Hitting The Target – Doctor Who and The Zarbi by Bill Strutton

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When I were a lad it irritated me that the Doctor was referred to as Doctor Who throughout Doctor Who and the Zarbi. Fortunately, when I grew up I found that it didn’t matter at all – now I’m more irritated that they corrected this “mistake” for the audiobook and renamed him The Doctor ….

We open aboard TARDIS. Barbara’s clearly some way down the pecking order as the Doctor suggests she makes herself useful by rustling up a quick cup of coffee whilst Ian orders some bacon and eggs from her. It’s possible that the Doctor’s suggestion was simply a ruse to save her from worrying about their current predicament.  Ian, on the other hand, just seems to be hungry and disinclined to lift a finger to help himself.

Bill Strutton sticks quite closely to the dialogue from his original script, even reproducing Barbara’s comment that the fancy bracelet she’s now sporting was a gift from the Emperor Nero (and not, as suggested by Vicki, from Ian).  It’s a shame that their conversation about space-age schooling was cut though.

If ever a Doctor Who story benefitted from being transferred to the printed page then it’s this one. The planet Vortis, and its numerous inhabitants, struggled to be effectively realised on screen (to put it mildly). There’s no such problems here, so the notion of a gun-wielding Zarbi seems perfectly reasonable.

Strutton took the opportunity to change the structure encountered by the Doctor and Ian on the planet’s surface from a pyramid to a vaguely humanoid figure. The text suggests that it’s a Menoptera, although this is somewhat lost in John Wood’s illustration. The illustrations, carried over to the Target edition from the 1965 hardback, are very decent – although Vicki only bears a very passing resemblance to Maureen O’Brien.

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If the Zarbi are a good deal more menacing on the printed page than they are on screen, then so – to begin with – are the Menoptera.  Barbara’s first encounter with them (“there was a tall sinister dignity about them – a beauty even, but with the sudden shock of their strange appearance and their glaring hostility, she felt the sickness of a real terror welling up inside her”) has a punch that’s absent from the television realisation. There, they only had to open their mouths or wave their arms about for any sense of danger or tension to be lost.

In book form, Barbara’s interrogation by the initially hostile Menoptera is much lengthier, with the belligerent Challis a prime mover in wishing to bump her off.

When you no longer have to see or hear the Menoptera it’s easy to believe in them as a race of proud souls who are locked into a bitter struggle for the control of Vortis. The wise but aged Prapillus is a good example – leading the attack to escape from the Crater of Needles, at times he has a very Doctorish turn of phrase (“I may be a little short of breath, but not of brains”).

Elsewhere, Ian is a good deal more hysterical in print than he is on screen. Whilst Doctor Who maintains his lively scientific interest, Ian’s not having such a good time – often snarling or grimacing at the latest scrape he finds himself in. For example, after Doctor Who absently declares that he didn’t expect the Zarbi to be behaving like they are, Ian snaps back with the following. “Were they supposed to scuttle away at the sight of us – or greet us with speeches of welcome and garlands of flowers?”

Whilst Terrance Dicks often made use of the chapter title Escape to Danger, it made its DW debut here. David Whitaker was close in The Daleks (Escape into Danger) but not quite close enough.

If the book has a fault then it’s one shared by the television original – midway through it does tend to sag a little (too many scenes of the Doctor being interrogated very, very, slowly).  Bill Strutton’s prose style is workmanlike enough but lacks the visceral impact of Whitaker’s Dalek novelisation.

Still, if I’ve come to love The Web Planet a little more over the past decade or so then my appreciation for The Zarbi has also increased. If you’ve not read it for a while, then it’s worth pulling it from the shelf, giving it a dust down and diving in.

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Redcap – Corporal McCann’s Private War

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Mann is in Cyprus – his mission is to track down an AWOL soldier called Corporal McCann (Ian McNaughton). Given that Cyprus is a political powder keg, the news that McCann has disappeared with three sterling machine guns and a plentiful supply of ammo only complicates matters ….

One of the interesting things about Redcap is the way that it reflected real world events. As depicted here, Cyprus in the mid sixties was a highly unstable place – following independence in 1960, bitter in-fighting had led the UN to establish a peace-keeping force. As you might expect, this means that Mann has to tread very carefully – although he’s not averse to indulging in a spot of fisticuffs with a local soldier who has the termitary to steal his identification papers!

Mann, called in by Colonel Morris (John Ringham), is concerned for McCann’s safety – a soldier with a previously spotless record. This makes the suggestion that he could be involved in black-market gun-running all the harder to swallow.  Off-screen for most of the episode (and when he does appear he doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue) McCann is something of a plot MacGuffin – meaning that it’s difficult to feel that invested in his fate.

