Dad’s Army – Battle School (18th September 1969)

There are few things quite as unconvincing as a train carriage with a CSO background, but during this era of television you did tend to see it a lot – unless you could afford the money to shoot on location, there was no other way round this problem.

In a strange way I find this sort of thing quite comforting though and it’s never bothered me (if you’re quibbling about how things look, rather than the script and the actors, then things aren’t going very well).

Mainwairing and the others are en route to a weekend training course. As it’s a long journey, Godfrey is feeling the strain (Jones helpfully tells him to recite a poem to take his mind off things, but Godfrey’s choice – The Owl and the Pussycat – isn’t a good one). I like the fact that Frazer – on both the inward and outward journeys – is knitting, but no-one comments on this (I wonder what he was making?)

Arriving at the railway station, Mainwairing opens his sealed orders and, after studying the map, is pleased that the camp is only a mile away. He confidentially tells the men that they’ll be there in no time – but by this point in the series’ history,  the audience should be primed to expect that he’ll get them hopelessly lost. Which he does ….

Another interesting titbit is that the platoon whistle the Dad’s Army theme as they march round and round in circles.

Finally they reach their destination, only to find out that they’ve missed supper and even worse, they’re in the hands of Captain Rodrigues (Alan Tilvern), an uncouth foreigner. Alas, Tilvern’s not got a great deal to work with as Rodrigues simply spends all his time barking at the platoon (who he regards with the upmost contempt).

The battle ground will be instantly recognisable since it’s where the colour closing titles were shot. It’s surprising to be reminded that some of the end title footage (the final scene of Mainwairing and co running towards the camera) was used in this episode first and not shot specially.

A generous helping of Battle School was made on film (as we wiitness Mainwairing, leading from the front, suffering one disastrous reversal after another). There’s something really odd about these training scenes though – Walker has nipped off to a nearby farm to steal some food, but although we see Joe unsuccessfully attempting to rustle an animal or two, whenever we cut back to the platoon he’s also there. It’s really hard to understand why this wasn’t spotted during filming (unless the farm scenes were shot later to pad out an underrunning episode?)

Having taken one humiliating knock too many, Mainwairing elects to capture Rodrigues’ HQ and wipe the smile off his face. This he does, although it all happens rather too easily (and we don’t even see Rodrigues’ reaction, which was a missed opportunity).

Not the best episode the series has to offer then, but it still has a number of good moments. For example, I adore Rodrigues ordering Jones to stuff his palliasse with straw – that sort of thing was always a gift for Clive Dunn.

Dad’s Army – The Armoured Might of Lance Corporal Jones (11th September 1969)

My Dad’s Army rewatch continues and I’ve now reached the colourful delights of series three (although most of the watching audience back in 1969, and for a number of years afterwards, would still have been watching in black and white).

The opening few minutes – Captain Mainwairing delivers an incomprehensible lecture in a gasmask which then leads to a tortuous conversation with Jones – works as a sketch in its own right and could easily have been dropped into virtually any episode of DA. This happened a fair deal throughout the series (see also Croft/Lloyd’s Are You Being Served? for similar examples) which suggests that both writers penned a series of vignettes by themselves which they later collaborated on, stitching them together in order to create a whole episode.

The scene in Jones’ butchers shop outstays its welcome a little, but since it introduces Pamela Cundell as Mrs Fox, I’ll cut it a little slack. At this point she’s not a widow, which means that her flirting with Jones has a little extra edge (although to be fair, most of his customers seem quite happy to flutter their eyelids at him if it means getting something a little extra).

Walker has hatched a plan – if Jones donates his butchers van to the Home Guard then they’ll be able to get petrol coupons (which will be handy for Joe – it’ll allow him to move his contraband around more easily). But his best laid plans are scuppered after the van is converted to gas.

The scene where Walker and Jones find themselves in charge of a van dangerously leaking gas plays out well – although you get the feeling that there was more comic potential to be wrung from it. There’s no quibbles with the episode’s most memorable scene though – Wilson demonstrates how the van has now been converted into an impressive fighting machine (“Open, two, three, out, two, three! Bang, two, three, bang, two, three, bang, two, three, bang, two, three, bang, two, three! In, two, three, shut!”)

Also debuting in this episode is Harold Bennett as Mr Bluett (thirteen appearances between 1969 and 1977). Considering he was in his late sixties at the time this one was made, it’s surprising to see just how roughly Bennett was manhandled by the platoon (at one point they attempt to force Mr Bluett, lying on a stretcher, through the front of the van as the back doors were locked).

The chap playing “the Angry Man” was naggingly familiar, but I couldn’t put a name to him. It turned out to be Nigel Hawthorne …

Dad’s Army – Series One

It may be difficult for the young ‘uns to believe, but there was a time when Dad’s Army repeats were thin on the ground. During most of the eighties the show only received a few limited re-runs – so the more lengthy series of repeats that began in the late eighties were very welcome (by this time I’d also picked up some episodes on VHS – although it was a slight irritation that the three episodes on each tape had some of their opening and closing credits snipped out).

Fast forward thirty years and DA always seems to be with us. Although BBC2 have begun another repeat run from the beginning (albeit sometimes jumping ahead with a later, random, episode for no particular reason) I haven’t really dipped into them. But I’ve been eyeing my DVDs sitting on the shelf and have decided that the time is right for my own sequential rewatch ….

What’s noticeable right from the first episode (The Man and the Hour – tx 31st July 1968) is that the series’ familiar ingredients are already in place, although I could have done without the audience cackling at the animation during the opening titles (this feels very odd).

And the way each episode opens with a few minutes worth of film misadventures, showing the platoon on hapless manoeuvres (with E.V.H. Emmett providing an authoritative voice-over) is also something I’m glad was eventually phased out.

The major casualty of the debut episode is Bracewell (played by John Ringham). He might be mentioned in the second episode, but after The Man and the Hour he never appears again. It’s a slight shame that such a good actor – equally adept at both comedy and drama – as Ringham didn’t become a regular, but it seems obvious that Bracewell was rather too much like Wilson for comfort (at least Ringham returns later for a handful of appearances as Captain Bailey).

This first series chugs along quite nicely, although the reversed film used in Command Decision (14th August 1968) is painfully obvious. They may have got away with it once, but using it again and again (to show that the horses supplied by Colonel Square were more used to circus, than military, action) wasn’t very wise (sir).

It’s fun to look out for the first time some of the series’ familiar motifs were used. For example, Museum Piece (7th August 1968) debuts a piece of Arthur Lowe business that never fails to amuse (even when you can guess what’s coming). Mainwairing, keen to lead from the front, heads for a ladder – only to trip and fall over with the result that his dignity (not to mention his hat and glasses) is askew when he straightens up.

