Lorna Doone – Simply Media DVD Review

John Ridd (John Sommerville) was just a boy when his father, a good and honest man, was brutally murdered by Carver Doone (John Turner). Despite an outward display of respectability, the wealthy Doone family delight in creating havoc and mischief.

As John grows up, he vows to avenge his father’s death. But matters are complicated when he falls deeply in love with the young Lorna Doone (Emily Richard) whose hand in marriage has been promised to her cousin, Carver ….

Subtitled A Romance of Exmoor, Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore was originally published in 1869. An instant success, it has spawned numerous television and film adaptations over the last hundred years or more. It’s easy to see why, since it’s a heady mixture of action, adventure, revenge and romance.

This 1976 BBC Classic Serial version is a faithful adaptation (always a hallmark of the Classic Serials) although it does take a short time to tune in to the style of production. Even for those well used to the delights of archive television, some of the 1970’s Classic Serials initially appear to be rather earnest and mannered (the numerous very fake-looking beards are also a hindrance). But it doesn’t take long before the story starts to engross and the small niggles fade away.

Richard Beaumont, as the young John, carries most of the first episode. Although still a teenager, he’d already enjoyed a decent career stretching back to the late 1960’s (including a brief recording contract with Decca records). His John is a pleasing mixture of youthful impatience and innocence and such is the impression he makes that it’s almost a shame when John suddenly turns into the much older John Sommerville.

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It’s slightly odd that none of the other characters seem to age though (which makes John’s transformation from scrawny youth to strapping young man all the more jarring). Possibly it would have been better to have staged this transformation at the start of the second episode, rather than at the end of the first.

Episode one also gives us a brief glimpse of the young Lorna, played by Jennifer Thanisch (best known for appearing as Anne in the Southern series of The Famous Five). John Somerville’s John Ridd is a stolid enough creation but it’s Emily Richard’s Lorna Doone who really catches the eye. Easily the more experienced actor of the two, Richard had just starred in The Glittering Prizes and would later appear in the well-remembered WW2 drama Enemy At The Door.

Plenty of familiar faces are on show. Patrick Troughton plays Councillor Doone, not a terribly large role but Troughton was always good value whatever part he played. Ian Hogg is very appealing as the roguish highwayman Tom Faggus whilst Lucinda Gane (later to play Miss Mooney in Grange Hill) appears as Lizzie, one of John’s sisters. David Garfield, Max Faulkner and Trevor Baxter are amongst those who contribute to a strong supporting cast.

The romance between John and Lorna is a key part of the narrative, with various other subplots – the infighting amongst the Doones, rumbles of unrest in London about the King ‘s conduct – also bubbling away nicely throughout the episodes.

Whilst it’s true that some of the rustic supporting characters err on the ripe side, Lorna Donne boasts some fine performances amongst the principals. If you love the 1970’s era of the BBC Classic Serials then this should certainly appeal.

Lorna Doone is available now from Simply Media, RRP £24.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

The Saint – The Romantic Matron

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Simon, this week in Argentina, meets a charming American lady called Beryl Carrington (Ann Gillis).  She tells him that a recent acquaintance – the personable Ramon Venino (John Carson) – has entrusted her with a list of political dissidents which he says will be vital in ensuring the future stability of the country.  Beryl passes the list to the Saint, who instantly comes under attack from the ungodly.  This raises Simon’s suspicions that the friendly Venino may not be all he appears to be ….

The Saint, like most ITC series of the time, requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  The opening stock footage and caption might tell us that we’re in Buenos Aires, but it quickly becomes clear that the filming was done a little closer to home.  Sometimes the programme makers can strike lucky and find a British location that does a fair job of doubling for this week’s foreign locale (or if not, they can simply stick a few palm trees into the frame and hope that does the trick!)

Alas, the opening of The Romantic Matron is one of the series’ less impressive location gambits.  We switch from Simon, relaxing at a pavement café, to a ridicously ugly building that isn’t at all in harmony with the attractive stock footage we’ve just witnessed.  For the dedicated ITC watcher, this will be a familiar sight – it’s the Elstree studios in Borehamwood.

Before we meet Beryl, there’s the little matter of the daring theft of one million dollars worth of gold bullion to consider.  The local police inspector (played by Patrick Troughton) resolves to hunt the criminals down.  If you’ve seen the Doctor Who story The Enemy of the World, then you might be able to guess what accent Troughton adopts – clearly it was his one size fits all solution when playing foreign types.

From the first time we see her, Beryl is presented as an innocent aboard.  Which is presumably why she’s targeted by the smooth and polished Venino (although since she’s only just arrived in the county it’s a slight mystery how he picked her out so quickly).  Venino shows her the sights, but there’s always a dark shadow dogging him – he’s followed everywhere by two silent men.

And what’s Simon doing whilst Beryl and Venino are becoming better acquainted and making googly eyes at each other?  Not a great deal, it has to be said.  This is another of those stories where the Saint remains off-screen until well into the episode – before that, Ann Gillis and John Carson take centre stage.

The title might suggest that Beryl, the romantic matron, is middle-aged, but Ann Gillis was only in her mid thirties at the time of recording.  As a child, she starred in a number of Hollywood films (seemingly positioned as the next Shirley Temple).  Her adult acting career was less prolific, although she notched up appearances in several other ITC series during the early 1960’s (EspionageThe Sentimental Agent).  Gillis is rather appealing as the ingenious adventurer – suddenly emboldened by her whirlwind romance with Venino.

John Carson’s second Saint role is much better than his first.  He’s still playing a foreigner, but at least this time he’s not browned up.  Always a favourite actor of mine, Carson manages to breathe a little life into a character that’s – possibly deliberately – not terribly well defined.

Once Beryl meets Simon and pours out her strange tale, then the story begins to pick up some impetus.  The Saint wasn’t a series which tended to dig too deeply into real-world politics, so the brief discussion here about Argentina’s current situation is fairly noteworthy.  Simon begins by pointing out how the people still seem to be a little nervous (a legacy, he claims, of decades of dictatorship).  However, things now seem to be on a more even keel thanks to the fairly popular government, suggesting that the story was set prior to March 1962 (which saw the moderate President Frondizi overthrown).

If this talk of politics seems a little dull, then never fear – it isn’t too long before Simon gets to duff up a couple of heavies.  It’s a cracking fight scene, with the Saint operating at full intensity (I especially like the way he slaps the second one around the face a few times before pushing him and his friend over and then toppling his bed onto them for good measure!)  You can tell it’s been a pretty severe tussle as Roger Moore’s usually immacuately coiffered hair is in a very distressed state by the end ….

The Saint gets a pretty good workout during this episode, as he’s later duffed up in a garage and then strung up for good measure. It looks fairly uncomfortable, but luckily Simon doesn’t stay trussed up for long.

The riddle of the missing gold bullion possibly isn’t too difficult a mystery to solve (especially when you discover that Venino – having bumped into Beryl’s car – was extremely keen to have the damage repaired at a local garage, all costs paid by him).

