Thu
Dec 30 2010 1:00pm

Shifting into Fifth

This is a post in the Tor.com Twelve Doctors of Christmas series. Click the link to peruse the entire series.

The Fifth Doctor Peter DavisonThe fifth doctor is a Volvo. Search your feelings people, you know it be true.

Look at him, he’s the result of the same set of circumstances that led many a car buyer to that mainstay of safety and reliability and consequently to what followed after. Allow me to lay it all out.

It starts, of course, with that dream car of youth, first seen in an ad in Buy and Sell (or Craigslist for you younger folk), that captures the imagination and compels an immediate scavenging of savings, credit and loans from long suffering family for the most unique, once-in-a-lifetime, gotta-have-it-more-than-the-super-awesome-tree-fort-with-emergency-slide-and-girl-catapult-designed-in-grade-three vehicle: The Karmann Ghia.

Never mind the rust and the beaten-in bumpers, the fraying ragtop and the questionable squeaks coming from what might be the transmission, that Karmann Ghia represented everything awesome about becoming an adult: Freedom, individuality, a dash of poetry and mystery, and of course room for one hot lady companion at your side and no one else. Well, maybe a bit of room in the back for a dog, and not just any dog, a really, really clever dog.

But after those lady companions turned out to be a nerdy Lois Lame, a sexy but functionally illiterate foreign exchange student, a super annoying, possibly schizophrenic undergrad who then runs off with your only so-so clever dog, what are you left with? An Aussie flight attendant picked up off the M4 whining about something up front while the math nerd from your D&D nights and a mousy poli-sci major (picked up from who knows where) argue in the back seat. And it still smells of dog back there. That eccentric little roadster is turning into a creaky creepfest and before you can figure out how to fix it the darn thing runs itself into the ground. More of a blessing, really.

The quirky phase over, time to get serious. Or at the very least practical. With a growing circle of friends, and a desire for cleaner lines, reliability, and a smoother ride, where does one turn but to Scandinavia? Enter the Volvo. Zippy, cute, safe, sporty yet elegant, the Volvo is the perfect choice. At first glance it may seem mediocre but over time you see why such a vehicle would inspire so much loyalty and devotion. It’s perfect, right? ABBA in the cassette player, the radio set to the Ashes highlights, in the back there’s plenty of room for the math geek to argue with the Aussie chick while the more useful poli-sci girl reads the map up front.

Sure, gone are the romantic adventures and the Byron-esque meanderings into the wild, but the road trips now are far from uneventful. Some are downright dangerous, and after crossing into those dark Eastern Bloc territories, there’s a run in with some baaaaad dudes.

Then Math guy bites it hard, Aussie chick flips out and runs off to find herself. It’s a devastating time. The group dynamic has been broken but still the brave face, still the forging on. More road trips, Aussie chick shows up again in Amsterdam (ahh, the canals!) as if nothing ever happened, and then a psychotic ginger with daddy issues joins the crew. Poli-sci girl can’t take it anymore and finally bails just as ginger reaches a breakthrough. A dim-witted street performer, the kind that dresses like a robot and makes beep beep noises, joins up for a brief spell (something about his clumsiness brings back memories of the dog), but the center just cannot hold.

Aussie chick leaves for good, ginger realizes it’s time to go back home and robot guy gets booted after one too many trips to the clinic for tetanus shots. Everything’s a mess, and then enters the spoiled American deb with a terrifyingly unpronounceable name. She’s got trouble written all over but still there’s the denial, that hope that everything can go back to the way it was if the wheels keep on turning. And then the idea: how about a spelunking adventure? That oughta do it! Disaster. Terrible accident. The girl barely makes it, but the car is a total write off and there’s no certainty as to whether the insurance will cover the loss after going off road like that. Anxiety. Despair. Guilt. Uncertainty. And a crap ton of paper work.

But there’s recovery! A settlement! It’s not great but it’s something! Not only that, it’s a chance to turn it all around, throw out the old, go solo, focus on what’s really important, numero uno. It might take a while to dump the skirt but who cares? It’s a new era.

Which leads to the insane impulse replacement buy: the Saab. All the pretense of a luxury vehicle, the promise of a solid investment, a bit of the old Karmann Ghia’s quirkiness, European styling, speed...but in the end, a lemon spending more time in the shop for tests and trials than on the road until it finally breaks down a couple of years later.

It’s a classic story really.


Pia Guerra won an Eisner Award in 2008 for her illustration work on the multiple award-winning Vertigo comic series Y: The Last Man, which she co-created with writer Brian K. Vaughan. Her next project was illustrations for the original mini-series Doctor Who: The Forgotten, which chronicled the Doctor’s life through the perspective of the Tenth Doctor, written by Tony Lee.

