‘How far, Doctor? How long have you lived?’ It’s hard to appreciate the Peter Davison years without understanding the sudden accessibility of past Doctors. This BBC2 repeat season, organised by JNT, preceded the release of any Doctor Who videos, and was the first time many fans had been able to see Hartnell, Troughton and even Pertwee in action (previous BBC repeats had religiously stuck to featuring only the current Doctor). Viewing figures were good – averaging five million (Pertwee was most popular).
The choice of serials is illuminating, for several reasons. First, many of the choices were made out of necessity – having decided to stick to four-parters, The Krotons had to be picked for Troughton, and the choices for Pertwee were surprisingly limited (Spearhead from Space, Day of the Daleks, The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters and The Time Warrior were the only complete, colour serials left in the archive in 1981). The knock-on was that there were no Delgado Master stories that fit the bill – which meant no unfavourable comparisons to the new Master.
Secondly, the serials selected tended to reinforce particular views of the old Doctors. An Unearthly Child features the first Doctor at his harshest and angriest – a long way from the wittier and more charming characterisation Hartnell developed. And yet, even in 2017 and Twice Upon a Time, it’s the abrasive, high-handed version that’s stuck. The Krotons is one of the second Doctor’s lighter stories – combined with Troughton’s comic turn in The Three Doctors it means the second Doctor is pegged as the clown. On the other hand, Pertwee gets a couple of examples of him at his best.
The content of the serials also helps explain some of the choices made for the 20th anniversary season: when Gallifrey and Omega return in Arc of Infinity, it’s not in a sequel to a story no-one’s seen for a decade, but one that well over five million viewers watched just over a year ago. Most of the companions in The Five Doctors are from The Five Faces – Susan, Jamie and Zoe, the Brigadier (John Levene and Katy Manning declined; William Russell had been unavailable for Mawdryn Undead). There are no Vicki, Steven, Ben, Victoria or Leela.
The point of all this, I guess, was to remind the public there was more to Doctor Who than Tom Baker. The downside: from now on, the past of the show exists alongside its present; there’s never “the Doctor” just “the current Doctor” and the idea of the next regeneration haunts the show to this day.