The Fifth Doctor: Five Favourites
Gustaff Behr and Tomas Edwards pick out five favourites from Peter Davison’s era.
Happy birthday to Peter Davison! Now that that is out of the way, let’s discuss the Fifth Doctor. His era: Back to basics. 1981-1984: Home of the gentle, vulnerable Doctor, who, after regenerating for the fourth time, took on a more responsible personality. He proved more grown up than his immediate predecessor and a lot more naive than any of his previous incarnations. He now had an orphan in his TARDIS, a stowaway and a loud Australian woman he just couldn’t get back to Heathrow no matter how hard he tried.
Peter Davison’s stories were also very much varied and widespread, covering the past, future, and numerous alien planets. While not the first Classic Doctor this author had the pleasure of seeing, Peter’s Doctor, like all the others, stood out. Not just because of the stick of celery he decided to wear on his lapel or the cricket coat he insisted to be seen in, but the fact that as impossible as it was taking over from Tom Baker, Peter Davison managed to win over a new generation of fans and it is his name you hear people like Steven Moffat and David Tennant talk about when they’re asked about what/who inspired them. That man is Peter Davison! Here’s five of his best (at least in my book):
The Caves of Androzani
“Is this death?” – Fifth Doctor
Surprisingly, Caves was the first Davison story I watched. Despite being the swansong, at the time I didn’t know enough about Doctor Who to care, so that did little damage to my opinion as I watched what I would soon discover, not just personally, but generally throughout the Whoverse, that The Caves of Androzani would stand as one of the best, if not the best regeneration story out there. It’s claustrophobic, it’s got an incredibly perfect pace in regards to both running, dialogue and if someone asked you to ‘condense’ this story, you’d have a tough time selecting which scenes aren’t necessary because all of them are. I’m a sucker for a political drama, plus we have arms dealers which is always a bonus. Throw in mercenaries and corrupt government officials, mix in a little sociopath in Sharaz Jek and you have all the makings of a great story. A fitting end to a fine Doctor!
“Well, that’s democracy for you…” – Fifth Doctor
And now you can start laughing. Not at the story I selected, but at the fact that this was my second Peter Davison tale. I often compare new regeneration stories to this story in order to evaluate the new Doctor. So in a sense, Castrovalva for me is a perfect Doctor breakout tale. It features the companions having to step up to the plate and take care of the Doctor in his hour of need, plus we have the third Master story featuring the Anthony Ainley incarnation, which is such a dream to watch. Combine that with the odd, architecture folding in on itself (a very clever idea I admit) and I can’t find much fault with this tale. Adric is even sidelined for 90% of this tale, which is not really good or bad, but a lot of people dislike Adric, so that is appealing if you’re on the ‘good’ side of the fence. Oh and did I mention the beautiful serene landscape that encompasses the venue for part of this tale. Breathtaking! I wouldn’t mind vacationing in Castrovalva.
“I sincerely hope so.” – Fifth Doctor
The actors admit that they hate this story. I admit that I love this story. This adventure – before everything goes wonky – is what I imagine the Doctor and his companions get up to when they’re not battling Daleks or Cybermen. A costume party in the roaring 20s? Sign me up. One of the endangered ‘purely-historical’ stories, Black Orchid stands out partly because the danger faced in this story isn’t as extreme as on other occasions, but also because murder mystery appeals to me and I’m often reminded of The Unicorn and the Wasp. Both these are guilty pleasures of mine and this script does wonders for Nyssa’s character and allows Sarah Sutton to prove to us twice over her acting prowess.
