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

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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.

Charles Norton says:
“The Power of the Daleks animation is the most ambitious Doctor Who archive restoration ever attempted and we’re all very honoured to be a part of such a an exciting project. Intelligent, suspenseful and magnificently staged, Power of the Daleks is one of the great lost classics of 1960s television and a superb example of the black and white era at its finest.”

Paul Hembury, Executive Producer, BBC Worldwide says:
“Charles and his team are remarkably talented and passionate about Doctor Who and we are thrilled that fans will soon be able to enjoy this rather sinister but wonderful, classic story.”

Doctor Who: The Power Of The Daleks will be released on BBC Store on Saturday 5th November followed by the DVD on Monday 21st November.

An impressive list of special features has now been announced.  Given the bare-bones releases of The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World, the effort put in here is surprising, but very welcome.  An Andrew Pixley booklet, PDFs of the camera scripts and a full telesnap reconstruction are just some of things which caught my eye.  The 1966 studio recordings of the Dalek voice recording sessions is a slightly staggering feature – presumably this is a recent find as I can’t recall ever hearing about it before.

Alternate soundtracks [DVD only]
The option to listen to the story with a series of completely new digital re-masters of the original soundtrack – a stereo mix; a 5.1 surround sound mix and version of the original 1966 mono sound mix.

Animation Test Footage
A compilation of animation tests, created during the production of the new animated series.

Audio Commentaries on all 6 episodes [DVD only]
Members of the original cast and crew are joined by members of the new animation unit to discuss the production of the story and its new animated reconstruction. Moderated by Toby Hadoke. Please note: this commentary also includes archive audio.

Booklet with Production Notes [DVD only]
An extensively researched set of production notes, written by the noted television historian Andrew Pixley, covering the behind the scenes story of how the original production was made.

Original Camera Scripts [DVD only]
Selected items of original production paperwork and a complete set of original camera scripts

Original Title Sequence – new restoration
An unedited presentation of the full original ‘Doctor Who’ title sequence, prepared using an all new HD re-master of the original film elements.

The Power of the Daleks Animation and Photo Gallery
An extended gallery of images, featuring production photographs from the original 1966 series and artwork from the latest animated production, accompanied by incidental music from the story, which has been digitally re-mastered from the original music production tapes.

The Power of the Daleks Surviving Footage & Original Trailer
A compilation of short film fragments and clips from the original 1966 BBC television production – the only surviving footage to remain of the show’s original BBC1 run.

Original Dalek Voice Session Recording (1966) [DVD only]
Rare and previously unreleased sections from the studio recordings that were made at Maida Vale Studios in 1966 for the Dalek voices.

Servants and Masters – The Making of The Power of the Daleks
A specially prepared documentary directed by John Kelly and featuring interviews with members of the original 1966 cast and crew.

Telesnap reconstruction
Around 400 individual still frames of film exist from the original 1966 television production of ‘The Power of the Daleks’. These images were kept in the programme’s production files by the BBC Written Archive Centre. These images are here combined with the programme’s soundtrack to present a photographic reconstruction of the original programme.

Today (3rd November 2016) it’s been announced that a colour version will be able to be downloaded from the BBC Store at the end of the year whilst a BD will follow next year. This will include the colour version, although whether the black and white edition and all the DVD special features will also be included isn’t yet known.

So if you want Power on disc in colour then you’ll need the BD. Plenty of buying options then, although I think I’ll stick with the b&w DVD.

Espionage – He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday

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Ireland, 1916.  Roger McBride (Patrick Troughton) and two friends are scanning the coastline, anxiously waiting for the arrival of a German submarine.  The submarine will be carrying Sir Roger Casement (Andrew Kier) who has spent the last few years in Germany, gathering support for an armed Irish rebellion against the English.

A shipload of guns is due to arrive shortly.  Without it, the planned uprising on Easter Monday is doomed to failure.  But whilst Sir Roger arrives, the guns don’t.  Despite the entreaties of his wife Doreen (Billie Whitelaw), McBride seems content to lead his men into battle anyway, where they’ll face certain slaughter.  But then he seems to have a change of heart ….

