This post consists of my recommendations for Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor, find recommendations for other Classic Doctors by following the links below.
- William Hartnell, The First Doctor Recommendations.
- Patrick Troughton, The Second Doctor Recs.
- Jon Pertwee, The Third Doctor Recs.
- Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor Recs.
- Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor Recs.
- Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor Recs.
- Complete list of stories on DVD in my Doctor Who Master Post.
Peter Davison is one of my favorite actors to have played the role of the Doctor, though in truth I don’t really dislike any of them – all the Doctors have brought something unique to the role. What I like about Davison’s interpretation of the character was his sense of vulnerability and his internal focus. Coming after Tom Baker – who was extroverted, commanding, and at times very alien – Peter was more human.
The Peter Davison years also saw closer connections between the stories, and events from previous episodes were often discussed by the characters. Every episode led into the next, and, if possible, watching all the Davison stories in chronological order is the best way to see them. Unfortunately, the release schedule for the Davison years was all over the map, and two stories were even released in collections with other Doctors. Add in various boxed sets, re-releases (as Special Editions), and it can be hard to follow. I will say this, though, at least for the US DVD releases – all the collections (box sets) are in cardboard slip cases with the discs in the same snap cases (with the same case design) as the individual releases – which means you can take them out of the slip case and shelve them chronologically (that’s how I shelve my Doctor Who), and then store the slip case someplace. Increasingly, it’s also possible to buy titles individually from on-line retailers like Amazon.
And now on to the recommendations.
Castrovalva is included in the New Beginnings set I mentioned last time. Having regenerated after his fall from the satellite dish at the Pharos Project, the Doctor’s companions rush him to the TARDIS. However, the Doctor is weak and disoriented from his regeneration. He enters the Zero Room to relax. Adric is kidnapped by the Master (Anthony Ainley) who sets a trap for the Doctor by causing the TARDIS to head towards Event One, the hydrogen inrush (Big Bang) that created the universe. Needing extra power, the Doctor prevents the destruction of the TARDIS and her crew by jettisoning parts of the ship, including Romana’s room and the Zero Room. Needing quiet, relaxation, and peace so the Doctor’s regeneration can stabilize, his companions, Tegan and Nyssa, take the Doctor to Castrovalva. However, Castrovalva isn’t the peaceful, quiet place it seems, but rather a recursive occclusion – a time/space trap built by Adric at the bequest of the Master.
Based on the paintings of MC Escher, Castrovalva is a fascinating and unusual Doctor Who story. And although it’s Davison’s first story, and linked directly to Logopolis, it was actually filmed fourth – so Davison could settle in to the role. (Four to Doomsday was filmed first.)
Kinda is one of my absolute favorite Peter Davison stories. Nyssa is barely in the story, which is one of the few things I don’t like about it, but as consolation, Tegan not only gets to shine, the story really focuses on her and her insecurities as an accidental member of the TARDIS crew. This story introduces the Mara, a psychically activated being motivated by the fears of those it attacks. Also, the story severely criticizes the arrogance of colonialism and it’s treatment of Native Peoples. It also brings back the blue crystals of Metebelis 3 from Planet of the Spiders. It’s brilliantly done, and the entire cast is in top form.
Black Orchid is the last purely historical story for quite a while. The TARDIS lands in the 1925, and the Doctor and his companions are welcomed by the local aristocrats, the Cranleighs. The Doctor gets to bowl in cricket, Tegan gets to dance the Charleston, and the TARDIS crew attend a costume ball. Nyssa turns out to be an exact double for Ann, Charles Cranleigh’s fiancee. But all is not well at the Cranleigh’s manor house, and soon the Doctor and crew are involved in a classic mystery.
Beautifully filmed, with lots of great dialogue, and also short (it’s only two parts), Black Orchid is actually a gem of a story, and I recommend it highly.
A group of paleontologists are studying dinosaur bones in a cave, when their party is attacked by a mysterious force. They call in the space marines, but they are also stumped, because they only see life signs disappearing on the scanner and yet there’s no other sign of an attacking entity. The Doctor arrives, discovers the scientists and military are being attacked by an android. The android is protecting a hatch, behind which, is a bomb. The Doctor deactivates the bomb, and then he, his companions, and the remaining group from the planet track the signal to a freighter in space. Aboard the freighter – Cybermen.
Earthshock is a tense, atmospheric story, with a famous surprise ending. And it brings back the Cybermen, who hadn’t been seen on Doctor Who since 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen.
After the tragic events of Earthshock, the Doctor needs a lighter adventure, and Time-Flight delivers. The Doctor attempts to deliver Tegan to Heathrow Airport, but arrives in the right place, but the wrong time – prehistoric times to be precise. However, a Concord plane also has arrived, having been drawn off-course by a time tunnel. Although, at first it appears a strange being called the Kalid is responsible, that soon turns out to be the Master in disguise. The Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa must work with the crew of the Concord and the passengers to combine parts of two aircraft and return everyone to their proper time.
