‘Do you know any nice people? You know, ordinary people, not power-crazed nutters trying to take over the galaxy?’ Ainley’s performance, controlled, almost subdued, like the Master is battling to suppress the animal instincts that threaten to rule him, disproves the idea he was just an old ham. This wouldn’t have worked in something like The Mark of the Rani – he would have been lost against Colin Baker and Kate O’Mara, but here it’s exactly what the script requires, and it adds impact to the moments when he surrenders to the power of the cat to howl at the moon.
But all three leads are at their best. McCoy still includes moments of clowning, like juggling with shiny rocks or hanging upside down, but Rona Munro incorporates this into the script and it looks seamless. The Doctor hasn’t gone to the planet deliberately, and is improvising wildly, but he’s still got a dangerous streak: willing to let one of the humans transform so they can all escape the disintegrating planet (I like to think somewhere over the distant ridge sit the Rill and Drahvin spaceships). McCoy gets some great scenes, like repeating Ainley’s line ‘they’re essentially a fun-loving species’ as if reassuring himself as he steps through lazing cat people. His stricken look when Midge admits to killing one of the cat people is perfect.
Aldred’s performance is her best: leading the survivors, coming up with plans like she’s a student Doctor, fascinated rather than horrified by the cat person she injures, and then nurses back to health. I like the Doctor finally treating her like an adult and asking her permission for what he needs to do to get them home. There are dangerous undercurrents in the script, with fighting animals threatening to destroy their planet – the same theme as in The Curse of Fenric and Battlefield, but with greater subtlety. The episode is almost languid, with a strange beauty to the cat people and their planet that fits with the Master’s comment that the ‘place bewitches you’.
Next episode: Survival – Part Three