The central gimmick of Doctor Who is that the Doctor doesn’t exactly die; instead, he regenerates into the body of a completely new actor, allowing this BBC show to present the ongoing story of a character across 14 incarnations and over 800 episodes. Because so many people have stepped into the Doctor’s iconic shoes, fans can’t help but argue about which Doctors were the best and which were the worst. Fortunately, we’ve got the answer to the second question: go find somewhere else to stick that celery because we’re going to explain why Peter Davison’s Doctor was the worst.
The worst Doctor Who is Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, but it has nothing to do with the actor himself.
One reason that Peter Davison’s performance in Doctor Who felt so lackluster is that he wasn’t just stopping into the character’s shoes…he was stepping into some acting shoes that were nearly impossible to fill. Davison was the Fifth Doctor and had the bad luck to follow Tom Baker’s fan-favorite incarnation of everyone’s favorite time-traveling alien. Simply put, Baker was so legendary that even someone as charming as David Tennant would have struggled to impress fans who simply wanted more bonkers Baker adventures.
Speaking of charm, here’s a blunt fact that makes us blush like a strawberry jelly baby: Peter Davison’s Doctor may be the least charming and charismatic lead in Doctor Who history. We blame this more on the writers at the time than Davison himself, though if he hadn’t been starring on two other BBC programs as well as Doctor Who, the performance might have been stronger. Regardless of where you want to point your fish fingers, Davison’s charisma seemed more like a vacuum than the depths of space his TARDIS traveled through.
…Peter Davison has the absolute worst look of any lead in Doctor Who history.
On a related note, one of the most consistent features of how Peter Davison was written on Doctor Who is that his character was very indecisive. Chances are this was a very deliberate writing choice to help differentiate his Doctor from Tom Baker’s, but if that’s the case, the narrative gamble really backfired. Indecisive and confused characters never make for good protagonists in any story, and such a performance seems even weirder coming from a character that was supposed to be a wise alien with years of cosmic experience under his sweater vest.
And it feels really petty, but we’ve just got to say it: while it’s obviously not the actor’s fault, Peter Davison has the absolute worst look of any lead in Doctor Who history. The red lines of his jacket were likely meant to give it a smarter look and to coordinate with his red-striped pants, but the overall effect was to make him look more like a carnival barker than a time-traveling alien. The weird sprig of celery he adds to the coat doesn’t help…it looks for all the world like he and his loud outfit are about to take Groot to some intergalactic prom.
Speaking of charm, here’s a blunt fact that makes us blush like a strawberry jelly baby: Peter Davison’s Doctor may be the least charming and charismatic lead in Doctor Who history.
Put it all together and it’s impossible to escape the fact that Peter Davison never seemed like an authoritative character on Doctor Who, and that’s a big problem with a character that is supposed to be ageless and wise. Later franchise actors (particularly David Tennant and Matt Smith) would be very adept at pivoting between slapstick silliness and fate-of-the-galaxy gravitas that helped sell us on their own authority. But Davison could never pull off either playful silliness or super seriousness, leaving us with a Doctor who feels like a foppish stand-in for someone else.
Before you point those sonic screwdrivers in our direction, we want to point out that being the worst Doctor is a bit like being the worst pizza…even at its worst, Doctor Who is the kind of show we’d prefer watching over almost anything else. Davison may be the weakest of the Doctors, but some of his storylines (especially when he tangled with the Master) are highlights of the franchise. Unfortunately, he commits the worst possible sin for anyone playing the Doctor: his performance always plays it safe, keeping him from being either genuinely good or hilariously bad…he is, instead, unremarkably boring, and no amount of celery can cover that up.