A few thoughts on humour in late seventies Doctor Who

kroll.jpg

Spurred on by TV Years sharing this late seventies audioclip of Jon Pertwee rubbishing K9, I’ve been having another ponder about the state of Doctor Who during that time. Personally, I love this era of the show – but I’m aware that not everybody shares this view.

At least today it has more love amongst fans than it did at the time (although the general public, fools that they were,  seemed to enjoy it). At the time, as can be evidenced from that short clip, it wasn’t just Pertwee who was dissatisfied. Mind you, I’ve always had the strong sense that Jon Pertwee never forgave Tom Baker for being more successful than him in the role ….

But it’s true there was a vocal section of Doctor Who fandom who were convinced that Tom Baker and Graham Williams were ruining the show. Everything was just too silly for them – if only DW could recover its gritty roots, then all would be well.

This viewpoint lasted well into the eighties. Having leafed recently through a number contemporary fanzines, it’s not uncommon to come across articles which write off all of Graham Williams’ three years as a total disaster. By the early nineties the balance had changed though – Williams was in and JN-T was out.

That’s the way fandom worked – if you disliked S17 then you liked S18, if you liked S18 then you disliked S17. Liking (or indeed disliking) both or bits of both didn’t seem to be an option. You had to nail your colours to a mast (Williams for ever, JN-T never, etc).

It always surprises me when somebody today vouchsafes the opinion that humour in late seventies Who ruined the programme.  This rather ignores the fact that DW light-heartedness didn’t begin in 1977 (Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee all had their comic moments).

Also instructive is the way that certain Hinchcliffe stories (The Android Invasion, The Brain of Morbius) display a wisecracking Doctor very similar to the later Williams model. Slicing DW into discrete eras depending on when the various producers arrived and departed is something we’ve always done, but it doesn’t always work (see also Meglos, something which easily could have slotted into S17).

I’ve never bought into the assertion that S15-S17 are total gigglefests from start to finish. There are plenty of gags and comic moments, but there’s drama as well.  I sometimes feel I’m ploughing a lonely furrow when I declare my love for the likes of The Creature From The Pit or The Horns of Nimon but that’s okay.  Who needs to be popular?

nimon

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Warlord

Warlord has a striking opening. The inhabitants of Zondar – heavily drugged with Pylene-50 – are mown down by Federation troops whilst the following encouraging words (“You are cared for. You are loved”) seep out of the tannoy. A brief, but welcome, return to the nightmarish themes of The Way Back.

After that encouraging start, things return to normal when we start to focus on the delegates. Um, they’re an interesting bunch ….

Mind you, although they look more than a little silly they do brighten up the episode. Indeed, I was a little disappointed that Rick James’ appearance was so brief.

Avon’s desire to form an alliance with numerous interested parties, including the warlord Zukon (Roy Boyd), seems to have come out of nowhere. Although there was a vague attempt to recruit experts in their respective fields earlier in the year (along with the odd mention of Pylene-50) it’s a shame that this arc wasn’t developed a little more.

Of course this grand alliance is doomed to failure since Zukon is in cahoots with Servalan (shock, horror). Jacqueline Pearce exits the series with something of a whimper – her involvement in this story is minimal and not terribly interesting

I know that many were disappointed Servalan didn’t appear in Blake, but having her pop up at the end of the final episode would have been such a cliché, so I’m glad they didn’t go down that route. But they could have made a little more effort with her role in this one.

Poor Tarrant is unlucky in love yet again. His dalliance with Zeeona (Bobbie Brown) was obviously going to be short-lived (especially after we learnt that her daddy, Zukon. is a baddy). It’s hard to take their scenes together that seriously (mainly because of her Toyah hair-cut) but her final scene is nicely played.

Never a favourite, Warlord still chugs along quite nicely.

Hancock – The Lift

As is well known, Sid James – as requested by Tony Hancock – played no part in Hancock’s final BBC series penned by Galton and Simpson.  In some of the other episodes – The Bedsitter or The Radio Ham, say – it’s clear that Galton and Simpson were writing material which moved away in certain respects from their previously established formula.

It’s easier to imagine Sid taking part in The Lift though (no doubt he would have taken it in turns with Tony to antagonise all of their fellow lift passengers). So Sid’s absence does have the side effect of making Tony seem more irritating than usual – with no confidant to take the strain, he’s the sole antagonist today.

