Who Marathon: Peter Davison
Sun 19 Mar 2023 brings yet another milestone in my Doctor Who Marathon. I reached the end of Peter Davison’s era with Episode 4 of “The Caves of Androzani”. What a way to bow out. Androzani is epic, and a spectacular end to Davison’s era. But I’m not here to talk about Androzani, I have a separate post for that.
They say you never forget your first, and this is where I started. Peter Davison was the incumbent when I started watching Doctor Who originally. My first ever story was “The Five Doctors”. A heck of a way to start, and I elaborated on that exact subject elsewhere on my blog. I recently passed that story in my marathon, and it was a weird feeling passing that. I’ve been doing this Marathon thing since Aug of 2021, and in all that time, it was “in the past”. As I move in to Colin Baker’s era, it’s all things that I remember watching NEW, and didn’t discover with reruns or DVD’s. But anyway, I digress. Some facts about Peter Davison’s era:
- Number of series: 3
- Number of stories: 20
- Number of episodes: 69
- Number of companions: 6
There were some grand concepts tried here, but didn’t always work. Anthony Ainley’s Master turned up in every series at least once, but not to the extent that Roger Delgado did in the past. He became somewhat of a mustache twirling bad guy, less of the elegant threat that Delgado was. There was the experiment with Kamelion who conceptually was an awesome idea. But the tech in 1983 couldn’t deliver that kind of experience.
But there was a lot to like. Davison’s Doctor was less the unapproachable guy that I always perceived Tom Baker’s Doctor to be – especially in later years. You felt like 5 was someone you could talk to. There seemed to be more a sense of family with the Tardis crew, as we saw bedrooms and characters doing things that didn’t surround the main plot of the week. I know some of that started at the end of Tom’s run, but that was partially because of the producer John Nathan-Turner starting there. We got to see more of the Tardis in this era than before, something I REALLY liked.
Davison didn’t inhabit the role like Tom Baker did – and that’s not a bad thing. Davison was an established actor when he got the role (hello Tristan Farnon). Davison’s era wasn’t super flashy in your face – at least that was my perception of it, but one that I enjoyed. It had a much more down to earth feel than the later Tom Baker stuff did. The comparison I’ve seen mentioned between say the 007 movies Moonraker vs For Your Eyes Only seems appropriate to me.
That’s not to say there weren’t big dramatic moments. For the first time since the 60’s, Doctor Who killed one of their companions here – Adric. Say what you will about him, but Adric’s death was the kind of event that doesn’t happen in the show’s history very often. We had some excellent stories both in high drama, and science fiction concepts. They also brought back the two episode stories, something that hadn’t been seen in forever. We also got a historical, something that hadn’t been seen since Patrick Troughton’s era. For the 20th season, every story was based around a bad guy who was from the show’s past somewhere, culminating in the Five Doctors.
As I’ve done in the other sections, here’s a few words about the companions Peter’s Fifth Doctor traveled with…
- Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) – Carrying over from the Tom Baker era, Nyssa was a companion who I learned to appreciate later. When I got into the show, I was more into the “hot looking companion” stuff, so Nyssa wasn’t #1 on my list. She started as a single story character, then joined in Tom’s last, surviving into the middle of Peter Davison’s second series. She was also a scientific right hand of sorts to the Doctor. She was no dummy, could hang with the Doctor intellectually, and didn’t really have a lot of stories to herself. Even her last one which generally tend to be strong companion stories, she spent a lot of time not doing much. Her most fun moment was the two parter Black Orchid where Sarah Sutton played two characters, Nyssa & Ann. That was fun. Overall, I liked the character, but felt she was more of a background type character.
- Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) – Tegan is probably the most well known companion from the Fifth Doctor’s era. She started in Tom Baker’s last story. She lasted nearly the entire run of Peter’s run, leaving two stories before Peter did. The character was in your face, quite the anthesis to Peter’s more laid back Doctor. I always felt she’d work better with Colin’s Doctor, but I suppose works as a nice contrast to Peter’s incarnation. Her character got a lot to do over the course of her stories. We got to see a couple of her family members (aunt, grandfather) over the course of her time. She was constantly the character who didn’t want to do things. So much so she was referred to as a “mouth on legs” – something Janet Fielding adapted in the real world, as it’s her twitter handle (@jfmouthonlegs). Having said that, she was very loyal, and someone who was always there. When she left, the vibe was different without her. You really can’t think of the Fifth Doctor without thinking of Tegan. The character got closure when she returned to the program in Jodie Whittaker’s “The Power of the Doctor” where she got to interact with the AI hologram of the Fifth Doctor. I won’t spoil it all here, but the dialog in that short scene was brilliant for fans of the show in the 80’s. Mad props to Chris Chibnall for writing that.
- Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson) – This was a companion that was introduced with an idea that had never happened before. In the first three stories he was in, he was trying to actively kill the Doctor. This was part of a plot by the Black Guardian to get revenge over the Key To Time issue 4 series prior. In some ways his coming onto the scene mirrored what they tried to do with the Sixth Doctor. Make him unlikable at the start, and then have him grow on you. Which I think happened because when he left in Planet of Fire, his departure story was quite good, and you missed him when he left. He was also a rarity, a male companion. There were never a ton of those. In fact, he was the last one until the modern show’s first series. While you did like him, there always seemed (to me) to be a vibe of “do we really trust him” that springs from his earliest time on the Tardis. But overall, a character I really liked.
- Kamelion (Gerald Flood) – This character is officially classified as a companion, but it’s a bit of a grey area. As created, Kamelion was a physical prop who had the ability to morph into any person. This had enormous possibilities from a story telling standpoint. But somewhere around the creation of the first story he was in, the guy who worked the robot died, and it was very difficult for the crew to deal with Kamelion. He was only in two full televised series (The Kings Demons, Planet of Fire). They filmed a scene with him for a third, but it was dropped, and he made a short voice over cameo in Peter Davison’s regeneration scene. Very short lived companion, and I still maintain the modern show could do this no problem as everything is CGI. But in 1983/4 a difficult to operate physical prop meant that Kamelion basically showed up, was in a closet for awhile, then popped out and was killed. Both on screen stories featured the Master as well.
- Perpugulliam “Peri” Brown (Nicola Bryant) – While I will have more to say about Peri in the Sixth Doctor wrap-up, I couldn’t not say something here. She started in Davison’s penultimate story, and was in his final one, one of what people consider the best ever from the classic series. I’ve met Nicola, she’s fun, and as they say is “easy on the eyes”. To some extent, her looks play into things on screen. Sharez Jek was after her because of her “beauty”. Nicola was constantly dressed in outfits that accentuated her body. It wasn’t until her final two stories where she got more “calmed down” clothing. Not that I minded that, she looked spectacular in the 80’s and has aged well into the 2020’s. But she started here, and in the two stories she’s in with Davison, she was excellent. Wish we got more of this version than the complain-y version we got with most of the Sixth Doctor.
- Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) – Adric was also with the Fifth Doctor for awhile, but I wrote about him extensively in my Fourth Doctor wrap-up. Once Davison came on the scene, I don’t think Adric worked very well as a character. His final story was excellent (like several of Davison’s companions), but I won’t say a ton here due to the bulk and best of his time being with the Fourth Doctor. Both Matthew Waterhouse and Adric deserved better than their reputation has them being.
