The Fifth Doctor, Rebooted: An Interview with Peter Davison

I'm on-record as saying this, but I'll say it again: I loved The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot FAR more than the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special.  This short film, featuring Doctors Five, Six, Seven, and Eight, is a love letter to the fans.  So many characters!  So many references!  So many things that deserved to be on the official TV program!  Sigh...

At Chicago TARDIS this year, I was able to meet Peter Davison- The Fifth Doctor himself.  Mr. Davison is my favorite Classic Time Lord. This talented gent wrote, directed, AND starred in The Five(ish) Doctors!  I couldn't wait to talk to him about it.

In addition, Mr. Davison still performs in Doctor Who audios.  He loves his fans, and frequently appears at conventions.  His daughter, Georgia Moffett, has also appeared on Doctor Who; she is now married to David Tennant.  Time travel runs in the family, it seems.

Unlike with my interview with Colin Baker, my time with Peter Davison was exclusive to Geek Girl Chicago.  I got to ask many more questions provided by my readers on Facebook and Twitter- a delight!  This is another long one, so grab a celery snack, set your DVR to record that next cricket match, and-

...Gosh, is cricket even on television?  I'm trying to make charming Fifth Doctor references, and I don't know if I'm making any sense.  Drat.  Here's the interview.

*****

The Fifth DoctorGeek Girl Chicago: "First of all, congratulations on 50 years of Doctor Who."

Peter Davison: "Thank you very much."

GGC: "How does it feel to be a part of a series with such an incredible legacy?"

PD: "Well, it's a bit strange, really... Although I knew the 50th was coming up, it didn't really hit home until earlier this year.  We attended a function for the post office- the Royal Mail- where [The Doctors] were on stamps. You know, we're actually on postage stamps!  I always thought you had to be dead to be on postage stamps, so I was very relieved you didn't... The best thing is, they sent me so many I probably never have to buy a postage stamp again in my life.  I just send people letters with me on the front."

GGC: "I've never had such interesting stamps.  Here, it's mostly flowers and our flag and such.  I'm jealous!  Anyway, my next few questions come from readers.  Lisa D asks, 'Everyone brings something of themselves to The Doctor role.  What did you bring to The Doctor?'"

PD: "Well, my goodness- an awful lot, really!  I mean, every actor does... You find something in yourself- even if it's, in the case of The Doctor, the better parts of you- you know, rather the ambition of what you have to be a truly wonderful person, and you discard all the bits that are slightly dodgy.

I suppose there was a certain vulnerability that I felt that I was able to demonstrate. I think that sense of him being in a state of bewilderment and confusion, and not quite sure whether he was doing the right thing or the wrong thing- it was very definitely there in Patrick Troughton's time, but I think sort of disappeared during John Pertwee, who played him very much as a sort of superhero... [Tom Baker,] he played it very much as sort of a Jelly Baby-offering, strange, mysterious character.  So, I wanted to bring that back."

GGC: "That vulnerability actually transitions beautifully into my next question.  My reader CJ was talking about the Death of Adric, The Caves of Androzani- there's a common theme here:  Try as he might, your Doctor didn't always save the day.  He didn't save everyone.  Did you ever wish The Fifth Doctor could be more heroic?"

PD: "Oh, I think he was pretty heroic!  I think you can be heroic and still not save the day.  Heroic is the way you approach things, not necessarily the outcome.  I don't think that things should be easy.  Obviously, the death of Adric was NOT my idea... but it was not an easy thing to contemplate, and there was quite a lot of resistance to it.  I felt it was quite a good way- rather a heroic way- for Matthew to leave the series, rather than to just go, 'Oh, I've had enough of this, Doctor!'

...I think it demonstrates for the series- and for the Doctor, firstly- that things don't always work out fine.  We are an endangered species, The Doctor and his Companions.  We're not necessarily all going to be there.  It's difficult to convey this thing when you're doing one of these series when clearly it's a continuing cast.  No matter what danger you face on the way, actually they're all going to be there in the end of it... and in this case, they won't.  I think he was heroic."

GGC: "Me too, though I'm biased- Five is my favorite Classic Doctor.  Now, from Joseph P, which was scarier- The Cybermen, the Daleks, Tricky Woo from All Creatures Great and Small, or Tegan?"

PD: "(Laughs) Tegan!!  By a long distance.  ...And still is, actually, by the way.

I always had great fun with the Cybermen because I remember being terrified as a child.  Growing up, watching it, I always found there was one particular story- a Patrick Troughton story where the Cybermen were- and I remember it used to quite haunt me.  So, I was looking forward to doing a Cybermen story and I thought my version of the Cybermen worked very well.

