Here we have a lively intelligence.
While viewers initially encounter the Fifth Doctor in “Castrovalva,” Peter Davison’s personal debut with the character comes in Terence Dudley’s “Four to Doomsday” (Series Production Code 5W), the first of his stories to be filmed. The Doctor we see in “Castrovalva” remains amorphous, changing, suffering as he is from a difficult regeneration caused by the Master’s mediocre machinations. Only his predilection for cricket comes through strongly in his opening story. It’s here, as the Doctor and companions find themselves not in Heathrow’s Terminal Three but aboard a spaceship slowly traveling to Earth, that the Fifth Doctor finally begins unveiling his characteristics, his temperament, and his manner.
For the youngest of the actors to inhabit the role thus far, Davison plays the role of the Fifth Doctor far more paternalistically, more didactically, than his predecessors. To be sure, his Doctor shows ample reserves of humility and kindness, and Davison imbues the part with a willingness to be fallible, a quite refreshing corrective for a character so often granted amazing powers as the plot requires. Yet there’s a surprising firmness in his attitude when the situation becomes serious, shifting from the jocular and familiar to the demanding, and slightly demeaning, at the drop of a celery stick. Over the course of this four episode story, he calls Adric a “young idiot” and accuses him of “sloppy thinking”; tells Tegan to shut up and has no patience whatsoever for her understandable concern about being held captive by evil robot space frogs; and leaves Nyssa to be captured, drugged, and almost converted into an android in order to advance his plans. Prior Doctors have been peremptory, cavalier, and even a bit huffy, but Davison’s Doctor acts as though the companions really are “children,” as he calls them. He’ll turn the TARDIS around and go home if behavior doesn’t improve, you better believe it. Absent Davison’s undeniably charming mien, these rougher edges would be quite jarring indeed.
About those evil robot space frogs: Dudley, who previously directed “Meglos,” puts our protagonists aboard a colony ship bound for Earth, helmed by Monarch (Stratford Johns), Enlightenment (Annie Lambert), and Persuasion (Paul Shelley), all of whom are initially encountered in the amphibian forms of their native Urbanka, a now-dead planet located far away from Earth by the Doctor’s reckoning. Broadly humanoid, with amphibian features and mottled green skin, the Urbankans claim to have three billion of their people on the ship, heading for Earth to colonize it. But the only other people the Doctor and companions have seen are humans taken from Earth over several thousand years: Bigon, of Athens (Philip Locke); Lin Futu, of China (Burt Kwouk); Kurkutji, of Australia (Illario Bisi Pedro); and Villagra, of the Maya (Nadia Hammer).
Over some extended exposition involving separating the Doctor and Tegan from Adric and Nyssa, our time travellers come to realize that Bigon and his fellow exiles from Earth are not immortal, despite having been taken from Earth centuries prior. They, like the billions of Urbankan colonists themselves, are stored on computer chips inside robot bodies—androids, though Monarch, who perfected the technology and leads the Urbankans, prefers the phrase “fully integrated personalities with a racial memory.” And of course, Bigon reveals his android nature to the Doctor and a horrified Tegan in that most typical of manners, the mandatory peeling off of the face…