The Fifth Doctor Era Survey Results
By Paul Scoones
In this, the second installment of the survey results, I will cover the Best and Worst stories of the Fifth Doctor's era, and the novelisations of the era.
Unlike most other categories in this survey, it was not apparent until the final count which story would actually come out best. A running total was kept as votes came in, and at first the top story was The Caves of Androzani. Then Earthshock took over top spot, and more or less retained this position until the last few votes were counted, and The Five Doctors pipped it at the post. These three stories are very close, and must surely be considered the three major classics of the Davison era.
"The Five Doctors wouldn't have got to No.1 if it wasn't for the brilliant cast, with the return of all the old favourites," claims Chris Girdler. Paul Rigby and Graham Howard like the story for the interaction between the Doctors and companions. Alistair Hughes rates the story as his favourite, "Mostly for nostalgia reasons, but also for the excellent production values, consistently high standard of acting from all involved and the skillful way in which Terrance Dicks has taken so many different elements and woven them together to form an exciting and well-paced story." I personally find it to be a rather dull story - it's only entertainment value comes from watching blasts from the past, like Pat Troughton and Jon Pertwee doing their stuff, and I was a little disappointed to see it win over considerably more intelligently-written stories.
Earthshock was one of these. To this day, it still stands up as edge-of-your-seat viewing; pacey, atmospheric and laden with dramatic conflict. Gerald Joblin calls the story "a true classic", and Matthew Goodall says of the story "excellent, tense, moody, atmospheric - the title intrigues but reveals nothing. Also the death of a companion makes it the best story". Hamish Reid thought it was "exciting and sinister", and Warwick Gray rated it his favourite "because of all the Davison stories, this one best summed up all the Doctor Who elements I love: moody atmosphere, terrific costumes, excellent sets, big monsters stalking shadowy corridors - the Cybermen never looked better! This would have been behind-the-couch material for the youngsters, and that's the way it should be. Add to this the extra drama of the death of a companion, and you've got a real winner, right?" Well, you'd certainly think so, but it has to make do with a close second. Candice Schilder disagrees, rating it second worst story - "because Adric died".
The Caves of Androzani is hailed in some parts of the world as the classic of the 80's. But not in New Zealand, as the thing made little sense in the severely censored version we saw. If everyone who voted in this survey saw the full uncut version, then I believe it may have even come first. Chris Girdler says that it had "terrific characterisation, and with Graeme Harper's inventive direction, it couldn't fail", and David Bishop commented that "despite being a blatant Phantom of the Opera rip-off, it was still the best written story of the Davison era". Once again, however, Candice Schilder rates it one of the worst - "because Peter Davison `died'".
Resurrection of the Daleks, I believe, only comes fourth because it's a Dalek story: without them, it would have come very nearly last. Graham Howard thought it "seemed to be trying too hard to be a classic story, and in the end fell just short of `classic' status". Jessica Smiler chose it as her favourite "because it was really action-filled and kept you on the edge of your seat". The same number of people (23) included it in their top five favourites as the second-placed Earthshock, another Eric Saward story, featuring the return of tan old monster. The difference between the two is that Earthshock is a brilliantly written tale with the Cybermen included in it, whereas Resurrection is a confused messy tale written around the Daleks and Davros. Like The Five Doctors, without its returning nostalgia-figures, Resurrection is nothing.
To a certain extent, Mawdryn Undead is another of these nostalgia-winners, but like Earthshock it has a good story capable of standing alone without the elements from the past. Graham Howard thought the story "wasn't particularly inspiring, it was mostly the Earth characters which made it enjoyable for me, most notably, the return of the Brigadier and the new character of Turlough". Hamish Reid, however rates it "easily the best story from the Davison era. It combined the elements of the dilemma of time itself with the key to the dilemma (the Brigadier). It was great to have to think the whole way through!"
"Castrovalva haunted me when I first saw it," says James Docherty, "When I saw it again, when I was older, I understood it a lot more and I still loved it." Craig Young lists it as the best story from a conceptual viewpoint. It is also one of my favourites, and I consider it the best post-regeneration story ever. I love the idea of a Doctor for once completely dependent on his companions for his continued survival, as opposed to the opposite which is the norm in Doctor Who. The only flaw with the story is the inclusion of the Master, who surely did not need such as elaborate set-up to trap the Doctor. The plot would have been more effective if the city was the projection of an alien organism, which creates environments favourable to its prey in order to snare them. Apart from this point, it is highly enjoyable to watch.
Warriors of the Deep is a much-maligned story, but here it does quite well. Craig Young likes it for its moral message, but most voters chose to comment instead on the visual presentation. James Richardson thought it was the most comic adventure because "The Silurians' heads were coming off, the Sea Devils looked as if they were about to start walking on all fours and barking like puppies, and the Myrka with six limbs!" Chris Girdler says, "Why everybody dislikes it is beyond me - I thought it was as well made and exciting story." David Bishop rates it as "the best example of comedy in Doctor Who since The Gunfighters." David took the unusual and unique (in this survey) step of listing the story in both best and worst categories! He explains why - "It must be worst - its got everything - the big green pantomime horse (sorry, the Myrka), the naff new Silurians, the shit acting ... this is so bad it's almost good."
