The episode begins with Stephen suffering from an anxiety nightmare. Dressed in his pyjamas, he finds himself driving through the confusing university one-way system. The honking incidental music slightly spoils the mood alas.
He’s broken from this reverie by Chen, his roommate, who’s brought him a cup of tea. Chen’s a rarity – someone who accepts Stephen for who he is and was friendly towards him from their initial meeting. He listens with sympathy when Stephen tells him that his nightmare was simply “panic and terror, just ordinary stuff”.
The practice meetings are always a joy. Jock is holding forth on today’s topic with Bob and Rose Marie sniping at each other whilst Stephen looks on (a common occurrence). It’s the first day of term and Jock decides that – King Lear like – he’s inclined to share his kingdom amongst the others.
The prize on offer is Jock’s job of informing the freshers precisely what the health centre can offer them. After Jock’s delightfully condescending treatment of Rose Marie (calling her a lovely wee lassie and patting her knee) the three outline their ideas.
Bob’s all for telling the new intake precisely how much it costs to treat them and why they should be grateful. To him they’re machines and whilst he’s prepared to patch them up, he also believes that they need to look after themselves (a very Thatcherite spiel). Rose Marie is more concerned about the way that the university is little more than a phallocentric organisation designed to oppress women.
Given all he’s observed, Stephen’s initially reluctant to articulate his own opinions. But his stuttering heartfelt philosophy chimes with perfectly with Jock. It’s inevitable then that Jock will offer the job to a very unwilling Stephen. Bob (offering an ironic slow handicap) and Rose Marie (later telling Stephen that she’s unable to help him with his speech as he’s part of the problem, not the solution) are both far from delighted but it’s interesting that neither attempt to challenge the decision. Do they believe that the job is a poisoned chalice?
More dream sequences follow as Stephen – in pyjamas again – faces an oppressive hall full of chanting students. Even Lyn offers no succour (she jogs out of the hall smiling). Will the real meeting be better? Well, a dangerous mix of drink and drugs helps to loosen his tongue ….
The drugs – of the anti anxiety kind – were supplied by Bob. This was an act of decency on his part (after gleefully telling Stephen he was “up shit creek”). Troughton’s embarrassed reaction after Stephen thanks Bob is a lovely little moment. The alcohol was supplied by Chen (in Stephen’s tea) which is a problem since the drugs and any alcohol don’t really mix. Stephen’s freewheeling speech goes down a storm with the students although the grim-faced academics sitting alongside him seem less impressed.
We also follow two new students, Megan (Kate Eaton) and Angie (Francesca Brill), throughout the episode. Roommates they may be, but they could hardly be more different. Megan is Welsh, plain, humourless and dedicated to her studies whilst Angie is attractive, hyperactive, stylish and desperately keen to throw herself into university life (she’s constantly on the look out for the in crowd).
Angie later seeks out Stephen for a consultation. This helps to chip away at her confident public image (revealing the anxious girl underneath). Davison has an excellent bedside manner it has to be said. Angie wants to go onto the pill as she’s decided that her new drama teacher, Carl Pierce (Peter Blake), is the man for her.
Stephen and Lyn enjoy a drink as she fills in a bit of her background. Lyn’s a policewoman who’s come to the university to take a PhD in body language. That couldn’t be more perfect as she’s therefore uniquely qualified to heal Stephen’s touch taboo. He’s fine with patients, it’s just everyone else he can’t touch (admitting to Lyn that nobody gives him any cuddles).
Hugh Grant makes a brief appearance as Colin, a Scottish preacher. Megan and Stephen both attend one of his overpowering sermons – Megan is an instant convert whilst Stephen is much less connected.
Peter Blake’s role isn’t much larger than Grant’s, but it’s fairly key. Participating in Carl’s drama workshop is another way of attempting to cure Stephen of his touch taboo. What’s more important though is that Stephen’s on hand to diagnose that Carl is suffering from glaucoma. This scene also punctures Angie’s hopes and dreams – Carl tells her that he doesn’t mess around with his students, plus he’s in a long term relationship and there’s the small matter that he’s gay. Brill – who appears to have dropped out of acting some twenty years ago – handles this scene well. Indeed, overall it’s a very nicely judged performance.
Angie later admits to Stephen that she’s something of a fantasist (which of course should have been plain by now). But she maintains a cheerful persona and we leave her in a hopeful place. The news that Megan has got engaged to Preacher Colin is more of a surprise (when the pair visit Stephen, Hugh Grant isn’t called upon to do anything more than look faintly surprised and/or apprehensive).
With Stephen and Lyn ending the episode holding hands, it seems that things are looking up for him as well …