Whilst the series employs plenty of broad gags (as it would always do) it’s the quieter character moments that I prefer. There’s a lovely example in Command Decision – which sees Mainwairing, having rather rashly promised the platoon a supply of rifles, facing the probability that he’ll have to dash their hopes again.

Happily the guns turn up just in the nick of time, and he exits the office with them. We don’t see the reaction of the men in the hall, but then we don’t have to. Their sudden stunned silence (followed by a series of appreciative cheers) tells its own story.

It’s little moments like this that make the series so rewarding to revisit. Mainwaring might be pompous and pernickety, but we know his heart is in the right place. And the fact that the audience – like the platoon – is invited to laugh with him, rather than at him, is an obvious reason why the show continues to endure.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Eleven

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 6th February 1990

It’s been discussed for a while, but today we finally see just how wretched Matthew’s home life now is. He’s living in temporary accommodation along with his mother and sister (a single room with no bathroom in a rather squalid building).

And although no violence from the other residents is shown, we do hear it (the episode concludes with Matthew and his sister, Lucy, locked inside their room listening to shouts and screams elsewhere in the building). As ever, GH had to tread a fine line between attempting to display the reality of a situation and knowing that they very were restricted in what could be portrayed at 5.00 pm on a weekday afternoon.  Yes, everything could have been much nastier, but I think the point was still well made.

Throughout the episode Matthew suffers more and more – he’s unable to find the book Miss Monroe lent him (so he’ll have to pay for it), then he’s cornered by Justine and Chrissy who are looking for his t-shirt money (I thought he’d paid for that before) and finally he glumly looks at his bust shoe (which seems to be beyond repair).

Moving onto Tegs, it’s noticeable in the past that the series had often elected not to show certain dramatic moments, instead they simply reported them. This happens again here – the previous episode concluded with Tegs absconding from his mother’s house but today we’re told that he went back shortly afterwards and spent a fairly convivial weekend with her. It’s a very odd move – not only for the way it negates the tension of episode ten’s cliffhanger, but also because it’s a very offhand way to pay off a storyline that’s been developing over several years.

Elsewhere in the episode, Rod continues to turn a fast buck (selling cigarettes to the first years) whilst Mauler is still incensed that he’s not on Mr Hargreaves’ vigilance committee. The saga of the t-shirts also rumbles on, with arguments aplenty (the test shirts have run in the wash). Given how shambolic things have been so far, it’s hard to see how the girls are ever going to turn a profit.

Julie only has a few lines in this episode, but she still catches the eye. At several points she’s framed in the background, silent and alone. These shot choices seem to be intentional, suggesting that her lack of confidence and self esteem will be developed further in future episodes.

Miss Booth and Mr Hargreaves continue to clash, which provides the episode with a few minutes of entertainment. Today, she’s incensed that he’s chosen her to supervise a butcher, who’s come along to give a talk on the best ways to cut up meat.  That’s an odd sort of public speaker it has to be said.

Will this act as a red rag to Ronnie? Well, not really, although she’s clearly not best pleased about it and storms off to speak to Mrs McClusky (Mrs McClusky is unmoved though). Ronnie’s given the chance not to attend, but she does so anyway – although no outbursts are forthcoming from her. But I’ve a feeling she’s keeping her powder dry for future adventures.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Ten

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 2nd February 1990

Last episode’s cliffhanger is casually negated after we discover that Justine and Chrissy are once again hale and hearty (which feels like a bit of a cheat).

They, along with Natalie, continue to ruminate over their t-shirt business, although it slips somewhat into the background today (only really surfacing when Matthew admits that he’s unable to pay for the shirt he’s ordered).

Matthew has regressed back to his series eleven persona – monosyllabic and with eyes downcast, he cuts a rather forlorn figure. Tegs comes to his rescue by offering to pay for his shirt, but when he hands over a fiver Justine is automatically suspicious.

The reason why he’s flush is quickly established (he’s going to stay with his estranged mother over the weekend). Justine is immediately contrite, but the fact she dithers so long before apologising is a mark of how much their friendship has fractured

Eventually she plucks up enough courage to speak to him, as he’s waiting for his lift. But before she can finish speaking, Andy pops up and acts like a bit of an idiot. In his defence, he didn’t know what was going on (although I doubt he would have cared anyway) but it once again makes you wonder what she sees in him …

The saga of Mr Hargreaves’ missing photo continues apace, although why he’s so intent on recovering a picture of a vintage car remains somewhat baffling. It’s slightly easier to understand why Mr Griffiths is happy to get his missing picture (a shot of a young him in uniform) back – especially if that was his only copy.

The plot then gets a little wooly. Mr Hargreaves, spotting that Mr MacKenzie has a photo (Mr Griffiths’, remember) wonders if it’s his photo (of his car, remember). Rather than asking Mr MacKenzie outright (and seemingly unaware at first that Mr MacKenzie could be found in the CDT room) he ends up rummaging in the bins, believing that his picture may have been thrown away with the other wooden rubbish.

Events are being manipulated by Rod, who has Mauler firmly under his thumb (he’s subcontracted him to get the empty frame). Since Rod also now has Mr Hargreaves’ photo, when he put it together with the frame no doubt he’ll be on a nice little earner. Today’s episode abounds with examples of Rod’s ability to make a profit – getting a bacon sandwich for Mr Hargreaves and then pocketing the change, for example.

Miss Booth’s new hairstyle causes a stir whilst Mr MacKenzie gets a nice scene (rummaging in a junk – sorry, antique – shop for a present for his wife). Even Mrs McClusky is the recipient of a few decent lines today (which is quite a rarity these days) as she ruminates on her early love life.

Aichaa’s dreams of becoming a model are shattered after she’s told she’s not the type. She takes the news quite calmly, deciding that after all it wasn’t the life for her. This seems slightly hard to swallow.

Georgina, who has accompanied her friend, seems much more the type though and may just have a future. Aichaa, after a momentary spasm of annoyance over the way her friend has manipulated her, forgets all about it. This seems slightly hard to swallow.

We meet Tegs’ stepfather for the first time (played by Brian Croucher). Mr Glanville (Croucher) has an uncomfortable discussion with Tegs, due to the boy’s inability to respond. As for Mrs Glanvile (Christina Avery), she has less screentime than her husband, so hardly has the chance to make an impression here.

This should be the conclusion of a long-running storyline (Tegs’ search for his mother) but his attitude all episode long suggests that today’s not the day for happy endings. So it’s no surprise when his mother discovers that he’s left the house via the bedroom window.

The Bill – Requiem by P.J. Hammond (3rd September 1988)

Between 1988 and 2004, P.J. Hammond wrote 39 episodes of The Bill. Given that his unique style is very noticeable on series such as Z Cars and Angels, I’ve decided to review his contribution to The Bill, looking to see how he worked with this format and if he ever attempted to stretch it in unexpected directions.

