Nice to see Who! To see Who nice!
Welcome to the the third round of THE REGENERATION GAME! In this very long trip through TARDIS history, we'll be looking at the reign of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. It's a time of great changes for the show as the colurful, free wheelin' '70s fall under the designer jackboots of the dreaded '80s. There will be laughter, there will be tears, and alot of rude remarks about Adric!
THE FOURTH DOCTOR
In December 1974, the public were introduced to a brand new Doctor, Tom Baker. And Baker would stay the role until 1980; by far the longest serving Time Lord in the TARDIS, and for many the Fourth Doctor is the incarnation that first springs to mind when Doctor Who is mentioned. The Fourth Doctor has proved to be enduringly popular, with the Baker Man still regularly topping fan polls for favourite Doctor, and it is only recently he had any serious competition thanks to the immense appeal of David Tennant.
However, back in ’74, the general reaction wasn’t one of instant love. As I recalled in my review of The Eleventh Hour, a common response to the new Doctor was that he was too young. And additionally, initially many felt that his behaviour was far too silly and the costume, in particular the long scarf and floppy hat, that are now so iconic, made our Time Lord hero look a berk.
Now to contextualise this reaction, you have to remember that in the previous year, The Three Doctors had been broadcast and for many younger viewers this was their first exposure to the fact that there had been other Doctors before the white haired chap in the smoking jacket we enjoyed so much on a Saturday tea-time between Basil Brush and The Generation Game.
And we were hungry to learn more. Fortunately for us, a few months later the Radio Times published a Doctor Who special to celebrate tenth anniversary of the show. This magazine format tome was the first fandom bible, containing interviews with key cast and crew members from down the years, a Terry Nation short story, and even blueprints for building your very own Dalek. But the bulk of the page count was an episode guide, detailing every serial of all ten seasons to date. Now we had the full history of our hero’s adventures and very quickly playgrounds across the land were full of self-styled experts.
Now if we look at the marvellous stills from the Three Doctors and this hallowed volume which show all three incarnations together (here's one), you can begin to understand the mixed reception the Fourth Doctor received. Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee are all of a comparable age and share a similarly Edwardian look; Hartnell may appear staid and stolid in his dress sense, Troughton scruffy and Pertwee dandified but their wardrobe is rooted in the same basic style. Hence Baker’s age and his outfit, inspired by a Toulouse Lautrec poster incidentally, seemed a very radical break with tradition at the time. Equally after the dashing but patriarchal scientist of Pertwee, Baker’s anarchic antics and clowning was something of a shock to the system.
However his first season saw the return of the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Sontarans, introduced an iconic new villain Davros, and delved into proto Alien sci-fi body horror territory with the Wirrn in The Ark in Space; a feast of horrors to test the mettle of any Doctor, and Baker quickly proved his worth. With Phillip Hinchcliffe in the producer’s chair and Robert Holmes in charge of scripts, this new series of Doctor Who was almost another soft reboot. In the wake of the energy crisis, British government teetering close to collapse, and Watergate and Vietnam across the pond, it no longer seemed appropriate for a television hero to be in the pocket of the powers that be and working for the military. And so the cosy UNIT set up was quickly phased out. After Baker's debut story Robot, the show returned to travelling in time and among the stars; no more would England be invaded by any passing intergalactic chancers every other month; the days of tea and biscuits with the Brig and Benton were over.
With Hinchcliffe and Holmes at the reins, the new stories were pitched at an older audience. Although the Pertwee days had delivered many frightening moments and memorable monsters, the Holmes/Hinchcliffe union brought harder story lines, packed with darkness and violence. In contrast the pop art psychedelic action sci-fi backdrop of the Third Doctor’s adventures, the first three seasons of Baker’s run saw the Fourth Doctor roaming a gothic universe, with stories like The Brain of Morbius and The Pyramids of Mars riffing on horror classics. And in this milieu, the anarchic quips and general Tom-foolery fitted in perfectly; the monsters and villains may have had us behind the sofa but you knew the Fourth Doctor would be offering them jelly babies in the next scene.
But there was more to Tom Baker’s Doctor than just tripping over his own scarf; the Fourth incarnation of our favourite Time Lord also showed himself to possess the same scientific brilliance and moral vigour of his predecessors. He may have used his wit to prick the pomposity of his adversaries (sample quote - “That’s the empty rhetoric of a defeated dictator… And I don’t like your face either!”), but he was also given to fiercely debating with the villains, poetically musing aloud and delivering stirring speeches.