Ringham quickly sketches in the key points of Morris’s character – a friendly, relaxed type who genuinely seems to care for the men under his charge.  He’s a fairly minor character though as two other very familiar faces – Jerome Willis and Warren Mitchell – take the lion’s share of the screen-time.

Willis is Lovelock, a political liaison officer who views Mann with extreme disfavour to begin with. He’s not in the least concerned with McCann’s fate, he only cares about the political fall-out McCann’s disappearance could generate (especially how it might be twisted and spun by their opponents).

Since Mann operates most of the time as a solitary figure, there’s something novel about the way that he and Lovelock eventually join forces. Both strong and single-minded characters, they eventually form a bond which drives the action in the second part of the episode.  Willis, as you’d probably expect, is top notch.  Warren Mitchell, as a world-weary local inspector, is equally as watchable. Rarely without a cigarette dangling from his lip, he flits in and out of the narrative – both helping and hindering.

Although there’s a brief spot of location filming, once again the bulk of the episode is studio bound.  The use of a car on the studio street (and plentiful sound effects) helps to sell the illusion of space though. Mid-way through the episode, John Thaw stumbles over his lines, although he plows on regardless and eventually gets back on track. This wasn’t unusual for this era of television (where retakes tended only to happen if there had been a catastrophic technical issue) but since Thaw was usually so secure, it does stand out.

A notable aspect of Corporal McCann’s Private War is the fact that Mann spends very little time questioning McCann’s fellow soldiers – indeed, he only quizzes the quartermaster (Windsor Davies). This is a lovely scene from both Davies and Thaw. The quartermaster is able to shed a little light on McCann’s character (he’s a keen photographer, or as the quartermaster puts it, he’s “nutty about women’s chests”).

One of these women – Ariane (Maria Andipa) – has her part to play in untangling the mystery. It’s pleasing to see that some key roles were filled by non-UK actors. Given the paucity of available players in the 1960’s this wasn’t always possible – but it always added a touch of authenticity to proceedings whenever it did happen.

Corporal McCann’s Private War starts – intentionally – in a rather disconcerting, jerky way. This feeling of being buffeted along by events, rather than controlling them, continues throughout and although Troy Kennedy Martin’s script gets a little bogged down, the performances of Thaw, Willis and Mitchell does help to keep the interest level up.

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Redcap – Misfire

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Private Brian Staples (Gary Bond) has confessed to an act of robbery with violence. Mann is convinced he didn’t commit the crime, but when the man who was attacked dies, the charge beomes murder ….

It’s clear from the opening few minutes, as a hesitant Staples calls the police, that there’s something off-kilter here. The presence of Iris Pearson (Diana Coupland) reinforces this.  It takes a little time before we learn that she and Staples are an item, but when this news is revealed it becomes the focus of Roger Marshall’s script.  She’s an older woman (although not that old – Coupland was in her mid thirties at the time) and everybody seems convinced that she’s nothing more than a gold-digger, preying on a young and inexperienced man.

Barrack-room gossip paints her as either a prostitute or simply somebody who’s more than generous with her favours.  And yet …. it emerges that there’s a genuine bond of love between the pair and this was the reason why Staples confessed to a crime he didn’t commit (in order that he wouldn’t have to transfer out with the rest of the regiment – thereby saving him from being away from Britain for several years).

Coupland pitches things just right, making Iris seem – at different times – to both be vulnerable and implacable. It’s one of a number of very decent performances in the episode – the next comes from Arthur Lovegrove as RSM Staples, the boy’s father.

Now retired, he still dotes on the regiment as a father would on his son (indeed, it’s made painfully obviously that he loves the regiment much more than he does his own flesh and blood). Right from the opening few seconds of his first scene we know exactly what sort of character he is. We see Staples holding court in the mess bar where he’s surrounded by a group of dutiful, but obviously bored, officers.  You can well imagine that Staples’ rambling anecdote is one that he’s told countless times before.

The revelation that his son is in trouble pains him, but mainly because it’s something that will bring disgrace on the regiment. Lovegrove especially shines in two key scenes – firstly when Staples attempts to buy Iris off and secondly when he has a short, but not very sweet, interview with Mann.  What’s notable about this second scene is the way that Raymond Menmuir frames it – every time we cut to Staples the camera is uncomfortably close to him, but Mann is framed a little further back. A simple move, but it does tell a story. The use of rain (the studio rain machine was working overtime in this episode) is another directorial touch which creates a little atmosphere.

