In 1981, Tom Baker was in his seventh and final season as the Fourth Doctor. Could the show survive the loss of its incredibly popular star? New producer John Nathan-Turner did his damndest to make sure it did. Beginning with Baker’s final season, JNT, as he is popularly known, instituted a number of changes to the show, starting with updating the theme tune and credits to reflect the 80s. Added to the Doctor’s costume were small question marks on the lapels of his shirt, a motif that would remain until the show’s cancellation. He started acquiring a number of new companions for the Doctor to make the transition of lead actors much smoother for the audience, introducing Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan in the latter half of the season. And perhaps his biggest gamble was replacing Tom Baker with a younger, already established actor.
At 29 years of age, Peter Davison was far and away the youngest actor to play the role to date. He was a series regular on the popular comedy series “All Creatures Great and Small,” where he played ne’er-do-well Tristan Farnon and became a household name. Getting such a high-profile actor to play the part, Nathan-Turner believed, would make viewing figures stay constant, if not increase. When first offered the part, Davison turned it down, believing he was far too young for the role. After some consideration, Davison agreed and began constructing his character.
Much more outwardly sensitive, vulnerable, and reserved than his previous incarnations, the Fifth Doctor often reacted to situations instead of instigating them. He was often plagued with indecision, using the flip of a coin to sway him, and would suffer the consequences of a wrong choice. At the same time, he was one of the most courageous of the Doctors and always put the well-being of everyone far in front of his own. Despite his youthful appearance, the Fifth Doctor had a patriarchal relationship with his companions or at the very least an older-brotherly one, and was easily irritated by them. He wore a sort of Edwardian cricketer’s outfit with a floppy hat that was easily rolled up and stuffed in his pocket when not using it. He also always wore a stalk of celery on his jacket lapel, though the reason for it would not become apparent until just before his regeneration. I usually cite the Fifth Doctor as being my first or second favorite Doctor, jockeying for position with the Third Doctor depending on what mood I’m in.
This period of Doctor Who was often referred to as “The Crowded TARDIS,” for there usually being at least two companions on board at any given time, something not seen since the Second Doctor’s era. The problem that arose from having so many companions is that often there was not enough for them all to do in the story. Several adventures featured one of them sitting out or getting captured early on in order that the other two could take center stage. It was because of this that, after Davison left, the companions were scaled back to one for the remainder of the series, and indeed most of New Who.
John Nathan-Turner implemented several new policies when he took over. One was that no one who had written for Who in the past could write for it again. A nicer way of saying it would be that he wanted new blood. This is all well and good, but he often got writers who were not used to writing sci-fi and as a result there is a marked discrepancy between stories. The ones that worked were brilliant and the ones that didn’t were poo. The serials during this period all lead directly into the next one, harkening back to the way it was in the 60s. The sonic screwdriver was written out during Davison’s fourth story, “The Visitation,” as Nathan-Turner felt it was too often used as an easy escape, something I feel the new series has fallen into. There was also the odd practice during all of Davison’s run of having the second-to-last story of the season be wonderful while the final story is terrible, for instance in season 19 where the superbly bleak ending of “Earthshock” is followed by the ludicrous “Time-Flight.” This, I’m sure, was not JNT’s plan, but it is a strange phenomenon that haunts the era. For those who’ve seen it, I promise this will be the last mention of “Time-Flight” for the rest of the proceedings. For now, on to better things.