Requiem was one of the early half hour episodes (number fourteen). Even with the reduced running time, some writers still juggled multiple plotlines, usually with one emerging as the dominant theme. Hammond eschews this – instead the focus stays fixed on the grisly discovery inside a nondescript house.

What’s actually been discovered is teased for a few minutes. Haynes emerges from the house slightly shaken and advises Ramsey to go and take a look. The camera stays fixed on Ramsey when he goes inside, so we only see his reaction (the same thing happens when Cryer turns up a few minutes later). Indeed, it’s not until Roach and Dashwood roll up that the reveal finally takes place. Whether this works is debatable, as the object of their interest (a skeleton hidden behind a wall) does look a little fake.

Mr and Mrs Trant and their young daughter have lived in the house for about five years. Doing some DIY (smashing through the living room wall to install a fireplace) Mr Trant came across this unexpected guest. Both Mr and Mrs Trant seem rather disconnected from events – remaining unemotional throughout, they cast a rather odd atmosphere over the episode (the moment when father, mother and daughter all sit down in unison catches the eye).

Requiem features a few familiar faces guest-starring. One of Ronald Leigh-Hunt’s final television roles saw him cast as the pathologist Passmore. Cryer and Roach, discussing Passmore’s imminent arrival, express amazement that he’s still working, which primes the audience to expect someone rather doddery and incompetent.  The reality is quite different though – Passmore is sharp and methodical, although clearly of the old school (scowling at the flippant remarks made by his photographer colleague, for example).

Russell Dixon and Deila Linsday both sketch decent cameos as Mr and Mrs Jenner. Neighbours of the Trants, they have a marriage which is best described as voluble and volatile, although there’s the odd streak of affection visible too. They add little to the plot, but help to briefly lighten and humanise the tone of the story.

Since there’s a body, it seems reasonable to suggest there must be a miscreant somewhere at hand. The Trants can be ruled out, as the events behind the wall took place long before they bought the house. Talk turns to the reclusive Goodhall (Richard Beale), a resident of one of the upper flats, who seems a likely candidate. Another veteran actor, Beale makes the most of his few minutes’ screentime.

Goodhall turns out to be a red herring as the true resolution of the mystery is revealed in the final few minutes. It seems slightly hard to swallow, but I daresay even odder things have happened in real life.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Nine

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 30th January 1990

The episode begins with Akik in full flight. POV shots and dramatic music are to the fore as he desperately races across the playground and down a flight of steps to the basement. His pursuers? The Timpson brothers of course, intent on creating mayhem.

The interesting twist with this scene is that it doesn’t go any further – no sooner have the Timpson duo started to put the frighteners on, than they’re shooed away by Raju (Carl Pizzie) who’s in the company of Natalie, Justine and Becky.

One of those GH pupils who suddenly appears from nowhere (and will vanish just as abruptly in a handful of episodes’ time) Raju is something of an entrepreneurial wide boy. The spirit of Pogo and Gonch lives on.

Pizzie’s performance is best described as average, although given his acting inexperience no doubt it wasn’t easy for him to have been flung into the deep end like this. Still, slightly annoying as Raju is, he pales into insignificance after we meet his older cousin Rikki (Dhirendra).

Raju sees there’s a profit to be made from the girls’ t-shirt printing process and puts them in contact with Rikki who can supply good quality clothes for a cheap price (no questions asked, naturally). Rikki’s character is deftly defined within a matter of seconds – blaring music from his van and the furry dice that dangle from his front mirror tell their own story.

This t-shirt plot has yet to get the pulse racing, although there are some good dramatic moments elsewhere today.  Highlight of the episode is Tegs’ interview with his social worker. It takes place in the social services office, which has an air of quiet desperation (reinforced when the camera tracks past several other unfortunates before locating the office where Tegs is).

Mr Hargreaves has announced the members of his Vigilance Committee – Ted and Trev are in, but several others aren’t. Some, like Robbie, couldn’t care less whilst Mauler quietly seethes at the way he’s been overlooked (a nicely played moment which helps to make up for some of Mauler’s more irritating “comedy” scenes of years gone by).

Ronnie and Calley are also annoyed at being overlooked, which is slightly more surprising – maybe they were looking forward to exercising a little authority? Mind you, given how many sixth-formers there must be in the school, it would stretch credibility to breaking point if they were all drawn from the eight or so speaking regulars in the series.

At long last there’s an article in the local paper about the pub fight. Since a number of days have gone by, I can only assume that news travels very slowly in that part of the world. Mike’s ever-so-slightly frantic, whilst Robbie doesn’t seem to twig at first what he’s on about. This handily allows Mike to explain to the audience exactly what happened. It’s a slightly clumsy scene, but back in the day when all the episodes of a series weren’t available at the touch of a button you had to sometimes bring latecomers up to speed.

A tired and listless Matthew is given a ticking off by Mrs Monroe. She believes he’s been staying up late at night watching movies. Although he doesn’t deny this, he doesn’t confirm it either – and since we know how wretched his home life currently is, it’s possible to draw a different conclusion from his current demeanor. It’s a slight mark against Mrs Monroe that she didn’t actually ask him what the problem was (even though what we know of him from past experience would suggest he’d lie or keep quiet anyway).

Chrissy and Justine begin spray painting their t-shirts in their workshop (a room in the basement found for them by Rod). If the audience were slow on the uptake that the room (lacking windows) was badly ventilated, then the ominous incidental music is there to provide them with a blatant nudge in the right direction.

And wouldn’t you know it? Just as the girls begin to find the fumes overpowering, the Timpson brothers return and lock them in. The discovery of Chrissy and Justine’s unconscious bodies provides the episode with its cliffhanger.

Douglas Camfield’s greatest Doctor Who hits


Although the original incarnation of Doctor Who attracted a number of inventive directors, the work of Douglas Camfield has always stood out. From his earliest contribution (capturing the fight between Za and Kal in The Firemaker) it was clear that he worked exceptionally well with film.

Having said that, he was also at home in the television studio, coordinating multi-camera vt sessions with military precision (both The Crusade and The Time Meddler offer ample evidence of this).

What follows are five of my favourite Camfield Doctor Who moments. No doubt on another day I would have put them in a different order (or indeed selected something totally different – the Yeti attack in Covent Garden and the Zygon woodland hunt were both strong possibilities for a while). Maybe next year I’ll give it another go and see what I come up with then ….

The Wheel of Fortune

The Doctor crosses verbal swords with the Earl of Leicester and comes off second best.