Larry Forrester’s teleplay relocates the action from Cuba to Argentina, but otherwise it sticks quite closely to Charteris’ story (originally published in 1958).  It’s mildly interesting that the crux of the story – Venino attempts to smuggle the stolen gold out of the country by fashioning solid gold bumpers (suitably camouflaged) onto Beryl’s car – was a plot point echoed in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, published in early 1959.  Did the one inspire the other, or was it just coincidence?

Fleeting appearances by some familiar faces (Patrick Troughton, Victor Spinnetti, Joby Blanshard) helps to keep the interest ticking along, but truth be told The Romantic Matron never quite sparks into life.  Gillis and Carson are both good and Roger Moore seems to relish the opportunity to handle a bit more action than usual, but the basic plot isn’t really that gripping.  Three halos out of five.

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Six

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We’ve seen over the last few episodes how Lethbridge-Stewart’s fighting force has been somewhat decimated.  Apart from himself, only Evans and Arnold are still standing.  Evans remains an unreconstructed coward whilst Arnold continues to be a pillar of no-nonsense strength.

ARNOLD: Now look, lad, you’re scared, that’s understandable. But you’ve been in the Army long enough to know that orders is orders. There’s four people up there. If we don’t warn them, they’re for the chop.
EVANS: So? Four of them’s getting the chop. There’s no reason to make it six, is there?

There’s another surprise reappearance – that of Chorley – who was last seen in episode three. It’s suggested again that he’s the Intelligence’s agent, but since he’s been absent for so long that doesn’t quite scan.

Evans getting carried off by the Yeti (“Hey, steady on. Oh, going for a walk, are we? There’s lovely”) is an episode highlight as is the moment when he’s deposited by the Yeti next to the Colonel and the Doctor. He brazenly denies that he had intended to make a break for it. “Desertion? Me? Oh, good heavens, no. No, I thought I’d try a single-handed and desperate attempt to rescue Professor Travers and the girl”.

We’re entering the end-game, as everyone is brought to the Piccadilly ticket hall, where the Intelligence has set up its brain drain machine. And this is where the Intelligence’s agent is finally revealed.  Right up until the last moment we’re teased that it’s Chorley, but then the shock reveal of Arnold is made.

Jack Woolgar impresses as the passionless voice of the Intelligence, but this is another of those moments which doesn’t make any sense. The Intelligence state that he’s been hiding in Arnold’s lifeless body for some time – but exactly how long?

Arnold seemed no different when he reappeared than he did before, but it’s equally hard to believe that he’s been controlled by the Intelligence all along (although that’s what the story tells us). There’s a faint air of disappointment here, somewhat akin to the feeling you get when a whodunit doesn’t play fair.

The story dropped numerous red herrings along the way, hinting that the Colonel, Evans, Chorley, etc were all credible candidates, but suspicion never fell on Arnold for a minute. Maybe this was due to the Great Intelligence’s skill, but it still feels like a little bit of a cheat.

And if the Doctor’s final reckoning with the Intelligence is a bit of damp squib, then it doesn’t really alter the fact that The Web of Fear is a classic slice of Who. A few quibbles about the script apart, this is glorious stuff and something which is always a pleasure to revisit.

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Five

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After four episodes, the Great Intelligence – speaking through the voice of Travers – finally explains what his/her/its evil plan is.  Some might think that the Intelligence has been somewhat slow on this score, but with six episodes to fill it clearly couldn’t show its hand too soon.

TRAVERS: Through time and space, I have observed you, Doctor. Your mind surpasses that of all other creatures.
DOCTOR: What do you want?
TRAVERS: You! Your mind will be invaluable to me. Therefore I have invented a machine that will drain all past knowledge and experience from your mind.

And this is where the wheels of the story slightly come off. I think that one of the reasons why I enjoy 60’s Who so much is that much of the mythos which would later build up around the character of the Doctor is absent. He’s no god-like creature, known and feared throughout the universe, he’s simply a wanderer in space and time.

So stories where he’s targeted by the baddies are pretty rare (this one and The Chase spring to mind) meaning that it’s much more likely that wherever he appears nobody’s heard of him.

And anyway, if the Great Intelligence needs the Doctor’s intelligence than he/she/it can’t be that great anyway. The Almost Great Intelligence maybe?

We’ve previously seen that the Lethbridge-Stewart of this story is a pragmatist, happy to escape rather than fight to the last man.  So when Evans suggests that if they agree to the Intelligence’s plan (delivering up the Doctor) possibly everyone else will be allowed to go free. The stalwart Brigadier would never consider this of course, but as has been touched upon, the man here isn’t quite the man he’d become and there’s a palpable moment of ambiguity in the air.

The controlled Travers stomps off with Victoria as a hostage whilst the others debate what to do next. Given that the Yeti have decimated the soldiers, there has to be a good reason why the Intelligence simply didn’t take the Doctor. And there is – unless the Doctor submits willingly, the brain drain machine won’t work.  So the fact that the Doctor has been given a deadline to either give himself up or face the consequences provides him with a welcome spot of breathing time.

The Doctor once again teams up with Anne. I wonder if these scenes influenced the creation of Zoe? Zoe might have been younger and more frivolous, but the seed of partnering the Doctor with a scientifically-minded companion might have been sown here.

The scene where Evans deliberately disobeys Lethbridge-Stewart’s order is a fascinating one.  The Brig wouldn’t have stood for this sort of insubordination of course, but the Colonel – still somewhat shell-shocked by the events of the previous episode – accepts Evans’ flagrant disregard of his orders quite calmly.  For those who know Lethbridge-Stewart well, to see the character so out of control is quite disturbing.

Deborah Watling is a little out of the action, but she does get to share a few nice scenes with her father. And when Jamie, out in the tunnels with the Colonel, spots Victoria’s handkerchief it’s hard not to be reminded of one of Frazer’s most famous convention anecdotes.

The Web of Fear is one of those stories where characters tend to disappear suddenly and then reappear with the same lack of ceremony. Both Arnold and Chorley have been MIA for a while but then Arnold pops up out of nowhere, seemingly no worse for wear.

The Doctor and Anne’s lash-up (a device to control the Yeti) seems to work, but a mass of web seems to spell the end for the Goodge Street fortress ….

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Four

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Presumably sometime during the previous episode Anne decided to swop her mini-skirt and boots for a trouser suit, since that’s what see her wearing as the moving pictures start again.  Given all that’s going on it seems a little strange that she was such a slave to fashion.  She might be an independent young woman, making her way in a man’s world, but it’s possibly not too much of a surprise to find her portrayed as something of a clothes horse (a sign of those times).

When the Doctor and the others find her, she’s in a highly distressed state, which is pretty understandable since the Yeti have abducted her father.  Tina Packer rather overplays here, although given the situation Anne finds herself in that’s not too surprising.

Troughton continues to underplay though, which is notable in the early scene where Evans asks the Doctor if he believes that the Yeti have taken Travers.  The Doctor’s dialled-down, abstracted air makes it plain that he’s considering multiple possibilities, none of them good. When the Doctor later outlines what he knows about the Intelligence, it’s yet another wonderfully delivered few lines from Troughton. “Well, I wish I could give you a precise answer. Perhaps the best way to describe it is a sort of formless, shapeless thing floating about in space like a cloud of mist, only with a mind and will”.