Story 116 – Castrovalva
After his regeneration, the Fifth Doctor is weak and asks his companions, Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan to take him back to the TARDIS. While en route, Adric spots a Corinthian column in the middle of nowhere and goes to investigate, realizing too late that it is in fact the Master’s TARDIS and gets captured. The delirious Doctor, now in a full-on post-regenerative crisis, asks to be taken to the “Zero Room” where he can fully recover. Left alone, Tegan and Nyssa discover a terminal on the TARDIS that instructs them how to pilot it. As they attempt to fly the ship, they realize they are traveling to a preset time and location, “Event One”, or the Big Bang, a trap set by the Master during Logopolis. The companions are forced to bring the Doctor out of the Zero Room and into the control room so he can jettison a part of the TARDIS’ mass, propelling them back to normal space. Unfortunately, the Zero Room was part of the jettisoned ship. The Doctor tells them to make a recuperative coffin for him out of panels from the TARDIS and not to open it until he’s finished regenerating. Using the same terminal, Tegan reads about the Dwellings of Simplicity on the planet Castrovalva, which should be ideal for the Doctor’s rest and recovery. When they reach the city, the Doctor is cared for by Shardovan, a librarian, and the elderly Portreeve. After a nights sleep, they discover strange things about the Dwellings, such as a tapestry in the Doctor’s quarters reflecting things in the outside world and that any attempt to find an exit from the city leads them directly back to the main plaza. The Doctor realizes they have been trapped in a recursive occlusion and that the dwellings are fakes. One of their caretakers reveals himself to be the Master using the captured Adric’s superior mathematical skills along with the block-transfer computations from the Logopolitans. Castrovalva is nothing more than an equation, and it appears to be collapsing in on itself.
Why it’s important:
It’s the beginning of the Fifth Doctor’s run, though the serial itself was the fourth filmed. It’s the third and final part in the unofficial “Return of the Master” trilogy, after “Keeper of Traken” and “Logopolis,” all of which can be purchased in the New Beginnings box set. This was written by the previous season’s script editor, Christopher H. Bidmead and continues with his themes of recursion and entropy. During the Doctor’s regenerative crisis, he begins acting and speaking in the manor of his previous incarnations and also calls his companions by the names of earlier companions. The story’s title is also the name of an M.C. Escher painting, which gives you some idea of the nature of the city itself. This is a fun story and it gives Davison a lot to do to showcase his Doctorness. The cliffhanger at the end of episode three also has one of my favorite Davison urgent line readings. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a thing to behold.
Story 121 – Earthshock
As the TARDIS lands on future Earth, Adric is complaining (big surprise) that the Doctor pays more attention and is more helpful to Nyssa and Tegan than with him and wishes to return home to his planet Terradon, which the Doctor claims is impossible as it is in E-Space. The whole crew exits the TARDIS and finds they are in a vast series of caves. They are caught by Lieutenant Scott and his troops who detected their arrival. Scott accuses them of killing an exploration team headed by Professor Kyle, which the Doctor tries to refute. The Doctor leads them to a pile of rock debris where they find more members of Kyle’s team and a strange metal hatch. As the Doctor examines the hatch, they are all attacked by androids, which manage to kill a number of Scott’s men. They stop the androids, but not before they are able to send the Doctor’s image back to their masters, the Cybermen. The Doctor finds an enormous bomb in the hatch, one large enough to destroy half of the planet. He orders everyone into the TARDIS while he and Adric work to defuse it. They are successful and get aboard the TARDIS to use its scanners to track the androids’ communications to a large space freighter in deep space. The Doctor takes everyone there and he and Adric investigate and are almost immediately captured by the freighters security forces and taken to meet Captain Briggs, an irascible old lady. The Cybermen, who have been hiding in a container aboard the freighter, decide to take control and begin attacking the crew. The Cyber-Leader reveals their initial plan was to destroy Earth with the bomb in order to kill a number of visiting galactic dignitaries there for a conference, but since that plan was foiled, they will simply crash the freighter into the planet at warp speed to the same effect. The Doctor tries to reason with the Cyber-Leader, to no avail, and many of the freighter’s crew are captured or killed. Adric manages to seal himself in the freighter’s helm to try to divert the warp lock. As the battle with the Cybermen rages on, one of the Doctor’s companions meets with a brutal and shocking end.
