When Peter Davison signed on to replace Tom Baker as the Doctor in 1980, he was already a well-known actor for his work on the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small. Aged 29 at the time, he was also the youngest actor to play the Doctor, and remained so until the casting of 26-year-old Matt Smith twenty-nine years later. On 4th January 1982, the Fifth Doctor made his first full appearance in Castrovalva, sporting a cricketer’s costume, a stick of celery on his lapel, and a theme tune performed with synthesisers, presumably in case future fans needed reminding that this was the Eighties.
The Fifth Doctor inherited the three companions left behind by his predecessor: Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). After this group had had several adventures together, the ending of Earthshock brought a shock indeed as Adric was actually killed off, by being trapped onboard a spaceship which then crashed into prehistoric Earth, causing the Cretaceous mass extinction. Adric was technically not the first companion to die – the First Doctor lost a couple of new recruits within the space of The Daleks’ Master Plan – but he was the first long-term one to do so. The closing credits of the episode played without music, always a serious sign on TV.
The Doctor eventually picked up a new male companion, Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson); initially appearing to be a mischievous student, Turlough was actually an exiled alien from the planet Trion, who was secretly ordered to kill the Doctor by the Black Guardian (the villain of the Fourth Doctor’s Key to Time arc). The Doctor found it in his hearts to forgive Turlough for this, and allowed him to remain part of the team. A shape-changing android named Kamelion was also brought onboard the TARDIS, after the Doctor encountered him masquerading as King John under the command of the Master. Kamelion could hardly be considered a companion, however; he was presumably shut up in a cupboard somewhere and not seen or mentioned again until several stories later, whereupon he was ultimately destroyed. This was largely due to technical issues with the robot prop: its movements and voice production took a long time to program at the best of times, and then it regularly refused to work properly.
In November 1983, a twentieth-anniversary special called The Five Doctors was broadcast. It saw the First, Second, Third and Fifth Doctors (the Fourth having gotten stuck in the time vortex because Tom Baker declined to take part) uniting for an adventure on Gallifrey; Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee both returned, but as William Hartnell had since passed away, Richard Hurndall stepped in to play the First Doctor. Also returning for the special were Carole Ann Ford as Susan, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, and Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, who had already met the Fifth Doctor in an earlier adventure, Mawdryn Undead.
Davison had initially signed on to play the Doctor for three years – and following the advice of one of his predecessors, Patrick Troughton, he elected not to stay any longer to avoid typecasting. On 16th March 1984, Davison saw out the end of his tenure with The Caves of Androzani – voted the show’s best story ever by Doctor Who Magazine in 2009 – and regenerated into the Sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker.
In 2007, Davison returned to the role of the Fifth Doctor for a Children in Need short (written by Steven Moffat) called Time Crash, where he encounters David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor after their TARDISes collide. Soon after, Davison’s daughter, Georgia Moffett, guest-starred in Doctor Who as Jenny, the Doctor’s artificially created daughter; she subsequently started dating David Tennant, and they are now married with five children, so Peter Davison has another Doctor as his son-in-law!
This may be a controversial opinion, but I don’t really like the Fifth Doctor. He’s still heroic and brings some youthful energy to the part, but compared to the previous incarnations, little about him really stands out; he’s easily the most bland Doctor so far. I suppose it’s appropriate that he dresses in beige. Hearing about him from other sources, I’d gotten the impression that he was supposed to be one of the “nicer” Doctors, but he seemed no more or less amicable than the others; in fact, he can be pretty short and impatient with people sometimes. The majority of stories in this era actually match the Doctor in that they don’t stand out: they’re generally passable, but offer little in terms of special excitement or even cheese, and faded from my memory soon after I had watched them.
The Fifth Doctor’s companions are also a mixed bunch. I did like Nyssa and Turlough: Nyssa was friendly and relatively sensible, and Turlough had more of a dark and cunning side than the average companion. Adric, however, was not only annoying, but pretty stupid and useless for a supposed prodigy. In The Visitation, for example, Adric walks out of the TARDIS after declaring he can take care of himself – and literally takes just a few steps before getting captured by the bad guys. Even his death – which I wasn’t sorry for – is technically his own fault, as he needlessly stays on the doomed spaceship to try and stop it crashing while everyone else escapes. The producers do at least deserve credit for having the balls to really kill off a companion, instead of either backing out with a last-minute save or having the companion be “technically dead but still sort of alive”, as the revived series has repeatedly done.
I also never really warmed to Tegan, partly due to her personality and partly because, like Victoria Waterfield, she seemed to have limited enthusiasm about travelling with the Doctor. In Four to Doomsday, one of Tegan’s earlier adventures, she gets so frightened by the situation that she actually gets in the TARDIS by herself and tries to fly away without the others, getting so frantic as she struggles to operate the controls that she’s brought to the verge of tears. Again like Victoria, Tegan ultimately leaves the TARDIS voluntarily because she can’t handle all the danger and death anymore. (Mind you, the Doctor and Nyssa aren’t always so good to Tegan; at the end of Time Flight, they fly off in the TARDIS without her when she merely wanders away for a little too long, and she only finds them again through chance in the following adventure. Seriously?) By the time of his regeneration, the Doctor had a new companion in the form of Peri Brown – played by English-born Nicola Bryant sporting a fake American accent – but it’s too soon to form a proper opinion on her.
My Favourite Fifth Doctor Stories
The Visitation: This felt more like the better instalments of previous seasons, with action, twists, a little humour and good use of the historical setting. I also really liked the design of the episode’s aliens, the Terileptils.
The Five Doctors: It would be hard to go wrong with a special like this, featuring so many returning guests and monsters – the biggest risk would be it feeling too crammed with content, but in 90 minutes, everybody gets just enough to do. I very much liked the Raston Warrior Robot – it’s a shame that this was its only onscreen appearance.
The Caves of Androzani: As unremarkable as most of the Fifth Doctor’s tenure is, it ends on a real high note. The Caves of Androzani is a fantastic adventure, aiming for a darker and grittier tone than average Doctor Who, but still producing a compelling and exciting story, where the Doctor’s just trying to save his and his companion’s lives while being thwarted by a bigger conflict he wants no part of.
My Least Favourite Fifth Doctor Story
It’s hard to pick out a least favourite as no story in this era stands out for being especially cringeworthy, and several don’t stand out for anything at all. If I have to pick one, I’ll say Four to Doomsday for Tegan’s overly panicky behaviour mentioned above, Adric’s stupidity in being easily manipulated into helping the villain, and its boring scenes of watching historically-themed androids dance and mock-fight each other.