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“Doctor Who?” The Deconstructed Davison Doctor…

This week, I had the privilege of stopping by The Galactic Yo-Yo to talk a little bit about Doctor Who with the wonderful Molly Marsh. In preparation for the episode, I rewatched the bulk of the Peter Davison era for the first time in years. I talked about it on the podcast, which is worth your time. But I also thought it was worth jotting some of the thoughts down in more detail.

Rewatching the Peter Davison era of Doctor Who is a strange experience for a number of reasons, not all of which are good.

The Davison era arguably served as a point of transition. It existed in the negative space between two particularly memorable incarnations of the Time Lord. Tom Baker is justifiably considered the most important and influential actor to play the role. Notably, he was the only lead from the classic series to get a showcase scene in The Day of the Doctor. Despite Colin Baker’s protestations, this made a great deal of sense. For an entire generation of television viewers – not just Doctor Who fans – Tom Baker is the Doctor.

On the other extreme, Peter Davison was succeeded by Colin Baker. Whether rightly or wrongly, Colin Baker occupies a similarly important place in the mythos. With his garish costume and his string of terrible stories, Colin Baker was long the public face of the decline and decay of Doctor Who as a cultural institution. This isn’t entirely fair. The rot had set in considerably earlier than Baker’s arrival, and there’s a sense in which he suffered from terrible timing. Still, Colin Baker wound up serving as the face of the show’s hiatus and the embarrassing Doctor in Distress.

This puts Peter Davison in a strange position. He is caught between these two hugely important moments in the show’s history. However, he also arguably lacks a strong cohesive identity like other iconic iterations of the character. The Fifth Doctor is a markedly different character from the iterations around him, and Davison was subject to criticisms from fans that his interpretation of the title character was “bland” or “boring.” It’s arguable that the Sixth Doctor’s abrasive personality was a direct response to this perceived blandness.

However, in just under three full seasons in the role, Peter Davison left quite a mark on the Time Lord. His final story, The Caves of Androzani, is rightly regarded as one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever made. (Indeed, it is one of the rare stories to have topped polls of fandom.) More to the point, it’s notable that Davison would become a surprisingly strong influence on the revival series. Tom Baker got to occupy centre stage in The Day of the Doctor, but Davison returned first in Time Crash. The short served primarily as a love letter to Davison’s influence on the role.

There’s a lot of very fascinating stuff happening during Davison’s time in the role, most of seemingly happening by accident. The most striking thing about Davison’s tenure in the role is the recurring sense that he doesn’t quite fit. The Fifth Doctor often seems to struggle with the basic narrative conventions of Doctor Who, wrestling with the series’ core concepts and underlying assumptions. Over the course of Davison’s three seasons in the role, Doctor Who seems to ask what might happen if there were an iteration of the Doctor who wasn’t up to the task.

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New Podcast! Galactic Yo-yo – Peter Davison’s “Doctor Who”

I was very thrilled to be invited to guest on the Galactic Yo-yo podcast by the wonderful Molly Marsh, to discuss Doctor Who.

We’d talked a little bit about Doctor Who before the podcast, and I’d wanted to talk a little bit about classic Doctor Who, because I don’t always get a chance to delve into the classic series. Plus, with the recent blu ray collections, I’d been watching a bit of it. More than that, I’d been delving back into Peter Davison’s almost-three-seasons in the role and was quite impressed with the way in which the Fifth Doctor often seemed to be a protagonist trying desperately to stay on top of a show that was falling to pieces around him. So we talked a great deal about Peter Davison.

Anyway, it was a huge honour to be invited to the show, and I hope that you enjoy it and I didn’t embarrass myself. You can subscribe to the show here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

Doctor Who: The Awakening (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Awakening originally aired in 1984.

The Awakening was the third and final of Peter Davison’s smaller two-part adventures, taken once in each of his three seasons in the title role. Much like Black Orchid and The King’s Demons, it feels like a light and refreshing breather, especially in a final season that was becoming gradually darker and more somber. While Black Orchid allowed the cast and crew to take a somewhat relaxing break before the tragedy of Earthshock, The Awakening feels conspicuously grimmer, but still seems a relatively casual affair when measured against the stories that were to follow.

Malus aforethought…

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Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Twin Dilemma originally aired in 1984.

Whatever else happens, I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not. 

– the perfect sentiment on which to enter a nine-month gap

Some mistakes only seem obvious in hindsight. Some errors are easy to judge with the weight of experience and history behind you. Some calls are easy to dismiss and ridicule retroactively, completely divorced from the context in which they were made.

Of course, some mistakes should have been blindingly obvious when they were made in the first place.

Go on, guess which one The Twin Dilemma was.

Hardly a moment of triumph...

Hardly a moment of triumph…

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Doctor Who: Time Crash (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Time Crash originally aired in 2007.

To days to come.

All my love to long ago.

– the Fifth and Tenth Doctors look backwards and forwards

There is a strange school of thought about the revived Doctor Who, populated by a very vocal minority of fans, who insist that the new series hasn’t been paying nearly enough attention to what came before – that it’s really the show “in name only” or whatever extremist rhetoric you want to use. These are the fans who refuse to be satisfied with The Day of the Doctor because it’s not “The Eleven Doctors”, without having actually seen the anniversary special.

