Peter Davison is an English actor with many credits in television dramas and sitcoms. He became famous as Tristan Farnon in the BBC’s television adaptation of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small stories. His subsequent starring roles included the sitcoms Holding the Fort and Sink or Swim, the fifth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, Dr. Stephen Daker in A Very Peculiar Practice, and Albert Campion in Campion. He later played David Braithwaite in At Home with the Braithwaites, “Dangerous” Davies in The Last Detective, and Henry Sharpe in Law & Order: UK.
His first television work was a 1975 episode of the children’s science fiction television program The Tomorrow People alongside American actress Sandra Dickinson, whom he married on December 26, 1978. Davison portrayed an alien named Elmer, who arrived on Earth along with his sister (played by Dickinson) and his mother, known as “the Mama” (played by Margaret Burton).
In 1976, he was offered a prominent role in the 13-segment TV miniseries Love for Lydiaopposite a young Jeremy Irons; the series was broadcast on ITV the following year.
In 1978, Davison’s performance as the youthfully mischievous Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small made him a household name.
Davison and his wife composed and performed the theme tunes to Button Moon, a children’s program broadcast in the 1980s, and Mixed Blessings, a sit-com broadcast on ITV in 1978. Davison subsequently appeared alongside Dickinson as the Dish of the Day in the television version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in 1981. The producers considered it humorous for an actor known for playing a veterinary surgeon to appear as a cow.
Davison has also appeared in several British sitcoms, including Holding the Fort (1980–82) and Sink or Swim (1980–82), as well as appearing in dramatic roles.
In 1980, Davison signed a contract to play the Doctor for three years, succeeding Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and, at age 29, was at the time the youngest actor to have played the lead role, a record he retained for nearly thirty years until Matt Smith (the Eleventh Doctor) took the role in 2009 at age 26. The Fifth Doctor encountered many of the Doctor’s best-known adversaries, including the Daleks (in Resurrection of the Daleks) and the Cybermen (in Earthshock).
After leaving Doctor Who, Davison would come back to the franchise on a few occasions. He presented the special videotape documentary release Daleks – The Early Years (1993), showcasing selected episodes of missing Dalek stories from both the First Doctor and Second Doctor’s eras. Davison did, in fact, return to play the Fifth Doctor in the 1993 multi-doctor charity special “Dimensions in Time” and in the 1997 video game Destiny of the Doctors (audio only). He continues to reprise the role in a series of audio plays by Big Finish Productions. He returned once again in “Time Crash”, a special episode written by Steven Moffat for Children in Need. In the episode, which aired on November 16, 2007, the Fifth Doctor met the Tenth Doctor, played by future son-in-law David Tennant. Tennant later presented a documentary, “Come in Number Five”, which examined Davison’s Doctor Who years in some detail, and which was included as a special feature on the 2011 DVD re-release of Resurrection of the Daleks. It is one of many DVD releases of his Doctor Who serials in which Davison has appeared as an in-vision interviewee or in DVD commentary recordings.
In 2012, Davison expressed further interest in returning to the role of the Doctor for the series’ 50th anniversary, but he did not take part. He did, however, write and direct “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot”, an affectionate and comedic account of Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and himself attempting to get parts in the anniversary special, featuring cameos from numerous Doctor Who cast, crew, and famous fans.
After Davison left Doctor Who in 1984, he immediately landed a role in Anna of the Five Towns, a period drama. In 1985, he appeared in an All Creatures Great and Small Christmas special, and a feature-length episode of the American show Magnum, P.I. (“Deja Vu”), set in the UK.
Davison played Dr Stephen Daker, the central character in A Very Peculiar Practice (1986–88). Written by Andrew Davies, it concerns a university’s health center; Baker is the center’s only effective physician. The black comedy-drama ran for two series and had a sequel with A Very Polish Practice in 1992, a television film largely set in a post-communist Polish hospital. In 1986 he appeared as Lance Fortescue in an episode of the BBC’s Miss Marple (“A Pocketful of Rye”).
Davison reprised his role as Tristan Farnon in four more series of All Creatures Great and Smallbetween 1988 and 1990, although he was absent from 24 episodes of the final three to play the lead in Campion, a series based on the period whodunnits of Margery Allingham. He appeared in the sitcoms Fiddlers Three for ITV in 1991, and Ain’t Misbehavin’ in 1993 and 1995. He played Jim Huxtable in the 1993 TV movie Harnessing Peacocks, based on the novel by Mary Wesley
In 1994 he provided the voice of Mole in The Wind in the Willows animated special “Mole’s Christmas”. He also appeared as a doctor in Heartbeat episode “A Bird in the Hand”, and played Squire Gordon in the 1994 film of Black Beauty.
Davison presented Heavenly Bodies a six-part series about astronomy broadcast on BBC1 in 1995. This led to him being featured on the cover of Practical Astronomy magazine.
He guest starred in the sixth episode of the crime drama Jonathan Creek in 1998 as the son-in-law of a horror writer who was shot dead on Halloween. The following year, he played the outgoing head teacher in the television series Hope and Glory, and appeared in Parting Shots, the last film to be directed by Michael Winner.
In 2000, Davison returned in another major role, that of David Braithwaite in At Home with the Braithwaites. During convention appearances in 2013, Davison cited this as his favorite among the roles he has played. Also in 2000, he appeared in the recurring role of Inspector Christmas in several episodes of Diana Rigg’s Mrs Bradley Mysteries. The first episode, “Death at the Opera”, saw Davison appear with his future son-in-law (and future Doctor Who actor), David Tennant.
He starred as Dangerous Davies in the television series The Last Detective (2003–2007) and as Dr Bill Shore in Distant Shores (2005–2008), both for ITV. In 2006 he appeared as Professor George Huntley in The Complete Guide to Parenting, and appeared as himself in the TV series Hardware.
Davison starred as Martin Chadwick, one half of an overworked couple coping with two irresponsible daughters and his senile mother at home, in the BBC Two comedy Fear, Stress and Anger in early 2007. The show also starred his daughter Georgia Moffett. Later in 2007, he played Hubert Curtain in an episode of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Marple (“At Bertram’s Hotel”).
In January 2009 he appeared in Unforgiven, an ITV1 drama starring Suranne Jones. Davison played John Ingrams, a lawyer who helps Jones’ character, Ruth Slater, find her sister after her release from prison. In July 2009, he appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murders and made a guest appearance as a teacher in Miranda Hart’s sitcom Miranda in autumn 2009. In October 2009, Davison was seen in a small but memorable role as a bank manager in Micro Men, a drama about the rise of the British home computer market in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in December 2009, he played Denis Thatcher in The Queen, a docudrama on Channel 4.
In November 2010, it was announced that Davison would be joining the regular cast of the UK version of Law and Order as Henry Sharpe, the Director of the London Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Davison’s appeared from the beginning of the series’ fifth season, alongside fellow Doctor Who actress Freema Agyeman. He appeared in an episode of the police comedy-drama New Tricks in 2011, and in 2013 he played divorcee Michael in the comedy series Pat and Cabbage, as well as appearing in an episode of the ITV detective series Lewis.
In 2017 Davison appeared in an episode of the third series of Grantchester, playing a cricket-loving solicitor.