I have, of course, been helping Moggie with her paper. I research things like I breathe, and I am desperately amused that she's finally writing something on "Sidekick Studies", which I have been telling her she should be minoring in for years. There's a strangely small amount written on the role of the sidekick in literature, at least that I can find; the main source that most things cite seems to have been written up about a decade ago as someone's thesis and published in the popular press much more recently.

I have also been trawling through YouTube looking for useful things, because that is what I do. It affords me an excuse to look through countless hours of footage of people I find highly entertaining. One of these people is Peter Davison. Moggie and I are firmly in favor of his entire career -- he does Doctor Who things, some of the few sitcoms and drama-comedies that I've actually found amusing, and police procedural/detective series like Campion and The Last Detective, so we are basically his target audience. Right now he's doing Law & Order UK, because I totally needed another three seasons of an L&O series to hunt down, thanks.

(A lot of it's on YouTube. It's not terrible, overall; most if not all of the episodes are based on episodes of the original, most of which I've seen, adapted for the UK legal system. They seem to be going for a pretty precise remake, although they do best when they deviate from the original. Only Sam Waterston, Jill Hennessy and Jerry Orbach are ever going to be Sam Waterston, Jill Hennessy and Jerry Orbach, and it's kind of unfair to ask new actors to run things the exact same way. Davison plays whatever the UK equivalent to the State District Attorney is -- the Adam Schiff role, if you watched the original. His character appears to be allergic to neckties and is excellent at being rather affably threatening.)

Davison says a lot of very interesting things when he does convention panels. (He also doesn't say a lot of interesting things, sometimes -- I can only figure there was a lot more animosity and disappointment involved in the entire cast leaving around the same time he did than anyone lets on, since Davison is a kindly gent if ever I have laid eyes on one, and he's done his damndest to not comment on it at all for about three decades now.) He's not surprised by much, as I expect no one would be after this long, and he generally seems to be answering things with a fair bit of candor. He was quite fond of being the Doctor, which is handy for fans because it means he remembers a lot of what went on a jillion years ago and can tell you about it if you ask,.

He also occasionally says surprising things, which is really why I keep watching. I ran into this particular panel, from 2012 -- if you happen to be the kind of nerd I am you can backup and watch the whole thing, he's in fine form, but that specific spot I linked to involves a lady who finally gets around to asking him a question I think a number of people have been rather curious about over the years, which is whether it was Tristan Farnon or the Doctor, as a character, who was closest to his own native personality.

I would have guessed the Doctor, personally; Tristan Farnon, if you've ever read Herriot's memoirs or seen the TV adaptation, is quite clever but has a sort of slapdash, thoughtless aspect to his character that I've never seen Davison run afoul of when doing live panels or interviews, but if you've seen footage of him when he was in his 30s and early 40s, he did still move and sound very nearly just like the Doctor when out of character. Right down to the faintly dismayed, "...ah," when people ask him about embarrassing anecdotes collected while doing Doctor Who.

What he actually says is either 'both' or 'neither', depending on how you interpret it. For those who can't watch the video, Davison explains that what's actually happened is that he was painfully shy when he was younger, and he's used playing these characters to sort of learn how to get past that. Which is basically what I've been saying about learning to be social for years and years. He even uses the same disclaimer I do -- it's not teaching yourself to pretend how to be something you're not, it's learning that you can get this stuff from your brain out into the air by doing an end run around whatever it is that keeps you from being able to open your mouth that first time.

The thing about acting -- or doing tabletop gaming or writing or anything else that requires you to be able to get into the headspace of a different person -- is that the rules are different when you're temporarily someone else. You can do a lot of things that seem somehow inappropriate when you're just you, when it is actually your job to do so, under circumstances where everyone looking at you understands that you're not speaking as yourself. Most of the time it's a creative process. All characters are combinations of things you are, things you want to be, and things you fear, in some varying proportion; you're really cobbling them together out of other bits of things you've collected in the corners of your brain over the years. Davison does actually touch on this too, other times -- he's noted that it often is the quiet ones who make the best actors, since they spend their time watching instead of yammering.

Every so often when you're sussing one of these characters out, you find something, some viewpoint or mannerism, that seems like, if you borrowed it for a bit, it might also fit well on you. If you're using it as an actor first, you can sort of try before you buy -- refine it, see how other people react to it, keep an eye on yourself and see how it looks overall, before you go forth and try it in public for real. Going and doing his personal appearances half in character as Tristan Farnon was probably a sort of a wake up call -- it taught him that people don't think he's an idiot when he grins and rambles dryly, they think he's charming. And doing comedy, at least good comedy, tends to teach you that even if you do look like a twit sometimes, it's not the end of the world.

I expect, if I had to guess, that being the Doctor clued him into the fact that people will listen to him if he ends up in charge, particularly as he tended to sort of be put in charge of live panels at cons, when there wasn't an emcee available. He sounds rather nervous for the first couple, but he's not bad at organizing a stage full of cats actors and getting the audience to speak up.


  1. Have you see "A very peculiar practice" ? Not sure it made it to the US as it was full of eccentric English characters which may not have travelled well.
    Peter Davison does an excellent fish out of water role.

    1. I just finished the writeup on that moments ago. :) I think it travels fine, but it does not in fact seem to be on R1 DVD; I dug it up on YouTube.

  2. I first saw Davison as Tristan Farnon before I saw him as the Doctor. The fact that as an actor he was willing to put his arm up a cow for real spoke volumes to his commitment to the art.

    1. He still tells stories about that, among other quasi-veterinary misadventures. He does not seem to think of it as any particularly noble sort of commitment to his art -- more a combination of "rules are different when performing" and a very pragmatic sense of "I am assured it would be messier and worse if we figured out how to fake this instead".

      The explanation gets rather akin to the time one of the TARDIS companions yelled at him that shouldn't he be MUCH farther away from that bomb? and the Doctor, trying to disarm it, gave the faintly exasperated reply that his arms were only so long. I am still and probably forever amused by that piece of casting.


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