Jack Woolgar continues to impress as well.  Look for the moment when Arnold tells Lethbridge-Stewart that Weams and the others are dead – Arnold’s voice cracks for a split-second, just enough to show the pain he feels at the loss of his men.  That Arnold later turns out to be the agent of the Intelligence, rather than the more obvious Chorley, is a cruel blow, possibly one of the cruellest of the story.

But red herrings continue to be spread about, since the Colonel doesn’t seem to remember meeting Evans (he was apparently his driver).  Does this mean that Lethbridge-Stewart is the agent or is Evans possibly the rotten apple?  No to both questions, but they’re nice misdirects.

Anne operates in this episode as pretty much a proto Zoe or Liz.  Like them, she’s able to speak to the Doctor on a similar scientific level (something that Jamie and Victoria were unable to do) which enables the Doctor to have a confidant who can also act as a sounding board for his theories.

One of the reasons why the Yeti work so well is that they’re not seen very often.  Keep them on screen for too long and their shortcomings become obvious.  But a few brief glimpses here and there, ideally lurking in the shadows, and they’re the stuff of nightmares.

But this episode sees them head out and about as they tangle with Lethbridge-Stewart and the others at Covent Garden.  This film sequence shouldn’t work at all – Yeti in the cold light of day sounds like a very bad idea – but Camfield pulls it off in a pulsating action scene that’s an obvious story highlight.

It’s interesting that Lethbridge-Stewart mounts the mission to Covent Garden for one reason only – to locate the TARDIS which will enable them all to escape.  The Brigadier would surely have remained and fought to the very last man, but the Colonel is much more of a pragmatist, keen to find an escape route.

During the scene you can play spot the stuntman – Terry Walsh, Derek Martin and Derek Ware should all be instantly recognisable and the minute they pop up you know that a spot of action is imminent.  It does seem a little odd that a very familiar piece of stock music (associated with the Cybermen) is used here, but maybe Camfield was unaware it had been used before or possibly it was felt that it didn’t matter that it had previously featured.

Favourite moment during this scene is Yeti who clutches his eyes before falling over.  Since we know that John Levene was playing one of the Yeti, I like to think that he was the one here who decided to go extra-dramatic.  Corporal Blake’s rather horrible death – mainly due to Richardson Morgan’s blood-curdling screams – is something which lingers long in the memory.

Knight and the Doctor head up to ground level to look for some vital electronic spares.  Alas, Knight doesn’t make it as he’s mown down by the Yeti.  The last shot we have of Knight – his lifeless body slumped across a table – is yet another unsettling choice from Camfield and Knight’s sudden, unexpected death helps to raise the stakes.  If Knight, one of those characters you’d have assumed would make it to the end, can be killed then no-one is safe.

This is also borne out when every member of the Covent Garden party – except the Colonel – is killed.  And with Knight also dead and Arnold missing, Lethbridge-Stewart is pushed to breaking point.  The cliffhanger – showing the arrival of the Yeti together with a catatonic Travers – ratchets up the tension several more notches.

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Three

It’s a pity that this episode is still missing, although one day it might come back, yes it might come back ….

The major irritant is that it denies us our first glimpse of Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart (although since nothing from his debut existed in the archives before 2013 we can’t grumble about this too much).  And if there had to be a missing episode, then better this one than the next (the Covent Garden battle sequence would have been a much more serious loss).

Although Courtney’s characterisation as Lethbridge-Stewart is already pretty recognisable, the Colonel we see here isn’t quite the Brigadier that he’d become from The Invasion onwards.  Like some of the others (notably Chorley) he’s given the odd, off-key moment, suggesting he might have a secret to hide.   The fact that the story will shortly raise the spectre that the Intelligence must have a mole inside the fortress raises the possibility that the Colonel may well be a traitor ….

Chorley’s undergone something of a transformation from the previous episode.  Although things looked grim then, he was calm and in control. But now he’s suddenly become hysterical and desperate to leave.  Again, this suggests that he may be a man with his own agenda (or it could possibly be that he’s simply a coward, thinking only of his own survival).

The return of the Doctor energises the story – he quickly takes command and impresses the Colonel with his practical suggestions.  Lethbridge-Stewart also has ideas of his own – getting rid of the annoying Chorley by creating the superfluous job of “co-ordinator”, for example.

The Colonel is also in his element when leading a briefing.  Interestingly it’s Anne who is slightly riled when everybody’s presence is requested (“a briefing? We’re not in the army yet”) rather than the Doctor. It would be easy to imagine the Pertwee Doctor expressing a similar sentiment, but the Troughton incarnation was always much more easy-going.

But although the Doctor may appear to be pretty placid, it’s plain that there’s plenty going on under the surface. This was always one of the joys of Troughton’s Doctor. He didn’t need to dominate proceedings like Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker’s Doctors, he was content to sit, watch and wait. But when he spoke, people tended to listen – as seen with this short exchange between him and the Colonel.

DOCTOR: Someone here is in league with the Yeti. Maybe even controlling them.
COLONEL: What?
DOCTOR: The main door didn’t open by itself, did it? It may be any one of us.
COLONEL: Me, perhaps?
DOCTOR: Perhaps.

Based on what we later know, the idea of Lethbridge-Stewart as a traitor is laughable, but at this point we simply don’t know him, so it’s completely possible.  And the fact that Troughton doesn’t overplay this moment – he delivers his lines in very a matter-of-fact way – makes the scene even more powerful.  Unlike some of his successors, Troughton tended to understand that less was more.

Jamie spends most of the episodes stuck in the tunnels with the rather annoying Evans, whilst Victoria’s back in the fortress with the others. She doesn’t do a great deal in the episode sad to say, partly this seems to be because Anne – a more dominant character – is rather taking the limelight. And it’s a pity that as the episode draws to a conclusion we’re left with a whimpering Victoria and a slightly angry Doctor (she’s told Chorley about the TARDIS – a bad move if he’s the agent of the Intelligence).

The sudden death of Weams (the first – but not the last – of the established characters to die) and the cliffhanger shot of a terrified Travers tangling with the Yeti (who have been mostly off-screen during this twenty-five minutes) provides a strong hook into the next episode where – hurrah! – the pictures will move again.

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Two

With Patrick Troughton on holiday, episode two allows the others, especially Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, a little more screen-time.

Jamie and Victoria’s first encounter with the aged Travers is a treat.  Camfield favours lingering on Victoria’s delighted face as she instantly realises that the old man in front of them is the same person they encountered forty years earlier in Tibet.  It’s a nice touch that Victoria is several steps ahead of Jamie, who doesn’t recognise Travers to begin with at all (although when he finally twigs, his comment – “here, hasn’t he got old? Oh, but we’re very pleased to see you, Professor. Very pleased” – is lovely).

The formidable Anne tangles with another man and again easily bests him. Here, it’s the oily newspaperman Harold Chorley (Jon Rollason).

