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The Fifth Doctor

November 16, 2013


If I dare not revisit some of the Fourth Doctor’s adventures lest my recollection of wide-eyed wonderment be contaminated, then revisiting the Fifth Doctor creates the opposite effect.  I find that the adolescent grumpy cynicism with which I met some of these stories when they were first broadcast melts away and I can view them far more appreciatively.  I’m also aware that the cauldron of bubbling unstable hormones that was the “me” who first watched these adventures was incapable at the time of paying attention to anything other than Sarah Sutton.  Decades on, I’ve thankfully attained the ability to judge these stories in rather more holistic terms.

Peter Davison has gone on record as saying that he wishes he’d waited a few years before picking up his Tardis license – that he really was, after all, too young for the role.  But watching the Fifth Doctor at his best, one is struck by the uncanny and effective mismatch of age and wisdom in such a young body.  And Davison definitely played the Doctor as an older man, despite being a creditable cricketer.  The Fifth Doctor was serious and sad.  He was a civilised man in an uncivilised universe and the cruelty and injustice the infected so much of time and space affected him deeply.  He is often described as the most “human” of Doctors, which may just mean that he was the most vulnerable.  Emotionally as well as physically.

When the very great Robert Holmes was enlisted to write Caves of Androzani, he paid tribute to the Fifth Doctor’s capacity to suffer by killing him very slowly.  It was, apparently Davison’s biggest regret that he left the role without having been given a few more meaty Robert Holmes scripts to chew on.  This story is his apotheosis and his vindication, but he could have done with three or more like it, in order to fully communicate the strengths of his character.  Like Shakespeare’s Thane of Cawdor:

Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it. He died
As one that had been studied in his death
To throw away the dearest thing he owed
As ’twere a careless trifle.
    There’s something of Dickens’ Sidney Carton taking his sacrificial place on the scaffold about the dying Fifth Doctor as well, or perhaps Peter Pan, for whom death is (after all) an “awfully big adventure”.
  In many ways Peter Davison was the most “medical” of Doctors also – at times closer to an MD than a PhD.  As an actor he went from playing a vet (All Creatures Great and Small) to playing THE Doctor to playing a doctor (A Very Peculiar Practice).  Davison’s Time Lord was interested in healing, not fighting, despite looking healthier and more vigorous than any of his predecessors.  This in itself makes him eminently watchable.

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One Comment
  1. And don’t forget: he’s the Dishy Doctor ; )

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