These were the main stories that voters chose to comment on. Very little at all was said about the rest. Predictably, Four to Doomsday, The King's Demons and Arc of Infinity came near the bottom of the heap, but I was surprised to see the two Mara stories do so badly in the results. I consider these to be among the most intelligent of all the Davison stories, but obviously, good scripts weren't enough to overcome production inadequacies which beset both stories, and consequently Snakedance came last in the Best list, and Kinda rated just below Four to Doomsday in the Worst rankings.
Perhaps significantly, none of the two-parters ranked very highly, although this may have been more due to their content than their length. In the final reckoning, NZ fandom considers The Five Doctors and Earthshock to be the best of the Davison era, and Four To Doomsday is undeniably the worst. A tally of the results also shows that Davison's last season is considered his best, with his first two more or less equal. This is of course without considering the very worst story of Season 21 - The Twin Dilemma.
NOT LISTED: The Five Doctors, Resurrection of the Daleks (unpublished).
Note: Only those voters who had read 15 or more of the 19 novelisations had their votes counted. 13 out of 41 people qualified. 5 people admitted to not having read any of them. Only 8 people said they had read all 19 novelisations.
This has to be the category with the most peculiar results - the same book heads both the Best and the Worst lists! The phrase "You either love it or hate it" is no truer than when applied to Terence Dudley's Black Orchid. I personally think it is the best in the range. It is one of only a very few Doctor Who novels which actually stand up as credible works of fiction when compared to novels outside the Target series. The characterisation, especially of the Doctor, is much deeper than we ever got on screen, and the whole afternoon at Cranleigh Hall comes alive on the page. Chris Girdler agrees: "Although Black Orchid didn't work on TV, Terence Dudley spread out the story into an enjoyable Agatha Christie story," but he then adds that the general quality of the Davison era novelisations "was not high. Snakedance and Arc of Infinity were typical Terrance Dicks - yuck!"
Predictably, perhaps, of the six worst novels, five of them are by Dicks. The only one by him that NZ fans seem to think is any good from the Davison era is The Caves of Androzani, but to me it doesn't seem any better than the six other Dicks novels. Perhaps the reason lies in the standard of the script, and Dicks' familiarity with Holmes' style. I actually think he made a better job of his "own" book, The Five Doctors, which for some strange reason is the only novel not to be voted for by anyone in these results! Whatever his good or bad points, I can never forgive Terrance for his complete misinterpretation of Kinda - he would have been hard pressed to render it any shallower and meaningless than he did. David Bishop admits to only having read a handful, but has read Dicks' Warriors of the Deep, and comments that "it's up to his usual (low) standard."
Joshua Preston loved Frontios, but added, "Pity the serial was so terrible." I found this with several novels from the second half of the Davison era. In the time between watching the last story to be shown here (before the current run - Mawdryn Undead - and when I got to see the rest of Davison's era (on video), I managed to obtain most of the books of the stories I hadn't seen, and consequently formed impressions about what the serials would be like. In the case of Terminus, Enlightenment, The Awakening and Frontios, the books are to my mind better than the television versions. I was certainly disappointed when I finally got to see them. On the other hand though, I was far more impressed by the screen versions of Warriors of the Deep, Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani - indicative of bad novels or exceptional serials? A bit of both, I think. Joshua adds that he "enjoyed Doctor Who all the more upon discovering other novelisations when Mawdryn Undead finished screening (in 1983)."
The King's Demons is another very well written book, again by Dudley, and Matthew Goodall almost echoes what Chris Girdler said about Black Orchid. "The King's Demons worked far better as a novel than on TV, and I only really liked it (the TV version) because I'd read the novel first."
Three other novels worthy of mention from the Davison era are Castrovalva, Frontios and Earthshock. The first two, both be Christopher Bidmead, are excellently written, the sort of novels I can read over and over again (and I have), without getting bored of them. The late Ian Marter's Earthshock is a very moody and "dark" novel, full of descriptions of shadowy places where evil lurks. It is to my mind the most effective Cyberman novel in the Target range, and does the serial full justice.
Despite the voting of Black Orchid as worst novel, no one bothered to comment on why, so I can only speculate that it is because it deviates from what we saw on screen - but surely that is to its credit?!
On the survey forms, I asked people to note down the novels they hadn't read. Out of interest I have compiled from this a list of the number of people who have read each novel. Most, it seems, have read Barbara Clegg's Enlightenment. Here is the full list, with the number of people in brackets:
This item appeared in TSV 18 (May 1990).