stories? If not, which is? Let us know in the comments below.