Peter Davison left after three series, quite publicly crediting Patrick Troughton as to why he stayed just three series. Troughton wanted out after his three series, so Peter modeled after that. However, Patrick also made 119 episodes in his three series, where Peter only made 69. The workload was quite different. In fact, Peter went on to say that had he gotten the kind of writing he got in this third series during the second series, he would have stayed for a fourth. Apparently he had to commit to the fourth year during the making of the second (for some contractual reason), and he was dissatisfied with the writing in the second series. Given it was a year after Peter left that the show started having major issues, I always wondered wha would have happened had Peter stayed on after Androzani. Ah well…
Is there an essential Fifth Doctor story? In the past, I’ve defined “essential” as something that moves the mythos of the series forward and/or establishes some large piece of the Doctor’s background. There are two like that in Peter’s run. The Five Doctors (where we first get the idea that Time Lords can have new regeneration cycles) and Arc of Infinity (lots of Time Lord society and background info). However, for the Fifth Doctor, I have to go with Caves of Androzani – his last. It’s a glorious story. Written by Robert Holmes and directed by Graeme Harper, it’s everything you want in a story. About the only thing it doesn’t have is comedy, but it’s not needed here. Androzani doesn’t push the Doctor Who mythos in any weird directions, it’s a great straightforward drama that closes out the Fifth Doctor’s era perfectly. If the show kept doing this past Series 21, it would have not been scrapped after Series 22, I think.
I met Peter several times at conventions back in the 80’s. I don’t have a picture with him, but my memories of saying a few words here and there are pleasant. Always has time for Doctor Who, which is not something that everyone of his compatriots can say. I wish I had more to write about this part, but I don’t.
One of my favorite real world bits with Peter Davison is his family. First off, his real family name is not Davison. His full proper name is Peter Malcolm Gordon Moffett. Davison is a stage name. His daughter is Georgia Moffett (maiden name). Georgia was cast in Doctor Who as “Jenny” in the Tenth Doctor story, “The Doctor’s Daughter”. Anyway, it was here that she met and started dating David Tennant. They eventually married, so this created the fun circle of Georgia being married to the 10th Doctor and the daughter of the 5th. She really plays into it as well, because after Jodie Whittaker’s final story aired, she put out a post on Instagram saying “Daughter of 5. Girlfriend of 10. Wife of 14“. I loved that. funny stuff. The family fun spills over to conventions where Peter Davison has snuck behind David Tenant to mock him (see the picture here). One funny little postscript of this is that Georgia has said in an interview on a DVD that when she was going to school, her best friend was one of Colin Baker’s daughters. :)
Peter has come back to the show several times. The first time was the non canonical “30th anniversary” special “Dimensions in Time”. He next returned for a 2007 Children in Need special short called “Time Crash” which involved the 10th Doctor as well. Was the first multi-doctor anything in the new series at the time. He returned most recently in Jodie Whittaker’s final story, “The Power of the Doctor” playing both an AI hologram of the Fifth Doctor as well as a projection of the Doctor’s psyche as an aged Fifth Doctor. Time Crash actually made an on screen explanation as to the aging of Doctor, but the other appearances did not. He’s also voiced the Fifth Doctor in a very large amount of Big Finish audios, going all the way back to the first ever one called “The Sirens of Time” in 1999.
Peter Davison also wrote and directed the most excellent special “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot“. This was produced for the 50th anniversary special of the show in 2013. It basically stars Davison (along with Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker, & Paul McGann) complaining about not being in the actual 50th anniversary special. It’s glorious in every regard. It’s absolutely non canonical, because Davison and the others play themselves, not their Doctors as such. It had some big name cameos too. Peter Jackson, Olivia Coleman, lan McKellen, and many MANY others. And of course I wasn’t sure that Sylvester was in The Hobbit. Might need to check.
Here’s some photos – click on any of them for a larger version.
As I wrap this up, I wanted to say I’ve enjoyed Peter’s run going through it for my marathon, but there wasn’t a lot of changing of opinions like in the past Doctors. Part of that is as I said before this was my on ramp, so I remember this stuff new. Having said that I did come around on Snakedance & Kinda. I had both filed in my brain as bad, but I enjoyed Kinda a lot this time around. Snakedance was better than I remembered.
As the actors age, it becomes harder to work them into the modern show. I adored Davison in the Whittaker finale, and while I felt it was a sort of a closure arc for Tegan, I can easily see that being the last time we see the Fifth Doctor and I’d be OK with that. I think the Fifth Doctor is done, and cheerio to him for all the fun times he brought.