‘Sorry. No time. Must dash.’ We’re starting to get more of a sense of the new Doctor: the disarming candour; polite, almost comically so, even in the midst of a crisis, but the sense that this is all battling with impatience and frustration which occasionally bursts out in sarcastic snippiness or brusqueness (for example when he realises Nyssa and Tegan have been hiding the kidnap of Adric). I quite like that. The boyishness – the Doctor looks younger than his companions when he tells a local girl, ‘We’ll have to give you a badge for mathematical excellence’ – is very disconcerting, slightly Troughtonish, and gets dropped as Davison develops his performance.
Castrovalva is a very nice place (that looks like it was made of I Claudius hand-me-downs), largely populated by very nice people (Shardovan is a bit sinister), and a lot of this involves the Doctor having perfectly pleasant conversations. Hilariously, these seem to include him telling the Master, in his disguise as the Portreeve, the story of Doctor Who and the Space War: ‘The Ogrons and the Daleks and that. No, no, I think it does us good to be reminded the universe isn’t entirely peopled with nasty creatures out for themselves.’ I reckon it was probably fifty-fifty for those in the audience who saw through the Neil Toynay disguise, and those who had no idea that this nice old man was going to turn out to be the Master.
The most obvious way this differs from the Tom Baker years is the almost complete absence of ‘business’. Bidmead gives the Doctor a couple of funny lines, but Davison doesn’t do any comedy trips when the Castrovalvan hunting party throw him down. And with the Master barely in this one and Davison deliberately not quite giving us the Doctor, there’s no-one larger than life here. Instead, we’ve got Sheard and co doing convincingly fussy old farts. You wouldn’t have got anything quite this low key with Tom Baker (or in Blake’s 7).
Next episode: Castrovalva – Part Four