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The New Doctor Who

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When Tom Baker announced that he was leaving Doctor Who, a role he had played since 1975, American fans screamed that no one could replace the man who had established the off-beat time traveller in their hearts. Yet in England, where the series has survived through four changes of the major character over 19 years, the new Doctor Who has taken the country by storm ... . to dedicated fans Peter Davison now is Doctor Who!

At 31, the blond-haired Davison is the youngest actor to play the ageless Time Lord. Although many fans were skeptical as to his ability to take over from Baker, since the first Davison serial, "Castrovalva," was transmitted on January 4, 1982, Doctor Who has maintained impressive ratings with a steady audience of about 10.5 million people.

The success of the current season of Doctor Who is not due solely to Davison, but also to a well planned series of changes brought on by John Nathan-Turner, who became producer in December '79 after the departure of Graham Williams. Nathan-Turner, no stranger to Doctor Who, having worked on serials with Patrick Troughton and Jon Pert-wee (Doctors #2 & 3), began to look for ways to inject new life in the long-running series to keep the audience riveted to their televisions each week.

Change is nothing new to this program, of course. Besides five Doctors, all with different personalities, there have been over 20 companions. In fact, the only thing that hasn't changed (with a few exceptions) is the exterior of the TARDIS.

"I think very much whoever produces the program has a personal instinct as to what's right for it," Nathan-Turner observes. For instance, when he first stepped in, Nathan-Turner decided that script writers were beginning to use the Doctor's robot pet, K-9, as a crutch. If a sticky situation arose, it was K-9, not the Doctor, performing the heroics. The impression was that, no matter how great the odds, the Doctor would survive. Nathan-Turner, however, wanted to leave the audience with some doubt.

"I opted for a more fallible Doctor," he explains, "a more vulnerable character who wasn't always on top of every situation. I felt in the past, some of the Doctors had been dominant. There really was no threat. Every cliffhanger ending left the Doctor in jeopardy of some kind and we all know that he's gonna get out of it and be back next week. I think that if the role is played infallibly, then, in a way, we're undercutting the drama. If you've got a Doctor who is fallible, I think, hopefully, the viewers can get more involved and seriously believe he might not be back next week."

Three's Company

During Tom Baker's final season, Nathan-Turner added three new companions to replace Romana, the Doctor's Time Lady companion, and K-9. The first newcomer was young Matthew Waterhouse as Adric, a mathematics genius; later on, a cybernetics expert named Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and an Australian airline stewardess named Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) came on board.

"I brought in three companions because I liked the original lineup of the first Doctor with the two teachers and the granddaughter," explains Nathan-Turner. "I thought it worked very well. With four people onboard the TARDIS you can have two storylines going and you can have plenty of dialogue. Or, you can have four storylines and they (the regulars) speak only to non-regulars of the program. It's a very useful device, but, like everything, after a time, it begins to bore. Keeping four characters on the air throughout the story can be a difficult responsibility."

During the 1982 season, the relationship between the Doctor and his companions was set in a family-like manner. Nyssa and Adric, both highly intelligent, were able to adjust to the weird new situations they encountered. Tegan is aboard the TARDIS, but not by choice; she stumbled aboard prior to takeoff and has no intention of making any place but Brisbane, Australia in 1981, her home.

"I think that she's one of the most interesting companions that there's ever been," the producer comments. "She isn't a typical Doctor Who girl. In the old days, they used to say that the two basic requirements of being a Doctor Who companion was to be able to run down corridors and say, 'So what do we do next, Doctor?' with conviction.

"Here's this bossy lady who stumbled into the TARDIS, who gets irritated by the Doctor, and the Doctor gets irritated by her because she speaks her mind. Tegan, being the outsider, is representing the average viewer's point-of-view.

"The current lineup was for the younger viewers to have Adric and Nyssa to identify with. Tegan, judging by the fan mail, is very popular with some of the older boys and the dads. Peter is very popular all around, but he has a huge female following. Consequently, we have a lineup of people who provide something for everyone."

Once he had a cast he was satisfied with, Nathan-Turner then set about improving the series' visual quality. This task was complicated by the fact that costs were soaring and, with less money available, the BBC was forced to cut the budget. There is no doubt, however, that against all odds, Nathan-Turner and his staff were able to redirect money towards the right areas. The production values of the 1982 season were by far the best ever seen on the series.

"I removed a lot of the location work," Nathan-Turner points out, "which is very expensive. In a way, it's very restricting because we try to do it within 25 miles of London, which nearly always looks like 25 miles from London. For the final serial of the current season, 'Timeflight,' we had a studio landscape created which looks absolutely marvelous. Totally alien. Had we more money, I guess we would have gone on location. When you do remove the location work, it does put a bit more money at your disposal for things that count. Actors count, designs, costumes, makeup and visual effects. My motto is 'Spend the money where it shows.' If it doesn't show, let's stop spending it."

