Peter Davison (1980’s)

Here’s Peter Davison reflecting on his departure from the show, telling DWM how he got the role in the first place, why Nyssa was his favourite companion, and how there were no behind the scenes arguments when he left.

“John Nathan-Turner phoned me at home one Saturday, and after he’d put the idea to me I nearly dropped the receiver. I remember Sandra (Dickinson) shouting out ‘If you’re going to be the Doctor, I want to be your companion’, and then mumbling something about having a bit of time to think it over. It took a few weeks before I finally accepted it, because I had to think about exactly what it was I would be taking on – from the effect on my career, to whether I felt I could actually do it justice. I had lunch with John, who basically persuaded me to do it. I decided, too, that after being offered it, I couldn’t have stood watching someone else play it.

“I found it a great help to film out of sequence. The idea was for me to plunge straight into the part and then to pull back a bit in ‘Castrovalva’, so that the first one we recorded was ‘Four to Doomsday’. Now, if you watch that, you’ll notice that we’re all working very hard, perhaps even forcing it a little, and that was because I was feeling my way into the part, and the others who were already there were adapting to me. It was a very tiring one to do from that respect, because we were all being careful not to tread on each other’s toes. Later on, as we became much more familiar, the whole process was a lot easier. So I was grateful we did it that way, although you’ll notice my hair grows between stories.

“I thought about the character a lot. I decided that I’d like to take elements of all the previous Doctors and mould them into one, adding a kind of innocence and impetuosity of my own. I didn’t include anything of Tom’s because he was too recent and we wanted a contrast with his very dominant figure. Another feeling was that the Doctor had become too much of a super hero figure, and that he needed to be made more vulnerable. Of all my influence, I suppose the most dominant was drawn from Patrick Troughton’s playing of the part, because he was the one I’d most watched as a kid and I admired his lighter touch a lot. But I did try to make it my own, because if I hadn’t it would have been an exercise in impersonation rather than acting.

“As far as the costume went, I came up with the cricketing motif simply because cricket is a game of which I’m very fond, and it seemed to suggest a good sort of profile. It fitted with our desire to make him young and a bit more physical in his approach, as well as being a nice link with that whole Earth ethos which the Doctor has always been so involved with. The celery was John’s idea. He just came to me one day and said ‘I think the new Doctor should wear a stick of celery on his lapel’, and so that was it. Funny, really, because I don’t much like celery and I usually ended up getting presented with tons of the stuff at conventions! It was nice that it was actually explained before I left the series.

“Frontios was excellent, an extremely well-rounded s cript that got hold of the way I saw the part of the Doctor, and made his dialogue and actions fit in with this. I enjoyed it because there was really something there to latch onto in rehearsal and make your own. If you like, it had enough there without the actors having to try to embelish a weak storyline.

“The Caves of Androzani is my favourite of all my stories. It was a terrific one in which to leave. Indeed, I couldn’t have got a better exit, and Graeme Harper was a superb director. That had a pace and a style to it that was quite unique, and I think everybody who worked on it picked up on that.

“I think my least favourite story was ‘Time Flight’, purely because of the money angle. We did some good filming for that, but by the time we got tothe studio, I think it was rather obvious that all our season’s money had more or less been spent. Performance-wise, I was never very happy with the second series. I think it got just a little bit dull, and the stories a bit over-complex. I didn’t feel that I had a lot of room to embellish the character and I think this is definitely one of the inherent dangers of doing ‘Doctor Who’ – the writers tend to latch onto your first portrayal of the part and stick with that. I think there was a conscious effort made during the third season to do something about that, which is why I felt happy about going out on top – or at least at a peak.

“I liked the character of Nyssa best of all. She seemed to me to work best in the ‘Doctor Who’ format. Now I know that she wasn’t as popular a character as Tegan, but speaking from the Doctor’s angle, I don’t think that stroppy type works as well as the more passive, ‘pass the test tube’ kind of assistant. I think if you try and break the mould then the character emphasis changes and you’re veering dangerously into the realms of soap opera. I really like that kind of gentle character that Nyssa had – it was a good contrast, and I think that she went best with the Doctor I played. That’s not to pass any kind of judgement on Janet Fielding or Mark Strickson or anyone, because we all got on tremendously well. It’s just an opinion about the characters.

“It was nice to be able to film abroad. When we went to Amsterdam, I got a lot of recognition because they had ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ running over there – but not ‘Doctor Who’. So I caused a lot of confusion I think, as well as some shock, wandering about with all that decaying face make-up. I think Lanzarote looked great in ‘Planet of Fire’, it gave that story a very polished look, which was something that I felt we could be proud about.

“I have very good memories of ‘The Five Doctors’, because we all got on so well. I think we were originally kept apart in the script, because John Nathan-Turner worried that we might not get on, or that we would start demanding a better share of the action, but as it was we all got on terrifically well. It was all a bit silly in rehearsal, of course, but then it was bound to be, wasn’t it? Luckily the director, Peter Moffatt, knew when to tell us off, and when to let us have a good laugh. I particularly enjoyed working with Patrick Troughton, and of course he has a tremendous sense of humour. About the only bad thing about it was the freezing weather on location in Wales, and a sequence where special effects were a little enthusiastic with an explosion, nearly finishing Anthony Ainley off for good!

“When I left, the press were all looking for a behind the scenes row, indeed the Daily Mail printed that I’d been given the elbow because I was too boring! Unfortunately for them, there was no row – in fact, John Nathan-Turner tried very hard to keep me on for another season. However, when I joined, I remembered meeting Patrick Troughton in the BBC car park, and him saying ‘Congratulations. Don’t stay longer than three years, though’, and I think he was right. It was very demanding, so I was too tired to feel sad when it was all finally over, but yes, one does suffer the odd pang”.

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