Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Best of Doctor Who: The Fifth Doctor



We're now in 1981, and properly into the John Nathan-Turner years.

Now before I go on I should saw that Doctor Who fans owe a considerable debt to the man who produced the series for the whole of the 1980s. Without him the show would probably have died a death shorty after Tom Baker hung up his scarf, and if that had happened it's hard to see the show eventually coming back in the way that it did.

However what Nathan-Turner actually did with the show was not good. By executive order he removed all elements of magic, myth and horror, banned his actors from humour or ad-libs, disintegrated the sonic screwdriver, reduced the Doctor to a rather helpless victim of events, and extracted the show from its regular Saturday teatime slot. So with everything that made the show good expunged, I switched off.

So Peter Davidson isn't my favourite Doctor then. A good actor, Davidson might have made a great Doctor had he been a little older, served with better scripts, and been allowed to play the character the way he wanted to. Choosing the best of the Fifth Doctor stories then isn't going to be too hard, as there are only really two I'll watch again.

I suppose in passing I should mention Kinda, very meaningful but don't ask me what it means, and The Black Orchid, very atmospheric but a bit ridiculous, but as I've not watched either in nearly thirty years I can't really say more.

I'm tempted to give the award to The Five Doctors. The plot isn't great. It couldn't be otherwise really as Terrance Dicks had to cram in so many Doctors and Companions that by the end the latter are reduced to doing nothing more than standing around and shaking hands with each other. But it does have a sparkling performance by Patrick Troughton, an enjoyable turn by Jon Pertwee and Richard Hurndall in the role-of-his-life as the First Doctor. It also has Tom Baker who, even in some out-of-context footage from the aborted Shada, easily out Doctors his successor.

The story can also claim what may be the best battle scene in the old series, when the Raston Warrior Robot obliterates a cyberman patrol - Doctor Who isn't usually remembered for squirting innards and severed limbs. The cyberman are otherwise total crap in this episode, as they are throughout the 1980s, but they do at least die spectacularly well.

Considerably better is The Caves of Androzani. Robert Holmes again comes up with interesting characters and Peter Davidson actually has some acting to do, possibly because Homes didn't understand his Doctor and wrote as if for Tom Baker.

Davidson starts off in typically wimpish form with lines like; "What do we do now?" - "Surrender." and "How do we get out of this?" - "I really have no idea." And he has to be rescued from his own execution by a villain of all people. However by episode three he seems to have grown some balls and manages to eventually rescue Peri and save the day.

But even better is Enlightenment. I've had my doubts about including Special Editions with new effects, but as in this case all they've done is replace first rate model work with second rate CGI the difference isn't huge. Enlightenment takes what the BBC can do well, acting and historical sets, and runs with it. There are no planet invading monsters just the enigmatic Celestials and - unfortunately - the Guardians. 


Lynda Baron (nurse Gladys Emmanuel from Open All Hours) flirts with Turlough whilst wearing thigh length boots and Tegan is only mildly irritating. The result is enigmatic and interesting, something Doctor Who rarely managed during the eighties.

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