More Changes

Nathan-Turner is quite pleased with the overall success of the current season. One interesting change that was made by the controller of BBC 1 was the move from the Saturday night slot Who had occupied for 18 years. Originally presented once a week, the 1982 season was shown twice a week on Mondays and Tuesdays at about 7 pm. Although delighted that the new time slots have brought in a bigger audience, Nathan-Turner is concerned that the episodes are being used up twice as fast. Towards the end of the season, he found that the backlog was being used up so fast that the amount of time between the taping of an episode and the broadcast was growing shorter and shorter.

There has also been a change in the music of Doctor Who; besides a new arrangement of the title theme, certain episodes are now using electronic scores. "With all due respect to Dudley Simpson, who used to do the music, he was restricted financially by the number of musicians he could use. Consequently, he would go to certain instruments the musicians could double with. There was a sameness whether the story was set on Earth or on another planet. No, that's not his fault, but the financial restrictions imposed upon him. With electronic music, there are so many different sounds and musical noises that can be made. There's a distinct alien feel. If there's an Earth-based story, we can augment with a piano or drums which gives us a more Earthly sound. But on the whole, when we're on alien planets, we get a whole variety of sounds which helps to set up different civilizations. I think it makes the whole thing more acceptable."

One major change Nathan-Turner made in Doctor Who was the casting of Peter Davison in the lead role. Having been faced with Baker's announced departure, Nathan-Turner found himself sitting in his office, trying to think of an actor who would be right to take over the role and portray the type of character he had envisioned.

"There is this whole wall in my office that is covered with pictures," Nathan-Turner points out. "They're from shows that I've worked on and I was sitting there thinking, 'Well who am I going to get,' and this picture sort of leaped off the wall at me. It was Peter's from All Creatures Great and Small, on which I was unit manager. So, I called him at home and said, 'How would you like to be the new Doctor Who?' and I thought he was going to die!"

"I had to think about it for a long time," Peter Davison recalls. "At the time it seemed like a fairly ridiculous idea. It took a couple of weeks and a couple of lunches with John before I said I was going to do it.

"I suppose it was just fear that made me uncertain. I'm glad that I did it. I watched Doctor Who off-and-on while I was growing up. Now I miss watching the show and not knowing what's gonna happen next because I now know what's going to happen next!"

It is ironic that Davison's first television appearance was in Thames Television's SF series The Tomorrow People serial "A Man for Emily," which co-starred his wife-to-be, Sandra Dickenson. Prior to that role, he had done three years of theatre work after his graduation from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1972. Davison found he enjoyed television and decided to stay there, his big break soon forthcoming with the role of Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small.

Davison also performed in a few comedy series such as Sink or Swim and Holding the Fort. He was also the "Dish of the Day" in an episode of the television version of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. "My wife, Sandra, was doing the series (as Trillian) and when they were looking for someone to play 'The Dish,' she suggested me."

Bakers Anti-Chost

Stepping into the role occupied by Tom Baker for six years (the longest of any other actor) was not an easy job for Davison. He had the feeling that an "anti-ghost" of Baker was always peering over his shoulder, checking out everything he did. "In television, they figure that if you've been in the business for five or six years, you know what you're doing. If you're alright, they never say anything to you. You've done well if they don't talk to you. You're not their primary concern. The first story, 'Castrovalva,' was very, very complicated as far as effects were concerned and really, the director, apart from asking, 'Are you happy?,' didn't say anything to me at all!"

Much of the new Doctor's personality is the result of a team effort on the part of Nathan-Turner and Davison. "I was given a completely blank page to do with as I like," Davison explains, "but at the same time, I didn't have the advantage I would have with another part where I can create the character by saying, 'His parents were like this or this is his background.'

"So, I thought about what the other Doctors had done and I picked up ideas. I didn't try to dive in with a totally down-the-line character. I think my character has more than I intended to do with William Hartnell (the first Doctor). In a way, I get cross sometimes, as Hartnell did. Very gruff. He always has the best intentions in the world, but because of this, he doesn't always make mistakes, but he sometimes causes them. When he gets into a dangerous situation, he gets into trouble."

It is interesting to note that while Davison sees a similarity between his character and William Hartnell's, Matthew Waterhouse, who played Adric since the third serial ("The Full Circle") of Tom Baker's last season, sees Davison's portrayal differently. "I think that Peter's interpretation is a kind of throwback to Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor). It's a rather quieter Doctor. Both of them work.

"Tom was very successful and Peter is currently being and will continue to be enormously successful. Peter's 'Doctor' comes to acceptance faster than any other Doctor before him. He did a float (early this year) at some show and the kids were cheering and shouting. He was the Doctor even before he appeared on screen. Everyone who usually watched the new Doctor always said, 'Aw, it's not like the previous one.' Peter has been accepted. He really is the Doctor."

