Fifth Doctor Peter Davison was hand-picked for the role by producer John Nathan-Turner. JNT had been a production unit manager on All Creatures Great And Small, which had starred Davison as Tristan the veterinarian, and was trying to radically alter everything about Doctor Who to suit his tastes. To that end he cast Davison, who, at age 29, was the second youngest actor ever to debut in the role (between Matt Smith and David Tennant), a full eleven years younger than Tom Baker had been when he debuted, and half the age William Hartnell had been in his last season. Because of this, Peter Davison was the first Doctor to have had the opportunity to grow up watching Doctor Who; he recounts in interviews that he was twelve when the program began in 1963, and he followed it most closely during the tenure of Patrick Troughton, who is his (and Matt Smith’s) favorite Doctor. But he had never considered taking on the role himself, especially not at such a young age, and to this day he wishes that he had been older when he was given the part.
Although he was young, he didn’t play the role boyishly like Matt Smith does. The Fifth Doctor is quiet and level-headed, not very eccentric, and became sort of a “harried single dad” to the “three squabbling children” he inherited as companions from Season 18.
Davison reveals in interviews that JNT was attempting to make the companions interesting through conflict – he made Tegan complain incessantly, and he had Adric betray the Doctor and join the villains on multiple occasions, earning him the wrath of fans. This makes Nyssa my favorite of the three. Peter Davison says she was his favorite as well, because she and Five got along and worked together well.
Gary Russell, in another DVD interview, observes: “You had three distinct versions of the companion cliche. In Tegan you had the mouthy one that would answer back. In Nyssa you had the scientist, who was quite thorough and would actually sit down and work a problem out. And then in Adric, you had the idiot, the one that would bumble in and make all the mistakes.” Adric was a genius-level mathematician, but he had a selfish perspective and was prone to making bad decisions.
Janet Fielding (Tegan) is an Australian in real life, hired by JNT because he’d heard that the program had a fanbase in Australia, and he thought an Australian companion would boost this. It’s really a shame what JNT did to Tegan’s character, because in real life Janet seems to be a sweet, charming girl. Further, in one vintage talk show appearance on a DVD, Janet recalled JNT’s instructions that her wardrobe be “low-cut and short;” and he, sitting next to her, remarked that his intent was to “cater to” the adolescent and adult males watching the show. That being his intent, he should have made Tegan a more likable character; that’s more important to most of us than what she’s wearing.
Peter Davison is famously David Tennant’s father-in-law. (Both are stage surnames.) I’ve read a claim that Davison was the Doctor who most influenced Tennant, but I’ve seen nothing concrete to back that up.
Season 19, Story 1: Castrovalva
Actually the fourth story shot for this season, to give Davison time to get used to the role, this story continues where Logopolis left off. Despite the help from “the watcher,” the Doctor’s regeneration is failing, and he needs his companions to take him to the Zero Room in the TARDIS so that he can recover, isolated from outside interference. On the way there he symbolically unwinds Four’s scarf, using its wool as a safety line to prevent getting lost in the TARDIS corridors. For a while he forgets who he is, and does a couple of dead-on, hilarious impersonations of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Eventually it is decided that the peaceful citadel of Castrovalva is the best place to go to recover, but things there are not as they seem.
Anthony Ainley returns as the Master, but he comes off as a weaker adversary than Roger Delgado. This is in large part because he was made to look and act like Delgado, making this Master literally a mere shadow of his former self.
But… Roger Delgado wouldn’t do that. He was too cool.
It’s a bizarre episode, even by Who standards, and the ending is disturbing. It came with strong recommendations, such as this one by the estimable James Bow, but I cannot honestly add mine.
Season 19, Story 2: Four to Doomsday
This was the first story Peter Davison did, and ever since he refuses to watch it because he feels he didn’t have the part down at the time. But I liked the way he played the Doctor in this one – a little more eccentric, walking around casually waving his sonic screwdriver at security cameras, sending them into confusion. Some fans wish he’d continued to play it this way.
It’s set on an alien ship that visits Earth every few thousand years, picking up some humans every time, so there are four diverse people groups on board. But, of course, the commanders turn out to have sinister intents.
There’s a nice sequence toward the end in which the Doctor has to reach the TARDIS while it’s floating in space, which he does by bouncing a Cricket ball off the ship’s hull. It’s quite clever, although he should have maintained his inertia from his initial jump instead of slowing down; and this page goes further:
As anyone with at least a half-decent knowledge of basic physics would tell you, the Doctor couldn’t have been propelled backwards that fast by such a relatively small object as a cricket ball. What would happen, if the Doctor were to actually try it, would be this: After releasing the ball in the first place, he would have started moving backwards by the action of throwing the ball. [Remember Newton’s Third Law?] And not just moving in a straight line, mind you – he would have spun backwards in a slow cartwheel as a result of pitching the ball cricket-style, as he did. Assuming he was lucky enough to get a perfectly perpendicular bounce from that spacecraft, the ball would have caught up with him, impacting with whatever part of his body was facing that way at the time, increasing the rate of his spinning motion.
Whatever man, it was cool.