It’s probably true that few directors could have gone wrong with The Crusade, as the starting point (David Whitaker’s script) was such a rich one (although you can grumble that the story simply peters out – central characters disappearing abruptly, for example).

That said, the finished product still zings – thanks to Camfield’s casting and the performances he was able to wring out of his assembled players. There’s some nice film sequences dotted throughout the serial but this selected scene has always impressed me.

You’re a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.

The Seeds of Doom – Part Four

It has to be said that The Seeds of Doom is more than a little bit nasty. Possibly it’s age creeping up on me, but when I look at it now I tend to concede that maybe Mrs Whitehouse had a point ….

On another day I might have plumped for Chase’s death by compost machine, today it’s the pitiful sight of Keeler in his midway state between man and Krynoid. Mark Jones is excellent as the doomed Keeler whilst Tony Beckley excels as Chase (easily in the top five of Who’s humanoid villains).

The Invasion – Part Six

Is it just a coincidence that three of the series’ best villains – Mavic Chen, Tobias Vaughan and Harrison Chase – appeared in Camfield directed stories? I think not.

Yes, The Invasion is a bit flabby (there’s a point where the Doctor spends far too much time staring into a microscope and pulling worried faces) but the longueurs are worth enduring as you know another good moment is just around the corner.

In part six that first occurs when Vaughan invites Professor Watkins to shoot him. There’s plenty to enjoy in this short scene – such as when Vaughan’s mask of polite affability slips to reveal something very nasty underneath and also the beat where Watkins (but not the audience) is privy to what happened when he eventually plucked up enough courage to pull the trigger.

Terror of the Zygons – Part Two

As good as many of the UNIT stories were, everything did become a little cosy at times. This late UNIT effort by Camfield shows that the option was always there to go darker. And there’s no darker moment than when Zygon Harry attacks Sarah with a pitchfork. Throughout the story everything is played dead straight (even the emergence of the Skarasen wasn’t cause for a giggle). That applies to this scene too – the sight of the dying Zygon looks faintly comic but everyone’s resisting the temptation today to wink at the audience.

The Invasion – Part Six

Top of the Camfield Pops is this iconic cliffhanger. Years before I got the chance to see the surviving episodes (via a wobbly pirate VHS) the moment when the Cybermen stroll past St Paul’s Cathedral was already very familiar to me thanks to spending hours staring at a handful of photographs (one in the Doctor Who Monster Book if memory serves). This is archetypical Who – not least for the way it has (with a very limited budget) to convince the audience that London is under attack.

With about half a dozen Cybermen and a handful of human extras, Douglas Camfield was more than up to the task. And that’s why I love this cliffhanger so much. Making something out of virtually nothing has always been the Doctor Who way.

All five clips can be watched below, via these Twitter posts.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Eight

Written by David Angus. Tx 26th January 1990

Although a few other plots bubble along today, this is very much Ronnie’s episode – something that’s reinforced by the way it opens and closes with her (and on both occasions she’s in a tearful mood).

We begin with a camera pan around her bedroom. She’s lying in bed whilst the clock radio burbles out the jolly sounds of Radio 1 (a cover version of Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World). The choice of song is a nicely ironic one, as the viewer processes the fact that every inch of wall space is taken up with posters protesting at animal cruelty.

Coming downstairs to breakfast, she discovers a budgie in a cage. Her mother explains that they’re looking after it for a neighbour who’s had to go into hospital.  Ronnie instinctively goes to release it, but Mrs Birtles tells her not to – as the bird is happy in the cage. This moment of tension passes without Ronnie being able to articulate why she disagrees with this viewpoint, which in some ways is the episode’s theme – she wants to help all animals, but can’t find a way to do so.

Ronnie learns, via a chance meeting on the way to school with a couple of girls from St Mary’s, that they still dissect animals in their biology classes.  This reveal is done in a rather clumsy way – Calley happens to bump into a couple of St Mary’s girls she’s friendly with (although we’ve never seen them before) and the talk instantly turns to their biology lessons.

Grange Hill no longer uses animals in their classes, although they did in the past (series seven, for example). Possibly we’re missing a trick here – had Ronnie suddenly launched a crusade to stamp out this sort of thing in her own school it would have had more of a dramatic punch.

The scene we do have is still effective though. Ronnie storms over to St Mary’s, wanders through the corridors and finally finds the biology class  – whereupon she crashes in and hands out leaflets, to the bemusement of the pupils and the simmering anger of the teacher.

Few of the St Mary’s pupils seem that interested (although a few look slightly bashful). Possibly this because they don’t care or it might be that they don’t want to rock the boat – their grades mattering more to them than a handful of dissected animals.

This failure to connect only deepens Ronnie’s gloom and she goes off to wander up and down the high street, with seemingly every window (a butchers, a shop selling genuine leather handbags) causing her further pain.

In other news, we meet Mr Bentley (David Cann) for the first time.  Given the way he’s been talked about in the past, it’s no surprise that he’s totally single-minded where his son is concerned – treating Mike more like a machine than a human being. The affable Mr Robson (someone who’s never been that keen on ultra-competitive sports) is polite, but his real feelings are expressed by the various faces he pulls as Mr Bentley drones on and on.

There’s a chance to dig a little deeper into Neil Timpson’s character. Caught by Mrs Monroe with a video nasty (the rather tame looking Ninja Demon) she has a friendly chat with him in detention about his home life, which possibly helps to explain his poor attitude at school.

It’s once again noticeable how sidelined a figure Mrs McClusky has become. Once upon a time she would have been the one to argue about budgets and funding with the likes of Miss Booth and Mr MacKenzie, but these days she’s perfectly happy to delegate that sort of job to Mr Hargreaves. This is all well and good, but it does mean she rarely has the opportunity to tackle any dramatic scenes.

Having said that, today’s episode slightly bucks the trend as she provides Ronnie with a shoulder to cry on.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Seven

Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 23rd January 1990

Neil and Barry Timpson continue to provide a service of low-level irritation for their fellow pupils, something which they’ve been doing since the start of the year. Neither have yet to emerge as rounded characters (Neil never really would, as John Pickard jumped ship from GH to 2 point 4 children the following year).

Today they briefly sling a racial epithet Akik’s way, which infuriates Jacko (and to a lesser extent, Brian and Locko). These four are also rather underdeveloped at present, with Jacko (by dint of the fact he owns a troublesome dog and is always ridiculously cheerful) the most memorable at this point in the series.

Quite why Jacko should be so defensive of Akik is a slight mystery – presumably he’s just keen to get one over on the Timpson brothers and Akik has provided him with a good excuse. The selected method of revenge – chucking Mr Robson’s climbing net over them – isn’t one of those scenes to get the pulse racing, but it passes a few minutes fairly agreeably.