John Collin, as the weary and irritable Inspector Paish, offers another strong performance. His cross-examination of Staples Jnr is a highlight as is the way he tangles with Mann. We learn a little more about Mann during these scenes (for example, he used to be a member of the police force).

Lt Colonel Hilden seemed very familiar, but it wasn’t until the credits rolled that I was able to make the connection. Arthur Pentelow, alias Mr Wilks from Emmerdale Farm.

Roger Marshall rarely disappointed and Misfire is a typically well-crafted effort.

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Redcap – Epitaph for a Sweat

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Sergeant Mann has travelled to Aden in order to question Sergeant Rolfe (Leonard Rossiter).  Rolfe, an unbending soldier of the old school, is admired for his fighting qualities but has few friends amongst the men. Accused of beating up a local, he denies the charge – but the matter becomes much more complex after Rolfe dies on manoeuvres.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but Redcap featured some excellent guest casts. In today’s episode we have Rossiter, Kenneth Farringdon, John Horsley, Ian McShane, John Noakes and Mike Pratt. That’s not too shabby a line-up.

Rossiter catches the eye early on. Rolfe and Mann, as you might expect, clash quite strongly.  It’s restated in this episode that Mann is young and inexperienced and this naturally irritates an old sweat like Rolfe.  Although Rolfe denies any wrongdoing, there seems little doubt that he did viciously beat up the local – purely because he felt the “wog”  (a term which is used several times) needed to be taught a lesson.

Sergeant Rolfe may, we’re told, sometimes overstep the mark but the British army needs soldiers like that. That’s certainly the opinion of Major Coulter (John Horsley) who attempts to guide Mann into accepting this point of view. Mann doesn’t acquiesce immediately, which is another source of friction.

The Aden setting (achieved with a spot of stock footage and liberal application of fake sweat) is an interesting one. By the mid sixties it was one of the few remaining outposts of the British Empire and the pros and cons of occupation are discussed here.  Each side is allowed their viewpoint – chiefly Coulter and Asst. Sup. Yacoub (Norman Florrence) – but Richard Harris’ script isn’t a polemical one. The viewer is left to make their own mind up, although the historical distance of fifty years or more has no doubt changed the perspective somewhat.

Whilst Mann is investigating Rolfe, there’s a secondary plot bubbling away. Two young sappers, Russell (Ian McShane) and Baker (Kenneth Farringdon), are clashing time and time again. Baker is cocky and aggressive whilst Russell is passive and disinclined to respond to Baker’s taunts and jibes.  Whilst – at first – this doesn’t seem to connect to the main plot, it’s still very intriguing. Why is Russell so self-contained?

Both have little love for Rolfe, so when the pair of them – along with Morse (Roger Heathcott) and Evans (John Noakes) – head out into the desert with him, there’s an obvious question to be answered – was Rolfe’s death an accident or murder?  Having earlier questioned Rolfe, Mann now has four fresh subjects to quiz – indeed, this episode is an excellent one for showcasing Mann’s methodical approach.

Morse seems like a bit of a non-entity (he’s easily the one allocated the least lines) so can probably be discounted. And since Evans has been painted throughout as the comic relief, that leaves us with Russell and Baker as the more likely suspects.

Unlike the opening episode, there’s a satisfying conclusion to this investigation – Mann is able to extract a confession which isn’t under duress this time (even if he does play a slight trick).  The final few scenes with both McShane and Farringdon crackle very nicely – three episodes in and no duds so far.  And if this one hadn’t been an episode of Redcap then it could have slotted quite comfortably into an anthology series like Armchair Theatre.

Apart from those already mentioned, Mike Pratt has a couple of key scenes as Sergeant Bailey – possibly Rolfe’s only friend.  As you’d expect from Pratt, it’s a self-contained performance with just the odd flash of panic (at the point when Mann’s questioning becomes too probing). Much more exuberant is John Noakes’ turn as Evans. Evans is Welsh. Very, very Welsh.

During this era of television, it’s never a surprise to see British actors browning up to play ethnic roles (it upsets some today, but due to the small pool of actors available there wasn’t any alternative).  However, it’s slightly more surprising to see a Yorkshireman cast in this role.  Noakes isn’t bad (and it’s nice to see one of his handful of acting performances) but goodness, he ladles the accent on rather thickly ….

Hitting the Target – Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker

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Given that most potential purchasers of this book back in 1964 would have been well aware about how the television series began, it’s a little odd that David Whitaker spent the first fifth of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks crafting an alternative origin story for the Doctor and co.

But I’m awfully glad that he did, because it’s absolutely gripping – a tale of fog, Barnes Common, everlasting matches, a strange telephone box, dead soldiers hanging out of lorries and a malevolent old man searching for a lost key ….

