With the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day of The Doctor, arriving on BBC1 on Saturday, November 23, the fifth Time Lord Peter Davison tells What’s On TV some secrets about his time on the show from 1981 to 1984, plus he shares his thoughts on Doctor Who today, the TARDIS companions and his favourite ever Who moments…
When you took on the role of Doctor Who in 1981 did you realise how much it would change your life?
“It gradually dawned on me. When I took over it was the start of the show becoming more popular in America and Australia and we had a circuit. The show’s publicity people would fly us to those places and I was thrilled. Former Doctors Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton would be there, so you realised being The Doctor probably wouldn’t go away after I left. But I didn’t anticipate it going on for as long as it did. When I took the part I had no idea.”
Do you see anything of yourself in the Time Lords who came after you?
“Well, certainly I tried to introduce an honourable side to the Doctor. He was doing everything for the best intentions, but he wasn’t always sure he was quite doing the right thing. There’s always that moral dilemma. We seemed to have an increasing body count in my time as a Doctor and the only way to get around that is sometimes these things need to happen in order to save people down the line. This seems to be the way of the world now. I think David Tennant picked up on that side of it, not being quite sure he was on the right track, not being in total control all the time.”
Do you have a vision of Doctor Who in 50 years’ time in 2063?
“When I did the show – the so-called classic period – it was very popular and bought the BBC lots of income, but it just wasn’t a prestigious programme. When it came back under Russell T Davies in 2005, it quickly became a prestigious programme and along with that everything went up – you get better directors, better writers and actors and a bigger budget. So as long as they can keep those high standards, I don’t see why it shouldn’t go on and on.”
Which were your favourite Doctor Who moments to film?
“We filmed in Amsterdam, very close to the Red Light District, and we also went to Lanzarote. We had a bit of foreign filming then, not quite as much as they do now, and I think they were probably my favourite moments. My favourite story was Visitation. When I was growing up I used to love it when the Doctor tinkered with history, so loved the idea that the Doctor started the Great Fire of London – another mystery solved! Earth Shock I liked where companion Adric died, I liked the Cybermen, too.
“Another favourite was my very last story, which was filmed in the quarry. It’s just outside Southampton, it’s a famous quarry. I wish I could remember the name of it. There were usually three productions being filmed there at any given moment. It wasn’t actually that big an area, but it was the BBC’s main location for a desert or alien planets.”
What do you think about Peter Capaldi being cast as the next Doctor?
“I think it’s a great idea. They couldn’t have gone much younger, they had to go older so why not go to the other end of the spectrum? I grew up with older Doctors. I’m sure he’ll get a bit of flack from people watching it like I did – I was much younger than the previous doctors, where as he’s going to be much older. My son was like, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to like it! I like Matt Smith.'”
Do you have a favourite Doctor?
“Patrick Troughton is my favourite. He’s the one I really grew up with. I think he had the most difficult job, I remember thinking, I’m not sure about this new doctor but by the end of the first episode, I was just won over. He had such an extraordinary way of doing it. Under his Doctor, the programme really blossomed.”
Did you get negativity from fans of Tom Baker’s Doctor when you took over from him?
“I’m sure that that was out there, but you don’t hear it. Of course, when you go somewhere, all the people who come up to you really like you. So I’m really happy to hear this. People who say, ‘Ah you were my Doctor! You get a false impression’. When I was offered the part, I thought I was too young. Unfortunately or fortunately, if you’re a fan of Doctor Who and you get offered the role, you can’t really turn it down. You might think, I’m not sure about this but in the end you think, I’ve got to do it. Once I’d made that decision, I wasn’t really intimidated by Tom’s presence. To me, I was more intimidated by taking over from William and Patrick. I hadn’t really watched Tom, not because I didn’t like him, it was because I was out working in theatre. He wasn’t a major threat in my mind.”
Did you take any mementos from the set when you left?
“I do have the jacket, come and get it if you dare! In that first flush after you leave, you keep various things. Then people say, ‘Oh we’ve got this charity auction’, and you give away the most stupid things. And you think, ‘Why on earth did I do that?’ I think I gave away my shoes from the series after about two months. I thought, ‘What have I done? That was my pension!’.”
Does the level of interest in Doctor Who shock you now?
“It certainly does surprise me in terms of me. Obviously I’ve carried this insecurity about me being too young for a long time. Certainly when the series came back, you had a succession of young doctors and now I can look back and see more, it’s almost like I started a trend. I like to think! What happened was when the younger children gravitated towards the younger Doctors – so the fan base towards me has massively widened, people coming up and saying ‘Can I have your autograph?'”
Is there one actor or actress who you’d thought should have played The Doctor?
“I always thought David Warner would have been a brilliant choice. I tried to get him the job for years actually! I think he has that sort of edge to his acting that would’ve been perfect. I’ve always had a slight problem with this idea that the Doctor might be female. It’s not as if the genders are interchangeable on Gallifrey, I think it works the same way as on Earth. It’s a bit like saying, let’s have a female James Bond. You just wouldn’t think about it. I’m very happy for there to be a female Time Lord. As it stands, my daughter (Georgia Moffet) is a female Time Lord whizzing around the Galaxy somewhere.”
Are you still in touch with your Doctor’s companions?
“Yes, I was talking with Janet Fielding (Tegan) just this morning. So yes, very much. We still do the audio CDs quite regularly for Big Finish, licenced by the BBC.”
Companions are different now, aren’t they?
“I think they struggled with companions as the modern world encroached on Doctor Who. They struggled to get them right. They wanted to do the right thing and make them interesting and challenging, just a better part, but I don’t think they managed it until Billie Piper arrived as Rose. She was the first companion that worked as a proper rounded character. Other than that, they were there to get into trouble and take a storyline in a certain direction. One of my companions, Tegan, basically had the storyline that she didn’t want to be there. I also had Turlough, who tried to kill me, but it didn’t really work. The answer was, you write a damned good character and that’s what Russell T Davies managed to do with Rose. Billie’s performance was great as well. The argument which I’ve heard is that Rose was the more important character and it’s not far off.”
*Peter is rumoured to be taking part in Doctor Who Children In Need special on Friday, November 15 along with another former TIme Lord Sylvester McCoy. He’ll also be attending the Doctor Who 50th Celebration which takes place at ExCeL London over the anniversary weekend (November 22 to 24). For more information on the Doctor Who Celebration visit celebration.doctorwho.tv