Time-Flight is light, and fun, and has some great dialogue and an excellent guest cast. I’ve always enjoyed it.
Remember the Black Guardian from The Key to Time? He’s back, and causing trouble.
In Mawdryn Undead, the Doctor barely avoids collision with another ship by materializing inside it. Because the TARDIS is stuck, the Doctor must beam down to the planet below to free the ship. However, he arrives at a public school in 1983, where the retired Brigadier is now headmaster. Yet, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart doesn’t recognize the Doctor – even after the Doctor reminds him of some of their old adventures when he looked different. The Doctor also meets Turlough, a troubled student. Meanwhile, Nyssa and Tegan take the TARDIS, which should have automatically materialized the same place as the Doctor, but arrive in 1977. They also meet the Brigadier, and an alien named Mawdryn – who pretends he’s the Doctor in the midst of a really messed-up regeneration. Tegan and Nyssa attempt to help Mawdryn, but grow extremely old very fast, then become children.
Although Mawdryn Undead has a complicated plot, all makes sense eventually. It’s great to see the Brigadier again, thought the dates to not make sense (the Pertwee Earth-bound stories were all slightly futuristic, despite the look, and Sarah Jane states several times she’s “from 1980”, even though her first story was in 1973.) Still, it’s a solid story, which introduces Turlough as a companion, and not your average type of companion, as he’s under the control of the Black Guardian.
In Terminus, the Doctor and his companions land on a ship that’s a floating Leper Colony for victims of Lazar’s Disease. Nyssa leaves to use her skills as a biochemist to help the Lazar’s find a permanent cure for their illness.
In Enlightenment, the Doctor’s and his companions land on what they think is an Edwardian sailing ship in the midst of a race. It is, actually, a spaceship, under the control of one of the Eternals. The Eternals each have a ship from a different historical period which they are racing through space, with planets and stars as the marker buoys. The Eternals race for the prize of Enlightenment. Turlough, meanwhile, must choose – will he fulfill his deal with the Black Guardian or will he admit the truth to the Doctor about who he is, and face whatever the consequences may be of reneging on his deal.
Besides some truly gorgeous filming in the historic yachts, great historical costumes, and a novel plot, Enlightenment has some great character moments for Tegan as well as Turlough. It’s my favorite in the boxset.
The TARDIS lands in 1215 at the court of King John, but all seems unusually strange. The King is actually a shape-changing android named Kamelion, under the control of the Master.
The King’s Demons is also only two parts, but it packs a lot of fun and daring-do into it’s short length. There’s court politics, a shape-changing android, the Master, a plot to prevent the signing of Magna Carta, and lots of singing and sword-fighting. It may sound a bit silly, but that’s part of why I love it, especially after the (good) angst of Enlightenment.
Originally released as part of the Beneath the Surface boxset (in the Pertwee Years), I think it is now available separately – and the snapcases do slid completely out of the cardboard slipcase if you want to shelve it with the Davison DVDs.
The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough land on Sea Base, an armed military base, that also controls the nuclear arsenal of it’s power block. The missiles are operated by a “sync operator”, a person with an implant in his head for direct access to the computer systems. Mysterious things are happening on the Sea Base. The Doctor and his companions discover the Silurian Triad leadership, and the Sea Devils are working together in their harassment of the Sea Base, however their plot is to cause a Nuclear War that will wipe out humanity and leave the Earth habitable for reptiles.
Warriors of the Deep has some great cliffhangers, and a very dark ending, where the Doctor’s win comes at a high cost – something the Doctor is very aware of, and truly upset about.
Caves of Androzani is brilliant, simply brilliant. It does introduce Peri, but don’t hold that against this story. Sharez Jek, is a sympathetic villain, who as legitimate reasons for his feud with Androzani Major. Jek controls access to Spectrox, a life-giving drug, which is made from poisonous substances – and dangerous to mine. The Doctor and Peri come into contact with raw Spectrox and are poisoned. The Doctor must find a cure for himself and his companion.
Caves of Androzani had great style, especially the costumes. The villain isn’t evil, but someone pushed into a desperate position who reacts by going too far. Davison and Nicola Bryant (Peri) make a great team. For many Doctor Who fans, Davison’s last story is his best.
As I said at the top of this post, Peter Davison is my favorite Doctor. His last few stories are especially strong, and I often wonder what would have happened if he’d stayed one more year. Also, he and Peri have a much better relationship than Peri’s relationship with Colin Baker. I always felt that Peri needed a more “cuddly” Doctor – since she could be abrasive.
If you are interested in more Davison stories, or new ones, the Big Finish Audio Adventures include several featuring Peter Davison and various companions, including Erimem, an Egyptian princess. As with all the Doctors, there are also the out of print Doctor Who the Missing Adventures (Doctors 1-6) and the BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures (Doctors 1-7), which also feature original stories.
For more information on the Big Finish Audio Adventures see their website. Big Finish has both US and UK websites, as well as some availability through on-line and brick-and-mortar retailers such as Alien Entertainment and Forbidden Planet.