Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Fifth Doctor



It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…




Replacing Tom Baker was no mean feat for Doctor Who’s new producer, John Nathan Turner, who had overseen the incredibly popular leading man’s final run of episodes, and was set to remain with the series until its untimely demise at the end of the decade. Whomever was chosen had to be someone who had the appropriate gravitas to bring an increasingly pantomimic show back down to earth, but also the star quality to outshine any criticism that he wasn’t as good as the man who had defined the last seven years of the program.

Enter Peter Davison – already a household name due to his role in vet drama All Creatures Great and Small, and someone who would continue to make other hit series during his tenure. Then the youngest actor to play the role, aged just 29 when he began filming, he nevertheless took the show closer to its early days with William Hartnell.

Whilst Baker and Pertwee had dominated every territory they found themselves in across time and space, and Troughton got stuck in meddling away with anything he could twiddle levers and push buttons on, Davison returned the part to that of an outsider: at times grumpy and irascible, with an incredibly moral backbone, yet often distant from events which frequently spiralled out of his control.



This was reflected in the way his Doctor became the first since Hartnell (UNIT personnel not withstanding) to have three full-time companions at once on a regular basis. Alien child (and mathematical brat) Adric, played by young Matthew Waterhouse, had joined during the Fourth Doctor’s final season, whilst both fellow alien genius Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and mouthy air hostess Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) had been roped into The Doctor’s world via the dastardly schemes of The Master.

This new team would, over the course of Davison’s first series, spend a little too long inside the TARDIS, bickering amongst themselves, or being sidelined as narrative requirements of four lead characters took their tole. Tegan seemed to dislike being stuck on the TARDIS, which had once more reverted to random travels, making her attempts to get back home rather difficult. Venting most of her frustrations at the Doctor, she did however form a bond with Nyssa, who in turn respected Adric, who didn’t seem to like anyone.


Therein, perhaps, lies one of the problems with Davison’s era. Tegan was bolshy and quick tempered, but she was at least believable, and played brilliantly by Janet Fielding. That she spent most of her time with The Doctor being exasperated by almost everything she came across could grate with a lesser actress, but for all her casual dismissal of her own abilities, Fielding carries most of this era on her own back, particularly when Davison’s Doctor remains at arm’s length for the majority of it.

Nyssa and Adric, however, just come across as humourless brats, and the latter’s demise at the hands of the Cybermen has become so celebrated by fans that there’s even a stop-motion animation on that story’s DVD release, in which his death becomes all the more final. Fairing a little better was their replacement: alien schoolboy Vislor Turlough (played by a man now best known for producing Steve Irwin’s wildlife documentaries, Mark Strickson).



Turlough’s premise was interesting from the off, as he was under the influence of The Black Guardian (a hammy as hell Valentine Dyall), and encouraged for several stories to try and kill The Doctor, with predictably flailing results. However, despite teases of potential in the character, and Mark’s talent as an actor, once this mini-arc is dealt with, nothing is ever made of his unusual nature again until his final story, Planet of Fire, which just so happens to be an absolute snore-fest.


In fact, whilst Davison’s successor has the dubious honour of being in the role during its most criticised period, it is the Fifth Doctor’s regime which feels the most like wasted opportunities. Davison is brilliant in the role, but most of his stories fall apart from poor script editing (courtesy of Eric Saward, whose infamy will be covered in the next instalment of these quick-start guides), shonky effects, overlit sets and just plain bad decisions.

Take, for example, The Master, now played by film actor Antony Ainley who would return on and off to the role until 1989. Having stolen the body of Nyssa’s father, his very existence should be a torment to her, yet the unemotional character seems to get over it all rather quickly. Which may be because Ainley is not so much chewing the scenery as making a metaphorical five course meal out of the sets, the lighting rig, the cameras and hell, the cast and crew too.

So when a character designed to be The Doctor’s equal ends up looking increasingly ridiculous, what does that say of the show itself? Shunted to a twice-weekly broadcast, away from its traditional Saturday night home, a show which had already started to show signs of disrepair in the late 70s was progressively finding itself increasingly out of date.



Whilst we’re on the subject of mistakes, let us stop for a moment to consider the character of Kameleon, brought into the series as a regular in The King’s Demons. Designed as a shape-shifting robot, the character – voiced by Gerald Flood – was in actual fact, a real robotic prop, which never really worked properly, and was quietly abandoned. Instead of having Kameleon use his ability to change form and be played by ANY ACTOR, which was shown on screen from the offset, he’s tucked away in a cupboard somewhere on the TARDIS for almost a whole year, returning just to be destroyed because his very existence was a loose end.


Sure, the 20th anniversary saw a feature length, back-slapping adventure with previous Doctors and companions brought back for popcorn fodder nonsense, but the very next time we saw The Doctor on screen, Hammer Horror legend Ingrid Pitt was doing piss-poor karate against an underwater beast that was, to all intents and purposes, a pantomime horse on a set lit so brightly one suspects it could be seen from space. For all the negativity hurled at the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, and all the love thrown at the Fifth, it is this era which took the show everyone loved, and accidentally wrecked it, however great Davison is in the role.

Suddenly, right at the end of The Fifth Doctor’s reign, with Tegan and Turlough gone and new companion Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant) giving the dads watching some eye-candy, a director came along who understood exactly how to make Doctor Who work, even when he was being restricted to studio-bound, multi-camera, sitcom style shooting methods. His name was Graeme Harper, and he turned in a story that was recently voted the finest in the series history, and would prove so popular he’d be invited back to direct several episodes for David Tennant’s Doctor all those years later.

But for The Fifth Doctor, time was at an end.  The man who battled Daleks, Cybermen, The Mara and Mawdryn met his end via the deadly poisons of Androzani Minor. Saving the life of a girl he barely met, it was time for change, and it seemed on a moment too soon…





Black Orchid: A rarity in colour Doctor Who, in that this little two-parter has no science fiction elements whatsoever beyond our TARDIS team, and the results play as a lovely little who-dunnit instead.

The Visitation: Gorgeous location work, an interesting companion-who-never-was, and the accidental starting of The Great Fire Of London.

Mawdryn Undead: The Brigadier returns in a story originally written to feature Ian Chesterton instead, but no matter, because it’s great to see him again.  This tale also introduces Turlough, and features the brilliant David Collings returning to the show as the titular villain.

The Five Doctors: Campy fun as Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton return, alongside a number of classic companions, in this love letter to the first 20 years of the show.

The Caves of Androzani: The Fifth Doctor’s finest moment, and also his last. A bleak morality tale, with a huge body-count, in which life for the Doctor gets progressively worse with each moment, until the only solution is death itself…


An awful lot of this era involves TARDIS arguments and/or crap monsters. Warriors of the Deep represents this best, with the much lauded return of the Silurians and Sea Devils falling apart due to overlit sets and the dreaded Myrka. Similarly, Arc of Infinity spent so much time pointing out how great it was to film on location in Amsterdam, it forgets to include a decent plot and criminally wastes the talents of Michael Gough. Too many other stories just end up dull as dishwater (hello Frontios, Enlightenment and Four to Doomsday), but the nadir of Doctor Who itself may come in the form of Time-Flight: in which The Master, for no apparent reason, disguises himself as a fat, oriental alien and hides in prehistoric times where he tries to steal a Concorde. No, we’ve no idea about that one either.


About Paul Holmes

Editor of The Velvet Onion since 2010, I also work in arts marketing and digital content producing, writer for a few things, listen to a lot of vinyl and watch lots and lots of Doctor Who.

Posted on October 24, 2013, in Articles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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