The Illusion Is Always One of Normality: The 5th Doctor

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Doctor Who Week continues on DaddyElk! The Series 9 premiere is coming this Saturday and to celebrate we’re going to be doing all kinds of Who-related content starting with revisiting some old articles written for the 50th anniversary highlighting my take on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th & 7th Doctors. In addition to regenerating (see what I did there?) this old content there will be tidbits and trivia scattered throughout the week. Allons-y!

Its 1982, I am 12 years old and change had come. It had been prepared for of course.

Every new portrayal of the Doctor is in many ways a reaction to the previous. So after 7 years of Tom Baker’s bombastic, over-the-top performance (and to a certain extent Pretwee’s) we get Peter Davison’s 5th Doctor played with grace and subtlety. Well, as subtle as one can get wearing a cricket outfit and huge question marks on you collar.

And this was a time that did answer that age old question, “So how many people can you fit inside the TARDIS control room?” It was a big cast. Doctor Who had done a big cast before in the UNIT era. But those characters were mainly recurring, left to the background. It was mostly just the Doctor and Jo to focus on. This time everyone was a main character and such needed to front and center with the Doctor acting as big brother and ringleader.

It was an interesting idea, I’ll give it that. It was meant to be a soap opera. Each character would have their own foibles and idiosyncrasies that would add drama and tension to the proceedings. This is something that happens quite often in “modern” television; think Buffy or Firefly. However what happened at this time was just a lot of bickering and whining and wondering what to do with everybody.

I suppose that’s it; there was no real follow through. The writers didn’t build character arcs, they just stayed the same from episode to episode and we, the viewer, were supposed to just infer that they were a family and going through massive changes. For instance, Nyssa lost her family, and her planet for that matter. This should have been a big deal. But when it is mentioned it is brushed off with a hand wave. Teagan’s character is defined by wanting to get back to Heathrow because traveling through time and space is just such a hassle. And then there’s Adric.

Well, it was an interesting effort. Still for all the faults this period had there was Davison’s performance. Easily the best actor in the role since Troughton. While Pertwee and Baker were personalities, Davison acted. There was nuance and subtly. He added thoughtfulness and tenderness to the Doctor that had not been seen before. There are some in fandom that see this as weakness and indecisive, far from it. Davison’s Doctor was a caring Doctor. An almost human Doctor you might say. This was a refreshing change and did help temper the excesses and missteps of the 80’s.

Oh, and there were a lot of excesses and missteps. From ridiculous costumes and hammy performances and pulling out every old monster in the playbook and less than stellar effects and sloppy writing, Who in the 80’s was and overabundance of excesses and missteps.

But through it all Davison’s Doctor helped ground and anchor the show into something watchable and at times brilliant.

Can you imagine Doctor Who with all those excesses and missteps without a kindly, caring and subtle performance? Unfortunately that is exactly what happened.

My Favorite Fifth Doctor Episodes

In no particular order:

  1. Kinda: Dreamlike with an unfortunate snake
  2. Snakedance: Same snake, different planet
  3. Enlightenment: Boats in space!
  4. Frontios: Is that his head?
  5. The Caves of Androzani: One of the best, period.

This article was originally published on November 19th, 2013

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