CHORLEY: Oh, for goodness sake, why is everybody being so evasive? Why won’t anybody answer any questions?
ANNE: Perhaps they’re afraid you’ll interpret them in your own inimitable style.
CHORLEY: And what does that mean, pray?
ANNE: It means you have a reputation for distorting the truth. You take reality and you make it into a comic strip. In short, Mister Chorley, you are a sensationaliser.
CHORLEY: You smug little redbrick university ….
ANNE: Don’t say it, Mister Chorley. I have a very quick temper and very long claws.

Ouch! It’s interesting that although Web was made some fifty years ago, Chorley’s character – a unscrupulous journalist – is still a very recognisable one. The more things change ….

Jack Woolgar gives a lovely performance as Staff Sergeant Arnold. Arnold is your archetypical NCO – a gruff, no-nonsense type who’s easily able to keep his subordinates in order. Amongst his charges is the familiar face of Richardson Morgan (as Corporal Blake). Morgan would later turn up in The Ark in Space. Also good value is Stephen Whitaker as Craftsman Weams.

The arrival of Driver Evans (Derek Politt) adds a little levity to the story. He’s a comic, cowardly Welshman (if his accent wasn’t obvious enough, then the fact he turns up singing the Welsh national anthem provides the audience with another clue as to his nationality. Not the subtlest of characterisations then).

The Yeti look very good when lumbering through the tunnels on film. When they pop up on videotape it’s fair to say that they’re slightly less impressive, but Camfield is still a good enough director to ensure that they don’t look completely ridiculous (other directors might not have been so successful on this score).

There’s already a nice sense of claustrophobia and unease throughout this instalment, which increases as the story progresses. Although the Troughton era tended to overdose on base-under-siege stories, when done well (as here) they’re gripping entertainment. By the end of the second episode, the parameters of the story have been established – a small group of heroes isolated in the underground and menaced by the Yeti on all sides.

With Victoria lost in the tunnels and the Doctor still missing, things are nicely set up for episode three.

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode One

Following the news of Deborah Watling’s death, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to reach for this story.  Back in the mid eighties though, if you wanted to see Victoria in action you were limited to either the second episode of The Abominable Snowman, episode three of The Enemy of the World or the first episode of this one (and that was always supposing that you were able to obtain a pirate VHS from a friendly contact).

It’s very pleasing that season five is now much better represented than it was back then and, for me, it’s the two stories returned in 2013 – The Enemy of the World and this one – which are the real jewels in the crown.

I first encountered Web 1 back in the late eighties, on a pirate tape along with a selection of other orphaned Hartnell and Troughton episodes (a bit like an early Lost in Time then, although the picture quality sometimes left a little to be desired).  It’s therefore an episode which I’m very familiar with, having rewatched it countless times across the decades (always wondering whether the rest of the story would maintain this strong opening).

Non-controversial statement – Douglas Camfield was Doctor Who‘s best director.  It’s easy to see why he directed more stories than anybody else – his skill at crafting intriguing picture compositions (both in the studio and on film) was second to none and there’s plenty of examples to be found in this opener.

Since studio time was always limited, most directors wouldn’t spend too long on creating interesting visual images – simply getting the actors to hit their marks and deliver their lines without bumping into the scenery seemed to be the top priority.  Camfield, possibly due to the fact that he ran his productions with a military precision, was quite different as he was able to find the time to craft pleasing shot selections.

A good example can be found in the early TARDIS scenes.  The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, staring at the scanner screen, are positioned with the Doctor in front, Victoria behind him and Jamie at the back.  In order to make this shot work, all three actors had to hit their marks exactly whilst the cameraman also had to be in precisely the right place.  If anybody was slightly off, then the composition wouldn’t work.  Many directors would simply have elected to line them up side by side (this would have been easier to shoot, but also would have looked unnatural – Peter Davison raises this point several times on his audio commentaries – the way that certain directors shot the TARDIS scenes very flatly).

I assume the reason why the confrontation between Travers (Jack Watling) and Julius Silverstein (Frederick Schrecker) is recorded on film was because the underground sets took all the available studio space.  Camfield always had an affinity with film (no surprise that he later graduated to all-film series like The Sweeney) which makes this scene a creepy pleasure.  It’s true that Jack Watling gives a very broad performance (“stubborn old goat!”) and his facial contortions are something to behold, but presumably he was playing the part as written.

Strong female characters aren’t terribly common during this period of the show, so Travers’ daughter Anne (Tina Packer) stands out rather.  A scientist in her own right, she’s acidly polite when the hapless Captain Knight (Ralph Watson) attempts to clumsily chat her up.

KNIGHT: What’s a girl like you doing in a job like this?
ANNE: Well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d like to be a scientist, so I became a scientist.
KNIGHT: Just like that?
ANNE: Just like that.

Compare and contrast this with The Invasion (which in its early drafts would have featured return appearances for Anne and Professor Travers). Anne’s replacement – Isobel – is a much more pallidly drawn character who’s happy to entertain romantic overtures from Knight’s counterpart – Captain Jimmy Turner.

Whilst I may love The Web of Fear dearly, it’s not a story that makes a lick of sense.  Firstly, if the Great Intelligence’s plan was to ensnare the Doctor, why envelop London in a web?  After all this wasn’t the early seventies – a time when the Doctor was resident on modern-day (to the viewers) Earth.

And the moment when the museum Yeti changes before our eyes from the cuddly Abominable Snowman version into the sleeker Web of Fear model might look good, but again it’s something which isn’t at all logical.

Quibbles apart, this opener effectively sets the story up.  We know what we’re dealing with (Yetis in the Underground!) and we’ve also been introduced to a varied cast of military characters who we’ll get to know better as the serial progresses.

For many long years there seemed to be little hope that we’d ever get to see the rest of the story.  And then in 2013 something remarkable happened …..

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Strange Partners

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Lucian Currie (Griffith Jones) wants his business partner Vickers (Patrick Troughton) dead and attempts to force Brady to carry out the deed ….

Strange Partners is one of the more satisfying Invisible Man episodes.  It’s powered by Jones’ portrayal of Lucian Currie, a man who is clearly teetering on the edge of sanity but nonetheless is still able to generate an air of civility.

Currie’s scheme is straightforward – Vickers has a weak heart, so if Brady punches him hard then the shock should be enough to kill him.   Because Vickers always travels with a devoted bodyguard, Ryan (Robert Cawdron), Currie can’t carry out the crime himself, hence his need for an invisible man.

And how can Currie guarantee Brady’s co-operation?  Currie has a dog, Juno, trained to detect Brady, even when invisible, and he’s more than capable of stopping and killing him if he attempts to escape.

Currie makes great play of the fact that Juno’s a killer, although it’s plain that the dog chosen to play the part is rather more benign – some of the dubbed on barks are fairly obvious it has to be said.

Griffith Jones’ career started in the 1930’s and amongst his early notable appearances was the role of the Earl of Salisbury in Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film adaptation of Henry V.  He’s easily the standout performer here – next to him Brady seems somewhat pallid (although since Currie holds the upper hand in the early part of the story that’s reasonable enough).