GGC: "Speaking of metal gadgetry, do you know why the Sonic Screwdriver was removed during your stay?  What is your opinion on the matter?"

PD: "Why yes! John Nathan-Turner felt- and I think I agreed with him, actually- that it was an answer to everything."

GGC: "And it is now, too, on the current series!"

PD: "Yea, it is now, and I think it's suffering a bit from that.  I mean, what can't the Sonic Screwdriver do?  It seems to be able to do absolutely anything... with the exception of, and this was a plot thing, open wooden doors.  So, that was his feeling- that The Doctor ought to operate on his own initiative and his own sort of, you know, things he might have in his pocket rather than just one device that would just do everything.

Doctor Who Big Finish audio featuring Peter DavisonGGC: "I agree, I agree. So, you've done a huge amount of audio drama, expanding The Fifth Doctor's story even further.  What do you love about that medium?"

PD: "Well, obviously, it enables me in the case of Doctor Who to carry on playing The Fifth Doctor even though visually I might not be able to do that. (Laughs)"

GGC: "Colin Baker said the same thing!"

PD: "It's true!  In fact, when they started doing it, they were taking pictures of us for the CD. I said to them after a while, 'Don't do this! Have a picture of the guest, by all means, but just have pictures of us as The Fifth Doctor and the Companions.  Don't stick pictures of us being old and worn out on the front of the CD cover. For a while, they did that.  Now, they've gone back to wanting photographs, which I think is a bit of a mistake, personally."

GGC: "I did get to talk to Colin Baker, and he's happy that he got a new costume for the audio drama."

PD: "(Laughs) Actually, I'd never even thought of that, what my costume is for the audio dramas.  No, and obviously, it's very nice to go in and do these things, and they do a lot of them... The downside of that is you virtually never remember anything about the audio dramas that you've done.  So, when [at Chicago TARDIS] I'm asked a story about one of the Doctor Who videos, I can answer the question fairly well, but when it's about the audios, and they say, 'IN such-and-such story,' I have NO idea what they're talking about."

 GGC: "OK, well I know what I want to talk about- The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. I enjoyed it honestly more than the 50th anniversary special!  I know you're the ball-roller on that one- writer, director, initiator.  Tell me how you started all of that, and what it was like shooting."

PD: "Well, I suppose if you want the long version, the origin of it dates back to a convention called Gallifrey in California where I was meant to be appearing and then I got a job in a musical- I think 2010.  I had to tell Sean I wasn't available to come over, and he said, 'Could you just send a very short video message saying you're sorry you can't be here?'  ...I compiled a 5 or 6 minute video of me apologizing, and how I was in the musical, and it was just very silly, but they loved it.

Peter DavisonThe next year, I did go to Gallifrey, and I thought I'd bring another little video.  I made a video about me nearly missing the flight, and that went down very well.  [In the video,] I happened to go past the Doctor Who Experience which is just opening in London, and I went in, I found my TARDIS, and actually arrived in California.  That's referenced in The Five-ish Doctors. 

So what happened then was, I was asked a question summer of last year: Was I going to be in the 50th anniversary special?  I foolishly said, 'No, I think it's very, very unlikely, but if I'm not, I'm damn well going to make my own!' And then I did another convention a month later where they asked me the same question, and I realized that now I'd kind of inadvertently put myself on the road to doing something.  At the time, I thought it was just going to be me and my video camera and a short 5-6 minute thing, and then as I went along, I thought of this idea in my head.  I asked Colin and Sylvester and Paul if they would give me a hand in doing it and they said 'Yes.'  And then, I also asked Steven Moffat if he would make a brief appearance-"

GGC: "As the villain!"

PD: "As the villainous Producer, and he said 'Yes.'  I had to film down there, I knew that. I had to send them the script. I sent them the script, and they suddenly gave me a call and said... "We'd like to be involved in it in some way."  They gave me a small camera crew and a very small amount of money, and we went off and we made this thing.

As we went along, I thought of extra bits.  I got my daughter involved as a Producer because it was becoming too much; I was doing everything, I was getting in contact with people, I was writing the script, rewriting the script, asking people if they'd be involved, so Georgia took over really getting people on board.  Of all the people we asked, only [Tom Baker] said no... But even that worked out actually quite well, because I thought of a gag that would work with that.

We had to fight for the edit because they wanted to cut loads of it out.  Originally, I told them I thought it would be about fifteen minutes long, and in the end it was half an hour long.  I just thought, in the end, I didn't want to cut anything out..."

GGC: "Every scene is filled with Easter Eggs!"

