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Forever The Doctor

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November 1983: The BBC celebrated the 20th anniversary of their long-running SF series Doctor Who with a 90-minute special called The Five Doctors. Not only did the episode star Peter Davison as the fifth and then-current Doctor, but it also featured four of his previous regenerations as guest stars. For fans of the program, it was a very special night indeed.

It's 1993, 10 years and two Doctors later. The past decade has seen Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as the sixth and seventh incarnations respectively, and the BBC shelve the series for an indefinite period of time. A proposed special, featuring all the surviving Doctors, has also been cancelled due to various internal difficulties. As 30th anniversaries go, it's a bit of a letdown.

For Davison, who left behind his trademark Victorian cricketer costume and celery stick lapel ornament more than eight years ago, the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who offers a chance to reflect on his place in the program's history. "When I was doing Doctor Who," he explains, "I got used to the idea from a very early point that I would forever be Doctor #5, and I would never cut myself loose from it, at least as far as fans are concerned. That became fairly obvious after doing American conventions, but that was absolutely fine. It never stopped me from working, so I never had any worries from that point-of-view."

Davison left the series after only three seasons, following the advice of the late Patrick Troughton (Doctor #2, from 1966-69), who cautioned him against the dangers of typecasting. It was good advice. The versatile actor has appeared in a number of series since, never staying long enough to be identified with any one of them.

He recalls his predecessor's warning. "Patrick said, 'Do three years [of Doctor Who] and get out.' That pretty much reinforced my own feelings about it. I've done most things for three years and then moved on, because it's long enough to feel you've done it, but not so long that you become identified with it. The only exception was All Creatures Great and Small. We initially did three years of it and then stopped. I went back to it six years later, so even that was for a limited time."

One of Davison's biggest problems in taking over as the Doctor was succeeding Tom Baker, who had been playing the part for seven years. In order to make the character as different as possible from the wildly eccentric Baker, John Nathan-Turner, then-producer of Doctor Who, decided to shift the show's emphasis away from humor.

"There was very definitely a clamp-down on the jokes," agrees Davison. "I think John felt Tom had gotten out of hand with what we call 'undergraduate humor.' I don't know if that term means anything in America, but it's a kind of Pythonesque/Douglas Adams-like way of looking at the program, and of course Douglas had once been script editor on Doctor Who while Tom was doing it.

"Now, I like that form of humor, but I did feel there was a time and a place for it, and a time it should be absent. I remember seeing one episode that Tom did, where he was handing out jelly babies while a pendulum with a huge sword on it was coming towards him. I though that was a little bit disrespectful to the program. The tension was simply not there, because everyone knew he was going to be all right.

"I did feel there was a humor blackout, certainly for my first couple of seasons. The jokes were just not allowed, and I would try to put jokes in that the writers had come up with, and John would take them out. We would try to put them back in again, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. The writers were definitely given a memo saying that silly jokes were out."

Friendly Companions

As the new Doctor, Davison also inherited several companions from Baker's era, including Tegan (Janet Fielding), an outspoken Australian flight attendant, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), the Artful Dodger-like character, and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), a quiet scientist from the planet Traken. "I have a theory that evolved about the companions," says Davison, "and that was that John always wanted to make them more interesting. We had the acerbic, biting Tegan who didn't really want to be there, we had Turlough [Mark Strickson], who was always trying to kill me, and in the end, it seemed to me that the best companion was Nyssa. She liked the Doctor, she fulfilled a certain function; you might call it demeaning, but she was the Doctor's companion.

"I felt very sorry for Mark," Davison continues, "because after the first three stories, they literally had to lock him up at episode one's beginning and let him out at episode four's end. Otherwise, why wasn't he still trying to kill me? In the end, he had to leave because there was nowhere for his character to go. Either he could become a boring companion, which is something he didn't want to do, or he had to keep trying to kill me, which was simply impossible in terms of the story.

"Then, we had the abortive Kamelion," the actor laughingly remembers his robotic companion, which often malfunctioned during studio recordings. "It would have been much better to have an actor dressed as a robot, but never mind.

"I just felt we should have had a straightforward, down-the-line companion, and then the Doctor would build up a relationship with her. Tegan and I had kind of a relationship, but it always seemed that she didn't want to be there. Here we are, landing on another planet, and she didn't want to be anywhere, so what was she meant to do? In the end, interesting companions are all very well, but they didn't really work. I liked working with Mark, a very good actor, but the part was just too limiting for him, and that didn't help the series at all."

Favorite Colleagues

One of the highlights of Davison's time on Doctor Who was the 20th anniversary story, The Five Doctors. The 90-minute special brought together former Doctors Richard Hurndall (replacing the late William Hartnell), Jon Pertwee and Davison's childhood hero, Patrick Troughton. Although Tom Baker backed out of the special at the last minute, his Doctor was represented by using clips from "Shada," a never-finished story from his era.