Patrick Troughton has less to do and his heavy make-up – no doubt intended to indicate Vickers’ illness – is a tad distracting.  Jack Melford, another of those actors with an incredibly impressive list of credits, has the small, but key, role of Collins – Currie’s butler and partner in crime.

When Currie and Collins make a late break for freedom, we’re treated to another example of Currie’s instability.  He’s driving in an increasingly reckless way, which concerns Collins, but Currie is past the point of rational thought – if they crash and die, so be it.

Restricting much of the action to Currie’s house is one of the reasons why the story works as well as it does.  Some other episodes attempted to cover too much ground which could be a problem with only twenty five minutes to play with.  Strange Partners, by being more restrictive, turns out to be a more rewarding experience.

Possibly the only major weakness revolves around Vickers’ amazing powers of recovery.  Early on, Currie does admit that although Vickers is an ill man, he’s hung on for the last fifteen years (which is quite impressive).  Even more impressive is the fact that after he’s attacked by Currie (who used the confusion caused by Brady’s escape attempt) he still manages to survive.  Given all we’ve been told, Vickers should really have been dead –  but possibly there was a slight squeamishness about this occurring in a programme which was pretty family friendly.

Aside from the solid story, there’s a couple of nice invisible moments at the start.  We see Brady winding up his clock and preparing for a good night’s sleep (an indentation in the mattress).  Overall, this is a good ‘un.

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The Feathered Serpent. Series One – Episode Six

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The Temple of Screams is populated by some rubbery-looking bats.  Also present is Otolmi, absent from the last few episodes, who is able to rescue Chimalma.  He manages to convince the Princess that when she emerges from the temple in the morning she should declare she was mistaken about Nasca.  This will give them a little breathing space to organise a plan to remove him permanently.

Mahoutec finally learns the truth about Nasca, but Nasca and Chadac ensure that he doesn’t live long enough to tell anyone.  Once again there’s an ominous sound of drumbeats on the soundtrack as Mahoutec fights and dies (in a rather bloody manner, it has to be said).  Nasca seems delighted with the outcome, clasping Chadac’s shoulder (a bit of business added by Troughton maybe?)

We finally discover what the Feathered Serpent is.  He’s the old, discredited god and Heumac will take his place and wear his robes as he’s taken to the Pyramid of the Sun for sacrifice.  Nasca matter-of-factly tells Heumac that he intends to rip out his heart and later we see Nasca planning to arrange the sacrifice to coincide at the precise moment of an eclipse.  It’s an interesting moment – Nasca might believe totally in his god but this shows that he’s not averse to using natural events in order to manipulate the populace.

The Pyramid of the Sun is seen in all its glory only briefly, but it’s a very effective use of CSO.  Heumac steps up to the mark to deal with Nasca, although the mere fact of Nasca’s death doesn’t stop him from returning for series two …..

It’s a pity about the dozen or so overacting extras (who are called upon to represent the thousands watching the attempted sacrifice).  Their allegiance switches from Nasca to Chimalma rather too quickly for my tastes.

If the conclusion of the story feels a little rushed, then The Feathered Serpent is still very effective, thanks in no small part to Patrick Troughton’s dominant performance as Nasca.  By the conclusion of the story it appears that good has triumphed over evil but the sequel series, broadcast in 1978, will show that the evil has yet to be defeated.  Even after his death, Nasca continues to threaten the rule of Chimalma and Heumac.

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The Feathered Serpent. Series One – Episode Five

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The episode four cliffhanger was a good one.  We see Chimalma poisoned with a dart blown by the hidden Chadac at exactly the same time that Nasca and Mahoutec enter the room.  With the senseless Chimalma falling into Heumac’s arms, Nasca is quick to accuse him – although Heumac attempts to convince Mahoutec that if he dies then the chance to save Chimalma will be lost forever.

Heumac tells Mahoutec that Nasca is his enemy, not him.  Troughton starts to ramp up the intensity once more as Nasca begins to see his position come under threat.  At present, Mahoutec doesn’t believe Heumac’s claims of secret passages in the temples nor that Nasca murdered the Emperor, but maybe, at the very least, a seed of doubt has been sown.

Following the attack on Chimalma, Mahoutec is finally convinced that an attack on Heumac’s army is justifiable.  Unsurprisingly for a studio-bound production it’s a case of tell, can’t show.

Like Tozo in the last episode, Chimalma is totally immobile and unable to speak, although she remains conscious and aware of her surroundings.  Diane Keen has an easy time of it in the early part of the episode, having to do little else but lie down, but after Tozo finds the antidote, Chimalma is able to renter the narrative in a dramatic fashion.

Before that, there’s more examples of Nasca’s eloquent oratory as he urges Teshcata to “play the music of destruction for us now. Play it loud so it reaches the ears of our enemies. Let them hear the sound that destroyed the god they worship. Let the weapons fall from their hands and let them sway to the music and let their partners in the dance be death and despair.”  During this scene there’s an overlay of flickering flames on Troughton as the camera slowly zooms in on him.  This, together with an ominous drumbeat, helps to create a very effective sense of menace.

The return of Chimalma temporarily puts a dampener on Nasca’s dreams of conquest.  Diane Keen shows Chimalma’s core of steel as she orders that Nasca and Chadac be arrested and Mahoutec banished.  Unfortunately her guards don’t respond (watch the flicker of amusement that plays around Troughton’s face as Nasca realises that he still holds the upper hand).  Has Nasca’s influence spread so far that it now infects the palace guard?  Given that Chimalma rules by right of succession it does seem strange that she appears so powerless.  There’s a bevy of important nobles milling about, but as they’re unspeaking extras it’s probably best not to expect a great deal of help from them (they can only manage some rhubarbing).

With Chimalma accused of being mad, she’s taken to spend the night in the Chamber of Screams ….

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The Feathered Serpent. Series One – Episode Four

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Once more Nasca attempts to manipulate Mahoutec.  As expected, Troughton gives a mesmeric performance in this early scene – he’s very still, not offering any excessive movements, with his rich, deep voice pitched especially low.  Nasca might be a dangerous fanatic but he’s wise enough to know that at this time he needs to appear to be the voice of reason.

Mahoutec might have been presented up until now as a narrow-minded and jealous man but, unlike Nasca, he didn’t seek the Emperor’s death in order to further his own ambitions.  Nasca and Mahoutec are presented as uneasy allies, with Mahoutec still in ignorance about the true course of events – believing Nasca’s story that the Emperor was killed by a vengeful spirit.

There’s further opportunity for Troughton to show Nasca’s evil side as he interrogates the unfortunate Tozo.  Tozo is unwilling to speak, so Nasca’s shadow, the mute Chadac (George Lane Cooper) steps up to apply some torture.  As might be expected, Chadac’s ministrations (a series of needles) isn’t presented in an explicit manner, but the fact that it’s there at all in a children’s series (and that the child identification figure is the one to suffer) is interesting.  Richard Willis is able to show Tozo’s pain and suffering which, along with Troughton’s silky-voiced villainy, gives the moment a certain impact.