“There isn’t a taxi service you can take back and forth.” – Fifth Doctor
Gustaff’s take: Most people consider it the best Cybermen tale there is. Do I agree with that? No. Do I like it enough to put it on this list? Obviously! I like Adric in this story from start to finish. I like his and the Doctor’s journey and I adore the send-off that Adric receives and the sacrifice he makes at the end of it all. The Cybermen don’t just stand around. They are plentiful and they are menacing. The script really emphasizes that humanity is fighting a war against the Cybermen. The claustrophobic caves and the space freighter are beautifully designed and the direction is perfect. We’ll ignore the walls breaking like cardboard once the Cybermen break in and just praise the positives of this story. This is Peter Davison fully settled into the role, taking on a fitting opponent in a story that I personally believe should’ve been the season finale instead of the penultimate tale. But that’s just me.
Tomas’ take: Tom Baker had very much been a great hero, someone who seemed indomitable, unbeatable, someone, always grinning in the face of danger. So it was a brilliant move to show Davison’s Doctor was different. This Doctor was more vulnerable, and at the end of Earthshock, he loses. Davison gives a powerful performance throughout the story, from his early arguments with Adric (who really is not as bad as people make him out to be), all the way through to Adric’s death. Davison doesn’t waste time blubbing everywhere or screaming in rage, instead he simply looks forward with a sad, resigned look of defeat. Sublime acting from a super actor. As for the rest of the story, well, the guest characters are all great, and the Cybermen do a lot of killing, which is generally very enjoyable to watch, and although the plot can be a bit patchy in places, and the music is occasionally irritating, but overall a highly watchable and engaging story.
“Does anyone know where I can find a Doctor?” – Tegan Jovanka
I can describe the brilliance of this story in five magnificent words: Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. Mawdryn Undead stands as one of the few times Doctor Who tried to do ‘timey-wimey’ and also served as one of the very few occasions where they got it right! Separating the Doctor from his companions and TARDIS is an old trick, but here a new spin is put on things and that just adds to the temporal intrigue this story delivers. The plot is interesting, the villains are cunning, the Doctor is lost, there’s an assassin onboard the TARDIS and the school boys are whistling, reminding all of us just how gorgeous Janet Fielding looked in those shorts. Peter Davison plays well of off Courtney and the idea of putting a mystery and two (let’s bold that for emphasize) – yes two – Brigadiers in one tale only adds to this story. It is a jewel and not only introduces a very controversial, but interesting companion, it stands as one of the best ‘arc’ openers in the Who universe.
The Five Doctors
Gustaff’s take: Length, amount of guest stars, Master, multiple Doctors and a whole menagerie of villains, both old, unique and bizarre…need I say more?
Tomas’ take: Well, we couldn’t write this article and not include this fantastic birthday party. Although at times it feels a bit mad, with a few too many ingredients, overall it is a lot of fun, with Troughton and Pertwee returning to their roles brilliantly. Meanwhile, Hurndall does a great job as the first Doctor, and of course our man of the moment, Peter Davison, leads his fellows brilliantly. He was especially good in the last scene, when he looks forward to the great adventure of once more trying to evade the Time Lords (a new start and direction after an anniversary, sound familiar?) The various companions all do a great job too, and luckily the large cast is generally juggled very well, although Turlough and Susan feel a little side-lined (But I can’t really complain about Susan being kept away from most of the action, I don’t think the sound barrier could have coped). The twist around the villain was excellent, and one I did not see coming, and the ending was similarly a great surprise. Also, how could we not include the episode that brought us those infamous words: “No, not the mind probe.”
The Visitation – Another guilty pleasure that has so many wonderful outdoor scenes, an interesting villain (even if it’s a rubber suited one) and a plot that does manage to scare viewers, especially if you don’t like rodents.
Resurrection of the Daleks – Stands as the story with the highest number of onscreen character deaths (characters actually played by actors). The total is 71. People say that there are two ways to make Daleks scary. 1) Have them winning in the end like they did in Victory of the Daleks and 2) involves showing them killing many people. Guess which one this story utilizes?
Is it any wonder why Peter Davison is so well-loved by fans? Why his name is dropped when celebrities talk about childhood good times? The Fifth Doctor is immortalized, as is Peter Davison in the legacy of Who that is still speeding forward. A very happy 63rd birthday, Peter!