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Whoblogging 5

Back when Tom Baker's Doctor dominated Saturday nights, a different sort of doctor dominated Sunday evenings: the BBC's TV adaptations of the memoirs of Yorkshire vet James Herriot (whose real name was Alf Wight). There were three solid lead actors: Christopher Timothy as Herriot himself, Robert Hardy as his boss and later partner Siegfried Farnon, and, as Siegfried's much younger and somewhat dissolute brother Tristan, a newcomer called Peter Davison. Davison was to an extent the comic relief of the three, Timothy doing straight man and Hardy the jolly patriarch. The show became a cult - its depiction of simpler days in a rural England full of eccentric characters and basic virtues was an attractive refuge from the rather depressing late 1970s.

So it made a certain amount of sense that Davison should move from one kind of escapism to another. Not to me at the time, I must say; for me, he was immediately the new bloke, not the "real" Doctor at all. Davison was (and remains) the youngest actor to play the role; his vulnerability was a complete change from Baker and my dim memories of Pertwee (if I had known Troughton's Doctor then as well as I do now, I would have appreciated more what he was doing); and his affection towards his companions was charming but also a bit confusing given that there were so many of them.

The additional weirdness, nothing to do with Davison, was that the programme had shifted to weekday evenings. This was a bummer if you had music lessons downtown and had to zoom in and out in time to catch the latest episode. Still, I kept the faith, and was there for the defining moment of the first Fifth Doctor season, the death of Adric at the end of Earthshock. It's a badly flawed story in many ways, but it was a brilliant stroke from JNT to keep us watching. It is unfortunate that the very next story was the one widely regarded as the worst of all Fifth Doctor stories, the abysmal Time Flight, at the end of which Tegan is casually abandoned on contemporary Earth. The new Doctor's affection for his companions didn't seem to be shared by the production team; so why should the audience take an interest either?

That, and music lessons, and perhaps just growing up a bit, led me to drift away from regular Who over the next two years. I caught some of the stories at the time - Mawdryn Undead, The King's Demons, The Five Doctors, Terminus, Planet of Fire - but unaccountably missed The Caves of Androzani when it was first broadcast (and I totally agree with the fannish consensus that it is the best of his run). When Davison took the part, he had said that he wouldn't be the longest-serving Doctor, but he didn't plan to be the shortest either; I regretted that he didn't keep his promise (though it depends on how exactly you tally Troughton's tenure).

So I followed him more or less as an ex-Doctor - baffled by his dismal sitcom with Matthew Kelly, Chalk and Cheese; delighted at the episodes I caught of A Very Peculiar Practice, where he plays yet another doctor, servicing the staff and students of a disintegrating university (I've been re-watching that recently, and it is just superb). In fact, I think that he's had the best post-Who career of any Doctor; also, of course, given his age, he will probably have the longest post-Who career of any Doctor. Also of course he writes music.

Getting back into the programme from a couple of years ago, I found the Fifth Doctor central to the first book in the Missing Adventures range, and then also Davison reviving his performance in the Big Finish sequence of audio plays. Not all of these are great; but the Fifth Doctor stars in several of the outstanding ones in the range - The Mutant Phase, which is the first one that is really good; Spare Parts, Marc Platt's sober examination of the origin of the Cybermen; Omega, a far better piece than Arc of Infinity to which it is a sequel; and gloriously The Kingmaker.

And, of course, apart from Tennant, he is the most recent Doctor to appear on our screens, in Time Crash (for which the script editor was one Brian Minchin, who I mentioned yesterday). Just as Davison overtly took Troughton as a basis for his performance, Tennant is clear that he takes Davison as his basic reference point. But more of that on Christmas Eve.

In conclusion, I have forgiven Davison for Not Being Tom Baker, and come to appreciate the empathic young technical wizard, both on the screen and the continuing audios. But I haven't quite forgiven JNT for making it all look cheap rather than magical.
Whoblogging index: One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 19th, 2008 09:44 am (UTC)
What I find slightly weird, post-Time Crash, is that Davison is the same age now as William Hartnell was when he first started Doctor Who. Hartnell seemed really old while Davison looks in robust middle-age.

ETA. And on a related, but not really relevant theme, David Tennant is apparently going out with Davison's daughter (who played The Doctor's Daughter in the episode of the same name!) Somehow that has a certain 'yuck' factor...

Edited at 2008-12-19 09:48 am (UTC)
Dec. 19th, 2008 12:19 pm (UTC)
This is where Doctor Who and I pretty much parted company, on account of me going to university and thus watching almost no telly for the next few years. When I came back to it, it was Sylvester McCoy, who, fine actor though he is, was working with material that didn't work for me on many levels.

I've been thinking on your antipathy to the Pertwee Doctor, given he remains 'my' doctor. Possibly because I am going on my memories as they were, rather than doing (much) revisiting with an adult perspective via DVD etc. Interesting.

Did enjoy the Tom Baker era, mind you, once I managed to forgive him for Not Being Jon Pertwee.

Keep up the posts - fascinating reading.
Dec. 19th, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC)
On a very narrow point, choosing to follow both Earthshock with Time-Flight *and* The Caves of Androzani with The Twin Dilemma is a decision so baffling it looks like deliberate sabotage.
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
I have very vague memories of Peter Davison in Doctor Who when his stories were originally on our screens (I was born on the day that the last episode of 'The Keeper of Traken', which I really should track down just because of this fact). What I did remember, I liked, but the first time I actually watched one of his stories the whole way through was when 'The Caves of Androzani' was screened in about 1992 or so. I was absolutely hooked, and kept an eye out for other stories with him as the Doctor. This wasn't particularly easy, because it was before DVDs, but I remember absolutely loving 'Planet of Fire', 'Earthshock' (there are flaws, but on the whole I really like it), 'Resurrection of the Daleks', and 'Black Orchid'. I didn't mind 'Kinda' and 'Snakedance', and 'The Visitation' but I think they suffered from looking cheap, as you mention.

But I've always thought, from what I've seen, that Davison was a fantastic Doctor. Perhaps I'm such a fan of his because I was never around for the Tom Baker era, but I loved the different facets of the Doctor's character when portrayed by Davison (the innocence, vulnerability, but also his loyalty, the fact that he really did care about the people around him, etc). It's very clear - as you say - that David Tennant is very influenced by Davison, but I definitely think that this is a very good thing.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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