That Chimalma is of royal blood is made clear after she autocratically orders Heumac to search the temple for hidden passages.  If they can find them, then it’ll prove that her father was murdered by an assassin, not the spirits of the dead.  It all seems rather convenient that he’s able to do so with great ease (also finding the paralyzed Tozo along the way) but even with six episodes to play with you have to expect a few plot contrivances.

But this episode really belongs to Troughton.  Nasca has another key scene where, dressed in a ceremonial mask and with an oppressive chanting soundtrack, he utters the following at Kukulkhan’s funeral.  “Before the coming of Teshcata, the plains of death were a desolate place. There was no shade and the tears of the dead burnt the soil. But Teshcata came and said let the sun weep tears of blood and blood fell upon the plains of death and the desert became a paradise.  And Teshcata said let all those who have blood shedded for me and those who have none, let them give me their hearts that I may look upon the love therein.”

Lurid stuff, especially after Nasca rips out Kukulkhan’s heart (which thankfully happens off-screen).  With Kukulkhan’s death, Nasca is a step closer to absolute power but there’s still the problem of Chimalma.  So she must die as well ….

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The Feathered Serpent. Series One – Episode Three

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Having made the decision to temporally abandon human sacrifice, Kukulkhan agrees to spend the night alone in the temple, where he will receive council from the Spirits of the Dead.  Kukulkhan certainly receives judgement, albeit of a very grim kind, but it was dispensed on the orders of the corporeal Nasca.

A pity that Tony Steedman exits the story so early, but the removal of Kukulkhan allows Chimalma to move into the centre of the narrative as she and Nasca find themselves on opposite sides.  Troughton continues to impress as he takes full advantage of John Kane’s well-crafted dialogue.  Here, Nasca explains to Chimalma and Heumac that although he has total faith in his god, this isn’t necessarily a blessing.  “It is a torment. To be so close to divinity, to share in his mysteries and yet to be a man amongst other men with their weaknesses and squalor. It is an agony of longing.”

Mahoutec agrees to attack Heumac’s army, camped outside the city walls.  Nasca wants all of Heumac’s men – numbering one thousand – sacrificed, which causes Mahoutec pause for thought.  But he agrees anyway.

Events once again take place at night.  Moody lighting, judicious use of sound effects and a subtle instrumental track all help to create a sense of unease.  The drama continues to bubble along nicely as Mahoutec and Heumac clash.  Mahoutec dislikes and distrusts Heumac’s people (calling them scum) and personally detests Heumac since they both wish to marry the same woman.  But does Mahoutec desire Chimalma personally, or does he simply want to sit on the throne?

Mahoutec and Heumac duel, although it’s over very quickly.  Heumac wins but spares Mahoutec’s life.  This infuriates Mahoutec – when it is known he lost but wasn’t killed he won’t be able to face his men.  He demands that as the vanquished he has the right to insist Heumac kills him, but the other man declines.  “You must find your own end.”

As I’ve said, Kukulkhan departs the story with something of a whimper rather than a bang and the duel between Mahoutec and Heumac is a disappointingly brief one.  But there’s still plenty to entertain here, not least when Chimalma, Nasca and the others discover Kukulkhan’s body.  This gives Troughton an opportunity to notch his intensity level up to eleven as Nasca declares that judgement has been carried out.

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The Feathered Serpent. Series One – Episode Two

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George Cormack’s film and television credits were relatively few in number, but quality certainly made up for quantity.  He was one of the few members of the guest cast in the Doctor Who story The Time Monster to emerge with any dignity, for example, and his turn here as the blind ex-priest Otolomi, is another strong performance.

Otolomi befriends Tozo and explains a little of his history to the boy.  “For more than half my life I was Quala’s priest. Then my people turned to Teshcata. They staked me out in the desert with my face turned to the sun and there they left me until the power of sight was burned forever from my eyes.”

The appearance of Heumac in the throne room causes a little bit of a stir.  His likeness, via a carving, had preceded him, but it wasn’t one that had impressed Chimalma.  In the flesh Heumac is rather personable, a far cry from the rather ugly carving.  He explains that this was done deliberately, and Chimalma (who last episode wasn’t exactly looking forward to her marriage) seems to perk up a little at the sight of him!

Nasca manipulates Mahoutec whilst continuing to clash with Kukulkhan. Nasca’s more than a little upset that he’s only been given three sacrifices rather than the ten he wanted.  The plot also begins to move as Otolomi and Tozo gain position of a map which shows that the new temple, built to honour Teshcata, has secret passages which were inserted on the orders of Nasca.  Otolomi believes that possession of the map will enable him to break Nasca’s power once and for all.

Taking place during the night, this episode drips with atmosphere as shadows, lighted torches and unsettling sound effects abound.  I also like the way that Nasca skulks around the palace at will, removing stones in the walls so that he can communicate with Kukulkhan.  Nasca, of course, denies this, insisting that it must have been a spirt that the Emperor heard.

Kukulkhan makes public his desire that Chimalma and Heumac should be married.  The people approve, which means that both Kukulkhan and Heumac are now in grave danger from Nasca.  And when Kukulkhan decides that there will be no sacrifices until after their marriage that only serves to infuriate the High Priest even more ….

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The Feathered Serpent. Series One – Episode One

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Broadcast on ITV during June and July 1976, it’s a little difficult to believe that The Feathered Serpent was a children’s series.  Throw in a little gratuitous nudity and it wouldn’t have looked too dissimilar to the later prime-time serial The Cleopatras.

Set in Ancient Mexico,  the early episodes of series one of The Feathered Serpent revolve around the power struggle between the Emperor Kukulkhan (Tony Steedman) and the High Priest Nasca (Patrick Troughton).  Kukulkhan is a wise and enlightened man who’s grown tired of conquest and bloodshed.  He knows that the more territories they conquer, the more difficult it will become to keep their subjugated peoples suppressed, which in turn will mean that more and more brutal methods of punishment and domination will have to be found.  This doesn’t concern Nasca – he’s a man who revels in death and destruction and was instrumental in ensuring that Kukulkhan’s people turned away from worshipping Quala, a god of peace, in favour of Teshcata, a god who demands human sacrifice.

It should go without saying, but Troughton is mesmerising as Nasca.  He can do eye-rolling villainy with the best of them, but he’s also capable of stillness and subtlety.  The moment, early on here, when he plaintively asks Teshcata why he no longer speaks to him is one such example. And his realisation that his god will only be satisfied with blood – and royal blood at that – is chilling.

This initial episode covers a lot of ground.  We meet Nasca and Kukulkhan and are quickly made aware that they have diametrically opposing views – basically offering a choice between darkness and light.  Kukulkhan’s daughter, Princess Chimalma (Diane Keen) also enters the frame.  If Troughton’s one reason for watching these two serials, then Keen is most certainly another.  Although Chimalma has a certain doe-eyed beauty, she’s also a woman of spirit.  Kukulkan is keen to marry her off to Prince Heumac (Brian Deacon) a member of a rival tribe who still worships the old, peaceful, god Quala.