Looking at the Doctor’s various regenerations, it is tempting to speculate that the transformative process does not just randomly assemble a new personality and physique but at some level, possibly only subconsciously, each new incarnation is shaped by the circumstance of the previous one. Hence when the First morphed into the Second, Troughton was younger and better suited to the adventuring life, with a greater capacity for enjoying his travels. When the Time Lords forcible regenerate him at the close of The War Games, they choose the look of his new incarnation – and being a staid and steady ancient race they naturally pick a distinguished elder statesman appearance with a matching conservative attitude for his exile to earth. However when the Doctor has earned his freedom and regenerates into the Fourth, it is almost as if the metamorphosis has deliberately gone for a younger model complete with a bohemian attitude that borders on the Byronic. This Doctor loves his freedom to travel, loves liberty, and espouses a Romantic philosophy of experiencing knowledge rather dusty book learning.
However he is also the most alien of the Doctors so far: unpredictable in his reactions and showing a far greater range of emotions, moods, and responses than his preceding incarnations. And while he may have jettisoned the slightly patronising airs of the Third, he retains the same openly Time Lord attitude, capable of being as very bit the stern authoritarian as Pertwee when the circumstances dictate. It is very telling that his major competitor for the title of most beloved Doctor, Tennant’s Tenth, has a similar personality spectrum – shifting quickly and easily from joviality and playful humour to portentous rhetoric and righteous ire. And that’s not the only parallel with the Tenth Doctor as we shall see later on.
While the return to wandering the cosmos is the show returning to its original set-up, the Doctor himself is significantly different. Now we know he is a Time Lord, and he acts accordingly. Although Pertwee pioneered the portrayal of the Doctor as a Time Lord rather than a mysterious old chap, it was Tom Baker’s performance that defined him as an alien, with his quirks and eccentricities being part of his otherness. And from now on, strange personality traits will be de rigueur for every following Doctor.
It was also in the Tom Baker era that the format of the Doctor travelling with a female companion became firmly cemented in the public consciousness. While it is true that this trope first appeared in the days of the Third Doctor with Jo Grant, there was usually the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton, Captain Yates and all the soldier boys from Pippin Fort, sorry UNIT HQ, were part of the regular supporting cast. Indeed in the Fourth Doctor’s first series, he has Harry Sullivan (played by Ian Marter) in tow as well as Sarah Jane.
Now the role of Harry was created before they had cast the Fourth Doctor; the reasoning being that the series might need a young actor like Ian Marter for the physical action scenes if an older thespian inherited the TARDIS. However at the same time, having multiple and mixed sex companions was just as much a return to the show’s original format as travelling all space and time. The first Doctor regularly had three assistants with him, and by the time Patrick Troughton took control of the TARDIS, the production team had found that having a dashing chap and a pretty girl was the optimum number of characters for scripts.
But with the casting of a younger Doctor, sadly Harry was deemed surplus to requirements as Baker was more than capable of wrestling Dalek embryos and the occasional bit of fisticuffs. Hence we have a string of single white females in the TARDIS – Sarah Jane, Leela and two Romanas. And no, K9 doesn’t count – he was essentially talking prop rather than a dramatic foil and often left behind in the TARDIS due to the behind the scenes nightmares getting him to work properly caused (particularly in stories heavy on location shooting, far away from smooth studio floors). As for Adric who turns up in Tom Baker’s final season, we will carp about, sorry, explore in more detail when we get to the Fifth Doctor.
But back to the tin dog. The inclusion of K9 is a fitting symbol of the changing taking place in the production office at the time. Although the Holmes and Hinchcliffe era is now regarded as a run of classic stories, and the show saw record audience figures, the darker material did cause problems for the mandarins at Broadcasting House. BBC bosses came under increasing fire from self appointed TV watchdog Mary Whitehouse, who frequently had cause to complain over the levels of violence, gore and general horrific tone of serials such as Genesis of the Daleks and The Seeds of Doom.
Now Mrs Whitehouse was something of a constant thorn in the side of the BBC; frequently complaining about sex, violence and swearing on the small screen (and I’d recommend interested readers to Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, a quality drama starring Julie Walters which documents her tussles with Auntie Beeb). However while often the BBC respectfully shrugged off most of her criticisms, her complaints over the cliff-hanger of Episode 3 of The Deadly Assassin were picked up by several national newspapers and the question of whether Doctor Who was now going too far for a Saturday evening show could not be ignored.
And so despite receiving massive ratings not seen since the early days of the show when Dalekmania was in full swing and not seen again until the modern reincarnation, Hinchcliffe was quietly moved on. Graham Williams stepped in as producer and Robert Holmes was replaced as script editor soon after. And Williams came to the wheel with strict orders from on high to lighten the show. And although the fourth series in the reign of the Baker Man saw Image of the Fendahl and The Horror of Fang Rock still playing with the classic horror styles – stories developed under Hinchcliffe – the series was moving a new direction.
William’s second serial The Invisible Enemy which introduces K9, encapsulates this shift. This adventure begins with astronauts in the far future becoming infected and possessed by a mysterious alien force, but the Nigel Kneale style Quatermass sci-fi horror the story starts out with soon gives way to outright science fantasy. Hence in teh second half, we have a robot dog and miniaturised clones of the Doctor and Leela beginning injected into the infected Doctor’s brain Fantastic Voyage style.
