13 April 1951 –
Doctor Reign – 1982 – 84
“That’s the trouble with regeneration. You never quite know what you’re going to get.”
The most “humanly accessible” Doctor
It was always going to be a tricky task following Tom Baker in the role of the Doctor. Baker had pretty much redefined it and held it solidly – for the previous 7 years.
Many fans had favoured a return to the elderly Hartnell-esque type Doctor. So it was with much surprise, when the BBC announced that an even younger actor – Peter Davison, was to be cast as the fifth Doctor.
Surprise – pretty much, as Peter Davison was already well known on British TV for the drama All Creatures Great And Small..
Davison was only 30 years old at the time and this pretty much signalled the intent by new producer John Nathan-Turner, to take the programme in a new more youthful and dynamic way – in the 1980’s.
Davison was thrown pretty much head first into his first season outing in – Castrovalva – 1981. It was fitting perhaps, that he was suffering from his worst post regeneration trauma to date. After Baker’s turn in the role, everybody was suffering from a post regeneration hangover.
When the early regeneration blues began to subside, the fifth Doctor began to shape his new character. In Castrovalva, whilst searching for a new outfit in the labyrinth of Tardis corridors; unwound Baker’s scarf – to use the fibres to find his way back to the console room. This was symbolic in as much as deciding to unpick the character and start all over again.
Davison’s Doctor was quiet, intelligent, thoughtful, youthfully envigoured and more importantly for this regeneration – brought the most human edge to the role yet. He would frequently stutter and stumble over his words, seemingly ten steps ahead of everybody else but sometimes unable to process and cope with the sheer amount of information buzzing around in his head.
The Fifth Doctor’s trademark aside from his cricket inspired outfit and the celery he carried round in his lapel, (which would turn purple in the presence of certain gases in the Praxis range – which the Doctor was allergic to) was being the most humanly accessible Doctor to his human companions.
Black Orchid – 1982 was also notable as being a completely non-alien story and the shortest story of the season at just two parts. Also, it involved some totally improvised footage of the Doctor, bowling someone out in cricket, with his first throw. More impressive, as Davison had never played cricket much before to any serious skill level.
Earthshock – 1982 was the Fifth Doctor;s career definer and saw the return of the Cybermen. Intent on eradicating humans, as armies of Cybermen battled humans with the Doctor and his three companions Nyssa, Tegan and Adric, were stuck in the middle. It was Davison’s exchange with the Cyberleader which really brought out the human side of Davison :
The Doctor: “Emotions have their uses!”
Cyber Leader: “They restrict and curtail the intellect and logic of the mind!”
The Doctor: “They also enhance life! When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal? “
Cyber Leader: “These things are irrelevant!”
The Doctor: “For some people, small, beautiful events is what life is all about!”
It was perhaps fitting then. That if Earthshock, provided Davison’s Doctor the emotional stamp; then it also gave him the death of one of his companions to mourn also.
As Adric sacrificed himself, to save everyone and kill the Cybermen, a moment which haunted the FIfth Doctor until his regeneration.
“You know how it is; you put things off for a day and next thing you know, it’s a hundred years later…..!” Fifth Doctor – Arc Of Infinity
Being the anniversary season; season 20 gave the Doctor the chance to square off, against classic villains – from the previous 20 years. Arc of Infinity – 1983 had the return of uber-Timelord Omega from The Three Doctors – 1973 and an appearance by future Doctor Colin Baker – (future 6th Doctor), as an overly zealous Gallifreyian – Captain of the Guard. Baker’s main contribution was to shoot Davison with a stun gun, as if to be staking his claim on the role – somewhat.
The Doctor also had to contend with the Black Guardian, following their previous skirmish in The Key To Time Season season. The King’s Demons – 1983 showed the Doctor to be quite an adept swordsman, as he jousted with the Master in a medieval castle. He also acquired another new companion; a shape changing robot called Kamelion – the first truly robotic companion of sorts since K9.
The season ended with the excellent 25th anniversary celebration, reuniting all previous incarnations of the Doctor for Five Doctor’s – 20th Anniversary Special.
An excellently complicated story involving all of the versions of the Doctor brought back together to play in the Time Lord’s deadly gamezone. Davison more than held his own, against his previous scene-chewing incarnations as they attempted to solve the mystery of Rassilon’s tower.
“A man is the sum of his memories, a Timelord even more so!” – Peter Davison, Five Doctor’s.
Resurrection of the Daleks reintroduced the Daleks and Davros, leaving the 5th Doctor with a morally difficult decision of whether to kill Davros and prevent the Daleks re-emergence. After a bloody war between – Daleks and humans – longtime companion Tegan left for good, much to the fifth Doctor’s sadness..
Planet of Fire – 1984 reintroduced the Master, Kamelion and new companion – Peri. The Doctor also got to grips again with the Master, in what seemed like a final battle, as the Master accidentally incinerated himself, whilst the Doctor stood by and watched. At the end of this, Turlough left the Doctor to return to his own planet.
The Fifth Doctor’s Final adventure was The Caves of Androzani – 1984 and we finally learned that the celery the Doctor carried in his lapel had a functional use. It didn’t help him though, as having landed on Androzani Minor Peri where he and Peri contracted Spectrox poisoning, from a cave they were exploring. Jek was an interesting foil for the Doctor; a Gimp suit cladded, half masked, underground dwelling, denzein – with a brilliant mind. The cause of their friction was Jek’s reciprocated attention on Peri.
He also partially redeemed himself (like the Phantom) by helping the Doctor in locating antidote to the Spectrox posioning. It didn’t help the Doctor though, who dropped some of the vial of antidote on his way back to the Tardis, leaving just enough to save one person Peri. The Doctor then collapsed in the Tardis after administering the antidote to Peri. He had been holding back his next regeneration, until he had rescued Peri – and as a consequence he started to die.
Memories and flashbacks of his previous companions snapped him around and he finally summoned up enough energy to begin his regeneration. His last word, strangely enough was……
As if he harboured the guilt for Adric’s death, so far from his home universe. And that was that for the Fifth Doctor. A slightly downbeat episode but brilliantly played out and a fitting send off the Human Doctor; sacrificing himself to save his human companion.
Davison’s time as the Doctor was a mixed affair, bar the odd stand out episode, he was given a very mixed bag of material. At times, the stories seemed lacklustre, the acting was sometimes terrible and the Master character was overused.
Also, bearing in mind that this Doctor was accessible and human, his companions were a very odd alien bunch – and there were too many of them; they weren’t particularly endearing or very deep in terms of characterisation – as they all fought and bickered for their own screentime.
That said, the one beacon throughout this was Davison – himself. He was faultless in his integrity which shone through in spades – and he made the best of what he had. He had some really good moments : Earthshock, Arc of Infinity and The Caves of Androzani; amongst others.
In retrospect, Davison was a great choice for the role of the Doctor and he had a really hard act to follow in Tom Baker.
His time in the role would be the last great Who peak, before a slump which would last for 4 years and signal the cancellation of the show. More of that to come.