The best moment in the episode featuring Jacko, Brian and Locko occurs when Mrs Monroe spies them acting suspiciously. “Freeze like trees” she says – and they do …

Mr Griffiths is getting the hang of his dubiously acquired computer (thanks to Akik’s tutelage). Given the delighted way Mr Griffiths reacts to his new found tech skills, it seems rather sad that, unless he can come up with a plan, he’ll have to hand it over to Mr MacKenzie.

Elsewhere in the episode, already established plot-threads continue to bubble away. Mike and Robbie mention the fight yet again (and yet again they’re scouring the paper for news and coming up with nothing, which reassures them). Tegs and Justine have their latest difference of opinion – she’s convinced he’s spying on her (which he denies). Although later he does go and spy on her anyway. Matthew’s family fortunes continue to decline (it looks like they’ll be forced to sell their house).

Georgina tells the others that she’s seen Calley’s boyfriend (who she estimates to be forty!). Calley tells them that he’s only twenty four and that, yes, they are sleeping together. Ronnie pulls a disapproving face (similar to the one she pulled earlier in the episode when she spied meat being dished out in the canteen). Is Ronnie jealous or is she worried that Calley will end up being hurt by someone who’s simply using her? I’d say it was the latter.

Aichaa’s got some good news – her photo will be printed in the next issue of Just Seventeen, plus they’ve given her a cheque for £20. It’s fair to say that the stare Georgina gives her is decidedly on the icy side.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Six

Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 19th January 1990

Mike kicks off the episode sporting a very silly hat. He hasn’t lost his mind (well not completely) as this is his idea of a disguise. Mike is still fretting that they’ll be some comeback from the pub fight, so he’s keen to keep a low profile.

Of course, Georgina would have to come walking down the street just as he’s leaving the leisure centre with his tremendous tifter. What does he do? As befits a star athlete he runs away ….

Georgina, Calley and Ronnie meet up. Ronnie’s still fuming that Calley used her as an alibi to explain her all-night adventure (Ronnie is certainly a girl who knows how to hold a grudge). Bad feeling between the pair is still bubbling away then, although things calm down a little when the threesome go to look for some new cosmetics.

Although Ronnie’s been interested in animal rights since the start of series 13, it’s only today – when she’s given a leaflet about the testing of cosmetics on animals – that she appears to decide that this sort of thing is a very bad thing indeed. Calley half-heartedly agrees to boycott the offending shop, but Georgina sneakily still buys some of the make-up.

There’s something rather topical about the way Miss Booth despairs over her ever-shrinking art budget. Things are now so tight she’s been forced to re-use scraps of paper, which is hardly ideal.  The fact that Mr Hargreaves is able to fit out a new office with an up to date computer only sticks in her craw even more.  Clearly Mr Hargreaves is one of those people who believes the arts mean very little (presumably because they don’t turn a profit – or at least not one that he can quantify).

Mr Hargreaves’ old computer (a BBC B by the look of it) is snaffled by Mr Griffiths, who seems entranced with it. Taking it back to his office, he delightedly pushes a few buttons, although as yet he doesn’t seem to realise that it works better with a monitor ….

Mr Hargreaves’ crusade to stamp out unauthorised photo-copying continues. Both Mr Robson and Mrs Monroe are seen to have grabbed a few sneaky personal copies (although Ronnie and Calley are rather pushing things by running off 150 copies of anti-vivisection leaflets). Mr Hargreaves isn’t too pleased when he catches the guilty pair.

Ronnie and Calley join an animal rights demo outside the shop. Things get a little rowdy, especially after Ronnie daubs the shop window with red paint. I think she can count herself lucky that Mrs McClusky happened to be passing and was able to intercede with the police (although annoyingly we aren’t witness to that moment).

Mike and Georgina go on a date to the movies. Mike, a Western fan, is engrossed by the film whilst Georgina (looking round at the other couples getting rather friendly) sighs longingly. So Mike – a boy who’s slow on the uptake – doesn’t take up her blatant offer of a cuddle.

Later, when they head to the café for a coffee, Georgina spies Calley kissing a man. This closing scene confirms that Calley’s interested in men not boys, but it’s mainly interesting for the reactions of Mike and Georgina. He looks a little downcast whilst Georgina (who you might have expected to be shocked) responds with an enigmatic smile. She seems to be wondering why Mike isn’t kissing her in that way (or indeed, any way at all).

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Five

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 16th January 1990

Some of the events from the previous episode are briefly touched upon. Robbie remains anxious about the pub fight (fretting that the man was badly injured) although Mike seems blithely unconcerned. Aichaa and Georgina are more than happy with their glamour photos while Ronnie is still seething at Calley (more than a little displeased at being used as an alibi to explain Calley’s all-night absence).

Mr Hankin takes the third-years down to the canal. As you might expect it’s a slightly chaotic trip, although the reassuring presence of Mr MacKenzie means that events don’t spiral out of control. Although Mr Hankin does receive a certain amount of teasing, there’s also frustration from the likes of Chrissy – who doesn’t understand exactly what they have to do and why, thanks to Mr Hankin’s rather vague utterances.

The trip also allows Tegs and Justine to have yet another argument, which leaves both of them frustrated. Later, they both pour out their troubles (Tegs to Matthew, Justine to Andy). This episode allows us to take the first proper look at Andy – who doesn’t impress. Not only does he come across as a jealous type (convinced that Justine and Tegs have a closer bond than mere friendship) he’s more than happy to leave Justine hanging when Trev breezes in with the offer of taking part in a card school.

Rod, of course, is running the card school – snugly ensconced in the caretaker’s office, with mugs of tea all round (although he won’t allow Mauler to smoke!).  Given that Mr Griffiths has previously been portrayed as a man who loves his office, it’s a little surprising that Rod feels so comfortable (although maybe Mr G, incensed at the presence of the younger man, has decided to work just a little harder – hence his more regular absences).

The lunchtime disco is in full swing, although they could do with getting some more up to date records (Always on my Mind by the Pet Shop Boys was heard drifting out of the door). And I was intrigued to see that the disco ran from 12.15 pm to 2.00 pm. That’s a very generous lunch hour, unless the school operates split meal breaks.

The key part of the second half of the episode revolves around Tegs and Matthew’s attempt to steal a photograph from Mr Griffiths’ office. Matthew is depressed about his home life, so Tegs decides that stealing the photo will cheer him up (hmmm).  We haven’t seen any criminal activity from Tegs for a while, so I did wonder if that character trait had been quietly written out, but today’s episode confirms otherwise.

Tegs has a touch of the Artful Dodger about him as he corrupts the innocent Matthew (Oliver). This whole plot doesn’t really go anywhere though – they drop the picture and break the frame, steal another frame from Mr Hargreaves’ office and return the picture with the new frame to Mr Griffiths’ office. Something of a waste of time then ….