And perhaps it was a timely change; switching the emphasis to space ships and alien planets, adding more mythological touches to the stories, and including a robot character that the little ‘uns loved all proved very fortuitous. As Williams was taking over in 1977 – the year of Star Wars; Lucas’ space opera changed the way the public perceived sci-fi and the retooled Doctor Who almost by accident had moved in sync with the change in trends. And the Doctor was changing too.
After Bob Holmes has stepped down, Anthony Read took over as script editor for the second half of that series. However the other two Williams produced seasons saw Douglas Adams taking over the role. And naturally with the man who would later bring us The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” in charge of scripts, as well as more fantasy-orientated adventures, we got a Doctor who was a lot more given to pithy quips and comedy asides.
However as well an increased propensity for witty banter and a tendency to talk to himself that verges on breaking the fourth wall (“Not even the sonic screwdriver can get me out of this one!” in The Invasion of Time), the Fourth Doctor under Williams and Adams becomes much more of superman than previous incarnations. Like the Tennant’s Tenth, this later Fourth Doctor is prone to pulling unmentioned special abilities out of the hat, but more importantly he now knows it all. Pertwee may have been ready to patronise at the drop of a ruffled shirt, but Baker’s becomes positively arrogant after Hinchcliffe and Holmes leave.
And while the Doctor should be intellectually brilliant, he really shouldn’t become nearly all knowing, as this instantly diminishes the level of threat in any situation he finds himself in. And while it’s fun to see the Fourth Doctor blithely opposing ultra powerful beings such as the Black Guardian, the knowledge and intelligence he displays in this part of his career come dangerously close to making him as invulnerable as Superman. And this problem was compounded by the introduction of both K9 and Romana. With a Time Lady companion and a mobile super computer, we now had three geniuses in the TARDIS with enough combined intellect to easily stitch up any monsters and villains the scripts could muster. And combined with the directive not to upset Mrs Whitehouse, his adversaries don’t even provide the fright factor for the audience.
Needless to say, things had to change, and change they would when Jon Nathan-Turner took the producer’s seat for Tom Baker’s final season. And as he would hold the position until the show’s cancellation in 1989, we’ll be hearing a lot more about him and his influence on the show in the Fifth Doctor section and future instalments of these articles.
The last Fourth Doctor series felt like a huge shake-up. For a start there was a new titles sequence – a gleaming star field rather than the familiar Time Vortex tunnel – and horror of horrors, a new arrangement of the theme. The iconic Delia Derbyshire version was scrapped and replaced with a very ‘80s synth rendition from Peter Howell. And the show’s scheduling changed as well, it was moved from its traditional Saturday evening slot to weekday nights. But the stories too reflected a radical change in styles, and the first outing The Leisure Hive is a good example of things to come, showing a shift from science fantasy to a much more nuts-and-bolts hard sci-fi. New script editor Christopher Bidmead was very keen to get the science in the fiction accurate and now cutting edge physics - like the concept of tachyons in this outing - were the inspirations for the plotting.
The Doctor’s character, as ever, moves with the changing times. There’s less reliance on convenient new abilities, markedly less comedy and he is vulnerable again – seeing the previously breezy in the face of danger Doctor aged into his dotage in The Leisure Hive was something of a shock. However by this point, the Doctor is becoming more distant and something of a colder character than previously. Partly this was due to the tonal shift – stories brimming with hard science like Warriors Gate didn’t leave the character much room for either fun or moral crusading. But equally after seven series Tom Baker was growing tired and bored of the role, and the increasing friction with directors and the new producer are clearly colouring his performance. In short, it was time to go…
During the Fourth Doctor’s reign, the show’s mythos was significantly expanded in many ways. Aside from the occasional titbits about the Doctor himself, such as he scored poorly in his Time Lord exams, and that his nickname in those days was Theta Sigma, we also learn a lot more about the Time Lords. We hear of Rassilion, the founder of Time Lord society, and that despite putting the Doctor on trial for interfering in other races affairs, the Time Lords do surreptitiously meddle with the fabric of history to suit their own ends. Several times they deliberately have the Doctor intervene on their behalf, and the first shot in The Last Great Time War is the mission they give him in Genesis of the Daleks - to stop the creation of the race that eventually make exterminate the rest of creation.
We also discover in The Deadly Assassin that Time Lords may only regenerate twelve times. This means that there can be only ever be thirteen incarnations of the Doctor, and brings us conveniently to totting up how this era has affected our running totals of how many incarnations of the Doctor are there, and how many actors have essayed the role. Now the causal reader may well be thinking this is just a simple case of adding one to both scores on the doors… Oh if only it were that simple!