Why it’s important:
It’s a truly fantastic story, written by new script editor Eric Saward. It sees the return of the Doctor’s old enemies the Cybermen, appearing for the first time since “Revenge of the Cybermen” in 1975, which in turn was their first appearance since “The Invasion” in 1968. The Cybermen are pure evil in this story, with the Cyber-Leader, played for the first of four times by David Banks, being a fantastic lead villain. It also sees the first death of a companion since Katarina in “The Daleks Master Plan” in 1965. My goal was to avoid saying who dies to make it more mysterious, but since I’m going to mention Tegan and Nyssa later in regards to other episodes, I’ll have to say it. It’s Adric. He’s arguably the most maligned of all companions due to his being kind of annoying and nobody likes a know-it-all character. I don’t think he’s as bad as they say. Though not my favorite companion, Adric was an interesting addition to the crew. Still, his death in this story is done remarkably well and serves as not only a gut check to the audience, but to the Doctor as well, who had largely taken Adric for granted. The only downside is that they decided to do the end credits in silence, which was a little silly for my liking.
Stories 125-127 – The Black Guardian Trilogy
Three stories, 4 episodes each
Halfway through season 20 we get an excellent loosely connected trilogy of stories regarding the return of the Guardians from the Key to Time season, specifically the Black Guardian. The first story, Mawdryn Undead, focuses on a young troublemaking public school boy called Turlough. At the beginning, Turlough and another boy take the mathematics professor’s classic car out for a joyride and get into an accident. The math teacher just so happens to be the now-retired Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, former head of UNIT. While in the infirmary, Turlough is visited by the Black Guardian who presents him with a proposition: if Turlough will kill the Doctor, the Black Guardian will return him to his home planet. Yes, it seems Turlough is an unearthly child himself… see what I did there? Over the next three stories, Turlough infiltrates the Doctor’s crew, becomes a companion, and tries to decide whether to kill the Doctor and lose new friends, or stick by the Doctor and incur the wrath of the Black Guardian. This storyline works well, though we often get Mark Strickson as Turlough overacting to a glowing rock in his hand to communicate with the Guardian. The stories themselves could not be more different. The rest of “Mawdryn Undead” deals with the Nyssa and Tegan being separated from the Doctor and Turlough not by space, but by time, as they are at Brendon Public School six years removed with only the Brigadier from two different time periods to help them. The time shift is the work of an alien scientist named Mawdryn who, along with his fellow scientists, attempted to discover the Time Lord’s secret to regeneration and as a result became undead, as they are forever dying in agony. Their goal is to strip the Doctor of his remaining regenerations to help each of them return to normal (and ultimately ending) life.
The second story, Terminus is the weak link in the three, but a decent story in context. It involves the TARDIS making an emergency landing, through the sabotage of Turlough, on a ship that lands on a space station at the direct center of the known universe that turns out to be Terminus, the last stop and drop-off point of the ship’s cargo of lepers. Nyssa gets infected with Lazar’s Disease, which causes the leprosy-like symptoms, and is helped by a weird bipedal dog creature called the Garm who could work to refine the radiation cure if he weren’t controlled by the Vanir, the guards of the ship, who are themselves controlled by the corporation supplying them with the “hydromel” drug which pauses the spread of Lazar’s Disease within them without actually curing them, keeping them dependent. It’s a very convoluted story, but the main thing to take from it is that Nyssa stays behind on the ship to help with her scientific knowledge. Nyssa was a companion that I always really liked and was for a brief time (less than one full story) the lone companion. I’d like to have seen more of this pairing as Sarah Sutton and Peter Davison had excellent chemistry and worked well together as characters. Sadly, it was not to be.