The subplot of Mrs Monroe locked in the stationery cupboard did raise a smile though.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Four

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 12th January 1990

Mr Hargeaves is still obsessing over the unauthorised photocopier use. Today he’s targeting Miss Booth – convinced that she knows more about the numerous animal rights posters dotted around the school than she’s letting on. She doesn’t of course, and his none-too-subtle probing only serves to irritate her all the more.

Mrs Monroe, present when he begins another round of questioning, warns her to “be careful, he’ll be taking your fingerprints next”.  Indeed, Mrs Monroe is the recipient of most of the best lines today – when the still trustingly innocent Mr Hankin tells her that he’s going to take a group of third years to the canal, she comments that “there’s one or two little heads in that year that I might be tempted to hold under the water a fraction too long”.

She also does terrible things to Mr Hankin’s tie – it’s wrapped around a dog’s neck and then dipped into custard – although she blithely tells him that it’ll perk up with a damp iron! Plus there’s the moment where she gives Mr Griffiths a brief restorative shoulder rub (a busy episode for her today then).

There’s a nice moment of continuity as Deirdre Costello makes her fourth and final appearance as Mrs Donnington (she was previously seen in both series eight and eleven). Her short scene kicks off another plot-thread in a rather off-hand way – Mrs Donnington casually complains that she was slightly worried when Calley stayed out all night. You might have expected there to be much more panic on Mrs Donnington’s behalf – so her resigned calmness suggests Calley is now a frequent absentee.

Calley’s excuse (she was spending the night with Ronnie) sounds rather feeble and when Robbie later spies her getting into a man’s car for a night out, all the pieces seem to be fitting together.

Georgina and Aichaa decide to enter a modelling competition and as luck would have it, Georgina knows a local photographer so high quality photos will be no problem. Ronnie looks on – content to observe but not participate – although she’s told that she could be a decent girl next door type. Flattering with faint praise there ….

Julie continues to be something of a wet lettuce, blubbing after forgetting her sports kit (she wails that she’ll be forced to do games in her underwear).  Becky and Alice offer verbal support (and Becky manages to find her a spare kit) but the message seems plain – Julie needs to toughen up or she’s not going to survive at Grange Hill.

The episode ends with a fight in a pub involving Robbie and Mike, which is another new plot-thread that will run and run. Mike, anxious not to get involved in any trouble, accidentally trips over an injured man but his action is interpreted as a hostile one. The whole scene is rather confusing, mainly because we’re only ever told about the injuries inflicted (it’s obvious why a children’s series would steer clear of graphic violence, but it does rather rob the moment of any impact).

The last scene – Robbie, having thrown a few punches during the melee, is approached outside the pub by a well-dressed man who compliments him on the way he handled himself – is a more ominous one though.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Three

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 9th January 1990

Today’s episode opens with a race against time – Ronnie and Calley are using the school photocopier to run off more anti-vivisection posters, but Mr Hargreaves is getting ever closer to them ….

As the photocopier keeps ticking away agonisingly slowly, will they be able to escape before he catches them? Well yes. But he does find a warm photocopier, which sends him scurrying to the log to see who last used the machine. The total cost is probably just a drop in the ocean, but it’s plain that every penny counts for him.

I’m a bit baffled as to why the staff-room (where the photocopier is located) was unlocked. That just seems to be asking for trouble.

After a few years during which the teaching staff became fairly negligible characters, it’s interesting to observe that we’re entering an era where they become much more central again. Today that’s highlighted by an entertaining staff room meeting where Mr Hargreaves holds court to an air of general apathy.

Chief apathetic is Mrs Monroe, who masks her dislike of the man with an air of polite brutality. Mr Hargreaves has now emerged as a thrusting Thatcherite figure – eagerly espousing concepts such as economy and image, worrying about how Grange Hill is seen in the marketplace and attempting to find ways to provide good value for their consumers (i.e. the parents). He rounds off his speech with a rallying cry of “traditional values”.

Mrs Monroe later attempts to give him what he wants – a school song sung in Latin by R1 (her “empty-headed vessels” as she delightfully calls them). This leads to a nice beat of tension between the pair as he correctly assumes that she’s mocking him. Mr Hargreaves is a very different character from Mr Bronson then, but I’d say the change has done the series good.

Elsewhere, Mike and Georgina start to get a little closer, although this means that he misses his lunchtime training session (much to Robbie’s chagrin, who’s been working out on his own). Mr Hargreaves is displeased with Mike’s lack of application – as a star athlete he brings prestige to the school but without this skill he’s nothing.

Although Mr Hargreaves has been set up as a somewhat pompous and comic character (today he receives his nickname “Mad Max”) moments like this are illuminating. His single-minded drive to raise the profile of the school means that he has little interest in the pupils as people – only in what they can deliver for Grange Hill’s greater glory.

We also find out that Justine’s boyfriend is called Andy and that Rod is an extremely sharp type. Pretending to Trevor that he can’t play darts and then fleecing him in a money game isn’t very friendly.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Two

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 5th January 1990

Many things have altered at Grange Hill over the years, but Mrs McClusky remains the one fixed point in a changing age. At the start of today’s episode she’s quite taken with young Rod – who’s been able to repair her chair in double quick time (she makes her delight plain by spinning around a few times!)

Mr Griffiths can’t help but harrumph at the speed at which his young deputy has been able to attend to certain jobs. This is anathema to Mr Griffiths, who prefers to mull everything rather slowly (preferably with a nice cup of tea). Rods’s ability to get things done in double-quick time leaves Mr Griffiths feeling rather threatened – so he seeks reassurance from Mrs McClusky.

But it’s Mr Hargreaves who sets his mind at rest in a lovely little scene where he outrageously plays on the caretaker’s vanity (telling him that young Rodney needs the guidance of an older, more experienced man). Give George A. Cooper the comic material and he’ll never let you down.

As for Mr Hargreaves, he comes into sharper comic focus today. The new Deputy Head is emerging as a cheerfully single-minded type – he’s someone quite prepared to ride roughshod over everyone else whilst remaining convinced that it’s all for their own benefit. Efficiency is his watchword – at one point he regrets that the pupils don’t have numbers (which suggests he sees them as work units, rather than people).

Tegs and Justine give Mr Hankin a rather rough time in his science class, although that’s more to do with their on-going issues than any particular dislike for him. Tegs continues to fume that Justine has the temerity to go out with someone (whilst at the same time refusing to accept that he’s at all romantically interested in her). Hmm ….

Mrs Monroe has no such problems controlling her class – she’s more than able to hold R1 in the palm of her hand. From her first scene onwards she’s presented as an inspirational and left-field sort of teacher – whatever else she is, Mrs Monroe is certainly a one-off.

