We’re less than two months away from the Season 6 premier of Doctor Who. Last season saw the beginning of a new era of the Time Lord’s adventures, with Steven Moffat as the new lead writer and producer and Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. In different interviews, Moffat and Smith have both remarked that they are taking more influence from the Classic Doctor Who series. This past month, at Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, fans got to meet Classic Series star Peter Davison, who portrayed the 5th Doctor from 1981 to 1984.
Along with starring on Law & Order: UK alongside former Doctor Who companion Freema Agyeman, Davison has been reprising his role as the 5th Doctor for 12 years now in regular audio plays produced by Big Finish. He returned to the character on-screen in 2007 when his Doctor met David Tennant in a mini-episode produced for the charity Children In Need. And his daughter Georgia Moffett not only played the Doctor’s daughter Jenny, but has recently announced her engagement to David Tennant. The two are expecting their first child in a few weeks.
Between his Q&A panel and answering one-on-one questions as he signed autographs, Peter Davison shared several opinions about Doctor Who old and new. Newsarama Note: for simplicity's sake, all questions, both exclusive and panel, are marked as "Newsarama" questions, but not all came directly from us.
Newsarama: Talk about your experience on “Time Crash,” the 2007 mini-episode written by Steven Moffat that teamed up the 5th Doctor and 10th Doctor.
Peter Davison: It was a very cleverly written piece. It was about the 10th Doctor remembering being the 5th Doctor but also about David Tennant remembering watching me on TV... when he was young.
A funny thing about ‘Time Crash’ was that David was surprised at some of what Steven pointed out in it. He joked that he hadn’t realized he sometimes resembled me with some of his behavior and the ‘brainy-specs’ we both wear. I was just happy to fit into the old suit, I’m larger now. David’s foolish for buttoning his jacket up all the time, when he comes back years from now to meet a future Doctor and he’s larger, he’ll regret that.
Nrama: Your Doctor was notorious for wearing celery on his coat. In “Time Crash,” the 10th Doctor mocked it as a “decorative vegetable.” It was explained away in your final story as a way to protect yourself from a form of gas, but what was the original idea from a production point of view?
Davison: At the first costume fitting, [Producer] John Nathan-Turner said I should have something odd and unique on the lapel. And he came to me a couple weeks later and said, ‘stick a celery on your lapel.’ I said okay, as long as you explain it. And we preceded to do three seasons and I said, you still haven’t explained the celery. So they wrote this bit for my last story ‘The Caves of Androzani’ that explained it as an antidote to a poison... which it also detected.
Nrama: It's been said that you hate celery.
Davison: I don't much like celery. In my first story, there was a scene where I had to eat it and it was difficult doing that take after take. And fans would bring me celery at conventions!
Nrama: If you could have designed your own costume, what might you have changed?
Davison: While everyone else used to change for various scenes, I was just always in one outfit and it was fantastic... I suggested the theme of cricket. I'm quite keen on the game... I would have preferred the Doctor to have gone into the changing room and just picked things off the shelf, mixed and matched. It was a bit too designed for my liking, but it was a very comfortable costume... It really wasn’t a Victorian cricketing outfit.
Nrama: Was there a previous Doctor you modeled yourself after?
Davison: I took bits of William Hartnell [the 1st Doctor} and Patrick Troughton [the 2nd Doctor]. I don’t know how long I held onto this for. You start off using [previous Doctors] as crutches for the first few stories. I took the irritability of William Hartnell and bits of Patrick Troughton.
I made a choice not to act like [Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor] because he was too recent and there was a sense that the Doctor had become like a superhero. So I was more vulnerable.
Nrama: How has it been to return to the role of the 5th Doctor years later for the Big Finish audio plays?
Davison: When we first came back, I just slipped into the old character. The first audio play I did with Colin Baker [the 6th Doctor] and Sylvester McCoy [the 7th Doctor], it was just a laugh. I thought it was a one-time thing, a novelty to have these three Doctors meet [through time travel]... When we started doing more plays with my Doctor regularly, there were some changes. It’d be foolish to recreate the exact same young Doctor. I sound a little older now, a little more irritable. It’s great fun.
Nrama: Considering how you've enjoyed playing the character again in regular audio plays, do you wish you'd stayed on the original show longer?
Davison: John Nathan-Turner actually wanted me to stay another year. But it was time to move on. When I'd first gotten the role, I'd met Patrick Troughton and he said ‘Congratulations. Don’t stay longer than three years, though.’ I think he was right. It's a demanding role and it changes your life, the whole country knows you now. David didn't stay much longer than three years either. That's a good long run.
Nrama: Your daughter Georgia auditioned for the role of Rose Tyler and later played the Doctor's cloned daughter. Did you encourage Georgia to become an actress?
Davison: I'm very proud of Georgia but I don't think I directly encouraged anything about her becoming an actress.
The difficulty with your children is they grow up living in the world that you work in... But the business isn’t that great at the moment... It’s very difficult for young actors to get work now. Not so much to actually get work but to actually earn a living through that work... There are a lot of jobs that actors do right now for absolutely no money... So, I don’t know if I actively discouraged [my children], because that often has the opposite effect. But I didn't encourage them either. The same problem comes with grandchildren. Georgia’s about to give birth weeks from now... I just realized, I’m starting a dynasty!
Nrama: What was your favorite monster or villain of Doctor Who?
Davison: I loved the original Master, played by Roger Delgado. Anthony Ainley and [John Simms] did a great job, but Delgado was my childhood Master. Doctor Who’s got to have a Master.
Nrama: Is there a companion from any other era you’d like to work with in a future adventure?
Davison: There are any number of them I think would be fun to work with. I think we should have some companion-swapping. I’d like to work with Sheridan Smith [who plays the 8th Doctor companion Lucie Miller].
Nrama: Is there anything about the show during your time that you would’ve liked to have changed?
Davison: The new series has the advantage of doing character arcs. When I was the Doctor, there didn’t seem to be time to plan that sort of thing out, so the companions were really character traits and characteristics. But now you really get to know families and backgrounds of the travelers. Of the new series, my favorite companion is Rose Tyler... And I enjoyed that story ‘The Empty Child.’ Wonderful.
Looking back, [I wanted] more money to make the programs. And more time. We constantly struggled with time... There was huge pressure to finish. There was one famous time where we didn’t have time to light the set so we were just told to go on and say the lines. The camera men didn’t know what they were doing, we didn’t know what we were doing... When you see it, it’s just not up to the standards that it should be. I’d have liked [the BBC] to have taken us more seriously. The big difference between the series then and the series now is that [the BBC] recognize Doctor Who as a prestigious series.