These are fans who are heartbroken that the show hasn’t found time to show Paul McGann regenerating into Christopher Eccleston, or who object to the destruction of Gallifrey or the re-working of monsters with messy back stories like the Cybermen in order to make them more accessible to modern audiences. It’s worth stressing that this viewpoint is very much in the minority, but it exists. Any journey into on-line forums or discussions about the show will inevitably trip across this particular viewpoint.

Of course, that’s complete nonsense. Even if it was ambiguous beforehand, Time Crash exists as nothing short a love letter to a very particular past era of the show.

More than just a tip of the hat...

More than just a tip of the hat…

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Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Vengeance on Varos originally aired in 1985.

It’s a question of re-imprinting their identities, of establishing again who they are.

– Colin Baker spots the problems with the Colin Baker era

Vengeance on Varos is a serious contender for the best Colin Baker Doctor Who story. Not that there’s too much competition. It’s either this or Revelation of the Daleks. I’m also reasonably fond of The Two Doctors, but I’ll accept that I’m in the minority on that one. Colin Baker’s first season is an absolute mess. It has a scattering of half-decent ideas (paired with some atrocious ones, to be fair) executed in a rather slapdash manner.

The season is obsessed with violence and politics and power and the Doctor’s strange ability to accrue large body counts while nominally remaining a pacifist. Like the last year of Peter Davison’s tenure, there’s a sense that the show doesn’t really like its protagonist. Attack of the Cybermen seems willing to trade him for a murderous sociopath. Still, there’s the nugget of an interesting idea there; it’s telling that the revived series would explore some of these ideas in a more insightful and intelligent manner.

However, Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks stand apart from the rest of the season because they explore these issues with nuance and sophistication. Vengeance on Varos is wicked social satire that still stings today, an indictment of reality television that was broadcast almost two decades before the format took over television.

It's okay, the audience seems to actually like this one...

It’s okay, the audience seems to actually like this one…

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Doctor Who: Warriors of the Deep (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Warriors of the Deep originally aired in 1984.

“Release the Myrka.”

– three words to create dread in even the toughest Doctor Who fan

I’ve always been somewhat less fond of Johnny Byrne’s Doctor Who than most fans. I can never, for example, understand the high esteem generally reserved for The Keeper of Traken (although it is a better story than Logopolis), and I really disliked Arc of Infinity. So I suspect some of the problems with Warriors of the Deepwere quite fundamental. However, there’s also a sense that those flaws were only exaggerated by a combination of other factors, including a low budget, a tight schedule and a script editor who believed an adventure’s pathos could be measured by its bodycount.

Everybody's dead, Davison...

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Doctor Who: Enlightenment – Special Edition (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Enlightenment originally aired in 1983. It was the third and final instalment in the Black Guardian Trilogy.

Enlightenment is easily among the very best adventures to feature Peter Davison in the role of the Doctor. It helps that it has a story that seems to perfectly suit his version of the character, one that’s arguably more cerebral and fanciful than it is dark and horrific or adventurous and action-packed. Enlightenment features one of the most quintessentially British storylines in Doctor Who, capturing the quirky appeal of the series almost perfectly, with a boat race in space… with pirates! It’s fun, it’s clever and the special effects aren’t ground-breaking, but they’re stylish enough to pull it off.

No matter how you cut it, Enlightenment is a win.

Sailing into the sunset...

Sailing into the sunset…

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Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Mawdryn Undead originally aired in 1983. It was the first instalment in the Black Guardian Trilogy.

Oh look, it’s all a long time ago, Doctor. I mean, surely what’s past is —

Very much in the present, Brigadier. You never did understand the interrelation of time.

– Brigadier and the Doctor have a bit of time travel trouble

Mawdryn Undead is a bit of a strange beast. It’s written by director Peter Grimwade, who last wrote the script for the unbelievably bad Time-Flight, which is a serious contender for the worst Doctor Who adventure of the eighties – no small accomplishment in a decade that gave us The Twin Dilemma and Timelash. Still, Mawdryn Undead is an entertaining little romp with a clever central concept that is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Grimwade seems to have been given a laundry-list of tasks to accomplish with his script. With the serial featuring the Brigadier, introducing Turlough and kick-starting The Black Guardian trilogy, you can understand why the rather nifty little time-travel story tends to get overshadowed a bit.

Faithful companion?

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Doctor Who: Snakedance (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Snakedance originally aired in 1983.

I know exactly what you want.

Do you?

Yes, you’ve come to pester me with some extravagant theory you’ve dreamed up concerning the Mara, and should I, the Director, fail to take sufficient notice of your colourful improbabilities, it will be the end of civilisation as we know it at least. How am I doing so far, hmm?

– Ambril and the Doctor

I think it’s quite a compliment to the concept of the Mara, introduced the previous season in Kinda, that the relatively new alien menace was chosen to take part in the celebration of classic villains that was Peter Davison’s second season. It was only a year old at the time, and hadn’t exactly been stunningly realised, so it seems like a massive vote of confidence in the monster to see it measured against foes like Omega in Arc of Infinity and the Master in The King’s Demons. Common knowledge will tell you that Snakedance is a perfectly entertaining serial, but can’t really measure up to one of the better stories of Davison’s first season. I’m not so convinced, and think that the two stories actually complement one another perfectly.

Don't let this get out of hand...

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