I love the way that Whitaker returns from time to time to the events of An Unearthly Child.  In both the book and television versions there’s the disturbing notion that the old man has (for reasons unknown) secreted a young girl inside a telephone box.  Plus Barbara remains the one who’s questing for answers to the mystery of Susan – with Ian a helpless passenger buffeted along by events.

Subtle touches to other television stories – when we first see Susan she’s wearing the same sort of bandage memorably sported by the Doctor in The Edge of Destruction – are woven in whilst Whitaker also takes the opportunity to expand upon the wonders of TARDIS.  He was clearly very taken with the food machine scene (repeating it here virtually verbatim from Nation’s script).  Indeed, he loved it so much that he later popped a food machine scene into the first draft of The Power of the Daleks (which was then snipped out by Dennis Spooner).

Whitaker’s additions include the metal skull cap which gives Ian an excellent haircut (“as good a barbering as I would have received at Simpson’s in Piccadilly”) and the oil and water shower. Clearly TARDIS had plenty of mod cons, although we never learn who cleaned and pressed Ian’s suit (was it Susan or was it all done by machines?)

Given the limited page count, the story has to be streamlined somewhat from the transmitted version, but little of substance is actually missing even if certain key scenes where Ian wasn’t present (Susan’s meeting with Alydon, for example) have to be re-told in the slightly clumsy way that was always a problem with first-person narratives.

There are scores of memorable descriptive passages, such as Ian’s shocked discovery about the horror which lurks inside the Dalek casing.

It was an evil monstrous shape. There was one eye in the centre of a head without ears and with a nose so flattened and shapeless it was merely a bump on the face. The mouth was a short slit above the chin, more of a flap really, and on either side of the temples there were two more little bumps with slits in them and I heard the Doctor mutter that they must be the hearing parts. The skin was dark green and covered in a particularly repellent slime. I felt my stomach heaving and I bit the inside of my mouth until I tasted blood.

In both of Whitaker’s novels, Ian and Barbara seem to be more than just good friends (this is made explicit in Doctor Who and the Crusaders where their future life plans have already been settled). Things are less certain in Doctor Who and the Daleks (after all, they’ve only just met) but a notable Whitaker addition to the second half of the story is Barbara’s cold fury towards him (“I suppose you imagine I like you hanging around me all the time. Well you’re wrong! We’re forced together, I can see that, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it!”). Does the lady protest too much? At the end of the story this question is answered.

Another interesting wrinkle by Whitaker is the way he reverses the viewpoints of Ian and Barbara concerning the question as to whether the Thals should be formed into a fighting army to help recover the Doctor’s fluid link from the Daleks. In the novel, Ian is gung-ho whilst Barbara is keen for them to make their own minds up. The boxing match – organised by Ian – is an entertaining addition.

The slow descent into the Dalek city via the caves by Ian, Barbara and a small group of plucky Thals is probably the lowpoint of the television version. These scenes work better in print, although it’s a pity that Antodus’ ever-growing fear has been deleted. On the plus side, Kristas is greatly expanded and becomes wise and sage-like. It’s therefore something of a shock to realise that the television original is a much more anonymous character.

Doctor Who and the Daleks never fails to engage. Certainly one of my top ten Targets.

Redcap – A Town Called Love

After assaulting a German girl called Gerda, Private Pendlebury (Michael Robbins) crosses over into East Germany. He may not be prime defector material, but he’s still made welcome. Back in the West, Mann is confronted by Pendlebury’s distraught wife.  She pleads with Mann to retrieve her husband ….

There’s one really clever thing about A Town Called Love, although I have to confess that until the credits rolled I’d completely forgotten about it. Gwendolyn Watts plays two roles – Gerda (Pendlebury’s German girlfriend) and Vera (Pendlebury’s wife).

Gerda is blonde whilst Vera is a brunette. This simple act of changing hairstyles obviously helped to create the illusion that they were two different people. Or maybe I was just distracted by Gerda’s transparent negligee …..

There’s no particular reason why the two parts should have been played by the same actress, but it offered Watts a more than decent showcase for her talents. Gerda – who possibly is seeking to entrap the unwary Pendlebury into criminal activity – is the less well defined of the two, but Vera is gifted several strong scenes.  Alternating between vulnerability and calculation, she’s able to appeal to the kind-hearted Mann, who then risks his own safety by crossing over the wall in an attempt to bring Pendlebury back.