Not a very strong story, Adric does side with the bad guys, and Tegan does whine (about losing her job because of the delays getting home, of all things, because she’s forgotten that the TARDIS is a time machine), but… I kinda liked it. It’s long established by now that I have bad taste.
Oh wait. That pun wasn’t intentional, I promise. I am so sorry.
Season 19, Story 3: Kinda
I had to investigate this one, after reading a Netflix review stating that it has the same story as James Cameron’s Avatar. Surprisingly, there are some remarkable commonalities, as others have noticed. Aside from the absence of avatar bodies, I’d say the biggest difference is that rather than having a benevolent Gaia planetary consciousness like Pandora’s Eywa, the comparable being encountered on Deva Loka is the evil Mara, represented by a snake. Tegan falls asleep under the “hanging tree of life,” as this humorous collage calls it, and finds herself trapped in a dark nightmare world, taunted by people who turn out to be manifestations of the Mara. (This was a very inventive and daring element for its time, and has been called the most deeply frightening thing ever on the classic show.) I assume that the planet also has a benevolent spirit of some kind, but if so it isn’t shown in the story.
Kinda‘s old general starts out just like Quaritch, but ends up not being a major antagonist, to my pleasant surprise. Instead, his subordinate goes mad and makes preparations to destroy the base, himself, and the entire forest for miles around.
In the end the Mara appears as a giant snake, panned as a deeply disappointing effect by fans, but I was impressed by it. I had been expecting something like the truly awful snake from the end of the 1990 BBC miniseries of The Silver Chair (starring Tom Baker); Kinda‘s snake was much better than that.
Christopher Bailey, writer of Snakedance and Kinda, was a practising Buddhist and named Doctor Who‘s Mara after the Buddhist demon Mara. The two names share a common Proto-Indo-European root. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mara_(Doctor_Who)
I suspect that Mara is an even more ancient word, because it also appears in Hebrew, which is not derived from Proto-Indo-European:
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me ‘Mara’ (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)
This page explains the etymology of the Hebrew word:
A dish with a bitter taste is said to have a “strong” taste. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament reports that the Ugaritic, Arabic and Aramaic cognates of this root mean to bless, strengthen or commend. And since these languages are most often very similar to Hebrew, any Hebrew audience would surely be aware of this secondary meaning. HAW lists four texts in which this verb may be more appropriately be translated with strength/strengthen than with bitterness/being bitter: Exodus 1:14, Judges 18:25, Ecclesiastes 7:26 and Ezekiel 3:14.
When Naomi calls herself Mara, she is not simply complaining that she’s been dealt a lousy hand; she’s saying that the grief that Shaddai has visited upon her has made her strong.
I recommend Kinda. It’s a little confusing, but it’s uniquely inventive and pulls off some difficult material well.
Season 19, Story 6: Earthshock
This is one of the great classic Cybermen stories, with Patrick Troughton’s Tomb of the Cybermen and The Invasion. It begins with mysterious murders in caves, and introduces a military commander who becomes, for this story, an ally much like the Brigadier. Made with expertise and precision, it’s clearly one of Five’s best episodes – ranked second to The Caves of Androzani by fans. It’s a shame, though, that this affable Doctor’s greatest episodes were so dark, violent, and sad.
Spoilers but who cares: Adric is forced by the Cybermen to stay on the bomber freighter as it crashes into the Earth, but as it turns out, the ship has been slipping into the past – 65 million years into the past; and the detonation is fated to cause the extinction of the dinosaurs. A nice thing about the new CG effects is that originally, the modern earth was shown; now, it’s been replaced by Gondwana and Laurasia. Only trouble is, now it appears to match how the Earth was supposed to look 200 million years ago; 65 million years ago, it’s thought to have looked like this. I guess continental drift works differently in the Whoniverse.
Come on, guys, I believe the real Earth is 6000 years old, and I picked up on this. :D
I watched the first few minutes of Story 7, Time-Flight, to see the characters’ continued reaction to the loss of Adric, but I didn’t stay; it’s rated one of the worst episodes of all. Apparently Tegan left at the end of it, but she was immediately brought back at the start of the next season. Which, come to think of it, is what happened with the Ponds: “I’m saving your lives,” followed by “Never mind that, I’m lonely!”
Season 20, Story 1: Arc of Infinity
My favorite solo Fifth Doctor story. It features the return of Omega from The Three Doctors, who now just wants to return from his eternal solitude in the world of antimatter and live a normal life with other people; but he risks destroying the universe to reach that goal. It’s set on Gallifrey and in 1983 Amsterdam; I really enjoyed seeing the latter. The complete lack of exterior model shots of Gallifrey in the entire classic series continues to be a disappointment. With Adric gone and Tegan temporarily back on Earth, Nyssa gets a rare moment to be the Doctor’s sole companion, and she has a nice scene in which she passionately defends him before the Time Lords. Yes, there’s a badly designed rubber monster, but I don’t care. Watch this one.
The next story was Snakedance, a sequel to Kinda, but I decided to skip it. Maybe next time. The middle of Season 20 may seem a strange place to stop, but it means that next time I’ll be taking on the Black Guardian Trilogy, and it neatly divides these two posts about Five. So be it.