The third story in the trilogy and my favorite is Enlightenment, the penultimate story of season 20 proper. The White Guardian appears to the Doctor to warn him of imminent danger, but the message is garbled and the exact nature of the threat is not revealed. The TARDIS crew then find themselves on an Edwardian sailing ship that, the Doctor and Turlough learn, is in the middle of a high-stakes race. The officers on the ship are strange and distant, never blinking, and seem almost ghostly. The ship’s first mate, Mr. Marriner, takes an immediate and creepy shine to Tegan, who is more than a little put off by him. Before long they realize that they aren’t on the high seas at all, but in outer space and the ship is in a race with other such ships from various points in human history. They learn that the officers of each ship are Eternals, who live in the Void, outside of time in the realm of eternity. They live off of the brainwave patterns of “Ephemerals,” the term they use for humanoid life forms. They have heightened senses of perception and can usually read the minds of regular humans. They have removed the crew from human history in order to help them win the race, the prize of which is Enlightenment, a gift from the Guardians. One ship, the Buccaneer, a pirate ship, and its female captain, the aptly named Captain Wrack, seem set on winning at any cost and sabotage the other ships using the power of the Black Guardian. It’s up to the Doctor to stop Wrack, and up to Turlough to once and for all decide which side he’s on. This is a truly excellent story with a great premise and lavish costume design. The trilogy is well worth your time.
Story 129 – The Five Doctors
One 90 minute special
Some unseen figure is pulling the Doctor’s previous incarnations out of time and space, along with some old companions, and enemies the Daleks, Yeti, and Cybermen, and putting them in various parts the Death Zone on Gallifrey. The first three Doctors arrive fine, but the Fourth Doctor and Romana are become stuck in a time vortex. Each Doctor is teamed with a companion (First Doctor and Susan, Second Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Third Doctor and Sarah Jane) and together are made to traverse the wastelands of Gallifrey. As a result of being taken out of time, the Fifth Doctor begins to dematerialize and sets course for Gallifrey along with Tegan and Turlough. On Gallifrey, Time Lord President Borusa and various other members of the High Council discuss this crisis, as what has happened to the Doctor is putting a strain on the Eye of Harmony. They reluctantly decide to recruit the Master to assist the Doctor(s) in the Death Zone in exchange for a full pardon and a new set of regenerations, an offer which the Master deviously agrees to. In order to prove his “good” intentions to the Doctor, he takes a copy of the Seal of the High Council with him. The Master first encounters the Third Doctor who accuses him of making a fake Seal and then the Fifth Doctor where they are attacked by Cybermen. The Master is knocked senseless and the Fifth Doctor uses his enemy’s transmat device to return to the Capital, where he is informed of the situation by the Council. A traitor is discovered and Borusa considers the matter closed, but the Doctor confides his doubts to Chancellor Flavia. Back in the Death Zone, the other Doctors are having a hard time of it as they try to make it to the Tomb of Rassilon. The First Doctor and Susan must contend with a Dalek, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier must outrun a Yeti underground, and the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane must fend off Cybermen and a strange android. Eventually, they all reach the Tomb of Rassilon where the nature of the true evildoer is revealed.
Why it’s important:
This was produced to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the show, airing in the UK 25 November, 1983, two days after the first episode was broadcast two decades before. Like any good anniversary show, as many old cast members as possible returned, with two pretty glaring exceptions. Original First Doctor William Hartnell died in 1975 and so was replaced by character actor Richard Hurndall, though a clip of Hartnell from “Dalek Invasion of Earth” was shown as a pre-credit sequence. Hurndall does a decent enough job approximating Hartnell, though he’s clearly not the same man. The other notable no-show was Tom Baker, who refused to take part in the special. Just two seasons removed as the Doctor, he still felt a great deal of propriety over the role and didn’t want to share the spotlight with anyone else (that’s the version of the story I choose to believe). As such, a clip from the unfinished serial “Shada” was used for the Fourth Doctor’s bit and he was cleverly written out with the time vortex plot contrivance. The script was written by longtime Who writer and former script editor Terrance Dicks, who does a fine job getting the bulk of the many characters their due. Turlough and Susan sit out most of the adventure, but that can’t really be helped. The story doesn’t make a great deal of logical sense if you look at it too closely, but it is what it needs to be: a fun anniversary story with everything you could want from a Doctor Who story. It’s pretty awesome in the final scenes to see Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton alongside Peter Davison facing off with the evil doers. Of course, the name “The Five Doctors” is a bit of a misnomer due to the missing actors. As David Tennant said in the special edition dvd commentary, it should have been called “The Three-and-a-Half Doctors and a Bloke in a Wig.” It was also around this time that Peter Davison announced that he would only be doing one more season of the show. Patrick Troughton had advised him that three years was the perfect length so as not to become typecast and Davison concurred.
