Wow. Peter Davison was not kidding when he said he was quite shy when he was younger. Sometime in 1982, the This Is Your Life people managed to catch him, and good lord. He looks like he's sincerely trying to blush himself to death.


Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

For those of you who are not familiar with stage and screen makeup, like most very pale people, when Davison's in studio as he is there, they've usually got him in pretty heavy foundation and matte finishing powder. This stuff is thick and opaque and specifically meant to cover flushing, among other things -- it can get really hot under stage lights, and you don't want your actors looking as though they're about to die of heatstroke, even if they are. It's pretty effective stuff, to the point where often when an actor does go all pink on camera, you can only tell when it hits their ears, which the makeup artist will usually skip as inconvenient and unimportant. You have to turn some really inventive colors to come out looking that incandescently scarlet on camera while wearing pancake foundation.

Aside from being really adorable, I feel like this clip is a great example of why being especially solicitous to shy people doesn't make them less shy. People who have never been shy have somehow got the idea that if you're nice to shy people it'll make them magically more outgoing around you, as if shyness is obviously caused by trauma. It's certainly true that if people have been mean to you, especially over time, it makes you defensive, but that's not the same thing. What's actually going on there is that the behaviors other people characterize as "shy" are a result of being overwhelmed by a situation -- feeling like you have to do continual threat assessment is just another thing that sucks up processing cycles, and it makes the overwhelmed-ness worse, which in turn exacerbates the shyness reactions. Not for nothing does the English language use the verb "to shy (away) from" to mean "to back the fuck off of something out of a desire to not deal with it".

If you're too young to know the deal with This Is Your Life -- it's been off the air in the US for decades now -- part of the format is to catch the guest of honor by surprise. That recording hasn't got the initial segment, but comments below it indicate they pounced on Davison while he was somewhere out and about in Trafalgar Square, so he's already pretty off-balance when they start. He's not actually unhappy to be there, per se; there's nothing all that mortifying about the bio they present, unless you count the costuming in The Tomorrow People, and he does genuinely seem to like everyone they've summoned to the stage. He practically jumps out of his chair to greet people. He is not particularly shy with the people there, especially his co-stars from All Creatures, with whom he is rather endearingly affectionate. Only while the host is talking does he forget his makeup and try to hide his face in his hands -- he spins around in his chair to look when the various guests are announced, as if he quite wants to see them.

Also of note is that he is equally much not kidding about learning things from the parts he plays. This would have been taped at latest just after he'd finished his first recording block as the Doctor. One of the Fifth Doctor's most notable mannerisms is continually knocking the skirts of his coat back to jam his hands into his trouser pockets; it's open and confident and generally friendly, without being especially forceful or even indicating that he's paying all that much attention. He does it occasionally as Tristan Farnon, but it's so characteristic of the Doctor that David Tennant swiped it for use as the Tenth Doctor twenty-odd years later. It's also something Davison has intentionally made his own, and continues to do, in character and out, all the way up to the present day.

A particularly pernicious part of being shy is that you start developing this nagging awareness that your shyness is making you do shy things around other people, who then look at you and think, "Oh goodness, how SHY," and so on and so forth in some sort of terrifying, beet-red ouroboros of social anxiety. One of the best ways to get yourself to stop doing the blatantly shy things is to make a conscious effort to replace them with other gestures. Davison is not only obviously still in the process of training himself to do it automatically here, but he's specifically using it to stop going all turtled-up, with his arms wrapped around himself. You can see him change his mind mid-motion several times.

Comments