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The Doctor's Celery

By Paul Scoones

Ruther raised his glass in a toast, which the Doctor was about to return when he spotted a jar of fresh celery that had just been put down in the middle of the table. He tweaked out a stick, tapped Ruther's glass with it and sank his teeth into it with a satisfying crunch.
'Definitely civilisation,' said the Doctor with a broad smile of satisfaction.
, p68

A fresh stick of celery was as much a badge of the Doctor's fifth incarnation as his distinctive cricketers' costume. To the Doctor's mind, slightly befuddled and wandering as the result of a recent regeneration, the celery was something he could latch onto as proof that he had found civilised dwellings at which to recuperate, since celery is a domesticated variety of wild celery - and therefore a 'hallmark of civilisation'. The Doctor first pinned it to the left lapel of his frockcoat at the end of Castrovalva, and it remained there throughout his fifth incarnation. How it stayed fresh and green is anyone's guess, since only we saw him exchange it for a fresher stick was in Enlightenment.

Behind the scenes, there was apparently no real reason for the celery at first. In an interview for Doctor Who Magazine (106, Nov 1985), Peter Davison attributed the celery to producer John Nathan-Turner: "The celery was John's idea. He just came to me one day and said, 'I think the new Doctor should wear a stick of celery on his lapel,' and so that was it. Funny really, because I don't really like celery very much and I usually end up getting presented with tons of the stuff at conventions. It was nice that it was actually explained before I left the series."

This explanation was actually promised to Davison by JNT quite early on, to be explained before he left. In a much earlier DWM interview Davison (Summer Special 1982) he said: "That it is a question you will have to ask John Nathan-Turner." He went on in the same interview to express an amusing 'horrendous version' of toy shops filled with "Doctor Who's Celery for the under-sixties".

Did JNT really have an explanation for the celery worked out from the very beginning? We may never know, but it is known that script editor Eric Saward inserted the revelation in Davison's last story, The Caves of Androzani by Robert Holmes. Saward offered - via the Doctor - two reasons for the presence of the celery.

On 25 November 1983, after the screening of The Five Doctors in Britain as part of the Children in Need appeal, Peter Davison came on air to talk to the appeal's host, Terry Wogan. Intentionally or not, Davison let it slip that the celery was a special Gallifreyan restorative - or words to that effect. By this time The Caves of Androzani was in production, so Davison would have been fully aware of the 'secret of the celery'.

[Peri] glanced at the Doctor. 'Why do you wear a stick of celery in your lapel?'
'Why? Does it offend you?'
'No, just curious.'
'I'm allergic to certain gases in the Praxsis range of the spectrum.'
'How does the celery help?'
'If the gas is present, the celery turns purple.'
'Then what do you do?'
'I eat the celery,' said the Doctor simply. 'If nothing else, I'm sure it's good for my teeth.'
The Caves of Androzani
, p9

Since it is only the fifth Doctor was wears the celery, we might safely assume that it is only this incarnation that suffers from this allergy.

The second of the celery's two special properties is revealed later in the same story when Peri is dying from Spectrox Toxaemia:

The Doctor plucked the stick of celery from his lapel and squeezed it under Peri's nose.
Peri opened her eyes. 'Celery soup...'
'Come on, Peri,' said the Doctor urgently.
She smiled. 'Hello, Doctor.'
'That's more like it.'
'Goodbye, Doctor,' said Peri faintly and closed her eyes.
'No, no, Peri, don't give up. You mustn't give up.'
'What is that?' asked Jek cautiously.
'Celery. It's a powerful restorative where I come from. Unfortunately the human olfactory system is comparatively feeble.' The Doctor tossed the celery aside.
The Caves of Androzani
, p121-2

The celery was a last-minute addition to the fifth Doctor's costume, as evidenced by the fact that in early publicity photographs and rehearsal shots from Davison's first recorded story Four to Doomsday, there is no celery on his lapel. In making this addition, JNT's intention was almost certainly to provide the new Doctor with a visibly eccentric idiosyncratic icon to match his predecessor's widely recognised multi-coloured scarf.

In the final analysis, the celery didn't serve any real purpose, except perhaps to momentarily revive Peri; to provide a tiny insight into Gallifreyan biology and medicine, but most importantly of all - at least in JNT's mind - to keep the fans guessing, and in that he probably succeeded.

This item appeared in TSV 10 (December 1988).

Reprinted in: The Best of TSV 1-20, TSV: The Best of Issues 1-20