Once again, there’s so much quality in the cast.  Michael Robbins, best known for playing the long-suffering Arthur in On The Buses, is equally long-suffering here. Pendlebury is a straightforward sort of chap – after his altercation with Gerda (he says she slipped and hit her head) he hot-foots it over to the East. But he finds life to be no better there than it was in the West, so he’s easily persuaded by Mann to return and take his punishment. But there’s a nasty sting in the tale for him when he does come back.

Magda (Yootha Joyce) and Bob McGregor (Garfield Morgan) are both very welcoming to all new defectors, but only because it’s their job. Morgan’s plummy good-cheer and Joyce’s sultry seductiveness both have a very hollow feel, but then I doubt that either Pendlebury or Mann were taken in by them.

There’s a cold opening to this episode, as Mann’s now changed location and seems to have a permanent base, operating with Sergeant Coulter (Glynn Edwards) and Colonel Matherson (Peter Copley). Neither appear again though, so this posting presumably was only temporary. That’s a pity, as both characters had scope for future development – Coulter’s friendly opposition with Mann (they have very different opinions about Pendlebury) and Matherson’s avuncular but steely command style could easily have been examined in more depth across a series of episodes.

Not quite as gripping as the first episode, possibly because there’s the sense that Mann isn’t going to remain in the East for very long (it would have been a short series had he done so) there’s still enough character conflict to keep things ticking along nicely.

 

Redcap – It’s What Comes After

Sergeant Mann’s investigation into a soldier who went AWOL is an open and shut case. But it indirectly leads onto a more puzzling affair – why has a previously upstanding officer, Captain Lynne (Keith Barron), suddenly started to act in a very erratic manner? Maybe it’s connected to his wife’s recent breakdown ….

Airing between 1964 and 1966, Redcap offered John Thaw his first starring role. Sergeant Mann, a member of the army investigative unit, has free reign to travel the globe, unearthing crime, corruption and disorderly conduct wherever British soldiers might be stationed. This gives Mann the air of a permanent outsider who’s always faced with an uphill battle to bring any perpetrators to justice. In retrospect, this sort of character fits Thaw like a glove – it’s easy to see echoes of Jack Regan in Mann (both, at times, are no respecter of authority).

Although Mann visited a fair few countries, the series never left the UK (and indeed rarely ventured outside of the studio). Some might view this as a weakness but if you love 1960’s studio-based VT drama, then Redcap will be just your cup of tea.

There was plenty of quality on the technical side – it was produced by John Bryce (who helmed The Avengers during 1963/64) and script-edited by Ian Kennedy-Martin (later to write Reganthe Armchair Cinema pilot which spawned The Sweeney). Plenty of familiar names pop up on the writing front such as William Emms on this opening episode.

The mystery as to why Lynne has gone to pieces is eventually revealed – his wife (played by Miranda Connell) was raped after leaving a mess party. With the crime having taken place inside the army compound, this makes it more than likely that a soldier was responsible. But even after this revelation there’s still an air of mystery – why is Lynne so reluctant to admit what happened?

Barron plays Lynne as an upper-crust type and manages to nicely suggest the conflict and turmoil that lies behind his apparent passivity.  He eventually does come clean, and to Lynne’s credit he wasn’t acting purely out of self-interest (although he does admit that public knowledge about his wife’s rape would damage both his career and reputation).

Emms’ script briefly attempts to tease out the puzzle concerning the guilty party by offering us several possibilities. But since we only focus on one – Private Bolt (Kenneth Colley) – this mystery soon dissipates.  There are still several different ways the story might play out though – Bolt is guilty and confesses, Bolt is guilty but doesn’t confess, Bolt is innocent.

In the end, everything is wrapped up slightly too neatly. Mann has very little evidence, but contrives a situation where Bolt and Lynne are left alone. Lynne, having already been told by Mann that Bolt is the most likely suspect, snaps and viciously beats Bolt up. And having been pulped by Lynne, Bolt then helpfully confesses his crime to Mann.

Hmm, given this confession was extracted under duress it’s possible that it might not stand up in court. Mind you, it’s the kind of stroke you could imagine Jack Regan pulling.  Indeed, Thaw does glower throughout with the same sort of barely supressed fury that he’d later display in The Sweeney, so maybe even this early on Kennedy-Martin was taking notes ….

As with each episode, It’s What Comes After is immaculately cast. Keith Barron is good value as Lynne, whilst Colley slips in enough off-kilter gestures to suggest that Bolt is indeed the man we’re looking for.  Derek Newark, as the long-suffering Mess Sergeant (who has to deal with the insubordinate Bolt on a daily basis) also catches the eye.

It may not impress as a great example of detective work, but It’s What Comes After is certainly a strong opening episode.