Story 133 – Resurrection of the Daleks
2 45 minute episodes
A group of futuristic humanoids are running down a London alley in 1984. They are gunned down by two police officers led by Commander Lytton. The two humanoids left alive make a mad dash for a warehouse that holds a time corridor. One of the men is killed, leaving only Quartermaster Sergeant Stein alive and alone. Lytton transports back to his battle cruiser and prepares to attack a prison space station that contains only one prisoner: Davros, the Dalek’s fiendish creator. Meanwhile, the TARDIS is being dragged to Earth via a time corridor and lands in 1984 in the London docklands. Back on the space station, the Daleks are trying a direct assault that isn’t working too well. Lytton convinces the Dalek Supreme to use poisonous gas to get the crew out of the way, which works like a charm. A crew member, under orders, goes to kill Davros to prevent him from being broken out of prison, but Lytton is there, the officer is killed, and Davros is woken up from cryogenic hibernation. The Doctor and friends meet a traumatized Stein and they go to the warehouse to investigate the time corridor. A military bomb squad is there to investigate two suspicious looking devices and during that discussion, Turlough stumbles into the time corridor and ends up on the Dalek ship. Learning the Doctor is in the warehouse, the Dalek Supreme dispatches a Dalek to capture him, which kills several of the bomb squad’s men before the Doctor can tell them to aim for the eyestock, blinding it. The people manage to chuck it out the window where it falls to the ground and explodes. On the prison station, the remaining crew members decide to initiate the self-destruct. While speaking to Davros, Lytton explains that the Daleks lost a war with the Movellans (in “Destiny of the Daleks”) due to the creation of a virus that specifically attacks the Dalek tissue and that they’ve awakened Davros to develop a cure. Davros demands revenge on “that meddling Time Lord,” but he is dissuaded; the Supreme Dalek’s other plan is to capture and clone the Doctor and his companions to assassinate the High Council of Gallifrey and have similar clones set up all over the universe for similar assassinations. Davros quickly begins using mind control on humans and Daleks to overthrow the Dalek Supreme and regain control of his creations. The Doctor must again decide whether killing is ever justified, even if not doing so might mean his greatest enemy goes free. At the end of the story, Tegan has had enough of all the killing and refuses to travel with the Doctor any longer.
Why it’s important:
Each Doctor from this point forward faces the Daleks only once and in all three cases, the stories are top notch. This is an extremely dark and violent story and is one of the rare occasions where the Doctor is seen firing a gun – in this case shooting at the Kaled mutant inside the destroyed Dalek. It’s the first time Terry Malloy would play Davros and he would continue in the part for the remainder of the classic series and in several Big Finish Audio Plays. Janet Fielding also makes her last regular appearance as longtime companion Tegan who was the last holdover from the tail end of Tom Baker’s tenure. Dalek stories always usher in change with the show, dating all the way back to 1964 when Susan departed at the end of “Dalek Invasion of Earth,” so the writing was on the wall that something drastic was about to happen.
