As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I first learned about the television series Doctor Who from an article in Starlog Magazine. The article announced that Peter Davison would take over the role of the Doctor from Tom Baker, who had played the part for seven years. I knew nothing about who any of these people were or what the show was about, but I do remember blond-haired Peter Davison in a light colored outfit standing next to the ubiquitous blue police box, which I would later learn was his machine for traveling in time and space. When I finally saw an episode of Doctor Who, it featured Tom Baker, a jovial fellow with a mop of curly hair and a scarf that went on forever. I was curious how the young blond actor and the curly-haired actor could play the same part. Eventually, I would learn that the Doctor can regenerate into a whole new body. Still, I was curious what Peter Davison would be like compared to Tom Baker.
Around this time, I discovered that my local bookstore started carrying novelizations of Doctor Who episodes. Right there on the shelf was that blond-haired fellow smiling at me from the cover of a story called “The Visitation.” I picked it up and found myself transported back to medieval England in a story where aliens crashed on Earth. In the final struggle, a lamp is knocked into some hay and the great fire of London is started. In college, I would finally see the episode as part of season nineteen of the series, which was Peter Davison’s first. That season is now out on Blu-Ray and I recently revisited the first year of this blond-haired fellow as the Doctor.
I had fond memories of this season from college. Tom Baker played the Doctor for so long, a new actor seemed a breath of fresh air. I remember Peter Davison as an affable, breezy personality. As a quirk, he wore a stalk of celery as a boutonniere on clothes suitable for a cricket match. I remember liking how the writers created something of a Holmes/Moriarty relationship between the Doctor and his old nemesis the Master.
Rewatching it, the nineteenth season didn’t quite match my memories. Peter Davison’s Doctor seemed to snap at people more than I remembered. He also looked a little uncomfortable in the part at times. He was, after all, the first actor to play the part who had also grown up watching it. The season also presented the Doctor with three companions. This wasn’t unheard of in the series’ run, but it wasn’t common. In this case, I could see that four regular characters were a challenge for the writers. Often they’d find a way to put one companion on the sideline while giving one or two others the limelight.
I had fond memories of an episode called “Black Orchid.” It’s a short episode in the middle of the season where the Doctor ends up in the middle of a 1920s mystery. It’s not very science fictional, but it seemed like it made the best use of all the characters and it remains one of my favorite of the season. The episode I first read in novel form, “The Visitation” also held up pretty well. The only part I thought could have been improved were the aliens, who looked too much like people in stiff, rubber suits.
The season felt longer than other Doctor Who seasons I’ve purchased. Indeed, most seasons I’ve watched only have four or five distinct stories. This one had seven. Classic Doctor Who stories were serialized from half-hour episodes. Most of the actual stories were shorter than stories in earlier seasons. Still, I had a feeling that in some cases the writers struggled to find material for all four episodes of a story. Some stories in the nineteenth season might have been stronger as only two or three-part stories. This is probably one of the reasons “Black Orchid” remains a favorite. It doesn’t feel padded out.
As with other Doctor Who Blu-Rays I’ve purchased, this one is chalk full of interviews and behind-the-scenes documentaries. All in all, it was fun to go back and spend a season with the first Doctor I’d ever actually seen, if only in a magazine photo.