Written by Jane Hollowood. Tx 24th February 1984
N3, Mr Baxter, Mr Knowles, Claire and Stewpot have headed out into the country for an orienteering weekend. Jane Hollowood’s script develops a theme first seen in the previous years trip to Wales, namely that Mr Baxter struggles when he’s out of his comfort zone.
That he’s not terribly familiar with orienteering is made clear right from the first scene – the whole class head off in one direction, whilst he goes the opposite way! He’s called back by Mr Knowles (with the children’s jeers ringing in his ears) who points out that he was holding his compass upside down.
Mr Knowles has organised a competition – teams of two people set off through the forest using their newly found orienteering knowledge to locate a series of checkpoints – and the wheel of fortune means that Mr Baxter and Roland have to pair up.
This is a genius move (again, the abrasive relationship between the pair was touched upon during the Wales trip). It’s plain that Mr Baxter’s opinion of the desperately unathletic Roland has never been high, but from the moment they set out there’s a subtle change in their personal dynamic. Mr Baxter, for all his surface bravado, is out of his depth, which means that it’s Roland who’s able work out the correct route they have to take. For once the boy gets the chance to act in a positive manner.
But when Mandy and Sarah decide to hide one of the checkpoint markers it means that the mismatched pair of Mr Baxter and Roland find themselves hopelessly lost. The teacher then sprains his ankle, which leaves them stranded in the forest, cold and hungry (and with night fast approaching). This then leads into one of the key moments of the episode.
ROLAND: Everything I do is a disaster.
MR BAXTER: Rubbish. Listen, this was my fault not yours.
ROLAND: What about my mum walking out though? That wasn’t your fault.
There’s a world of pain from Roland in this short exchange. Despite his visits to the school psychologist during series five, we’ve never really seen him express his fears, hopes or emotions before. No doubt this is due to his friendless nature (true, Janet’s always been a more than willing listener, but Roland’s opinion about her has been made crystal clear on many occasions!)
Although Roland’s never been the most popular member of the class, the others (even Annette) are concerned about him. Annette promises that if he comes back safely she’ll never tease him again (she then glances upwards, which suggests she’s said a quick prayer for his safe return – a very uncharacteristic thing for her to have done).
After the pair are finally rescued, Mr Baxter is packed off to hospital with a suspected broken ankle whilst Roland returns back to base. He’s treated like a returning hero by the others, which is lovely to see (although I’ve always been a little perplexed as to how they managed to create such an impressive “welcome back Roly” banner in double quick time!)