PD: "Exactly! So, I didn't want to cut anything... and in the end we won, really.  That was very nice.  I think we've been proved nicely right, because the reaction has been terrific."

GGC: "Wonderful. I love that you gave me 'the long version.'  In that production, you're all sort of parodied versions of yourselves.  How did you come up with those quirks?"

PD: "I'd established in these other videos that I was a grumpy, horrible person who didn't like the fans, and I thought, 'Well, I'm not really like that at conventions, so it's probably fine if I just pretend I am for this video!'  That was great. Colin, I just thought, naturally leaned towards the slightly egotistical actor who forces his family to watch- and again, he was very happy to take the piss out of himself.  And Sylvester!  I think when I first asked Sylvester if he'd be involved, he said, 'Well, you know I'd love to do it but I am in The Hobbit.'  The funny thing was, I wrote the first version of the script where he just kept mentioning The Hobbit... and he so fell in love with it that he actually became the character.  So, he was just walking around the whole time going, 'By the way, you know I'm in The Hobbit?' and he started wearing The Hobbit t-shirt, and I said, 'Wear it in every scene in our thing,' because it worked."

GGC: "Oh, Ian McKellen was the funniest thing with poor Sylvester!"

PD: "I said to Sylvester, 'I've written this scene where you run away from New Zealand... Originally, I think the idea was you just see an assistant go up to Peter Jackson, and he goes, 'He's gone where?!' and then [Peter Jackson] said, 'Oh no, we'd love to be involved, and Ian McKellen, you know, he's going to be down here, he'll do something.' So, I wrote this little thing where he goes, 'Sylvester who?'  He did it! It was brilliant of him to do it!  I must send him an e-mail, now that I mention it, to thank him for doing it.  I sent him one, but now it's come out; I think I should send him another one."

GGC: "So Colin Baker answered this one, and I'm not going to tell you his answer because I want to believe-"

PD: "Oh dear!"

GGC: "Mary Jo wants to know, were you really under the shrouds in the 50th anniversary special?"

PD: "Of course we were!  How could you possibly ask this question?! (both laugh) ...You sense a united front here?"

GGC: "Fine, fine, I'll believe the united front.  Are you aware, by the way, that there's a Chicago Time Lord Rock band named 'Time Crash,' after the episode you did with David Tennant?"

PD: "No, but it's a damn good name, actually!"

Peter Davison, The Fifth Doctor, and David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor

GGC: "Finally, Geek Girl Chicago's mission is to empower young women, and to make them feel like they can be a part of these conventions and love their fandoms just as much as the men do.  Do you have a special message for your female fans?"

PD: "Well, I do, actually.  I got into a bit of trouble the other week because somebody asked me if I thought the next Doctor or a future Doctor 'ought to be a woman.  I said no, I don't think he could be, because in my mind, The Doctor is a man- a male of the species from Gallifrey.  So, if you have females on Gallifrey, they can be Time Lords as well- I mean, my daughter is a Time Lord, flying around the galaxy somewhere!  I thought, you know, they asked my opinion, and I said I just thought The Doctor was a man, and if you start changing the sex it's a bit kind of weird."

GGC: "Did the Internet get so angry?"

PD: "A few people got a bit- 'What does he mean, he shouldn't be a woman??' and I thought, this is a bit ridiculous, because the great thing about Doctor Who ever since it came back is that the Companions they've got really right! The Companions now are tremendously strong and powerful, and usually young women... Rose is arguably a more important character than The Doctor, and even in the 50th anniversary special, it's the Doctor's Companion that really saves the day.  They've figured out how to write for Companions, and the secret is, just write a damned good part. Really.

So, I would say, young women, don't seek to be The Doctor, seek to be The Companion, because they are now the powerful- almost central- character.  And rightly so, because in a way, the Companion is us.  That's what you look for in a drama.  The audience can see through the eyes of the Companion...  so stay with it, girls.

*****

Gosh, I would love to get Colin Baker and Peter Davison in a room to talk about that last one.  While The Five(ish) Doctors made up the meat of this interview, the idea of a female Doctor seems to ruffle the most feathers.  The Fifth and Sixth Doctors disagree quite soundly!  ...Though I suppose that's appropriate, given the characters. :)

Again, thank you to Chicago TARDIS for the opportunity, and to Peter Davison for the time spent.  Our morning together was filled with laughter.  I definitely want to make a Classic Doctor costume, now, though I can't decide- Five, or blue audio drama variant Six?

I have one more Doctor Who interview coming up, gentle reader: Louise Jameson, a.k.a. Leela.  She's one empowering, intelligent woman, and you don't want to miss our chat.  Subscribe!  Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

Leave a comment