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A Round, Pleasant, Open Face: The Fifth Doctor's Times

General note for this entire series: this will, obviously, be a terribly subjective analysis. Firstly, because I'm me, and my ideas of good and bad will certainly vary differently from those of others. Secondly, because I will be basing my musings on an incomplete assemblage of sources. This includes all of the classic serials on DVD, but no others--I know, I know, but I'm fairly new to Who fandom, and I am not buying VHS tapes that won't even fit anywhere in a year or so. It also includes selected Big Finish audios, which are delightful on the whole. A parting note before I dive in to Doctor number 5: I love the new series, I love the old series, I love all the Doctors, and I love pretty much every companion, so, any criticism or picking which follows, comes from a place of love.

The TARDIS may essentially be endless, but that's no excuse for having far too many companions. This is in no way Peter Davison's fault, and he's repeatedly expressed his own frustrations about the surplus of people milling about the place, but that can't change the fact that there are simply too many companions, and that affects how we think about the Fifth Doctor. To my mind, I would say that the Fifth Doctor is almost more the head of a roving gang than a restless time traveler.

So, before I say my bit about the Doctor, let's talk about the companions. The Fifth Doctor starts his run literally surrounded by three companions, all of whom were fairly new: Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) who joined the 4th Doctor and Romana II in Full Circle, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) who we first met in The Keeper of Traken, and Tegan Jovanka who wandered into the TARDIS in Logopolis. Adric, the annoying boy genius met an untimely but not necessarily unwelcome end in Earthshock. In the very next story, the Doctor leaves behind Tegan, the mouthy Australian air hostess, but she's back in the story following.

The Doctor thus briefly had only one companion--Nyssa, the orphaned royal/scientific genius. (Incidentally, Nyssa was to have died much earlier, but she was Davison's favorite, so she was kept on until Terminus.) While Davison always envisioned himself and Nyssa as the right pairing for his Doctor, he wouldn't have only one companion again until Planet of Fire--at which point his companion would be the odd and mysterious alien schoolboy Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson). His last companion was the pseudo-American botany student Perpugilliam Brown (Nicola Bryant). In three seasons, the Fifth Doctor had five companions, and only in his final serial was he left alone with only one companion.

This is not to say that Peter Davison gets lost amongst all those companions. In fact, it's a credit to the strength of Davison's abilities that the Fifth Doctor becomes such a vivid character. At the same time, though, he's not a terribly dynamic or active character. For me, the Fifth Doctor always remains something of a pleasant chap who gets caught up and overwhelmed by events more frequently than he either takes command of them or orchestrates them. It doesn't help matters that several of his companions have such strong personalities--in fact, to quote Janet Fielding, they had personalities, but no characters. Still, the Fifth Doctor manifests himself as the quiet force at the center of the storm--he was the rock upon which waves of chaos crashed.

Sometimes, though, the waves won. Earthshock and Warriors of the Deep have unarguably tragic endings, and several other stories, notably Resurrection of the Daleks and Caves of Androzani, have strong undercurrent of darkness. More than any other Doctor, the Fifth Doctor was a human Doctor who went through most (though not all) of the human emotions; as a result, he felt these losses, for they were losses. They were not shrugged off and they were not forgotten. It is these human emotions that make him a favorite of many fans and which, in the end, leads to his decision to sacrifice his own life for that of his companion.

Recommendations? Well, to be honest, this is rather tricky because, as much as I like the Fifth Doctor, I don't love a lot of his stories, but I highly recommend any story that has a commentary with Davison and Fielding. In fact, the worse the story is, the more entertaining it is to watch with the commentary--Time Flight and Black Orchid are personal favorites for laugh out loud viewing. For actual quality, I'd go with Castrovalva and Caves of Androzani, the recently named best serial ever--an opinion I disagree with, but, whatever.

Comments

  1. I like all of the Fifth Doctor stories I've seen, if only because they have Peter Davison in them.

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