For a start, there is an alternative Fourth Doctor. In December 1974, two weeks before Baker donned the scarf, Seven Keys To Doomsday opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London. This stage play was originally written by veteran Who scribe Terrance Dicks for Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, but due to various scheduling problems the part of everybody’s favourite Time Lord went to one Trevor Martin. Hence the production’s opening shows Pertwee regenerating into Martin.
Now although other actors have portrayed the Doctor in various stage plays over the years, I’m counting Trevor Martin in our tally on the grounds that many years later Big Finish adapted the this theatre production into an audio adventure. So as he has appeared as the Doctor in officially licensed and BBC rubber stamped broadcast media, he has earned a place next to Peter Cushing in the ranks of apocryphal Doctors.
And speaking of Big Finish, in The Kingmaker the voice of the fourth Doctor appears. However the distinctive tones we are do not belong to Tom Baker! Although recently his Bakerness has relented and returned to the role in the audio medium, at the time The Kingmaker was recorded he was still rebuffing all advances from the Big Finish folk. But he did give permission for his Doctor to appear and recommended they hire impressionist John Culshaw, whose impersonations of the Fourth Doctor were a regular feature odf the Dead Ringers comedy show. Now does this count? Well, it's a BBC licensed production and Culshaw has the approval of the Baker Man himself, so clearly we have a third thespian in the role of the Fourth Doctor.
However, where things get REALLY complicated is The Brain of Morbius. In this Holmes & Hinchcliffe outing, a classic slice of their patent space gothic which riffs on both Donovan’s Brain and Frankenstein, the Doctor find himself going toe to toe with Time Lord criminal Morbius. The story culminates with our hero challenging Morbius to the Gallifreyan equivalent of a duel – the dangerous mind bending contest, a species of mental combat where the opponents try and overpower each others minds.
Now this psychic duel as we see it in Episode 4, has the Doctor and Morbius hooked up to some technological gizmo and on its view screen we see faces of their incarnations appearing. And here lies the controversy – at first the screen switches from showing Morbius to the Doctor, but the villain gains the upper hand. “How far Doctor? How long have you lived?” gloats Morbius as we see previous incarnations of the Doctor appearing; Pertwee, then Troughton and right back to Hartnell. And then … WHO THE HELL IS THAT!
Eight, repeat eight, other faces appear after what we thought was the ‘First’ Doctor…
Now this strange cavalcade of strangers (see here for pictures and details of who they actually were) surely can’t be hitherto unknown incarnations of the Doctor, can they? In The Three Doctors the Time Lords clearly state there are but three version of him running about in history at that point. So then are these odd fellows previous incarnations of Morbius?
Now this is the easy explanation that banishes the continuity demons back to the Howling Halls once more. But for some, including myself, this simply won’t do, as it just doesn’t tally with what we actually see. The Doctor is clearly losing; indeed he only wins because Morbius’ brain case overheats. More importantly, as the mystery faces are appearing, Morbius is gloating “Your puny mind is powerless against the strength of Morbius! Back…back to your beginnings!”
Another theory which has been mooted is that these faces represent future incarnations of the Doctor. However it makes no logical sense for incarnations that have yet to occurred to appear prior to Hartnell. Plus we have no indications that Time Lords know in advance what form their future regenerations will take. And again the above quotes from Morbius fairly definitely rule this theory out.
Now it is possible the Time Lords’ records aren’t perhaps as complete as they assume. In The Deadly Assassin we find that they have no records of the Master despite the fact that previously an emissary from Gallifrey had warned the Third Doctor of his escape from prison in Terror of the Autons. However it is later revealed that since then the Master had tampered with their data banks, expunging all mentions of himself in order to execute his schemes in this adventure. Therefore you could assume that their files on the Doctor have also been meddled with.
But the problem with this is that in Mawdryn Undead the current Doctor clearly states he is the fifth, and in The Five Doctors the First Doctor (Hurndall model) is very emphatic that he is “the original”. And subsequent Doctors and the show itself has referenced their number of regenerations, in Time And The Rani Sylvester McCoy proclaims himself as the seventh incarnation and both The Next Doctor and The Eleventh Hour show us a complete run of Doctors with no strange chaps with beards appearing. And most recently in The Lodger Matt Smith states he is the eleventh version of the Doctor.
So with the evidence to hand, another explanation could be that the Doctor was faking an endless stream of previous incarnations in order to fry Morbius’ brain. Now although this is an appealingly neat solution to the problem of the Morbius Doctors, producer Philip Hinchcliffe has stated for the record that the faces on the screen ARE meant to be earlier versions of the Doctor.
Additionally during Hinchcliffe's tenure as producer, the familiar white control room disappeared when the Doctor decided to use the secondary control room for a while. As well as being more suitably in tune with the gothic sensibilities of the show at the time, all wooden panels and HG Wells steampunk controls, there is also a old costume lying around that clearly didn’t belong to Hartnell, Troughton or Pertwee, which supports the idea that Hartnell wasn’t the first.