Kukulkhan hopes that their union will not only help to bring peace between their two tribes but will also lead his people back to the worship of Quala.  This begs one question – since Kukulkhan, even though he’s just and fair, has total autocratic power, why did he allow Nasca to replace Quala with Teshcata?  Like Troughton and Keen, Tony Steedman offers an impressive performance, raising the studio roof with an powerful display of histrionics.

One person who’s far from happy with the news of Chimalma and Heumac’s intended nuptials is Mahoutec (Robert Gary). He’s the brave, if not particularly diplomatic, leader of Kukulkhan’s army. Mahoutec has always believed that he would marry Chimalma, so when Nasca gleefully tells him what Kukulkhan intends, it’s plain that sparks will fly.

Tozo (Richard Willis) is a young boy in the employ of Heumac. Outspoken and aggressive, it seems impossible for him to keep out of trouble. Tozo serves as the audience identification figure, being the one younger member of the cast.

Despite being studio-bound, it’s plain that a little more money than usual for a children’s series was thrown at The Feathered Serpent.  The sets are substantial and impressive, although the harsh studio lighting – no doubt intended to simulate bright sunshine – does tend to give some scenes a rather theatrical, unreal air.  Night-time sequences, when the lighting can be brought right down, are naturally much more atmospheric.

With lashings of make-up (and that’s just on the men) and some odd-looking costumes, on one level this is a series that looks faintly ridiculous.  But the quality of the story and the core cast ensures that by the end of episode one most viewers should be firmly hooked.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Four

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Once again, the Squire is forced to count the human cost of his quest for gold, since all three of his servants now lie dead. “Old Redruth. Joyce. And now Hunter. Loyal souls, all of them, who served and trusted me. I have much to account for, Livesey.”

The Doctor offers a brief word of comfort, but maybe Livesey’s gesture here is just an automatic one. It’s certainly debatable that Trelawney’s escapade can be judged to be an honourable one – as his intention was to keep the plundered gold for himself (after, presumably, sharing out a small portion to the others) he can hardly claim the moral high ground over Silver and his men.

Jim decides to take Ben Gunn’s boat and return to the Hispaniola. It’s a brave, if foolhardy venture, since it brings him into contact with the murderous Israel Hands. Patrick Troughton once again is on good form as Israel, reacting calmly to Jim’s statement that he’s returned to take possession of the ship.

Exactly why Jim decided that the pirates onboard would be happy to receive him is a slight mystery. True, Israel seems harmless enough to begin with (he’s incapacitated after a fight to the death with another pirate) but Jim wasn’to know this. You’d have assumed that after the horror of the stockade battle, with death all around him, Jim would have been a little more cautious. But if Trelawney has begun to learn the true cost of adventure, maybe Jim hasn’t.

All that we’ve seen of Israel has primed the audience to expect that he’ll turn on Jim when the moment is right, and so it proves. Israel’s pursuit of Jim is a nicely shot sequence from Michael E. Briant, especially as the pair climb the rigging to face their final reckoning.

The ever resourceful Jim returns to the island, only to find that Silver and the others have taken possession of the stockade. Alfred Burke is at his most affable, as Silver appears delighted to see the boy and offers him a chance to join them. Jim refuses and furthermore tells them all that they’ll never see the Hispaniola again.

This is something of a turning point – Jim’s life should now be forfeit, but Silver won’t kill the lad, which displeases the others intensely. Silver has been tipped the black spot, but even with his back to the wall he’s still able to run rings around the rest of his crew.

Silver, with his keen sense of self preservation, is looking to change sides and Jim is an important part of this. Ashley Knight is never better than In the scene where Livesey attempts to forcibly remove Jim from the stockade. Jim refuses, biting the Doctor’s hand at one point, because he gave Silver his word he wouldn’t attempt to escape. This action bounds Silver and Jim even tighter together.

The sting in the tail – the treasure is gone from its resting place – is the prelude for the final (albiet brief) bloody battle. Ben Gunn, of course, found the treasure nine months ago and brought it back to his cave. The reveal is done in a highly theatrical manner – a seemingly never-ending stream of coins gush out onto the cave floor as the faces of Silver, Livesey, Ben, Trelawney and Jim are overlaid. It was surely intentional that Livesey’s face was impassive whilst both Trelawney and Jim showed great pleasure.

As I said earlier, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s something of a mystery why this excellent version of Treasure Island hasn’t appeared on DVD before, but it’s something that any devotee of this era of British television should have in their collection.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Two

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Since Treasure Island is packed with character actors of distinction, it’s easy to overlook the young actor who played Jim Hawkins.  But Ashley Knight more than holds his own amongst such august company, possessing just the right amount of youthful spirit and innocence.

That he’s deceived by Silver shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since Long John also managed to fool Squire Trelawney (Thorley Walters).  But, to be fair, fooling the Squire probably wasn’t too tricky for Silver, as Trelawney (as per Stevenson’s novel) is portrayed as the sort of trusting, loose-mouthed individual you really wouldn’t want to entrust with the delicate matter of finding a ship and crew to sail to the Spanish Main in search of buried treasure.  Walters is a delight as the Squire, he may be pompous and vain but he’s also curiously lovable.

The way that Silver manipulates Trelawney into engaging him as the ship’s cook and then agrees that he can handpick the crew provides us with another opportunity to witness the apparently charming and helpful side of Silver (although he’s only serving his own interests of course).  His charm is seen again when the wily Long John takes Jim under his wing.  There’s no reason why Silver should seek to deceive Jim, which leads us to assume that his friendly stories have no ulterior motive.  But there’s a sting in the tail – at the same time he’s regaling Jim with yarns about the sea, Silver is planning to murder Trelawney, Livesey and Captain Smollett (Richard Beale) and anyone else who stands in his way.

Would he also do the same to Jim?  It’s not explicitly stated, but he does confide to Israel (the ever-watchable Patrick Troughton) that he doesn’t intend to leave any witnesses, so we can pretty much take it as read.  This dichotomy in Long John’s character is what makes him so fascinating – the other pirates make little or no attempt to hide their evil intent, but it’s the way that Silver can wear different masks at different times that makes him such an enduringly appealing creation.  And of course, in the hands of an actor as good as Alfred Burke it’s just a pleasure to watch.

Not all of the crew are content, like Silver, to wait for the right time to make their move, some want action now.  Prime amongst the malcontents is Merry (Roy Boyd) who paces the ship with a murderous look on his face, but you get the feeling that he’s never going to be any sort of match for Long John.

During this era of television, directors tended to have a “rep” of actors who they employed on a regular basis.  If you’re familiar with some of Michael E. Briant’s previous productions then names such as Roy Evans, Richard Beale, Royston Tickner and Alec Wallis will be familiar ones.  Alec Wallis has a nice little cameo as Patmore, a corrupt tailor who Silver deliberately sends along to Trelawney, just so he can denounce him before the Squire and therefore gain his trust.  Beale is suitably upright as the incorruptible Smollett, a man who sets to sea with the gravest misgivings about the crew (a pity nobody listened to him).

