Peter Davison and the Dr Who Symphonic Spectacular (Interview)

The 13th Floor has hooked up Professor Matthew R.X. Dentith, author of the book The Philosophy Of Conspiracy Theories with former Dr Who, Peter Davison. The two recently spoke ahead of Davison’s appearance at the upcoming Symphonic Spectacular, which he will be the MC.  Here is Prof. Dentith’s report:

Surely you’ve heard of Peter Davison? He played Tristan in “All Creatures Great and Small”. If your tastes are more in line with black comedy, then you must know his turn as David in “At Home with the Braithwaites”, surely? Fans of detective dramas will know him, of course, as ‘Dangerous’ Davies in “The Last Detective”. Personally, I’m rather fond of his role as the unexpected villain in “The Mrs Bradley Mysteries”, which saw him square off against Diana Rigg.

And then, of course, there is the role that probably has garnered him the most fame, playing the Fifth Doctor in the long-running, BBC juggernaut that is “Doctor Who”. Costumed in cricket gear and saddled with three companions, Davison played the role of the Doctor for three years, taking over from one Baker (Tom) before passing it on to another (Colin; no relation). That was back in the late Eighties, when Doctor Who was not quite the prestige drama it is today. A show barely tolerated by the BBC brass and racked with budget issues, Davison had the formidable challenge of following on from Tom Baker (aka the Fourth Doctor) and making the role his own. Over twenty-five years later Davison is the one Doctor who is most closely associated with the modern series. He’s (re)appeared in it, his daughter both guest starred in an episode and married David Tenant (the Tenth Doctor, currently appearing in “Broadchurch”), and now he’s in Aotearoa (New Zealand) promoting the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular, which he is MC-ing.

For Davison the biggest difference between the classic and modern series is in the writing:

“In the old days, in terms of the writers, it was hit-and-miss because sometimes they would get writers who were interested in science fiction as a genre and sometimes they’d get writers who were throwing together a script[.] … So the scripts were a bit mixed. Now I know, because I’ve been down there, nearly everyone in the office in Cardiff is a big fan of the series.”

Davison is understandably fond of his time in Doctor Who; he recognises that his three year tenure has given him a lot of opportunities. Yet given his career both before and after Doctor Who, it’s hard to imagine the course of British TV without him. Steven Moffat, the current show runner of Doctor Who has described Davison as the classic series’ best actor, and Davison’s range is considerable, playing darkly dramatic, light hearted and comedic, and everything inbetween. Pressed to choose a favourite role outside of Doctor Who, Davison slips and slides between David Braithwaite (“At Home with the Braithwaites”), a terrible father figure in a slightly less terrible family, and Detective Constable “Dangerous” Davies (“The Last Detective”), a straight-and-narrow detective who plays by the rules and causes trouble because of it. Both series lasted several seasons, and both received critical acclaim for Davison’s acting.

Still, in recent years Davison has branched out. Due to work commitments he was unable to attend a Doctor Who conference in the US, so he shot a short film as compense, which both showcased his directorial talents, as well as his ability to a) be very self-defacing and b) get other actors in as cameos. He followed it up the next year with a sequel. So, when he was asked if he and the other surviving Doctors from the classic series (Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann) would be appearing in the fiftieth anniversary special, he thought it unlikely, but:

uktv-doctor-who-peter-davison[I]f we weren’t going to be in the 50th Anniversary, I’d jolly well make my own. So then I realised I would have to come up with something, so I sat down and came up with about a five, ten minute script. … At that time I was just going to film it with my own video camera. I had to send it to the BBC because I wanted to film down at the studios and they said ‘Well, can we develop this a bit? And can we give you a camera crew?’ I could quite believe it; they were going to give me a cameraman and a sound guy. And from then on, I don’t know, my brain went into overdrive and it gradually extended and extended and the cast got better and better and nearly everyone we asked said yes.”

The resulting special, “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” was met with considerable acclaim. It was both a funny look back at the differences between classic Doctor Who and the new series, as well as being a clever satire on stardom and faded glory. Even our own Peter Jackson makes an appearance (although he probably shouldn’t consider changing careers from director to actor anytime soon).

Asked if there will be a sequel, Davison said that at the moment there isn’t one. First he needs the right idea and then there’s the issue of how it would get made. No one on the Five-ish Doctors Reboot got paid because of its relationship the anniversary special. “I don’t think I could ask them to do that again”, Davison says, somewhat ruefully.

Then, of course, there’s that Symphonic Spectacular he is MC-ing. Davison is also no stranger to the world of music. A star of West End musicals like “Chicago”, “Spamalot” and “Legally Blonde” (yes, really), he is preparing for his next musical role as Herbie in “Gypsy”. He also composed the theme tune to “Button Moon”, as well as wrote and performed the theme to the sitcom “Mixed Blessings” (he’s Doctor Who’s own Dennis Waterman, or even Jimmy Nail). When asked if he had considered recording a duets album with fellow Doctor Who and musical theatre star John Barrowman, Davison laughed off the suggestion, adding “I think John Barrowman has higher standards than me.”

Davison’s connection with writing and performing music goes back to his childhood, when he learnt to play the guitar (and piano, to a certain extent). He claims to be absolutely useless at parties because he only knows his own material, having never got around to learning anyone else’s songs. He still writes and records, but he finds it harder these days to finish anything.

“When I started off with a four-track TEAC tape recorder you literally had very few options; you had to bounce from one thing to another. Now you have music programs with anything upward of 150 tracks, so you can do virtually anything. You can change the instrument at the last minute, you can do anything you want. Consequently its much harder to finish something because you can never quite decide on the definitive mix.”

So, don’t expect a Peter Davison album any time soon, although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of fulfilling a desire to one day recording a pop album.

Which brings us back to the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular, where he will be introducing pieces used in the modern series. Asked as to whether he has a bit of leeway to insert his own material and colour to the proceedings, Davison said:

“Last year, when we were in Australia certainly, England had just been rather soundly beaten by the Australians, so I made a plea for them in no way to mention the test cricket. … I still haven’t thought of a series of good jokes for Auckland yet, but I’m working on it.”

Give him time. After all, for someone many will dismiss as just “one of those Doctor Who’s”, Peter Davison has a lot of other facets. Come February, when he’ll be sharing a stage with Daleks, Cybermen (and other monsters), Davison will likely still be the true star of the proceedings. Pity we won’t get to hear him sing, though. Maybe he could belt out the chorus from Doctor Who’s own Band Aid-style ‘hit’, “Doctor in Distress”…

– Matthew R.X. Dentith, (

For more details about Peter Davison’s career, including the oddities of BBC actor’s contracts and the problems they create, why not listen to the full interview here:

Click here for more info and tickets for the Dr. Who Symphonic Spectacular.