Many of Tony’s familiar character traits are present and correct. Such as his fumbling attempt to chat up the pretty young secretary (Jose Read) and his seething indignation when he has to watch her being sweet-talked by Jack Watling (the smooth BBC producer).

The Hancock character tended to berate those he believed were below him on the social scale (such as Hugh Lloyd’s liftman) and defer to certain people above him.  Not all – the Air Marshall  (John Le Mesurier) is treated with a level of contempt that Tony doesn’t even bother to conceal.  The Vicar (Noel Howlett) is another matter altogether (witness Tony’s chumminess and delight that the Vicar’s first Epilogue went well).

Both Hancock’s Half Hour and Hancock were always so well cast. Not only regulars like Hugh Lloyd and John Le Mesurier, but also the one-off performers like Charles Lloyd Pack and Colin Gordon (who both feature in this one).

They all help to generate a combustible mix of personalities, who are all nicely stoked up when the lift gets stuck between floors. Tony – of course – decides that he should take charge.  His first suggestion – that everybody jumps up and down – is logical, but it has a disappointing lack of success.

So they’re caught in a stalemate situation, which generates some wartime memories for Tony. “It’s just like the old days. Laying on the bottom, still, silent. Nobody daring to move. Jerry destroyers dashing about upstairs, trying to find us sitting there, sweating, waiting, joined together in a common bond of mutual peril”.

This moment is punctured by the Vicar, who recalled that Tony earlier stated he was in the Army! No matter, Tony – with the agility of a born fantasist – quickly rallies, weaving a tale about the Heavy Water plants in Norway (“very tricky stuff. A cup full of that in your font, blow the roof off it would”).

I do love Tony’s attempt to keep everybody entertained by playing Charades. Of course all of his mimes are guessed in double quick time by his nemesis, the producer (“it was simple”).

The twist at the end – having been rescued, Tony and the liftman become trapped once again – doesn’t quite work, but overall there’s very little fat on this one. Not quite the best that the final series had to offer, but that’s only because the competition was very fierce.

Celebrity Bowling

bowl1.png

I’ve recently stumbled across the seventies incarnation of Celebrity Bowling on YouTube.  I’m finding it strangely hypnotic, not least for the variety of celebs on display – William Shatner, Roy Rogers, Adam West and Leslie Nielsen, for example ….

True, a fair few other bowlers are now more obscure but it doesn’t stop the show from being very entertaining. Hosted by Jed Allan and Cheryl Kominsky, I can see myself working my way through every episode.

Bob’s Full House

bob

If you were looking to crown a British King of Quiz shows, then surely Bob Monkhouse would be your man. The Golden Shot and Family Fortunes were a couple of his big hitters, although he also had some very obscure shows on his cv.  Ironically, it seems that few people today remember Monkhouse’s Memory Masters whilst his first quiz effort (Do You Trust Your Wife?) has also fallen down a crack in time.

Bob’s Full House is one that’s endured though. And thanks to repeats on Challenge, a heathy selection are available to enjoy on YouTube.

“In Bingo lingo clickety-clicks, it’s time to take your pick of the six”

This was the perfect show for Bob. It allowed him to do a bit of stand-up at the start and then interact with the four contestants in a mildly teasing (but always friendly) way before the serious part of the quiz began.  Although there were a few rumblings that bingo was too down market for the BBC, BFH was actually a pure quiz rather than a televised bingo session (although surely that’s been done by someone somewhere).

Round one was Four Corners, where you had to … well, you can probably guess.  The first contestant to answer four questions correctly would also get a prize (there would be much cooing from the studio audience in that sort of semi-ironic Blankety Blank way).

The pace would pick up with Round two – the Monkhouse Mastercard. This time the contestants could select one of their numbers which matched with a variety of quiz topics.  A slightly more impressive prize would be given to the one who managed to light up their middle line.

By the time we get to round three – Full House – things are going full throttle. Now it’s just a straight race to the finishing line, with a series of rapid fire questions requiring good fingers on buzzers action.  Bob comes into his own here, rattling through question after question like the pro he was.

The winner would then join Bob for the Golden Card. A holiday destination (which always had to be around seven letters) was the prize and there were fifteen questions to be answered.  With a time-limit of just one minute things could get tense – the more wrong answers, the harder it would be to locate the letters (other squares on the board contained money, which was nice but no help when you were looking for an all-expenses paid holiday).

