Never more alive was the Fifth Doctor than in the story of his death.
For 99% of his tenure as the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison was trapped with companions who did not want to be there. Tegan was accidentally taken away and constantly at odds with the Doctor and, in a companion first, she left him twice. Nyssa, Adric, and Turlough would all have their similar stories.
But then something happened, Peter Davison decided to take the advice given to him by former Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton.
“Three years” he said, “then get out.” And this is what he did; but how could he have known his last story would be the most highly regarded last story of any of the Doctors?
To me, Peter Davison was a brilliant Doctor, while his era did have its flaws – and we can say this about every Doctor – he always managed to show he had what it takes, but it took his farewell story to make me want to see more just like it.
What made The Caves of Androzani so different? It still had a cheesy rubber monster, a quarry-esque planet, and bad models outside Trau Morgus office windows.
But then there’s Peri, for starters – finally a companion for the Fifth Doctor who wanted to be there, who seemed like she was having fun, and who finally created a dynamic relationship with the Doctor. A relationship so important to him that he gave his life to save hers. Oh yes, it did happen before the Ninth Doctor saved Rose.
Mr. Davison himself also seemed a bit different in this last story, almost as if he was a man playing the Doctor for the last 3 years who had just suddenly become the Doctor in real life for his last outing.
Add to that the fact, this new dynamic team were pitted against a great story with wonderful supporting actors and impressive sets.
It would have been nice to see a fourth season with Peter Davison and Peri as I am sure it would have been Peter’s best season ever. Surely Peri’s character would have fared better with Peter’s Doctor than she did with Colin Baker’s. But sadly this was to be the only taste of the perfect Peter Davison story.
Still, it may be safe to say that he is the only Doctor to go out stronger then he came in, with exception to Mr. Eccleston maybe. But then theses two Doctors share something that no other really could claim to, or at least not that we know, and that is a sense of personal loss. The Ninth Doctor lost his people and his home world; this sense of loss made him sacrifice his life for his companion. The Fifth Doctor, however, had already just lost one companion (tellingly, his final muttering is in recalling Adric) and it held heavy on his hearts all the way till the end. There was no way in the universe the Fifth Doctor would let this happen again, even if it meant trading in his own life instead.
What’s even more interesting then his self-sacrifice is how he stayed true to his morals while trying to achieve the impossible. Pitted against an army who believe him to be a spy, gun runners out for his head, and a mad man (who looks like he stepped out of a Rocky Horror Picture Show convention) trying to kill him and take Peri as his own, the Doctor never, not once, resorted to a fist fight. Instead, he out-smarted, out-witted, and out-maneuvered everyone he came into contact with, all while under the immense pressure of holding his friend’s life in his hands.
Peter Davison showed us, in just one story, that this Doctor is an easy match for any other before or after him to take the role. While I would never say that his three year stint was a bad one, I will say it is a shame we could not have had more of him.
(Originally published on Kasterborous in June 2006.)