Davison remembers The Five Doctors as an enjoyable time for all involved. "My only regret about it was that John Nathan-Turner thought there would be ego problems, so apart from the end, he really tried to keep all of us separate. I understand why he thought there would be problems, but in hindsight, it would have been nicer if we had actually done more stuff together. It really only came together right at the end, and that was a shame.

"We all got on very well, and had a great time doing The Five Doctors together. In a funny kind of way, we're really not in competition with each other. You're your own Doctor. When I go to America, I am Doctor #5, in my own right. I may not be the most popular Doctor, but nevertheless, I am the fifth Doctor, Tom is the fourth Doctor, and everybody has their own place in the grand scheme of things. We're not in competition; at least I don't feel in competition with any of the others."

Personal favorites are always hard to choose, and although Davison spent only three seasons as the Doctor, he still has difficulty choosing a period where everything really clicked. "I thought the nearest we got to it was the last story, 'The Caves of Androzani.' There was some kind of vitality that [director] Graham Harper brought to it. I was very happy when we finished that one.

"I also liked some of the earlier stories, and I still think [former script editor] Eric Saward wrote some of the very best Doctor Who scripts. I thought his 'Earthshock' [which featured the Cybermen, as well as the unexpected death of the Doctor's companion, Adric] was a good one. It had that 'classic' quality, where the Doctor affects the history of the world."

Says Davison, "I always remember an early Doctor Who story about the Marie Celeste [the 1965 adventure "The Chase"], where the Doctor had been responsible for everybody jumping off the ship, and that same kind of thing happened in 'Earthshock,' where he was responsible, in a roundabout way, for the dinosaurs being wiped out. It was classic Doctor Who ."

As to the low point of his time on the program, Davison targets "Time Flight," the climactic episode of Season 19, in which a Concorde is pulled back to the dawn of time. "I always think of 'Time Flight' as being really pathetic!" the actor laughs. "Maybe the fact that it was the end of the season really colors it for me. Although it wasn't a bad story, it was just a lame way to do it — to try and create a prehistoric landscape in Studio 8 of the BBC."

Although Davison's last voyage in the TARDIS was nearly a decade ago, he has always maintained a strong link with the series, whether it's in interviews (STARLOG #102), the occasional convention visit or public appearances. It's no surprise, therefore, that when BBC Enterprises, the worldwide distributor of Doctor Who, started discussing the possibility of assembling Dark Dimensions, a 30th anniversary special featuring all five of the surviving Doctors, Davison was immediately interested.

Unfortunately, the actor was never formally approached for the project. As he relates with more than a degree of annoyance, his agent was never contacted, phone calls were never returned, and when a script finally arrived, it was sent directly to Davison's home address with a note saying, "We look forward to working with you." Before his agent had a chance to accept or reject the script on his behalf, the special had already been cancelled.

"I feel very cross about the whole thing," says Davison, discussing the now-defunct special. "The implication was that the project had fallen apart because the other Doctors had been precious [i.e. offended] about not having a big part. It was implied that it was our fault, when in fact it was BBC Enterprises', and their not taking the project seriously. There's no way a professional company would announce the special was starting, and who was to star in it, if they hadn't even approached the actors who in theory would be in it. If they had done that earlier, then maybe something could have been worked out."

Davison is quick to point out that he would have enjoyed working with Graham Harper again — the "Caves of Androzani" director was slated to helm Dark Dimensions — but that reunion was not to be. "It would have been very nice," he says with regret. "The theory of the project was great. Doing a 30th-anniversary special is a terrific idea, and I really would have enjoyed it, but the blame must lie solely at the feet of BBC Enterprises for approaching it in a completely amateurish way."

Despite the special's cancellation, Davison still got the chance to work with three of his fellow Doctors in The Airzone Solution, the newest SF video from director Bill Baggs. The actor was contacted by Colin Baker (Doctor #6), who had appeared in Baggs' Stranger videos (STARLOG #188).

"It seemed like a fun thing to do. Colin said he had done a few of these things, and had a good time, and how about doing one with him? I said, 'Yeah, I don't mind,' so Bill rang me up."

Davison plays Al Dunbar, an investigative journalist, trying to uncover a sinister plot at the Airzone Corporation, a multinational conglomerate with a government contract to clean up the environment.

Appearing with Davison are Pertwee as Dunbar's Walter Cronkite-like mentor; McCoy, playing an environmental activist; and Baker, as a TV weatherman who becomes embroiled in the plot. Davison's former Who co-star Nicola Bryant plays a newscaster.

For Davison, one of the most appealing aspects of The Airzone Solution was the chance to take an active part in the production; offering suggestions, contributing ideas and generally becoming more involved. "I firmly believe it was a joint effort," he declares, "and so I didn't hold back from talking about how I thought something should be.