BFH was a hit straight away – by the end of the first series in December 1984, the show was pulling in more than thirteen million viewers. It’s early evening Saturday timeslot may be one of the reasons why it’s fondly remembered today – possibly it wasn’t the programme that we were all tuning in for, but it was a dependable part of the television furniture for a good number of years.

And maybe it plays a little better today than it did then. Bob was respected in the eighties, but he also had to fend off a fair number of brickbats. In the last few years of his life, and in the decades following his death, his critical standing has certainly increased.  Maybe at the time we just took him for granted – now, some thirty years on, it’s easier to see just how good he was.

bob game

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Orbit

DuKEKH9W4AMvN_F

You don’t really need to see Robert Holmes’ name on the opening credits to know that Orbit is one of his. Doubtful than anybody else would have had the nerve to do a story quite like this ….

Egrorian (John Savident) is a grotesque who, despite his camp capering, still manages to come across as sinister and threatening. Savident is clearly enjoying himself, but he still reigns it in from time to time – most notably when he’s torturing the hapless Pinder (Larry Noble). “Can you feel your extensor muscle tearing? Can you feel your humerus grating against your radius? Hmm.? Just a little more… a little more… now you’re feeling it, aren’t you?”. Holmes’ dark streak is really noticeable in this story – possibly Boucher had decided that since the series had virtually run its course they might as well go for broke.

To nobody’s great surprise, Servalan is discovered to be lurking in the shadows, but on the positive side Jacqueline Pearce gets the rare opportunity to play comedy – her scenes with an amorous Egorian are wonderful (you can see a whole range of expressions flitting across her face as Egorian launches into his spiel). It seems slightly strange that Servalan has no backup at all, but if she had then the scene of her trapped with a randy Egorian wouldn’t have quite had the same impact.

The dialogue zings throughout. Egorian’s description of the qualities required by a great leader is a delight. “Natural leaders are rarely encumbered with intelligence. Greed, egotism, animal cunning, and viciousness are the important attributes. Qualities I detect in you in admirably full measure”.

But as entertaining as all the Egorian byplay is, it’s the final ten minutes or so (as Avon and Vila find themselves in dire straits) that really stands out. A pity that Paul Darrow couldn’t make his innocent, pleading voice a little more convincing (or was it supposed to be deliberately off-kilter?). The sight of a sweating and tear-stained Vila carries a real punch (the sight of Avon attempting to shift a small Perspex box, slightly less so).

Had the show ran to a fifth series it would have been interesting to see how the Avon/Vila dynamic would have developed. Unfortunately it’s only lightly touched upon during the final two episodes.

But no matter, Orbit might be uncomfortable in many ways, but it’s still one of the series’ best episodes.

DuKF2QDW4AQplK4

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Gold

Dtl5i23XcAYK4EK

Avon’s old friend Keiller (Roy Kinnear), the purser of a pleasure liner called the Space Princess, has a foolproof plan to steal a fortune in gold. What could possibly go wrong?

Gold works as well as it does mainly because of Kinnear’s performance. He plays perfectly to type – a shifty, ingratiating sort of person – and it’s the way that Keiller interacts with his “old friend” Avon as well as his vain attempts to flatter the ice-cold Soolin which provides the episode with pretty much all of its comic highlights.

Interesting that Vila largely sits the story out, was this because it was felt that the characters of Keiller and Vila were too similar? It’s a slight pity, but the little that Michael Keating has to do is impressive – I particularly like Vila’s first meeting with Keiller (which sees Vila in a faintly sinister and threatening mood).

To be honest, the plotline of cross, double-cross and triple-cross isn’t totally engaging, so it’s the smaller moments which make the story a rewarding one. The terrible lift music which haunts the Space Princess, Tarrant’s glassy-eyed and toothsome fake drugged persona and the orgasmic sound of the doors, to name but three.

The late arrival of Servalan is one of those totally unsurprising plot-twists. This does allow her to have a little natter with Avon though (which they didn’t do often throughout S4). Avon’s hysterical guffawing after he realises that Servalan’s totally outplayed him is either a further example of his fractured mental state or it demonstrates what a good sport he is. I know which I favour ….

Not a bad yarn, but I do find my attention drifting every so often. Slightly tarnished gold then.

Dtl5i25WkAEf7Ql