TV There’s much that can be said about the so-called stunt or celebrity casting which inhabited or for some inhibited the closing embers of Doctor Who’s first run but what isn’t generally noted is how these choices usually aren’t the worst things about their given stories. More often than not they're a strength.
When you mention to a not-we that Nicholas Parsons once played a priest in Doctor Who they’ll rolls their eyes, because it seems to them to be the epitome of what went wrong in the latter stages.
Except, of course, we know he’s really rather good in The Curse of Fenric, especially in the specially prepared dvd version where his character’s given a few extra “moments”, becoming a rather tragic figure as the foundations of his faith are challenged.
Then there’s Ken Dodd in Delta and the Bannermen. During the wilderness years, comedy shows and satirical articles, when attempting to explain why Doctor Who should not return they’d print a shot of Dodd as the Toll Keeper and Sylvester McCoy in his original jacket.
Doctor Who Magazine even put a version of it on their cover like a badge of honour.
What those still images don’t illustrate because they can’t, because you’d only know this if you bothered to watch the episode, is that he’s perfectly cast.
The Tollmaster is only a bit part. In nuWho terms, it’s Phil Cornwell’s stallholder in The Fires of Pompeii or Bella Emberg in Love & Monsters. Local colour.
The character calls for a flamboyant figure heralding passengers into an exciting space adventure (which just happens to be pointed at Earth but nevertheless).
Dodd’s perfect for this, not least because some of the DNA of his screen persona runs through Sylvester McCoy’s due to the connection with one of his great admirer’s Ken Campbell which leads to some excellent on-screen chemistry.
When Sylv later played the fool in Trevor Nunn’s King Lear, Dodd’s influence is tucked away inside somewhere.
But the arguable highlight of his performance, because this is an acting performance, is in his death as he’s dragged away by Don Henderson’s Gavrok, and the look of appreciation when he’s under the impression that he’s being set free, grovelling as he tries to get away as quickly as possible.
Then the guttural scream and whimper as he falls. It’s horrible. Pantomime, in its own way, perhaps, but horrible.
Now, Hale and Pace? They’re a different story …