Doctor of the Month: The Fifth Doctor

jason stives and michael dworkis look at the fifth doctor peter davison…

Profile: The Fifth Doctor – Peter Davison.

The Fifth Doctor took the form of a boyish adventurer who faced numerous trials that would test his resolve. Cast perfectly for the role was Peter Davison. No stranger to television (he’s been a staple of British TV pre and post Who), Davison portrayed this incarnation of The Doctor with the quirky wit of his predecessor along with what could be described as a youthful heart with a cunning mind. The costume of this Doctor was a uniform of a cricket player with red question marks more pronounced on his attire, something which continued until the end of the original Doctor Who series.

From 1981 to 1984, Davison’s Doctor encountered tragedy and death. One of the longer-lasting companions chose to abandon his adventures as she could no longer withstand witness the constant perils of death which surrounded life in the TARDIS, an instance once again reflected in David Tennant’s Doctor with companion Martha Jones. The youthful and at-times naïve Doctor found himself in the most perplexing of situations. Davison proved to be worthy of his role as Doctor, by being a character whom audiences would cherish as much as a predecessor, Tom Baker.

Significance/Legacy: It might be debatable, but Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor was significant in being the last great Doctor of the original run. While the eighties were a turbulent time during the shows’ run, one with constant change and misfires every season, the initial years of the 1980s seemed productive and a step in the right direction. Davison’s Fifth Doctor had much in contrast against his predecessors for several reasons:

1. Davison was (at the time) the youngest actor to take on the role at 29 years of age (a record broken by current Doctor Matt Smith who was 26 when cast).

2. The Fifth Doctor’s personality differed greatly from his predecessors, taking a timid and less irascible tone. He was a Doctor who lacked direct confrontation, shunned violent behavior, and chose using logic and reasoning to dissolve bad situations. In a way this made the Doctor seem less heroic but his heart was always firmly in the right place, protecting those around him that he cared about.

For the show’s current incarnation, the Fifth Doctor was an excellent blue print to the show’s young actors as David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor has shown much in common with his fifth incarnation. From the unnecessary brainy specks, to high top sneakers, and even a high pitch toned the Doctor attributed to when he gets excited, the Fifth Doctor was the perfect model for actors who were much younger in appearance but were capable of playing the role of an ancient alien who had lived it all and was stilling through his endless years. This is best represented in the 2007 Children in Need special, “Time Crash,” which features the Tenth and Fifth Doctors coming face to face for the first time.

On the story front, the Fifth Doctor’s three seasons have their ups and downs but his final season is significant for having what many consider being the greatest story in the show’s history, the Fifth Doctor’s swan song, “The Caves of Androzani.” An action pack thrill ride, this character driven story featured the Doctor going to extreme lengths to save the life of his companion, even prolonging his regeneration for an entire episode. It showcased the one side of the Fifth Doctor that was absent from his tenure which was his capability of being a savior that stared danger in the face. While a pity that this arose in Davison’s last story, it made a lasting impression on the public and in comparison to his successor, it was something that fans had hoped would remain with any subsequent Doctor. However, as our next entry will show, things would take a radical turn indeed…

Essential Stories:


This adventure is the first for the Fifth Doctor. As the story begins, it seems the Doctor’s recent regeneration is not complete and the mind of the Timelord seems to be failing him. His erratic and insane behavior leads him and his companions, Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa to believe the regeneration might not have worked and The Doctor could be dying. They escape from being captured by the Pharos Project, but another TARDIS is seen in the area, belonging to The Master. To save himself, The Doctor holds himself in the Zero Room, a room for him to complete his regeneration. It will take time, which is not a commodity he and his companions have the luxury of.

Adric, a mathematical genius, is captured and replaced by a double during the altercation with the Pharos Project by The Master who sets The Doctor’s TARDIS a course for the beginning of creation. In order to save themselves, The Doctor orders his companions to delete a quarter of the TARDIS in order to have enough power to escape “Event One.” By doing so, they inadvertently delete the Zero Room. Luckily the doors of the Zero Room can be used as material to build a makeshift cabinet for The Doctor to hibernate in. Tegan and Nyssa find a city called Castrovalva, a place of tranquility where The Doctor can regenerate.

