I’ve heard it said that Peter Davison’s final serial as the Fifth Doctor is often seen as one of if not the greatest stories from the original run of Doctor Who.
And now that I’ve seen it, about the only complaint I have is the bad electronic incidental music that’s been playing on the show for years. Like, wow, this one was good.
I mean, this serial stands out that, for once, the Doctor actually isn’t trying to save the day or the universe. He isn’t actively finding allies amongst whoever is there when he arrives, and he doesn’t do anything to make that place better for his presence aside from the fact that the chaos that was already there gets more chaotic due to everyone not trusting anyone else and assuming the Doctor and Peri are spies working for someone else at all times.
As such, all the different forces that do what they do to the Doctor all meet bad ends. The military guys are gunned down by an android ambush. The gunrunners don’t get away with much. Morgus is ousted by his own secretary and killed by Sharaz Jek, but Jek takes a mortal wound, doing one actual bit of decency by giving the Doctor one dose of the cure. And yes, the Doctor hustles himself and an unconscious Peri to the TARDIS, takes off, and gives the one dose to someone he barely knows before collapsing, seeing visions of all his past companions (Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, and Kamelion) plus the Master, with the latter urging him to die and the former all urging him to live.
But no, the Doctor arguably does neither, regenerating into a new Doctor, and Colin Baker sits up and says some cocky lines, establishing in just a few sentences that he’s a very different kind of Doctor.
And, well, he should be.
But what to make of the Fifth Doctor?
I started off this run of episodes saying he was the one Doctor I didn’t really have a good grasp on. In many ways, that’s still true. He does have things in common with some of his predecessors. Like the First and Second Doctor, he had multiple companions, and like the Second towards the end of his run, his companions all had their own roles to play in various adventures and weren’t just there to give the Doctor someone to explain things to. Like the Third, his adventures were a lot more serious form of sci-fi, playing up the adventure and downplaying the humor. But in many ways, Davison’s Doctor was more noteworthy by what he isn’t than what he is. He’s not the stand-out so much as the leader of a band of talented people. He’s not arrogant like many Doctors. He’s not stand-offish. He’s rather sociable. He’s nice. The closest there was to a nice Doctor prior to this was the Second, and he was more childlike than anything else, and perhaps the Fourth when he wasn’t being aloof. There’s no hint of paternalism to the Fifth Doctor like there was to the First and Third, and no sense of being above it all that came from varying degrees from all of the previous Doctors. It’s only fitting, really, that he goes out doing something to save a friend’s life even if he barely knows the friend in question.
Largely because, well, he says he sees Peri’s predicament as being his fault and he has to fix that. How many other Doctors would have done that? Heck, a couple Doctors wouldn’t even admit to making mistakes. This one does, and he’ll risk his own life to fix that.
Then again, if he knew he could just regenerate, how much was he really risking?
So, that’s it for the Fifth Doctor. As always, I have a bit of the YouTube documentary on the show with its take on Davison’s run, and then, well, on to the Sixth, someone who, near as I can make out, is one of the least popular Doctors in the show’s history through no fault of Colin Baker’s.