“Brave heart, Tegan.” This was a common refrain by the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison to his companion Tegan. He was a new Doctor for a new decade, the 1980s. Doctor Who had experienced great success under the previous Doctor, Tom Baker. It remained to be seen how things would change with a new Doctor at the helm of the TARDIS. Unlike the stability of the 1970s, the 80s would see lots of changes both inside and outside the show. In this article we will look at the Fifth and Sixth Doctors, Peter Davison & Colin Baker.
The Fifth Doctor, played by Davison, was the youngest actor (at age 29) in that role up to that point. In fact, it wasn’t until Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor (at age 26) would he be supplanted as the youngest actor to play the Doctor. Davison’s Doctor stood out in that he dressed as a early 20th century cricket player and had a piece of celery pinned to the lapel of his jacket.
For Season 19, there was a big change. For the first 18 seasons, the show aired on Saturday afternoons/evenings. However, the BBC changed times and moved the show to air twice weekly on Monday and Tuesday evenings. There also was the inclusion of a 2 episode serial in the season for the first time since Season 12 (most seasons throughout the Fourth Doctor era had mostly 4 episode serials with one 6 episode serial). The trend would now be mostly 4 episode serials with one 2 episode serial.
In the Fifth Doctor’s first season, he continued his battles with the Master. He also faced off once again with the Cybermen in the serial “Earthshock”. It was also in that serial that one of his companions, Adric was killed off. This was the first time a “long term” companion had been killed off on the show. There had been a couple of companions (with the First Doctor) that had been killed off but they were featured in only one serial. His death was important for human history on earth as the story is told. The ship that Adric was on would later become the meteor that struck Earth and killed off the dinosaurs. Another arch-enemy was introduced that season to pit against the Doctor in the form of the Mara in the serial “Kinda”.
As the 20th anniversary approached, there was a huge push to celebrate the anniversary. This began with the 20th season of the show (which moved to air on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings). Throughout that season, the Fifth Doctor would face off against familiar foes from the past. These included Omega, the Mara, the Black Guardian, and the Master. It also saw the return of friend of the Doctor Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the serial “Mawdryn Undead”. That season also saw the departure of companion Nyssa and the introduction of a new companion in Turlough. It also saw an actor play a role in one serial who would later become the Doctor himself. Colin Baker appeared in the serial “Arc of Infinity” as a separate character. At the time, he thought he would never get a chance to play the Doctor. But time would tell…
The culmination of the celebration of the 20th anniversary was the episode “The Five Doctors”. This episode was to include all the previous Doctors and several old companions. The story also featured the Master as well as the Cybermen. It was probably the most ambitious episode in trying to include so many people. There was a new actor to play the role of the First Doctor as William Hartnell had passed away. Also, the Fourth Doctor didn’t sign onto the project so the producers used some footage from a serial that never aired (that included him and Romana) instead so they could say that there were “Five Doctors”. Along with the previous Doctors returning, companions Susan Foreman, Jamie, Zoe, Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith along with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Captain Mike Yates appeared. An integral part of the story features the Time Lord Rassilon, one of the most famous Time Lords in Gallifrey. Rassilon had been mentioned in previous seasons but this was the first time his story played a huge role. This episode actually debuted in the U.S. first on PBS stations on November 23, 1983 before it aired in the U.K. two days later.
As the 21st season was about to begin, the show was once again moved to Thursday and Friday evenings. It was also announced that it would be the last season for Peter Davison. He had talked with Patrick Troughton and Troughton suggested that Davison leave after three seasons. The line of thinking was the concern of staying too long in the role of the Doctor and being typecast. In that last season, the Fifth Doctor would see his companions Tegan and Turlough leave as well as face off against his mortal enemies the Daleks and the Master again. Prior to his final serial, the Fifth Doctor gained a new companion in Peri. Peri was supposed to be first companion to be American (interesting enough the actress who played her had duel citizenship with the U.S. & Britain but the producers try to play off the fact she was British by birth).
The last serial of the Fifth Doctor “The Caves of Androzani” (March 1984) saw the Doctor sacrifice his life to save Peri’s life. With his life hanging in the balance, the Doctor regenerates again. With the regeneration, a new Doctor emerges. That Doctor is the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker. The Sixth Doctor’s first adventure is actually the last serial of the 21st season, the first time a regeneration did not end a season since season 4 (First to Second Doctor).
The Sixth Doctor is well known for his multi-colored outfit and for wearing a cat pin on the lapel of his jacket. He was also a very abrasive Doctor, especially initially. This was a very sharp contrast from previous Doctors. The plan was to have the Sixth Doctor start out as being unlikeable and then as time would go along would become more likeable. This was a risk that the producers and writers were taking and one that eventually would not pay off.
The first full season of the Sixth Doctor (season 22nd) saw the show return to Saturday evenings. All of this season’s episodes were 45 minutes in length. This is common for the length of episodes of the revived show but for the classic show there was only one serial that was that length. This season saw the return of the Cybermen, Daleks and the Master. It also saw the introduction of the evil Time Lady the Rani. That season also featured the serial “The Two Doctors” and the return of the Second Doctor and his companion Jamie. This would also be the last time in the Classic Doctor Who era that previous Doctors would return the show.
For fans of the show at that time, they received some bad news in early 1985 with word that the production of the show would be put on an 18 month hiatus. This came from those high up in the BBC, who themselves were not fans of the show. When the show did return for its 23rd season in fall of 1986, it was back to 25 minutes for each episode. Unfortunately, there were only 14 episodes for the entire season. The season itself was billed as “The Trial of a Time Lord” with the storyline of the Sixth Doctor once again being put on trial by the Time Lords. During this season, Peri would move on as a companion and be replaced with Mel. It was also decided that Colin Baker would not continue as the Doctor. He was the first Doctor in the series to be “fired” from the position, a decision made by the same people in the BBC who had put the show on hiatus previously. The Sixth Doctor’s last serial was “The Ultimate Foe” which aired in November-December 1986. Baker was offered the opportunity to return the next season for the opening serial to take part in the regeneration but declined.
There was a lot of turmoil and uncertainty as the time of the Sixth Doctor came to a close. How would the show continue on?
[At the end of each article, I will recommend at least one serial that you should watch for each Doctor. This is besides the first and last serial of each Doctor if they are available]
Serial of the Fifth Doctor: “The Five Doctors” Season 20 (1983)
Serial of the Sixth Doctor: “The Two Doctors” Season 22 (1985)