Overseen by the Portreeve, a city warden, the city enjoys a quiet, happy, existence. We soon learn that the peaceful city of Castrovalva is not what it seems. No matter where they go, the trio winds up in the same location over and over. Roads lead to nowhere, or to everywhere. Paintings and tapestries appear to tell a story about The Doctor. The Doctor, whose memory has not fully returned begins to remember a companion is missing, Adric.

Realizing that Castrovalva has more than meets the eye, The Doctor and his companions know the problem, but cannot pinpoint it. One of the townspeople, Shardovan knows the secret, and brings The Doctor to the Portreeve, revealing himself as The Master! The entire city of Castrovalva is nothing more than a fictional location created by mathematical calculations from the mind of Adric. The Master tries to escape, but Adric having created the city, controls it as well. The city begins to vanish and crumble while Adric leads The Doctor and his companions to safety as The Master is to be trapped forever. –MD


The TARDIS lands in Earth’s distant future in the middle of a cave expedition, where the team’s members are suddenly disappearing. Upon investigation, the Doctor and his companions learn they are being hunted silently by lethal, black androids. The Doctor looks to eliminate the problem before anyone else gets hurt but isn’t aware that the androids are just decoys to the real enemies: the Cybermen.

The great thing about “Earthshock” lies in its cinematic presentation. With veteran Doctor Who writer and director Peter Grimwade at the helm, “Earthshock” is an action packed four parter complete with claustrophobic sets, and mood lighting that adds to the air of danger that surrounds the Cybermens’ presence on a deep space freighter ala the film Alien. It marks two significant points in the show’s run: 1. It marked the return of the Cybermen after a 7 year absence and a fitting one at best.

The Cybermen had only been featured once between 1968 and 1982, in the lackluster Fourth Doctor story “Revenge of the Cybermen” so their return here (which was kept hidden from the press until Part 1 had aired) was a big surprise. The Cybermen of the 1980s are quite a trip, acting far more emotive than they were intended to, with the Cyber leader uttering his signature catchphrase of “Excellent” on a regular basis. This made the Cybermen more amusing than it did threatening but “Earthshock” is an exception to how they were perceived for the rest of the show’s run. –JS

The other important aspect is the death of the Doctor’s companion, Adric, who sacrifices himself to prevent the space freighter from crashing into modern day Earth. While Adric was by no means the most well received of companions (he was a snooty, know- it-all of a person from day one) the impact of a companion’s death on a family oriented show was big news and was something that acted as a hidden guilt for the Fifth Doctor for the rest of his tenure. His speechless reaction to watching the destruction of the freighter invokes the alien quality to the show’s hero but shows the caring nature of which the Doctor has always been known for.

“Mawdryn Undead”

While by no means an instant classic, “Mawdryn Undead” is a unique story during this time period as it is both a full blown nostalgia fest and a classically structured Science Fiction story about overlapping time lines and immortality. The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan land on present day Earth (1983 by the show’s then status) in the shadow of a private school where the Doctor encounters his old friend, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart, the former head of UNIT. The trouble is the Brigadier has no recollection of knowing the Doctor which despite having regenerated recently, puzzles the will of the Timelord. Elsewhere, a strange school boy named Turlough is recruited by a familiar foe of the Doctor, the Black Guardian, to befriend and kill the Doctor in cold blood.

While I thoroughly enjoy this story, “Mawdryn Undead” is kind of a mess of a story mainly because it tries to cram too much into it at once. Contradicting timelines, the re introduction of an old friend and an old foe, and of course the introduction of a new companion in Turlough. Turlough is kind of a breath of fresh air as he breaks the mold of the more recent companions by having a mysterious back story. Sneaky, calculating, and a bit dangerous, he spends his first few adventures with the Doctor trying to kill him. This is all under the watchful eye of the Black Guardian, an enemy of the Doctor first introduced during the Key to Time season of the Fourth Doctor era. Also returning as stated above was the Brigadier, here as a school teacher and played once again by the late Nicholas Courtney. While he spends most of the story in a haze of remembrance, the Brigadier is just as witty, sharp tongued, and militaristic as he was back in the seventies, a bid older and a little wiser (or so he leads on, he is suppose to be a Math teacher anyway).

