For some time, my random Who generator was very shy of Tom. Considering he has the most stories of any Doctor, it struck me as a bit odd that for a long time only one had come up. But lately there’s been something of a rush on Tom. We’ve had early Tom in Revenge of the Cybermen, gothic horror Tom in The Deadly Assassin, light entertainment Tom in The Armageddon Factor and now gloomy Tom, in his final story, Logopolis.
So in a relatively short space of time, I’ve seen a fairly representative set of Tom’s stories, and have been thinking about common threads which run through his performance. Because as unpredictable and mercurial as that performance is, it’s still a progression of choices, of specific responses to the material he’s given. It’s not as random as it might seem.
Because having acted now and then myself, I know that actors have a few tried and tested tricks they can pull. These are a few signature moves which they know they can pull off well, and can be used to good effect in a range of situations. I think I’ve spied a few of Tom’s over the years, and by the time he gets to Logopolis, some have been discarded, but some are still hanging around.
For instance, in Tom’s first season, he had a tendency to perch awkardly on bits of furniture, arms and legs dangling. Seven years later, older and less nimble, this has gone; he leaves Matthew Waterhouse (playing boy genius Adric) to clamber on top of the TARDIS prop in Logopolis (and also, rather hilariously, lie under a bicycle).
First season Tom also had a habit of deliberately playing the opposite of the most obvious reaction, specifically grinning widely at the thought of peril – think of that moment in The Ark in Space when he connects his brain to the Wirrn hive memory, or in Revenge when he smiles toothily while threatening Kellman with a Cybermat. Again gone by the end of his reign. Although there’s a hint of it when he punctuates a batty plan to flood the TARDIS with that big ol’ smile.
There’s the sudden outburst of fury. He does this to great effect in stories like The Seeds of Doom, The Pirate Planet and Full Circle. This is a sudden ramping up of his voice, beyond its usually measured tone, to a roar of pure anger. It’s a trick to use sparingly, but also one to jolt an audience out of its comfort zone. It’s still in place in Logopolis. “Do you want a quick decision or a debate?!”, he bawls at Adric at one point. (“Sorry!”, shouts Adric back, and good for him.)
Then there’s the pulling of a wacky face. This starts around about mid-term Tom, but is there most blatantly in The Armageddon Factor when the Doctor briefly considers the temptation of power offered by the Key to Time. Eyes have never been so rolled. And although Tom’s pulled back those elastic faces in by his final season, he still has one last go, in Part Two when Tegan (Janet Fielding, making a not-quite-there-yet debut) shouts in his ear about being taken back home. Face pull! And quite an amusing one too.
There’stherunningallthewordstogethertomakethelinegoreallyfast. Was it a way of rushing through some dialogue he didn’t like? Was it an indication of the speed of the Doctor’s thoughts? Or just another handy alien quirk? It happens all over the last half of his Doctordom, and it’s in his very first scene in Logopolis.
And finally, there’s the refusal to look at any of your fellow actors. This starts just after The Deadly Assassin, once Leela joins and Tom decides he would rather be without a co-star. And, I’m sorry to say, it happens from there on in with an increasing number of actors. Cue Tom staring off into the middle distance, delivering his lines to thin air, face firmly within the frame, but not responding to his fellow thesps.
In Logopolis, there’s barely anyone Tom wants to act with. He seems fine with Anthony Ainley (the latest Master) and John Fraser (all wild hair and clipped accent as the Monitor), but his three new co-stars Waterhouse as awkward Adric, Fielding as shouty Tegan and Sarah Sutton as the far nicer Nyssa, barely get a ’what?’ or an ’aaaah!’ thrown at them. I feel particularly sorry for Waterhouse, who is not bad in this, and best in his scenes with Tom, even though Tom’s disdain for him radiates through the screen.
Or perhaps it’s his disdain for the whole story, the scripts for which he allegedly wasn’t happy with. (Was he ever happy with the scripts, though?) This is a shame, because as well as giving him an opportunity to pull out some old tricks, Logopolis offers Tom some new angles on the Doctor and some new material to play. That’s no mean feat; this is his 41st story as the Doctor. What’s new to find in this character?
Well, self doubt for one. As the wraithish Watcher appears, a signal to the Doctor that his current incarnation is nearing its end, we see for the first time the fourth Doctor as unsure. “Nothing like this has ever happened before,” he murmurs, almost to camera.
Self disgust for another. In the cliffhanger to Part Three, as the Master brushes some specks of crumbling planet from his arm, the Doctor proposes an alliance in an attempt to save the universe. As he shakes hands with his oldest enemy – in fact the reanimated hand of his friend Tremas – the Doctor’s self loathing is clear through a simple closing of his eyes.
In the documentary A New Body at Last, on the Logopolis DVD, Tom commented on his own performance, and said of himself as the Doctor, that something was clearly worrying him. And again, worry is not something which ever bothered Tom’s Doctor very much.
But he’s worried here, in his final story, another new aspect to this character we know so well. Compare this to the previous series finale, The Horns of Nimon. Whatever its merits, it doesn’t do much to flexTom’s acting muscles. Logopolis occasionally gets criticised for its arcane subject matter, and its dry pseudo-scientific plot. Nonetheless it still delivers some big emotional moments for its lead actor, and gives us something more than Tom’s greatest hits.
(And let me just squeeze this in: this is our third story to introduce a new Master. A nice pattern within our random selection. But talking about this new Master will have to wait till another time.)
LINK to The Myth Makers. Both feature the departure of a series regular and the arrival of a new one. Plus the word Logopolis derives from Greek, and The Myth Makers derives from Greek myth.
NEXT TIME… Eyes front, soldier. We hang around with The Girl Who Waited.