"One usually finds that a cameraman may get into a project, but there are other times where some of the people involved have no interest in doing such a thing. We had that problem with some of our Doctor Who stories, and it also has happened on several other projects on which I've worked. More often than not, if you get a team spirit, people do work hard, and give it that little extra bit. That was true of this project."

The last few months have been busy ones indeed for Davison. While finishing The Airzone Solution, he was also rushing back to London's West End, where he was starring in Arthur Miller's The Last Yankee. For the actor, who normally sticks to television, the chance to appear in a Miller play was too good to pass up, even though it meant developing an American dialect for the production.

"I think it does limit the acting," Davison agrees, in regard to his temporary American accent. "I've been on the other end of it when I see Americans doing English accents, and while they might be very good at it, the acting was affected in some way. They became slightly stiff, so I have no doubt the acting is affected.

"What I found was that I actually enjoyed doing the accent. It's part and parcel of the acting."

New Commitments

A discussion of the difference between British and American cultures reminds Davison of a visit he once made to the United States. For a young actor trying to find work in Hollywood, it was an eye-opening experience.

"It was really Sandra [Dickinson, Davison's actress wife, from whom he is now separated] who wanted to work over there. She initially went over by herself for a few months, and I said if I wasn't doing anything, that I would come, so I did. It was the first time I had ever tried to find work in America. I came very close to getting a pilot, but in the end it was given to Roger Rees, who had more of a track record.

"I went through this completely nerve-wracking process of going to the network, and after you go through the producer and everyone else, you have to do a reading in front of the network executives — the 'suits' — and it's just mind-bogglingly terrifying. These people have entirely different criteria than the acting. They might say, 'No, he's a little too short,' or, 'His hair is the wrong color.' You don't even feel that they're looking at the acting; they're looking at everything else."

Turning his attention to current projects, Davison will be on the move for the next several months. "First, I'm doing a children's series called Molly. It will be seen in most of Europe, and I'm doing that in France. Then, I'll be working on a film version of Black Beauty that Warner Bros, is doing over here. It's written by Caroline Thompson, the woman who wrote Edward Scissorhands, and it's also her directing debut. When we had our first read-through, I could guess that it was her very favorite book from childhood, the pet project she always wanted to do. It's not a high-budget feature, but it's a very good story." Davison hasn't found much time to attend Doctor Who conventions lately, but he hastens to tell fans of the series that his absence is due more to work commitments than a lack of interest. "I did a convention last year, and that was the first one I had attended in some time," he admits. "It was very nerve-wracking, because I had forgotten many of the old anecdotes I used to tell. I couldn't remember the names of the episodes, so fans would ask, 'What was your favorite story?' and I would say, 'It was the one where I did this...' but I couldn't remember its name!

"I actually don't mind doing conventions. I'm quite at ease, because eventually people have to accept you as you are. There's less a desire to please the fans — no, the desire is always there, but now you can be honest about things, and usually you'll find that the fans will agree with you. Generally, you're voicing things that are universally accepted anyway."

As Doctor Who moves past its 30th anniversary and beyond. Peter Davison is quite content with his place in the show's history. "I really don't feel competitive about Doctor Who," he reiterates, "but I suppose that's because I am not my own favorite Doctor. I was brought up on Doctor Who, and for me Patrick Troughton was my favorite Doctor. I no longer claim number one position on the league of Doctors, and I was quite happy to leave so that Colin could be his Doctor, or Sylvester could be his, and I don't feel competitive about it. In the end. That's not what my career is all about."


Caption: Which Doctor was this Doctor? Peter Davison was the fifth incarnation of the immortal Doctor Who.

Caption: "I'm quite at ease [doing conventions]," Davison relates. "Eventually, people have to accept you as you are."

Caption: There's no Dalek problem that the good Doctor can't fix. ..with a large gun.

Caption: "I am Doctor #5, in my own right," Davison adamantly states, popular Doctor, but nevertheless, I am the fifth Doctor."

Caption: Turlough (Mark Strickson) kept trying to kill the Doctor. Homicide, however, proved to be a limiting character trait.

Caption: Davison shared adventures with several companions, including Matthew Waterhouse's Adric (who met a tragic end).

Caption: While cricket may have been the Doctor's favorite sport, a good battle of wits was more often the game of the moment.

JOE NAZZARO, New Jersey-based writer, profiled Robert Llewelyn in #196.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Nazzaro, Joe (issue 197 (December 1993)). Forever The Doctor. Starlog p. 49.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Nazzaro, Joe. "Forever The Doctor." Starlog [add city] issue 197 (December 1993), 49. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Nazzaro, Joe. "Forever The Doctor." Starlog, edition, sec., issue 197 (December 1993)
  • Turabian: Nazzaro, Joe. "Forever The Doctor." Starlog, issue 197 (December 1993), section, 49 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Forever The Doctor | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Forever_The_Doctor | work=Starlog | pages=49 | date=issue 197 (December 1993) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=8 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Forever The Doctor | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Forever_The_Doctor | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=8 December 2019}}</ref>