Is there an answer to all of these mysteries? Well possibly, but you’ll have to wait until we get the Seventh Doctor to find out more. But the Fifth Doctor's life and times do shed a light more light o the subject...
THE FIFTH DOCTOR
The Fifth Doctor marks something of a turning point in classic Doctor Who history with the new Jon Nathan-Turner broom sweeping aside the certainties of the past. No longer was the show part of the BBC’s Saturday night killer line up, the now classic format of the Doctor travelling with a single glamorous assistant was gone, and it was clear that the old theme and titles weren’t coming back. And in the popular consciousness, all these changes are remembered as the point when the show started to go downhill. The era of the much maligned Doctors is upon us.
As we saw while tracing the evolution of the role in the Tom Baker years, the character and the tone of the show was in need of a shake-up. And the Fifth Doctor was to be a marked contrast to the Fourth; Baker’s alien bohemian was replaced a much more vulnerable cricket lover. Davison was a kinder, softer Doctor; less sure of himself and more thoughtful, haughty Time Lord arrogance giving way to sympathetic understanding. Far less authoritarian than any of his previous incarnations and more reserved about wading into a situation, the Fifth Doctor is the most indecisive, always looking to find an accord rather than take the lead.
After the long reign of the Fourth Doctor and Tom Baker’s huge popularity, Peter Davison had a very steep hill to climb. And the change in the character’s attitude and reactions has not always played well with viewers – even among fans the Fifth Doctor is often dismissed as the ‘wet vet’ - an allusion to Davison’s previous well know role as Tristan in All Creatures Great And Small. Now the concept of a Doctor who is more fallible and takes his decisions very seriously is an interesting one. While Baker strode about the cosmos with a “I’m the bloody Doctor, so watch it cock!” gleam in his mad eyes, Davison was a quieter presence, and although he could take the hard line when necessary, the Fifth Doctor was always more sensitive to the costs and consequences.
As the show had scaled back the sillier humour and was still cautious of venturing too far into horror territory, the emphasis was much more on scientific accuracy, and this shifting of weight from the fantasy of the Williams/Adams period to greater realism would lead to all manner of moral dilemmas for the Fifth Doctor to agonise over. The days of the Doctor lashing up some gizmo from super convenient tat in his pockets and manifesting unexpected new abilities were over. Thinking things through and weighing up the right decisions were to be the order of the day now. And this new approach was exemplified in the Davison’s fourth outing The Visitation which saw the sonic screwdriver not only destroyed, but not replaced. From now on, there will be no magic wand in the Doctor’s capacious pockets, and the screw driver will not return until the Eighth Doctor takes the TARDIS controls (apparently he finds a spare in the depths of the TARDIS according to the BBC novels).
And Davison’s performances as this more down to earth Doctor are full of interesting subtlety. While he appears even younger than ever before, his portrayal is full of nods to the fact that he is actually a very old man in a youthful body, with shades of the First Doctor’s crotchetiness on show. However for some, he was just too young for the role – while there had been much muttering about Baker’s age, this was compared to the debates about Davison’s casting. However his boyish good looks aside, many felt he was lacking the necessary gravitas to play the role. Therefore the new direction the show was taking the Doctor in did seem to some like a watering down of the character.
And although this is more than a little unfair to Davison, who acted his cricket pads off in the role, it has to be said there are problems here. While there is nothing wrong with the revised conception of the Doctor himself, or the casting of Davison for that matter, the trouble is the show itself didn’t always deliver a decent showcase for the new Doctor.
The first problem is that for much of the Fifth Doctor’s time, he was operating in a very crowded TARDIS. With Adric stowing aboard in the Tom Baker’s final season, we saw the Nathan-Turner production team taking the cast numbers back to the Hartnell days. It was a deliberate break from the Doctor and sexy assistant set up which at the dawning of the 1980s and political correctness, was looking somewhat chauvinist and sexist.
Now at the time, I welcomed the change. Having absorbed the lore about the early days contained in the pages of the Radio Times 10th Anniversary special, for a good while I’d wanted to see the Doctor gain a few more members for the TARDIS crew - I wanted another Jamie, Ben or Harry in the show. However what we got was Adric and very soon I and many other viewers were wishing the Doctor would boot him back to E-Space pronto.
Now the Adric character underlines a recurring misconception about child characters in stories with adult heroes – namely that audiences will like them. But the truth is generally we don’t - such characters are only second to funny robots and cute animals in the annoying side kicks that “ruin it” stakes. Indeed, characters like Adric constitute the only time most people would condone the disembowelment of children with a rusty meat hook.
