Dr Who – the Fifth Doctor – Peter Davison

Peter Davison is the first Doctor I have a vague memory of in real time (I was nine in 1984 when he left the role, and my devotion to the Doctor was just beginning).

Tom Baker was such a huge huge personality, and for anyone filling the role after him it must have been daunting.

Peter Davison was purposefully chosen to be something and someone totally different to Baker, his physical presence was in no way as over-bearing or large however he was an incredibly popular actor before taking on the role, having gained popularity playing Tristan Farnon in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small.

Peter Davison (he was born Peter Moffett, but changed it to Davison to avoid confusion with the actor Peter Moffatt), he was born in 1951 in Streatham, London, the son of an electrical engineer, he grew up in Knaphill, Surrey.  Wanting to be an actor from a young age, he was a member of an ‘am dram’ group called the Byfleet Players, and before turning ‘pro’, he had a variety of part-time jobs, including working as a mortuary attendant.

He studied drama at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and in fact his first proper job was as an actor and the assistant stage manager at the Nottingham Playhouse.

By the time the BBC and Doctor Who came knocking in 1981, he was already very established in the British mind, having played the role of the wayward womanising younger brother Tristan (the series had two three year runs – before (1978 to 1980) and after (1988 to 1990) Davison’s stint as the Doctor).  The role was about as far removed from the Doctor as it could be, Tristan is a young vet, who favours a tipple and women (perhaps not in that order). 

A little known (to me) Peter Davison fact revolves around the much loved children’s show Button Moon, Davison and his then wife (actress Sandra Dickinson) composed and performed the theme tune to Button Moon.  Whilst we are on the subject of interesting facts – Davison’s daughter, Georgia Moffett, is married to none other than the tenth Doctor, David Tennant, so the Doctor is his own father-in-law!

Rather dapper, the fifth Doctor looked like a cross between a cricketer and an Edwardian gentleman, I remember not being a huge fan of his outfit, and even now when I look at pictures, I have to agree with my 7 or 8 year old self, it looks rather too contrived for the Doctor!  He wore a celery stick on his left lapel, and various reasons are given for this during the three series, including that the the celery would turn purple, if he was exposed to certain gases  (episode – The Caves of Androzani), at which point he said he would then eat the celery!  He commented that celery was an "….excellent restorative from where I come from

Davison played the Doctor in a way which had not been seen before, absolutely making the role his own, of course!  The fifth doctor was far less antagonistic and argumentative, almost appearing to be a pacifist.  All of this was a definite decision by the then producer, John Nathan-Turner, who wanted to take the Doctor ‘back to basics’, there was more science and less slapstick.  The Fifth Doctor, although on the exterior perhaps seemed to be “Dr Who lite”, was in fact anything but, it was the first time for instance that the Doctor dealt with the death of one of his companions (Adric). 

The Fifth Doctor was accompanied by a more varied amount of companions than had been seen before, and his enemies were a mixture of old and new, the Master was seen again, as were the Cybermen and the Silurians.  In a break from previous storylines, the Fifth Doctor saw mutiny and threat from within his own ranks, one of his companions; a young alien by the name of Vislor Turlough, who had been apparently stranded on earth when the Doctor rescued him.  In fact Vislor had been commissioned to kill by one of the Doctor’s enemies, the Black Guardian!  But the Doctor’s reaction to finding out this was not violence, instead he gave the young boy enough time to break free from the Black Guardian's influence, and Vislor then continued to travel with the Doctor. 

Peter Davision played the Doctor for just three series – from 1981 to 1984 (apparently he was advised to do so by the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton).  Davison was young, dapper and handsome, he played the Doctor without the huge physical presence that his predecessor had, however he managed to convey who the Doctor was and brought out sides to him not seen before, for this reason Davison is remembered as one of the most popular Doctors, playing the role whilst the series was still incredibly popular (in its first run).

Davison has continued to be on our screens very regularly, and has become one most of the most recognisable, popular and versatile actors of his generation, he reprised the role of Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small in 1988 and some might argue that in fact that is the role which made him, rather than the Doctor – the jury is of course out on that one!

Coming right up to date he has, since 2010, played the part of Henry Sharpe, the Director of the London Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK version of Law and Order as (initially starring alongside fellow Doctor Who former Freema Agyeman).

For myself Peter Davison is possibly my favourite Doctor of the initial Doctors, who appeared in the first stint, probably because as a child he was the first one I really sat and watched, the first Doctor Who I watched from behind the sofa, with a cushion in front of my eyes during the really scary bits!