Until this year I had never really appreciated the Fifth Doctor. But I had never watched his era in sequence. I have a greater appreciation for this era of the show, even though I think it could have been so much better. In some of my earlier posts I posited that the Fifth Doctor era was a struggle between two visions of Doctor Who: a revisionist vision which attempted to distill Doctor Who to the core ethos of the show (represented by Christopher H. Bidmead) and a recreationist vision which attempted to duplicate the types of stories that Doctor Who had done in the past, this time with a better production values (represented by Eric Saward). I don’t believe this was a conscious struggle. (Although it could have been; I haven’t studied it in depth.) But this era was pulled back and forth between highs and lows.
At the same time, this era of Doctor Who attempted to inject a type of domesticity to the show, one which hadn’t been seen since the very first season with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan. This largely failed. Of the companions of this era, Turlough has the strongest and most compelling character arc. He was my favorite companion of the season, even though Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric each had histories and events which should have led to compelling drama.
So while the era itself is mixed, I come away from the era appreciative of what they were trying to do, and I appreciate Peter Davison’s Doctor more than ever before. I await my journey through his Big Finish catalogue.
Looking back over the era, here are my personal picks for favorite and least favorite stories.
- Kinda/Snakedance. Christopher Bailey’s two Mara stories are brilliant pieces of religious symbolism. By and large the directors of each story were able to convey his concepts, and while these stories can be a bit confusing, they reward thought and analysis. I appreciate the religious aspect of these stories, and I love that Bailey created multiple civilizations that feel old and lived in rather than quickly conceptualized for the story.
- The Black Guardian Trilogy (Mawdryn Undead/Terminus/Enlightenment). I didn’t feel I could take these individually because, while I enjoy each story, what I particularly enjoy is the character arc of Turlough. Mark Strickson’s character is introduced as an untrustworthy character and he journeys through temptation toward redemption. While he never completely becomes trustworthy, his journey of self-discovery is fascinating to watch and is extremely satisfying in the end.
- Caves of Androzani. This multi-faceted story is gripping and thrilling. While I don’t feel that it is strictly a Fifth Doctor story (it is merely a story where the Fifth Doctor happens to appear), it is an emotionally wrenching destruction of the era that preceded it, and it sets the ground for what is to follow—for better or for worse.
- Time-Flight. A promising first episode quickly becomes baffling as the Master embarks on one of the dullest plots he has conceived yet. While the supporting cast is wonderful in this (Peter Grimwade is much better at writing character interactions than compelling plots), the story just drags from one incomprehensible scene to another. There are so many plot leaps it is exhausting.
- The Kings Demons. Speaking of baffling Master plots, the prevention of Magna Carta may be the weirdest yet. Even the Meddling Monk made more sense than this.
- Warriors of the Deep. I almost think this is the story where Saward won the struggle. The Silurian plot doesn’t go anywhere new. The ending is a massacre. I can’t see what was accomplished in this story. The Myrka is the least of this story’s problems.
Let me know what you think. What are your favorite stories from the Davison years?