While it is true that children like to watch children having adventures, it only really appeals when said adventures are completely enclosed in a child’s world; where a gang of kids are at the centre of the action and the only grown-ups are adversaries and well meaning but stupid parents. Classic children’s fiction from The Famous Five to
But aside from this basic misunderstanding of the dynamics governing child characters in adventure fiction, Adric is not helped by the fact that he is an insufferable smart arse. Originally he was conceived as a kind of Artful Dodger in space, but what we actually got was the school swot – having a badge for doing sums didn’t exactly endear him to the audience. Evidently this was a move to making him a worthy addition to the TARDIS crew, but while they built up his intellect they still tried to portray the character as acting his age. And the result? The unappealing combination of whining and precociousness, the perfect recipe to annoy viewers of all ages. Interestingly, Star Trek made exactly the same mistakes when conceiving Wesley Crusher, another very ill regarded character, which just goes to show that this misconception about youthful sidekicks is a widespread one.
And so, when they decided to take the very bold move and actually kill a companion - in Earthshock, Adric got smashed into the prehistoric earth along with a freighter load of Cybermen, wiping out the dinosaurs and probably many Silurians - rather than the gutters overflowing with tears, round our way the sky was black with hats. Not quite the intended result I’m sure.
But Adric annoyances aside, the main problem in Davison’s first season is that he’s sharing the TARDIS with three companions. With Tegan, Nyssa and Adric all vying for screen time, and this new Doctor’s tendency to discuss and debate a plan of action rather than assume leadership of the team, he often appeared sidelined in his own show. And script-wise, the stories too often struggled to find enough for all four characters to do.
In the Fifth Doctor’s second season, with Adric now sleeping with the ichthyosaurs, wisely JNT didn’t introduce another third companion. However as a common solution to the four leads problem had been to leave Nyssa in the TARDIS, her character was underdeveloped and so she still didn’t get a lot to do. Understandable actress Sarah Sutton was not at all happy with being treated like K9 and despite Davison gallantly arguing with the production team to see that the scripts served her character better, things did not improve and Sutton decided to leave.
However some lessons had been learnt, and replacement Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson) came complete with not only a properly developed character but a story arc. This played out as the fondly remembered Black Guardian trilogy, which had the daring concept of a companion working as a mole for a returning arch villain. However after this plot thread’s conclusion, frequently Strickson wasn’t being given an awful lot to do – for example, he spends much of Resurrection of the Daleks skulking in corridors. Although Turlough had a clear back-story and a fleshed out persona, I think the problem really was Tegan.
Now I have nothing against this character played by Janet Fielding, or her performances. Tegan was an interesting companion – an Australian airhostess who was forthright, strident and very quick to challenge the Doctor if she didn’t think things were right. But the trouble seems to be that Tegan was such a strong character, and such fun to write for, that the script writers automatically gravitated to her and tended to leave little for other TARDIS crew members to do.
But there is also another problem with the crew dynamics in this era. Throughout the Davison years, we had three companions who all will frequently argue the toss with our Time Lord hero. Looking back over it now, it seems that in the Fifth Doctor’s time, the TARDIS was a very fractious place to be, with Tegan, Turlough and Adric all bending his ears while he was trying to get one with saving the day. And while I can appreciate that the move to a larger cast was a logical move away from the perceived sexism of sharing the TARDIS with a sexy damsel, putting to bed the idea of any hanky panky in the TARDIS, the creation of a team with an almost family atmosphere perhaps tipped too far the other way. Maybe it was part of the keeping-it-real ethos of the show at the time, but this family squabbled a lot and showed little cohesion as a team of adventurers. All of which didn’t exactly give either the Fifth Doctor or his companions a setting in which to sparkle.
In addition to the crowded TARDIS syndrome, there are also cosmetic and tonal problems surfacing. While Doctor Who had moved with the times, becoming more sci-fi in sync with the Star Wars boom, the Davison years saw the show moving more in tune with a different strain of science fiction. Whereas Star Wars popularised a return to Golden Age space fantasy, Who was mining the deeper seams of speculative fiction; all the playing with big science concepts and exploring moral quandaries was more in keeping with the SF of the New Wave than the antics of Lensman or Flash Gordon. But visually, this is what Doctor Who at the time was showing us.
For example, the Silurian/Sea Devils story Warriors of the Deep was supposed to look dirty and dark; Sea Base 4 was meant to be a lived in and broken environment like the Nostromo in Alien. And consequently, the sets in were designed to be seen in low light. However when it was actually shot, the sets were drenched in light giving it the gleaming white control panels looks of classic SF. And this mismatching of the story’s tone and the visual aesthetic is a recurring factor in the Davison years. Often it seemed that the sets, lighting and wardrobe were pulling one way and the scripts in another.