Story 135 – The Caves of Androzani
After the events of the previous story, “Planet of Fire,” (which incidentally is also worth a look) Turlough has gone back to his home planet, the Master is seemingly defeated, and the Doctor has picked up a new companion, American botany student Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown. The TARDIS lands on the dangerous desert planet of Androzani Minor and the Doctor and Peri follow a set of tracks to a nearby cave. Androzani Minor is the only source for the powerful drug spectrox, which is created by bats living in the caves. The drug is incredibly valuable to the people on nearby Androzani Major as it can extend one’s life greatly. The spectrox mining interests are controlled by Trau Morgus, an extremely corrupt business conglomerate leader, but the operation has been threatened by the masked Sharaz Jek and his army of androids. This has caused tension on Androzani Major as the supplies are limited. Morgus has publicly funded a military operation against Jek’s androids, but has also secretly been hiring gunrunners to supply Jek with weapons to profit from the war. As Peri and the Doctor explore the caves, they are briefly caught in a ball of sticky substance that they quickly break out of. Further along in the cave, they discover a stockpile of arms and are captured by Androzani Military General Chellak who believes the companions to be working with gunrunners Stotz and Krelper. Morgus, knowing the Doctor and Peri are not his men, order them to be executed on the spot, which they are. Or are they?
In secret, the friends have been replaced by androids and rescued by Sharaz Jek. At Jek’s base, the two begin complaining of cramping and rashes where they touched the sticky stuff. Another prisoner, Salateen, recognizes these symptoms as the first stage of spectrox toxemia, a highly deadly condition resulting from contact with raw spectrox. There is anti-venom, but it is extremely rare and hard to find as it derives from the milk of the queen bat. Due to the mining operation, all of the bats have moved deeper into the caves where there is no oxygen. Jek explains that he wants revenge on Morgus as it was his actions that caused Jek’s horrible facial disfigurement. While Jek is away, the Doctor is able to trick the androids into allowing he and Peri to escape, but they are quickly recaptured, Peri by General Chellak, and the Doctor by Stotz and his gunrunners. Stotz decides to take the Doctor back to Androzani Major to speak with Morgus directly, but when Morgus sees the Doctor alive on the hologram, he decides he will handle things on Minor himself. At this point, the Doctor and Peri are getting increasingly weak and time is running out for them. The Doctor gains control of Stotz’s ship and, fighting off death/regeneration, crash lands back on Minor to find the antidote and save his friend.
Why it’s important:
This is arguably, and for my money absolutely, the best Doctor Who story EVER. The Doctor has never been more heroic. Within the first five minutes of the story, the Doctor is doomed, which, coupled with the arch villainy of Morgus and the operatic nature of Sharaz Jek, gives the story a very Shakespearean quality. This story was written by longtime script editor and terrific writer Robert Holmes and it’s a doozy. It’s the final and best story for Peter Davison and he’s perfect in it. Easily and by far the best regeneration story the show’s ever had. During his regeneration, the Doctor sees visions of all his past companions urging him not to die, followed by a giant visage of the Master urging him to do the opposite. The Doctor’s final word is “Adric?” perhaps as a nod to the one companion he failed to save. What makes it so different is that it has nothing to do with some larger galactic or universal threat; it’s just a rather petty squabble between three very base and corrupt individuals. The Doctor isn’t called to Androzani Minor to aid anyone or prevent trauma; he’s there because he’s never been there and he wants to explore. It’s moments like this when heroes truly shine and the entirety of the story is the Doctor trying to save the friend that his own curiosity endangered. He’d only been travelling with Peri for a short time and hadn’t really gotten to know her, yet the Doctor risks his entire life and further possible lives to ensure that she is safe, which is the Fifth Doctor all over.
In the final moments of “Caves,” the Doctor sits up and is now the curly-haired Sixth Doctor played by Colin Baker. From the outset, we see that he is a very different kind of Doctor as he makes a wry comment about Peri being conceited. When she asks what’s going on, he replies, “A change, my dear, and from the looks of it, not a moment too soon.” We’ll see if those words ring true in our next installment. You may recall that I said earlier that in every season of Davison’s the penultimate story far outshone the final one. But, you may well ask, if “Caves of Androzani” is so magnificent, how could it be the last of the season? Well, it wasn’t. John Nathan-Turner in his infinite wisdom decided that it would be a good idea to have an entire adventure with the new Doctor before the season was over. This proved to be a pretty terrible idea.
Enjoy these Peter Davison stories as they’re some of my very favorites. Colin Baker’s up next. Hang on tight, readers. We’re in for a bumpy ride.