Future Talk

One thing all the actors agree on is a problem with all the tongue-twisting dialogue they're given to speak. Sarah Sutton, who plays Nyssa, is the veteran performer of the cast, having performed on television since she was 11. Even this seasoned actress finds the dialogue an obstacle at times. Nyssa is a cyberneticyst, but Sarah sticks to saying, "I'm an expert at cybernetics. I can't get my mouth around those words!"

Waterhouse finds the challenge a bit exciting, "It's quite fun, actually. We talk about foldback flow inducers and time curve indicators. It's wonderful."

Of course, he has no trouble pronouncing his character's field of expertise, "I'm an expert at mathematics, which is easy to say but hard to understand!"

When doing such a popular series such as Doctor Who on a regular basis, an actor can run the risk of becoming typecast. Both Waterhouse and Sutton don't feel their popularity as Adric and Nyssa will affect their careers that much. However it was a concern for Peter Davison. Doctor Who is something of a national institution in England and, unless he has a backup, an actor who has played the role may find that he is seen only as the Doctor. Then it could happen that the actor finds his career irreparably damaged. "Oh, I think it could," Davison agrees. "Though, after doing All Creatures for so long, I thought that might stop me. It's something I thought about before I took the part."

Davison is looking forward to filling in the breaks between seasons with other work. "I think it's good to do other things as well. If not for being typecast, for sanity. I got where I am without backup. I do feel as if I had leapt over an entire section of my education, playing a lot of small parts in a lot of series. I think that's the reason I'm trying to do so many things now.

"Doctor Who is an adventure series and you're not always given a chance to perform as much as you like. There's no time to tell a proper story."

"There's only a certain amount you can do with the lines you're given," Sutton points out. "It is quite difficult I suppose."

"It is," agrees Waterhouse. "The series is fairly limited characterwise. They're not really in-depth characters because it's really an action/adventure thing. The script develops the situation rather than the characters. I would say there is a lack of coherent character development.

"But then there is in most series, not just science-fiction series or Doctor Who. In any long running series. Nothing in The Avengers or the Gerry Anderson stuff. "

Spotlight

Both performers acknowledge the fact that they both owe a great deal to the episodes that do come along and spotlight their characters. One such story during the current season was "Kinda," which allowed Janet Fielding (who was unavailable for an interview) to add more dimension to Tegan, a character that had done a lot of shouting and stomping around in the previous story, "Four to Doomsday." Here Fielding was able to play Tegan when she is taken over by an alien force, after she is transported into a lonely, dark dimension. In one scene, Tegan meets her duplicate and the two are challenged to prove to each other who is the real one.

What lies in store for the Doctor in the future? John Nathan-Turner knows, but he doesn't want to give away any secrets until he's sure. As for reappearances of favorite villains, Anthony Ainley has returned as the Master in "Castrovalva" and "Timeflight" and the Cybermen in "Earthshock."

Ainley is the third actor to play the Master since the late Roger Delgado originated the role of the renegade Time Lord back during the days of Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. "There was a season," Nathan-Turner points out, "where every story was a Master story. It gets very repetitive. The Master is a terrific adversary, but he must'nt be overdone."

"I'd love to meet the Daleks just once," Davison says, but Nathan-Turner is not too sure if the Daleks will return. Their last appearance, "Destiny of the Daleks," was not a serial he cared for. "I thought it pointed out too many of the pitfalls of the Daleks which I think the production people had always been aware of," remarks the producer. "It was actually pointed out to the audience that if you run up a ladder, the Dalek can't get you.

"You're undercutting your adversary. If you're gonna have a vulnerable Doctor, he's got to be quite wary of his adversary. That heightens the drama."

Whatever lays in store for the Time Lord and his companions, however, John Nathan-Turner will never have to worry if he made the right decision in choosing Peter Davison. The success of the 1982 season has proved him right. As Matthew Waterhouse said, "He really is the Doctor."


Captions:

The 5 Doctors (left to right): William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and the newest Time Lord, Peter Davison.

The first team: Davison poses with producer John Nathan-Turner (left) and Jane Judge (right), who runs the production office. The new Doctor is fond of cricket.

In Davison's first serial, "Castrovalva," the Doctor, who has not recovered from his regeneration, begins to pick apart the seemly endless scarf that had become Tom Baker's trademark. Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) watches with some confusion.

The "family:" Tegan (Janet Fielding), the Doctor (Peter Davison), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). A group that has "something" for every viewer.

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.: Hirsch, David (number 62 (September 1982)). The New Doctor Who. Starlog p. 40.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hirsch, David. "The New Doctor Who." Starlog [add city] number 62 (September 1982), 40. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hirsch, David. "The New Doctor Who." Starlog, edition, sec., number 62 (September 1982)
  • Turabian: Hirsch, David. "The New Doctor Who." Starlog, number 62 (September 1982), section, 40 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The New Doctor Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_New_Doctor_Who | work=Starlog | pages=40 | date=number 62 (September 1982) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 November 2022 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The New Doctor Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_New_Doctor_Who | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 November 2022}}</ref>