Doctor’s visit

Peter Davison. Photo: Luigi Novi/Wikimedia Commons

Trekkers, Whedonites and Whovians unite. Hal-Con, Halifax’s fast-growing sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming convention, boasts a big line-up this year. Running November 8 to 10, the convention will host (among many others) Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi), Garrett Wang (Star Trek: Voyager), Jewel Staite (Firefly, Serenity) and—just in time for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who—Peter Davison.
Before he was invited to attend Hal-Con, Davison already heard about the convention from Nicholas Briggs, the man who provided the voice for the show’s Daleks. Davison doesn’t know much about Halifax yet, but he’s looking forward to exploring. “I’m hoping that my wife can come along with me,” he says. “Whenever I go to a new place, I always try to reserve a couple of days to look around. I’ll certainly be looking up all the history before I come.”

Hali-what? Haligonians! It sounds very science fictiony. Like it’s the name of an alien species.
—Peter Davison

It sounds like he’ll enjoy his research. When he learns the term “Haligonian,” he laughs: “Hali-what? Haligonians! It sounds very science fictiony. Like it’s the name of an alien species.”
Doctor Who chronicles the adventures of a mysterious, time-travelling alien, known only as The Doctor. Over the past 50 years, he’s saved the world countless times, often with help from a human travelling companion and the iconic TARDIS, a time machine disguised as a big blue telephone box. The Doctor has more lives than a cat—if he dies, he regenerates, taking on the form of a new Doctor, while retaining all the memories and knowledge possessed by the old one. There’s been 11 Doctors to date. From 1981 to 1984, Davison played the fifth Doctor, a rakish young version of the character notorious for displaying a stalk of celery on his lapel. He’s also the father-in-law of David Tennant, who recently played the tenth Doctor.
Before Matt Smith was cast as the current Doctor, Davison was the youngest actor to play the role. His youth, combined with the conservative expectations of an early-80s audience, resulted in some unique challenges.
Until the show returned from hiatus in 2010, the character couldn’t have a love interest. “Rose was the first companion that the Doctor was allowed to fall in love with,” Davison explains. “In my day, you couldn’t even put your arm around the female companions. They were afraid that everyone would think there was hanky-panky going on in the TARDIS.” One quick view of those early episodes and it’s easy to see how that kind of restriction created some awkward moments. “I wasn’t allowed to interact with the female companions much more than to say ‘do this now,’” says Davison.
Preventing thoughts of hanky-panky wasn’t the only difficult part of being a sci-fi icon 30 years ago. Using ’80s special effects to realistically morph a character into a different person was hard. “The regenerations were never entirely satisfactory,” Davison laughs. “I’m slightly envious of the new show’s special effects. But the old episodes have their place in history. They did the best they could with what they had.”
Davison was happy to see the show return after it went off the air in 1989. And he had no doubt that it would. “It just needed a period of time before someone thought it was a jolly good idea to bring it back,” says Davison. “Now that the show’s back, it’s produced by huge Doctor Who fans. I think that’s a big part of its success.”
2013 is a landmark year for the show, which makes Davison’s attendance even more of a coup for Hal-Con. “The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who has made having a member of the cast on your convention list a higher priority than normal,” explains Davison. The convention is going to be held less than two months before the show’s big anniversary special, which will mark the regeneration of Matt Smith’s Doctor and the origin of the next one.
Hal-Con 2013 will be at the World Trade & Convention Centre from November 8 to 10.

Dish of the Day

Doctor Who wasn’t Davison’s only contribution to sci-fi history. He also played the role of the Ameglian Major Cow in the BBC production of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. “I spent many more hours in make-up than actually on the set, it seemed like hour after hour,” says Davison. “I was very pleased to be a part of it because I was a huge fan of the radio series.” Adams, who also wrote three Doctor Who scripts, was a good friend of Davison’s. Davison remembers him as “very nice, very charming, and a great fan of technology. He was always trying to convince people to switch to Apple, even then.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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