Before the ship sets sail there are several scenes which take place within the Squire’s cabin.  Thanks to a very simple CSO effect (bobbing waves outside the cabin window) the illusion at being on the water is created very effectively.  But there’s no substitute for the real thing and it’s the later filmwork aboard the Hispaniola, as it makes it way towards Treasure Island, which really opens up the production.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part One

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Treasure Island, an evergreen classic of children’s literature for more than a century, has generated more film, television and radio adaptations than you could shake a cutlass at.  But even though there’s many versions to chose from, this one (broadcast in four episodes on BBC1 in 1977) has to rank amongst the very best.

Like the majority of the BBC Classic Serials from the sixties, seventies and eighties, the adaptation (this one from John Lucarotti) displays considerable fidelity to the original source material, although Lucarotti is unafraid to build upon the original narrative.  In a way this isn’t surprising, since the book was told from Jim’s perspective it’s inevitable that it has a somewhat restricted viewpoint.

Lucarotti’s additions begin right from the start, as Jim’s father, Daniel (Terry Scully), someone who merited only a handful of mentions in Stevenson’s original, is fleshed out into a substantial character.  Scully excelled at playing people who suffered – he had one of those faces which could express a world of pain – and Daniel is no exception.  Daniel is clearly far from well and concern that he’s unable to provide for his family is uppermost in his mind.  So the arrival of Billy Bones (Jack Watson) seems to offer a chance to extricate himself from his financial problems.

Watson’s excellent as Bones.  With his weather-beaten face and the addition of a wicked-looking scar, he’s perfect as the rough, tough, seaman with a secret.  Bones’ decision to recruit Daniel (an invention of Lucarotti’s) is quite a neat idea, since it explains how Long John Silver and the others came to learn where Bones was (Daniel heads off to secure passage for himself and Bones to the Caribbean, not realising that Silver is monitoring the port for any unusual activity).

Lucarotti also elects to bring Silver and his confederates into the story very early, making it plain that Bones has absconded with something of great value that they’d all like back.  If you love British archive television of this era then the sight of Silver’s gang will no doubt warm the cockles of your heart (step forward David Collings, Patrick Troughton, Stephen Greif and Talfryn Thomas amongst others).

Alfred Burke’s Long John Silver impresses right from the off.  He doesn’t have Robert Newton’s eye-rolling intensity, nor does he have Brian Blessed’s physical presence – but what Burke’s Silver does possess is great charm and a rare skill at manipulating others to do his will.  But although he seems pleasant enough to begin with, it doesn’t take long before he demonstrates his true colours.

Bones’ run-in with Doctor Livesey (Anthony Bate) is kept intact from the original.  Bate is yet another wonderful addition to the cast and Livesey’s stand-off with Bones is a highlight of the episode.  Lucarotti’s subplot of Daniel’s doomed night-time misadventure slots into the original story very well, as it explains why his health suddenly took a turn for the worse, which then resulted in his death shortly afterwards.

A member of Silver’s gang, Black Dog (Christopher Burgess), arrives to confront Bones.  Burgess was a favourite actor of the producer, Barry Letts, so it’s maybe not too much of a surprise that he turns up.  He and Watson step outside (and therefore onto film) for a duel, which leads to Bones’ stroke.  Watson’s particularly fine as the bedridden Bones, suffering nightmares accrued from the horrors of a life spent on the high seas and dreading the arrival of the black spot.

David Collings’ nicely judged cameo as the malevolent Blind Pew is yet another highlight from a consistently strong opening episode.

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The Five Faces of Doctor Who

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It’s a little staggering to realise that The Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season began airing in early November 1981.  Thirty five years, where has the time gone?

Back then, the eighteen year old An Unearthly Child and even The Krotons (a mere thirteen years old) seemed like relics from a different age.  The flickery black and white telerecordings had a lot to do with that of course, the lack of colour made them appear much older than they actually were.  But it’s still more than a little strange that Survival seems like a much more current story today than An Unearthly Child did then, despite the fact that Survival is a whopping twenty seven years old.  Funny thing time …..

If you weren’t there, it’s difficult to describe just how important The Five Faces of Doctor Who was.  Old Doctor Who didn’t get repeated and the first commercially available story wouldn’t hit the shelves until 1983.  So if you wanted to get a feel for pre-Baker Doctor Who then your options were rather limited – Target novelisations were your best bet, although there were also the World Distributors annuals (even if their vision of the Doctor Who universe was idiosyncratic, to put it kindly).

Factual information could be gleaned from Doctor Who Weekly and Doctor Who Monthly, whilst a small handful of books – The Making of Doctor Who, The Doctor Who Monster Book – also offered tantalising glimpses of these “lost” stories.  After all, back then we weren’t concerned about the stories which were actually missing from the archives, everything from the past was as good as lost to us.

And then in early November 1981 we had the chance to see how it all started.  I’ve written here about how I view An Unearthly Child today, rewinding thirty five years I’m pretty sure I was just as taken with it then.  Three episodes of caveman antics might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the grime and despair of those episodes fitted perfectly with the dark winter evenings in 1981 (just as they would have done in 1963).  I loved it then and I love it now and I know I always will.

The Krotons had a bit of a bumpier ride.  My ten-year-old self found the story a little thin, but Troughton (like Hartnell) impressed right from the start.  It’s a story I’ve grown to appreciate a little more over the years, as it’s perfect undemanding fare.  And the lovely Wendy Padbury wears a very short skirt, which is nice.

If the internet had existed in 1981 then no doubt it would have gone into meltdown after Carnival of Monsters and The Three Doctors were broadcast the wrong way round.  Carnival, thanks to Vorg and Shirna, looked a little odd back then, and it would take a few more watches before the cleverness of Robert Holmes’ script became clear to me.  The Three Doctors is good fun, nothing more, nothing less.  It was nice to see the Brig in action for the first time though, even if I’d later realise we weren’t really seeing him at his best here.

Logopolis was an obvious choice, as Castrovalva was less than a month away from broadcast (and since it featured Davison’s sole appearance to date, if they hadn’t shown this one then the Five Faces tag wouldn’t have worked).  Since it was a current story it rather lacked the “wow” feeling of the others, but in the pre-VHS age, “another chance to see” was always welcome and following this broadcast I wouldn’t see it again for nearly a decade (a pirate copy came my way in the late eighties).

I’m off to recreate those winter evenings from 1981 with a rewatch over the next few weeks of those five serials – splendid stories, all of them.

Animated Power of the Daleks to be released by BBC Worldwide – November 2016

Now updated with the impressive list of special features

Archive Television Musings

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Although there have been rumours for a few weeks (following the posting of a clip on YouTube) it’s now been confirmed that a fully animated Power of the Daleks will be released in November.  It’ll debut initially on the BBC Store with a DVD release following later the same month.

A very unexpected but welcome early Christmas present.  Hopefully sales (both download and physical) will be healthy and further releases will follow in the future.  The press release is below.

BBC Worldwide to release animation of lost Doctor Who story, The Power of the Daleks

Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks is being produced by the team behind the highly successful animation of lost Dad’s Army episode A Stripe For Frazer, first released on BBC Store in February this year. The producer and director is Charles Norton, with character designs from acclaimed comic book artists Martin Geraghty and Adrian Salmon.

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