The sub plot that involves the story’s namesake centers around a creepy immortal scientist named Mawdryn with an exposed brain who tries to steal the remaining lives of the Doctor. There is a great story in here with Mawdryn but its underdeveloped amongst the chaos of the other plot points. He ultimately tries to pass himself off as the Doctor after being badly injured to Tegan and Nyssa. It seems a bit far fetch at best but it shows what a strong character Mawdryn is considering the limitations of the show at the time. –JS

“The Caves of Androzani”

In his final story, The Doctor and his companion Peri travel to Androzani Minor, sister planet to Androzani Major. These are corrupt worlds with businessmen who would have made Bernie Madoff jealous. Mining a drug which enables the user to extend the lifespan, rival groups fight to control the source of the drug.

The Doctor is met with challenge after challenge: toxic gas, near-death execution and constant trickery by all involved keep the Doctor and Peri quite busy during this final journey. An interesting note, the majority of the episode featured the supporting cast waging war over control of the mines. The story of how The Doctor and Peri are swept up in the ensuing chaos is very well-planned and extremely detailed. The Doctor and Peri are soon infected with a toxic substance known as Spectrox, and only milk produced by a Queen Bat within the mines will cure them. During a skirmish in the caves, The Doctor is caught by a laser shot, but appears uninjured.

The war between the businessmen and the gunrunners escalate, with The Doctor and Peri trapped in the middle. Peri becomes the focus of attraction to a psychopath with a disfigured face and The Doctor is pushed to the point of crashing a spaceship into the planet, which would have killed everyone. Instead, The Doctor managed to prevent the ship from crashing in order to save his companion, the feud between… well, everyone hit its apex as each one killed the other in senseless cruel violence, but the damage had been done. The Doctor saved Peri, but half of the antidote to the toxic poison is lost. The Doctor gives it to his companion, and informs her that he must regenerate to save himself. In a very strange twist, visions of past companions encourage The Doctor to stay alive, while a vision of The Master cackles for his demise. Thankfully, the regeneration into The Sixth Doctor is successful, and the adventures continue on. –-MD

Honorable Mention:

“The Five Doctors”

The show’s 20th anniversary in 1983 was marked with this 90 minute special that featured all the living Doctors…kind of. This story is earmarked for its production issues and the overall complications of the final product. For one thing only three out of the five actors who played the Doctor were present for specific reasons. William Hartnell who originated the role had passed away in 1975 so a stand-in in the form of actor Richard Hurndall was brought in to fill the role, and for the most part he succeeded on an eerie level. Also, Tom Baker, fresh from leaving the series was wary about returning and chose not to return for the special. In his place, footage from the unfinished story “Shada” was instituted to provide a linking narration to the Fourth Doctor’s absence from the majority of the story.

Outside of these casting issues, “The Five Doctors” is a fun story for nostalgic purposes only. The Doctor’s five incarnations are plucked out of their respected time zones by a mysterious figure that plops them down into the Death Zone on Gallifrey. Here, the Doctors must try and reach the ominous Tower of Rassilon in order to get their answers, along the way they are each given a companion and must face many familiar foes and death traps that could prevent them from succeeding. It’s quite fun watching each Doctor in action again and both Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor and Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor fit perfectly back into their respected roles, as if they had never left them. While it would have been nice to have Baker in the story, if you blindly go into this story not knowing that his appearance is from pre existing footage, it almost feels like everyone is there and everyone practically is there! The Master, Daleks, Cybermen and so many classic companions are thrown into the mix and while it feels a bit disoriented it’s a joyous adventure for long time fans. –JS


All Photos Credit: BBC America