This article is part of The Twelve Doctors of Christmas: ‹ previous | index | next ›
18 comments
Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
Aside from the Lois Lame comment about Sarah Jane, I thought this was brilliant.
Rob Hansen
2. RobHansen
Brilliant, Pia! I have to say the 1980s is my least favourite period of Who. as someone who watched faithfully from the beginning in 1963 right through the 1970s, I really don't care for the post-Tom Baker Doctors of the 1980s. Each one seemed more and more of a wrong turn. I hung on and forced myself to keep watching, but eventually I gave up. What with some truly woeful scripts, shoddy production values, and the awful 'disco' opening credits, John Nathan Turner finally drove me away.
James Goetsch
3. Jedikalos
A snarky attack on my favorite doctor: not exactly what I was expecting given the other more nostalgic fan-friendly accounts of the first four. What an badly written dissapointment this column was--at least from the point of view of someone who loved this incarnation of the doctor.
Emily Asher-Perrin
4. EmilyAP
As someone who loves Five, Tegan, Turlough and all the stories from that era, I have to say... this is hilarious. And completely apt. I mean, you can't appreciate Who without appreciating how ridiculous it can be, especially when you step back and try to explain it.

Davison's Doctor was particularly good at picking up all the strays, no matter how strange they were. It's part of what made his era so much fun, and so different from everything that had come before.

I love the fifth Doctor because he was a Volvo, I guess is what I'm really trying to say. (And poor Six is a Saab. Of course he is. Brilliant.)
ian b manc
5. ian b manc
Lol....my first car was a Volvo (the H.M.S Nautilus) and Peter Davidson was my first Doctor. (I just remember Tom, but that dish took him too soon).

Out of all the Doctors, he seemed the most vulnerable. He's almost the complete opposite of the fourth Doctor; serious and modest. Plus he had to cope with Tegan, the original Donna Noble.
Warren Ockrassa
6. warreno
Do you think the Doctor was shagging Turlough?
ian b manc
7. Pendard
Brilliant! This is the best summary of the Fifth Doctor era I've ever heard! It really is like some sort of crazy road trip. You keep hoping that if you just get to your next destination everything will be better but it never quite is. If only you had splurged on better drugs...
ian b manc
8. LAJG
I have heard some people make snarky comments about Volvo drivers (@5: not me, honest!) and how they are so confident with their car that they drive recklessly, without regard to their surroundings. I mean, really, making the poor guy wear question marks on his collar and celery in his lapel?

I was aware of Tom Baker in the 70's but started actually watching the show with Davison, and had a bit of a teenage crush on him. ( I now have a bit of a motherly crush on Matt Smith.)
ian b manc
9. RobinM
This description was great. I laughed all the way to end. Davidson's era was Companion overload but that was half the fun. I will hate Cybermen forever because of Adric and keep waiting for someone to use "Rabbits!" to good effect once again.
Roland of Gilead
10. pKp
Wow. Having never watched an episode of the Fifth Doctor, this was...a little weird to read, to say the least.
ian b manc
11. MTL
Considering how difficult it is to put a definition to the Fifth Doctor's era, this does it extremely well, very amusing and clever. Well done!
ian b manc
12. iucounu
I have to say I was looking forward to this post, as Davison was my Doctor and one of the great heroes of my childhood. This wasn't exactly what I was expecting.
Joe Hagan
13. Mercwrought
I didnt care for the 5th but the way this is writen it makes me think that i might have missed some good shows, but after seening the 2nd,3rd, and 4th doctors the 5th just did not feel right to me.
ian b manc
14. Nightsky
As someone who loves Five... THIS IS AWESOME. That is all. Ginger with daddy issues: hee.
Jacy Clark
15. Amalisa
Oh, God... that was awesome! Truly, truly awesome! And, yes, I enjoyed Five's tenure. He wasn't Three, he wasn't Four. But he was awesome in his own unintentionally bland, I'd-love-to-be-flash-but-really-can't-quite-pull-it-off kind of way. And the comment upstream about him picking up strays was oh, so apt!

I mean, how else can one explain Tegan? Geez...
ian b manc
16. Twilight
Five was my favorite doctor (prior to 7 and 9). I really enjoyed the Turlough arc. I even liked Nissa and Adrick as companions (not the best but much better than some others). I definitely could have done without miss whiney Teegan.
ian b manc
17. Cat42
If you hated the show, why'd you bother to write about it? More to the point, why would anyone in their right mind ask you to?
ian b manc
18. Ana22
Tom Baker was 'my doctor'. So when Davison replaced him, I was heavy hearted, disappointed, and stopped watching...all the way until 2005.

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