Anna Quayle had quite the career (A Hard Day’s Night, The Avengers, Basil Brush and Brideshead Revisited, to name just a few of her credits) before pulling into the harbour of Grange Hill, which turned out to be her last major television role.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode One

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 2nd January 1990

A new year, a new decade and a new producer (Albert Barber). All of which means that it’s easy to spot that the series has undergone a subtle revamp. There’s a new theme tune and opening titles for starters, which was a positive move – it’s good to see the series moving forward, rather than clinging onto the past with yet another regigged version of ‘Chicken Man’.

There’s also an influx of new characters – both pupils and teachers. Most make an appearance here, even if some (Mrs Monroe) don’t speak. Mr Hankin (Lee Cornes) has slightly more to work with – his debut scene (scrabbling on the floor for his textbooks, knocked over by an unruly pupil) is a deft shorthand move. He seems affable enough, but this moment marks him out as someone who will find class management a problem.

Mr Hargreaves (Kevin O’Shea), the new deputy head, seems to have no such problems on that score. Right from this first episode there seems plenty of scope to develop his character. Slightly surprising that O’Shea’s television career has been fairly limited (with only two regular roles – GH and The Gentle Touch).

The way Mr Hargreaves deflates Mr Griffiths’ affronted pomposity is very nicely played, as is his later encounter with Mauler. In time-honoured fashion, Mauler is changing the direction of the arrow on the blackboard, thereby attempting to confuse the first years. Luckily, Mr Hargreaves catches him and subjects the six-former to a lengthy and impassioned speech. Which impresses Mauler not one little bit ….

Mauler (unfortunately) doesn’t seem to have grown as a person since last year (ditto Trevor and Robbie – who are both as irritating as ever). Ted seems a little better adjusted though.

It’s always melancholy to witness the debut of actors (such as Jamie Lehane, playing Jacko) who have passed away. Although substantial plotlines in this first episode are conspicuous by their absence, Jacko’s misadventures with his pet dog (who’s roaming the school corridors, searching for his master) do provide some low-level comic relief.

Natalie Stevens (Julie Buckfield), is one of those characters who we are invited to believe has always been in the school (just out of shot for the last two years). Ditto René Zagger as Mike Bentley, although maybe he’s slightly more of a new arrival. Positioned as something of a heartthrob (and an athletics ace to boot) it’s plain he’s got his eye on Georgina.

Most contrived moment of the episode concerns Justine and Tegs. We see Justine waiting for someone – who else could it be but Tegs? That’s what we’ve been primed to expect (especially as when he appears, she smiles and moves towards him). But no … she walks on by (totally blanking him) and into the arms of another boy. Eek!

There’s plenty more plot-threads established – the loneliness of new-girl Julie Corrigan (Margo Selby), Aichaa’s (Veena Tulsiani) reluctance to hang around with her much younger brother Akik (Sundeep Suri), the arrival of shifty deputy caretaker Rod (Wayne Norman), Matthew’s straightened financial circumstances and Ronnie’s growing obsession with animal rights.

Phew! Hopefully now these have all been established they can be tackled in a less fragmentary way as the series continues. Time will tell.

The Day of the Triffids on Blu Ray

When The Day of the Triffids came out on Blu Ray late last year it was greeted with a chorus of disapproval. Having recently acquired a copy, I was intrigued to find out how the various reviews published at the time addressed the hotly debated picture issues.

Some quick Googling later, it appears that whilst most of the reviewers were aware of the negative comments, they went on to dismiss the concerns raised – either because they hadn’t watched the serial since its original broadcast and so were unaware of how it had always looked or they simply believed that VT interior shots would never have the same quality as the film exteriors.

The arguments against the BD were basically threefold. Firstly the film sequences (which make up approximately 60% of the serial) had been oversaturated, lending some sequences a bright, sunny feel (rather at odds with the gloomy feel of the original). Next, the VT studio shots had all been “filmised” – but unlike various previous releases where this had been done accidentally, apparently this time round it was an artistic choice. Hum.

Lastly, the credits were remade. This is something that happens regularly on the Doctor Who DVDs and BDs, but they take extreme care to find fonts which match the originals – whereas on the Triffids BD a close approximation was used. Good enough for most, but an irritation for those who have lived with the serial for forty years ….

I could cope with the titles issue, but the grading and filmising are the sort of things which raise my hackles. We’ve been here before with grading problems – some of the Peter Davison Doctor Who DVDs looked a little odd (Black Orchid springs to mind) whilst accidental filmising has bedeviled various DVDs such as Softly Softly: Task Force series one (eventually fixed) and Grange Hill series one – four (never fixed, alas).

Modern televisions tend to handle filmising better than old ones (when I rewatched the early Grange Hill DVDs recently I found that it didn’t look quite as bad as I’d remembered) so the VT scenes in Triffids aren’t totally horrible, although knowing that they could and should be better is a tad irritating.

The film sequences are certainly dazzling – Jo’s yellow boiler suit leaps out of the screen, for example – but I think overall I prefer the more muted feel of the DVD. When I come back to Triffids in future it might be the DVD I’ll reach for, rather than the more glossy BD. What’s certain is that unlike some BD upgrades, I’ll be hanging onto the DVD.

Irrespective of how you watch it, you certainly should. John Duttine is very solid as the everyman cast in an almost impossible situation, with Emma Relph (an actress with surprisingly few credits) offering him strong support. Maurice Colbourne is always watchable whilst there are plenty of vividly sketched cameos (from the likes of Jonathan Newth, Stephen Yardley, David Swift and John Hollis).

With a limited budget, director Ken Hannam managed to effectively depict a London in turmoil during the early episodes (it’s amazing what a few sound effects and a handful of extras can achieve). There are some drawbacks – it was a pity that Bill (John Duttine) didn’t witness Dr Soames’ suicide as he did in the book – but having Bill return to find Soames’ body did mean that the production was saved the cost of an expensive stunt ….

Coming up to its 40th birthday, Day of the Triffids has lost none of its power to discomfort (amazing to think that it was deemed to be acceptable pre-watershed fare).

Journey of a Lifetime – Network BD/DVD Review

Newlyweds Anne and John undertake the journey of a lifetime as they traverse the Holy Land – stopping off to visit a wealth of historic places, such as the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Petra, Bethlehem, Samaria, Jericho, Emmaus, Judaea and the River Jordan.

For Anne, it’s a chance to see the real places she’d only previously read about in the Bible and serves to strengthen her faith. As for John, whilst he retains an open mind, he’s sceptical about the many miracles chronicled in the Bible. But he’s always prepared to listen and consider ….

