Three things sum up the Fifth Doctor for many people: Celery, Companions and Cricket, though possibly not in that order. It’s easy, unambiguous and fits the bill. Or does it? Is there more to this Doctor than some lazy tropes? Don’t get me wrong, tropes are useful (think toothy grin, recorder playing, that coat…) but do they let writers avid thinking deeper about the character?
The Fifth Doctor
I’ll hold me hand up here. In my short story for Pencil Tip Publishing, Flowers in the Rain, I led with the Doctor and a game of cricket. And let’s also be clear, everyone goes for the cricket and celery then gets on to comment on how busy the TARDIS is with three companions. Here’s the BBC’s own page where I got the picture from: The Fifth Doctor, and here’s a BBC America summary of the Fifth Doctor for those who may be less familiar with him: ‘Doctor Who’: A Companion to the Fifth Doctor. The outfit does make the cricket unavoidable and the celery had its moment of glory in Caves of Androzani, but surely more things happened than that?
Let’s have a think.
|Four to Doomsday||The Urbankans|
|Kinda*||Mara, Hindle, Dukka|
|The Visitation||Terileptils, Androids|
|Black Orchid*||The Cranleighs, Latoni|
|Time-Flight||The Master, Plasmatons|
|Arc of Infinity||Omega, Councillor Hedin, The Ergon|
|Mawdryn Undead||Black Guardian, Mawdryn, Turlough,|
|Terminus||Black Guardian, Terminus Inc, Turlough|
|Enlightenment||Black Guardian, Captain Wrack, Mansell|
|The King’s Demons||The Master|
|The Five Doctors||President Borusa, The Master|
|Warriors of the Deep||Nilson, Icthar, Silurians, Sea Devils|
|The Awakening||Malus, Sir George Hutchinson|
|Resurrection of the Daleks||Daleks, Davros, Lytton|
|Planet of Fire||The Master, Kamelion|
|The Caves of Androzani||Sharaz Jek, Morgus, Stotz|
So, one outing for the Cybermen and Daleks, plenty of appearances from the Master and a few less-used returns such as Omega, Silurians, and the Sea Devils. There’s an arc of Black Guardian stories and a few very forgettable one-off enemies. Then there are the stories I’ve marked with an asterisk (*): Kinda, Black Orchid, Earthshock and Snakedance. These are remembered as stories where the companion was centre stage (spoilers):
- Kinda the first of the Tegan possessed by the Mara stories
- Black Orchid Nyssa has a double (though the Doctor also gets to play cricket)
- Earthshock Adric dies at the end
- Snakedance Tegan once again falls under the Mara’s spell.
I think the Fifth Doctor was particularly passive (or lacked a bit of agency, perhaps) and these stories show very much a more modern take on the show with the companion driving most of the drama and the Doctor only adding value at the resolution. This is by no means a reflection of the skill of the actors, but my take on the scripts. This era seems to be a set of experiments, reuse of some old ideas and few strong new ones, though when it did shine it shone very brightly.
So what does it all mean?
A new production team means a new approach and following on from a long era of a very much larger than life, bold Doctor, Peter Davison played a gentler, less direct character. I haven’t rewatched (or in some cases watched!) every story, but I have a strong sense of a Doctor who’s part of a team. In some ways very new series and I now have a stronger sense of symmetry with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.
I will say the companions were in a lot of cases the most dramatic parts of this era, and I do have a lot of time for Tegan and Turlough (both of whom I find work really well on audio).
As to the celery and cricket? Well, it does make for a simple description of the appearance of this Doctor, if not his character!