While the stories, particularly under Eric Saward’s tenure as script editor, were often gritty affairs, under JNT’s instructions the main cast were bundled into costumes that were almost uniforms. The idea here was that each character was to have an iconic stylised look. Now while many sci-fi properties do feature eye catching uniforms for their casts, Doctor Who is not one of those kind of shows. It’s quite the opposite, the Doctor is not part of an organised team like the Tracey family in Thunderbirds, nor part of a government sanctioned body like the various Star Trek crews; he’s a free spirit and the point of the companions is taking ordinary people on adventures in space and time. So putting the TARDIS crew into what were effectively uniforms made no sense to the viewers at home - it just looked like the characters just couldn’t be arsed to change their clothes.
And aside from inspiring cracks about personal hygiene, this overt branding of the characters’ wardrobes poses a more serious threat to the show. When you place the Fifth Doctor in a bleak bloodbath of a story like Resurrection of the Daleks or Warriors of the Deep, his wardrobe just screams “costume!” rather than blending in with the realism the story is attempting to build. And it’s hard to be a credible hero when you are strolling about in what looks like fancy dress.
The Fifth Doctor’s apparel raises also other issues. His new found love for cricket is apparently so great that he adopts the looks of an old school umpire. Now previous Doctors had picked up some odd affectations in their regenerations – for example, the Second liked to play the recorder and the Fourth had a love for jelly babies – but this fondness of cricket is somewhat perplexing. Now I have nothing against this most English of sports, and as the most English of aliens, an appreciation of this summer pass time is not out of keeping for the Doctor in the slightest. Rather what bothers me is the manner in which it was done, and in particular the ensuing costume decision – it just felt too heavy handed. When they unveiled the new Doctor to the public, it was like this was the only selling point they could think of - here’s the new guy, and like 10CC, he doesn’t like cricket, he loooooves it!
Now thankfully the actual stories revealed a greater depth to his character, and they didn’t resort him making references to Dr W.G. Grace every other episode. But visually it was a small aspect of the character becoming the defining template, and in my book a step in the wrong direction; The Fourth Doctor may have loved jelly babies but he didn’t feel the need to dress as Bertie Basset to underline the new quirk. This heavy focus on the cricket took the magic out of the regeneration process, almost downgrading it to a mere change of hobbies.
Similar the Fifth Doctor wore a stick of celery on his lapel. Apparently this was because this particular incarnation, for reasons that were never elucidated, was vulnerable to gases in the Praxis range (whatever they are - don’t ask me, I’m not Walter White). In the presence of these personal toxins, the celery would react by changing colour, and then the Doctor would eat the celery which now presumably contained a cure. All well and good, but these reasons for wearing salad on his coat weren’t actually revealed until his final story. So then for three years, we had a visual quirk that served no other purpose other than to be a quirk; a means of giving the Doctor the style but not the substance of an eccentric character.
And as alluded to earlier, the costume itself was simply too stylised. I think the look may have worked better if he had been wearing some more authentic Edwardian cricketing garb; togs that actually looked old and vintage. Instead we got an overly designed ensemble based on antique sports gear but filtered through the lens of ‘80s fashion. Where previous Doctors looked like they dressed eccentrically, the Fifth Doctor looked artificially theatrical. And Nathan-Turner’s idea to try to give the Doctor his own superhero style symbol, with the addition of question marks to the outfit didn’t help either. The Doctor maybe an iconic hero, but he’s nothing like your usual super hero; he’s a man of mystery and as such doesn’t really need a special sign or a set costume to tell us what he’s about. Fortunately the question marks never really caught on, although JNT still persisted with them until the very end, with the rogue punctuation marks turning up in both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors’ wardrobes. Again this is showing a clash between the house style the production team was bringing in and the actual content of the show.
However although it is easy with the benefits of hindsight, which is always 20/20, to decry the stylistic decisions JNT made back then, you have to consider the context of the times. He was attempting to keep the show up to date and his design choices were very in keeping with the tropes of the new decade – clean lines, bright colours and highly stylised. And rather than just keep everything as was, he knew that Doctor Who had to change with times. He showed a willingness to experiment with the format, but at the same time, a reverence for the show’s past. For all the new elements he brought to the show, he also resurrected classic villains like the Master, the Cybermen and the Black Guardian. And all the while he was hampered by tight budgets and struggled against the post Star Wars shift in the public’s expectations of what special effects could achieve.
The Fifth Doctor’s era may have been beset with such difficulties and some of the experiments may not have paid off, but you have to give credit to the cast and crew for trying to create original adventures and taking risks. But it should be noted that not all the experiments failed – when everything pulled together we got memorable and complex stories like Kinda and The Caves of Androzani. And in spite of all the constraints, Davison still made a worthy Doctor, and is still winning fans to this day – he’s proving very popular with the ranks of younger viewers who have go into Who through the new series and are now going back to view the old school Doctors.