Network continue to mine the ABC archive for interesting gems – today they’ve come up with this 39 part series (each episode running for approx 15 minutes) shot in colour by Pathe and broadcast during the early sixties. Only ever seen in the UK in black and white, the series has been newly transferred from the original 35mm Eastmancolor negatives for this BD/DVD release.

Anne Lawson and John Bonney play the doting newlyweds (both actors should be familiar to seasoned archive television viewers). The early episodes were shot mute, so there’s no dialogue or natural sounds (just a spot of rather unconvincing foley work every so often). Anne and John provide a breathless narration whilst Muir Matheson chips in with suitably stirring incidental music.

Anne’s cut-class tones strike a rather unintentional comic note to begin with, but once the couple begin exploring in earnest and the travelogue aspect really kicks in, this becomes less of an issue.

I’ve a feeling that the series was recorded in blocks of 13. The first thirteen episodes feature John and Anne’s narration, but from the fourteenth episode onwards we hear them speak  Which is a bit of a shock to begin with …

This change is to the series’ benefit through – the pair emerge as much more rounded and believable figures once they start to talk to each other.

It’s fair to observe that Journey of a Lifetime has a glossy unreal air (everywhere Anne and John go they’re greeted and shown the sights by helpful smiling locals) but to complain that the programme doesn’t show the reality of life in Israel and Jordan during the early sixties is missing the point – that’s not what the series is about.

Instead, each episode finds our intrepid pair discovering another landmark or location which has some significance to the writings in the Bible – the town of Nazareth, Mount Tabor or the shores of Galilee, say. Anne will soak up the local colour and maybe do some sketching whilst the rational John (taking time off from his job as a water engineer) seeks the truth behind the stories and legends he’s read about.

Although the tone of the series is quite sedate, there’s also room for a little dissention and debate. Fire from Heaven doesn’t shy away from highlighting some of the prophet Elijah’s less admirable moments (such as his massacre of the prophets of Baal).

Since each episode only runs for 15 minutes, the programme is an ideal one to dip in and out of. And with John positioned as a sceptic, this means the tone isn’t a particularly preachy one – so no matter what faith you follow (or indeed if you follow no faith at all) it’s still possible to derive a great deal from Journey of a Lifetime.

Whilst this may be something of a niche release, it’s good to see that Network have brought it out (after all, they’ve always been a company who’ve championed the obscure). It’s been a programme that I’ve enjoyed working my way through and I’m sure I’ll return to it again in the future. Recommended.

Journey of a Lifetime is released on the 5th of April 2021 by Network and can be ordered directly from them (BD or DVD).

Journey of a Lifetime – to be released by Network on BD and DVD (5th April 2021)

Journey of a Lifetime will be released on the 5th of April 2021 by Network on both DVD and BD. Press release is below –

Unseen for over 50 years, and now presented in colour for the first time, Journey of a Lifetime is an adventure of spiritual enlightenment across the Holy Land and through the Scriptures.

Filmed in the early 1960s throughout Israel and Jordan this unique quasi-documentary series follows young newlyweds, Ann and John, as they explore this sacred region rediscovering the past through their discovery of the present – while visiting such historic places as the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Petra, Bethlehem, Samaria, Jericho, Emmaus, Judaea and the River Jordan.

Through their journey of discovery and enchantment the couple see for themselves the holy places that Ann’s faith has always made real for her while John, who keeps an open mind, finds that much which he considered miraculous and unlikely could well have happened. Their discussions and encounters with friends and strangers along the way reassert their understanding of the need for unity and tolerance between religious denominations.

Delving into the breathtaking landscapes of these ancient places, and with reference to key passages from the Bible, the landmarks the couple venture to are brought to life through religious teachings and stories – remaining a fascinating snapshot of these areas at the time.

Part travelogue, part history lesson and part reaffirmation of one’s personal faith, this is an absorbing series for the whole family – it does not preach but has a message for those who wish to listen.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Twelve – The Destruction of Time

The Destruction of Time is devastating.  Nothing in the story to date, indeed in the series so far, quite prepares you for the cataclysmic events that unfold during these twenty five minutes.  Even with only the soundtrack and a handful of photographs it’s incredibly powerful, so we can only guess what it would look like in motion.  But with Douglas Camfield directing it seems more than likely that the visuals would have been extremely striking.

Mavic Chen meets his well-deserved end.  Kevin Stoney once again sails merrily over the top, but that suits Chen’s character – who by now has lost his last lingering shreds of sanity.  What makes his demise particularly fascinating is the way he’s treated by the Daleks.  They simply ignore him.  This silent treatment is the ultimate humiliation, although he’s still able to rationalise it away by believing that the Daleks will continue to obey him.  Instead they take him out into the corridor and kill him.   For the self-proclaimed ruler of the universe it’s a squalid and ignominious end.

The Doctor suddenly pops up out of nowhere and tells Steven and Sara to return to the TARDIS.  While they’re doing this, he steals the time destructor and also heads back to the ship.  It goes without saying that the Daleks really need to strengthen their security …..

Whilst Steven makes it back to the TARDIS, Sara returns to help the Doctor.  The bitter irony is that there’s nothing at all she can do and her exposure to the time destructor has fatal results.  Although we’re denied any video record of this scene, the photographs we have help to sell the horror of the moment.  This is no quick, easy death but a long, lingering demise.

The Doctor’s also affected, although he manages to quickly rally round.  But when Steven comes to help, Hartnell barks at him in such an unearthly manner that it’s another moment that jars.  We rarely hear the Doctor under such pressure.

And then it’s over.  The time destructor is exhausted, Kembel is now a desert wilderness and Sara and all the Daleks are dead.  Once the Doctor recovers some of his equilibrium he can’t help but crow a little. “Well, my boy, we finally rid this planet of Daleks.”  It’s up to Steven to remind him of the human cost (“Bret, Katarina, Sara”) to which the Doctor belatedly agrees. “What a waste. What a terrible waste.”

When picking out top Doctor/companion pairings, Hartnell and Purves probably wouldn’t be top of many people’s lists, which is a bit of a shame. Peter Purves always accepted that his role was to provide solid support for Hartnell (both on screen and off) and that’s something he always did very well. Maybe if a few more episodes existed then their era might have a higher profile. Are there are more out there? Time will tell I guess ….

The Daleks Master Plan might lurch from comedy to tragedy and all points inbetween, but it still works.  It shouldn’t by rights as it has all the hallmarks of being another (admittedly entertaining) debacle like The Chase.  But thanks to Douglas Camfield’s direction (the three episodes in existence, plus a handful of other clips more than hint at the overall visual quality) the story avoids that fate.  It’s quite a leap from the comic book thrills of the mid part of the story to the final ten minutes of destruction, but this final downbeat tone still packs a punch 55+ years on.