Thursday, September 17, 2009

He's A Fine Old Gallifreyan Time Lord: Thoughts on The Fifth Doctor



The Fifth Doctor:
Peter Davison (Born 1951)


It's only fitting that a British institution like Doctor Who would have a very British Time Lord. In Black Orchid, the first Earth-bound story to star Peter Davison's Doctor, he plays of all things...CRICKET! One of his Companions, Australian stewardess Tegan Jovanka, thought it was wonderful and could follow the game with ease. To his other Companions, humanoids Nyssa and Adric, they didn't know what was going on (neither, let's face it, could almost ANY American).

More than any other Doctor, Davison tried to remind viewers through his performance that he was really an amalgamation of four other people. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Davison, however, did manage to put his own stamp on the role. He was the Doctor who was most...human.

I have a special fondness for Davison's Doctor. He was MY Doctor, the first one I saw when I was a child. Curiously, David Tennant's Tenth Doctor also refers to him as HIS Doctor in the mini-episode Time Crash, showing Tennant to not be just an actor but also a fan. To me, this Doctor was a little more hesitant to act, almost as if he didn't want to be where he was at. He could do the job required, but his more introspective nature made things difficult. He had a sense that adventure was something to be endured. No, he wasn't terrible in the role. It was just that he knew what a high cost there was to his travels in time and space.



He was also saddled with some pretty awful stories and effects. Even as a child, I knew that there was something wildly wrong in Warriors of the Deep. While I thought well of the Sea Devils and Silurians, the Myrka was embarrassing. I couldn't take it seriously, nor the sets that I could see could break away with no effort. Janet Fielding (Companion Tegan Jovanka) made a very astute point: that in the BBC, the least-watched programs had the largest budgets while the most-popular ones had the smallest. Reverse snobbery, she called it. She called it right. Time-Flight also could have been a great story IF they had spent the money on it. The fact that they didn't brought the whole thing down.

That being said, I still can't disown The Fifth Doctor's tenure. As bad as some of the effects were (and I don't blame the technicians who did the best with what they had) or as weak as some of the stories were (Four to Doomsday comes to mind), I still have this time as a cherished childhood memory.

And of course, there are diamonds to be found. Of the ones available, I've often thought that Earthshock to be not just one of Davison's best stories but one of the best Doctor Who stories, and The Caves of Androzani (Davison's final story) has now become a classic. Despite the wild popularity of the revived Doctor Who (sometimes called NuWho), Caves of Androzani is still held as among the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time, usually in the Top Five if not Number One slot in polls.

I also think The Five Doctors to be excellent and still holds up quite well, especially given that it's an anniversary special. I can't quite bring myself to say Time-Flight as being the worse, since it IS a good story sadly brought down by lousy effects and cheap sets. I wasn't too thrilled with Black Orchid, but the one I liked the least was The Visitation. Though I liked the ending, I didn't quite follow what was going on for most of it. I might have to watch it again. I'm always willing to give things a second chance.

Stories currently available: Four to Doomsday, The Visitation, Black Orchid, Earthshock, Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity, The Five Doctors, Resurrection of the Daleks, and The Caves of Androzani. Castrovalva is available either individually or as part of the New Beginnings box set which has The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis from the Fourth Doctor, and Warriors of the Deep is available individually or as part of the Beneath the Surface box set with Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils from the Third Doctor. The Black Guardian Trilogy (containing Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, and Enlightenment) is scheduled for November 2009.

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