Interview with ‘Doctor Who’ star Peter Davison: ‘When I watch the show now I find myself asking my children what’s going on’
Best known for playing the fifth incarnation of the Time Lord and more recently for his role in ‘Law & Order: UK’, Peter Davison spoke to Neela Debnath at this year’s Sci-Fi Weekender about his time on the show, discussing the Doctor with his son-in-law David Tennant and watching the new series.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, what do you think is the enduring appeal of the show?
Well, there are several enduring appeals really. I think one is that science fiction has itself a very strong appeal because it’s almost limitless in its imagination. It can be doing all sorts of different stories. It can be doing a period story, a futuristic story, an alien invasion story, a story on other planets, and I think that appeals to those younger people with imagination. I think they’re drawn to it. It helps of course that we’ve managed to have several actors play one part, unlikely we could have got one to go on for 50 years. I was probably the first Doctor who grew up watching Doctor Who. Although he’s from another planet, it’s a strangely British character.
How will you be marking the 50th anniversary?
I suppose I’m attending some functions like this. I’m involved in some Big Finish 50th anniversary specials. Apart from that I don’t know. I do have a meeting with the producer of Doctor Who just to talk about events, things at Bafta. There’s a big celebration on the weekend when the series went out originally which strangely falls on the same weekend, that’s as far as I know.
You son-in-law David Tennant also played the Doctor, do you discuss Doctor Who much?
Doctor Who features quite highly in what we talk about but usually our experiences with it and whatever happens to be going on now. Both our children – he’s got a son Ty, I’ve got two boys 11 and 13, but they all love Doctor Who.
When you first took on the role of the Doctor was there any apprehension?
Yes, there was apprehension from two points of view. One is that I grew up watching it and it’s very weird to be offered a part that you’ve been watching as a fan. I felt young, the original Doctors were quite old and in my head that was a fixed thing, so I thought ‘am I too young?’ And then of course, it is a large responsibility, a heavy responsibility in a way to do that part because it is an important character for a lot of children. But it’s not really a children’s programme. So, it’s almost like a father figure. I felt the responsibility of taking that on. So, it took me a few days to say yes. But I kind of knew in my heart that I would.
Who came up with the costume and in particular the celery?
Well, I had the idea that it should be based around a cricketing outfit. My idea was then taken away and developed by the costume designer into something that was actually very comfortable to wear. I love it but it really wasn’t based on a cricketing outfit by the time they finished with it apart from the cricket jumper and slightly stripy trousers. The celery was a thing suggested by the producer and my only proviso was that it would be explained before I left the series. We got the very last episode and I remembered that they hadn’t explained it. So they inserted something into the last story to the effect that the Doctor was allergic – would have a fatal reaction to a certain gas in the Praxis range – and the celery is an antidote. In fact when the gas is present it will turn purple and then if I eat the celery I will be saved.
How did you feel when you heard the show was being brought back in 2005?
I always thought it would come back because it seemed to me like it had lost its way a bit I think, as things do after that amount of time. It got a bit tired in certain areas and I think it lost its focus – that’s the main thing. When I heard it was coming back under the auspices of Russell T. Davies, I thought that it was just in good hands. I knew he was a big Doctor Who fan and I know he’s a brilliant writer. It seems to me where it has its advantages now over the classic series is that it’s being written by all those people who grew up watching it. It’s Russell T. Davies first of all then Steven Moffat the producer, Mark Gatiss who is a big Doctor Who fan and they’re fantastic writers and they’re all writing marvellous stories. Of course David who was a big fan of the series growing up becomes the Doctor and so now it’s really being run by the people who were the fans.
Do you watch the new series?
I do watch the new series, yes, because my children watch it and I love watching it. I’ve got to that age now. Douglas Adams who was a script editor on Doctor Who once said to me; ‘the trick about Doctor Who is making it simple enough for the adults to understand and complicated enough to hold the children’s attention’. And I think I’m now getting to that point where I think I’ve moved into the older bracket, obviously I have, but in brain as well because I do find myself turning to my children saying; ‘what’s going on? What? Can you explain that?’ They go; ‘oh, dad, what’s happened is his…’ So, I’m now in that bracket which has to be simple for dad to understand.
You’ve had a varied career, what have you done to avoid getting typecast?
Well, I’ve never done anything for too long. If there is a secret, most things have panned out about three years, four years. Doctor Who I decided to leave after three years. Although it was tough letting go in a way it was a wise thing to do. I’ve never had a plan to be honest, maybe that’s been half the secret. A lot of actors I know who will go; ‘I can’t do that because that’s not the direction I want to go in, I want to be doing this’. I just let how I feel about a certain part be the guiding factor not whether it’s the right direction or not. If I think I’ll enjoy it, I’ll do it. If I don’t, I won’t.
You were in Law & Order: UK with Freema Agyeman who played a companion to David Tennant’s Doctor, did you talk about Doctor Who?
That was weird, we did. It almost becomes like a little family, the whole Doctor Who thing even if you’ve never worked with them and I hadn’t worked with Freema before that but I’d met her at various functions. It’s just very nice.
Why do you think police procedurals are so popular right now?
I was a fan of Law & Order before I was actually in it. I do not like programmes that are about something but then they’re actually not. So a hospital drama that’s more about people having affairs with each other then it is about a particular case. Sometimes in police dramas things are more about who’s having an affair with who in the police station or the personal lives of the police officers. So I think the attraction of procedural is that it’s not soap. From my point of view it’s soap-free. In Law & Order you don’t really hear anything, except finding out the facts of the case and the prosecution of the case. Someone’s not upset because he’s just broken up with somebody. There’s a tendency now in drama to turn everything into a soap and I don’t think the public necessarily like that. So, I think they’re quite grateful for things which are just about [cases].
What else have you got coming up this year?
After Law & Order I don’t know. That finishes in April. I’m doing a lot of conventions. I’ve just done a radio series which is science fiction called Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully, it’s fun to do those. It’s a comedy in front of an audience and then I’m just going to see what comes up.
For more information about the Sci-Fi Weekender visit www.scifiweekender.comTagged in: David Tennant, doctor who, law, Peter Davison
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