So finally then, we must address the questions this series began with to. The first thing we should note here is an interesting reveal in The Five Doctors. This was another anniversary bash, and just as The Three Doctors was a special team-up adventure to celebrate a decade of Doctor Who, The Five Doctors was a feature length episode to mark the show’s twentieth birthday. In this adventure, we journeyed to the Death Zone on Gallifrey, where the tomb of Rassilion lies. And we learn that in his role as founder of Time Lord society, it was Rassilion who decreed that their regenerations were to be limited to twelve.
Now this clears up the long standing question of whether their ability to regenerate was a natural biological ability or achieved by technological means. And this point is reinforced by the fact that the High Council of Time Lords are prepared to offer the Master a new regenerative cycle if he will help the Doctor in the current crisis. So then, there is a way for the Doctor to carry on when he runs out of regenerations – remember with Matt Smith we are up to Doctor Eleven so this crisis is looming now. Of course, how he could get a new cycle with both the Time Lords and Gallifrey gone is another matter entirely…
But the possibility that the Time Lords award a second cycle of incarnations in exceptional circumstance could explain the Morbius Doctors. Perhaps they were his first cycle of regenerations and the fact that he was somehow earned a second cycle was stricken from the record. After all, technically this is breaking the revered rules as laid down by Rassilion, and considering how hidebound the Time Lords are as a society, it’s highly likely that such a deed would indeed be covered up and hence in the The Three Doctors they believe Hartnell to be the first.
Alternatively, it should be also be noted that in The Caves of Androzani while the Doctor is dying of Spectrox Toxaemia, he remarks that he doesn’t know if he will regenerate or not, and as the process starts claims “it feels different this time”. Could it be possible that the Morbius Doctors were his previous incarnations, and so he is actually the Thirteenth Doctor and has run out of proper regenerations? Well it’s possible, but there is a rather large fly in this ointment as we shall see when we examine the Sixth Doctor’s career.
However we do have another regeneration anomaly to resolve here. Throughout the Fourth Doctor’s swansong Logopolis there’s a mysterious fellow following the Doctor about, dressed all in white with vague, almost unformed features and swathed in what appear to be cobwebs.
Known only as the Watcher, this enigmatic being can fly the TARDIS, rescues Nyssa, speaks with Adric and imparts some information to the Doctor himself eventually. And when the Fourth falls to his death and begins to regenerate, the Watcher approaches and merges with him. The Doctor appears to transform into the Watcher, and then the white features slough away revealing the new Fifth Doctor.
Now the story itself gives no real explanation for these events, but I’d add in a good way. It’s clear that the Watcher is part of the magic of regeneration; as he is dying and the mysterious figure draws close, the Doctor beckons and say ‘the moment has been prepared for’. Essentially it’s enough for us to know that the Doctor knows exactly what is doing on even if we don’t. However as ever there is a fan theory about the riddle of the Watcher, and in this case, one that does bear up to close scrutiny.
Rewind to Planet of the Spiders. In this story, the Third Doctor’s finale, we are introduced to a powerful Time Lord, K’anpo Rimpoche, formerly the Doctor’s mentor and who helps him in his regeneration. We also see this Time Lord regenerate too but there is a twist to the usual process. Rimpoche’s new incarnation has been running about the place independently as another monk Cho Je BEFORE he regenerates. Now he explains that Cho Je was actually a psychic projection; the exact details are vague but it would seem that Rimpoche has prepared the shape of his future incarnation ahead of time.
So then, it has been suggested that the Watcher is the Doctor’s attempt at the same procedure. And this makes a lot of sense in the context. The Doctor does not posses the same degree of power as Rimpoche, who is powerful he can apparently travel time and space sans TARDIS, and additionally he does not have the same amount of time to prepare for his death. Hence the Watcher is a vague and only semi-formed figure which the Doctor transforms into before regenerating fully into Peter Davison.
Now although some have counted the Watcher as an apocryphal Doctor, if we take the above explanation to be true – and it does fit the facts nicely, so I suggest we do – then clearly he doesn’t count as an incarnation proper - the Watcher is just a kind of psychic cocoon for his next self.
So let’s have a look at the scores on the doors!
Right then we have NINE actors in the roles of the Doctor now – five are the ones everybody knows: Davison, Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell, plus Richard Hurndall playing the First in The Five Doctors and John Culshaw as the Fourth in The Kimgmaker, and finally TWO Apocryphal Doctors with Peter Cushing and Trevor Martin as alternate versions of the First and Fourth respectively.
The total for the number of incarnations is a trickier beast. We definitely have TWO alternate continuum Doctors, and either FIVE or THIRTEEN incarnations depending on whether you count the Morbius Doctors or not…
Next time on THE REGENERATION GAME –
- Should I lose the coat?
- No, I think you should burn it! If you just lose it you might find it again!
Didn’t he do well!
JIM MOON, 22nd June 2010