Whilst He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday features some fine actors (including Andrew Kier and T.P. McKenna) the bulk of the story revolves around Patrick Troughton and Billie Whitelaw.  Although Troughton’s Irish accent does come and go a little, this is a small price to pay for his intense, fanatical performance.  Make no mistake, McBride is a fanatic – something which is made clear very early on.  When Doreen asks what they’ll do if the guns don’t arrive, McBride retorts that “we’ll make our rebellion with bricks and clubs and hobnail boots and the fearless Irish hearts that are beating inside of us.”

If Troughton is his usual excellent self, then he’s matched every step of the way by Billie Whitelaw.  Whitelaw, who has the only female speaking role, essays a stunning performance as Doreen.  She loves her husband, but he only has thoughts for a free Ireland.  Angrily she tells him that “you’re a man of brave courage, John McBride. Oh, if only you had the courage to take the wife who loves you in your two arms and share your fear with her.”  This is a scene that crackles with intensity, helped by the conflicting emotions that play across Troughton’s face.

Robert Monteith (Maurice Good) was one of the men who has travelled to Ireland with Sir Roger Casement.  With Casement now captured by the British and no guns, he can forsee a massacre if the rising goes ahead.  McBride could stop it – but only he knows the codeword that will stand everybody down.  Despite physical force, Monteith is unable to make him talk.  But Doreen is able to win him round and in a tender scene – again it’s another excellent two-hander for Troughton and Whitelaw – he agrees to pass on the code.

After Monteith delivers the message he discovers that McBride has tricked him.  The codeword he passed on was “go” not “stop”.  Later, McBride explains to Doreen and his friends.  “When this rising’s over they’ll be thousands of us dead in the streets and they’ll be arrests and trials and hangings and we’ll have failed. This time we’ll have failed. But if we make a start this time, one day we’ll succeed. And our children and grandchildren will live in a free Ireland. But by all that’s good and all that’s holy, unless we make that start this time we’ll never succeed.”

Armed with only a pitchfork he walks forward into a hail of bullets from a police machine-gun.  His speech seemed to have inspired the other men, as they too are also cut down – leaving a distraught Doreen alone, surrounded by dead bodies.  It’s a stirring ending, but it does leave a few questions unanswered, most especially why did the police open fire?  Rather than make martyrs of the men, they simply could have arrested them.

He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday doesn’t make any attempt to present both sides of the story.  Whilst it’s laudable in one way that the English aren’t depicted as inhuman monsters, this is because they hardly feature at all.  Alvin Sapinsley’s script (especially McBride’s final speech) makes it quite clear which side he supports.  For most of the story McBride seems to be a man alone – the others follow him, but they don’t seem to share his burning desire.  It’s only when they see him shot down in a futile gesture that they too become totally committed and also perish.  Even with the shocked reaction of Doreen, Sapinsley strongly implies that it’s a glorious thing to die for a cause you believe in.

It may be on the polemical side, but the performances of Troughton and Whitelaw make this an episode worth watching.

Doctor Who – The Three Doctors

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Since yesterday marked the twentieth anniversary of Jon Pertwee’s death, it seemed rather fitting to watch one of his Doctor Who stories as a small tribute.  But which one?  After a few moments deliberation I plumped for The Three Doctors.  It may not be the best Third Doctor story, nor is it the strongest showcase for Pertwee’s talents,  but it’s undeniably good fun.  And after a hectic week, it was the ideal way to welcome the arrival of the weekend …..

Pertwee’s Doctor was a curious mix of arrogance and charm.  His arrogance is at its height in his early seasons, where the Doctor is clearly still more than a little miffed that the Time Lords have exiled him to Earth and decides to take it out on just about every human he meets.  Not even poor Jo escapes his snappy nature and thoughtlessness (the sandwiches scene in The Sea Devils is presumably designed to be humorous but it just makes the Doctor appear self-centered and insensitive).

By The Three Doctors he was clearly mellowing, although he can’t resist aiming a few jibes at the Brigadier.  But the most interesting example of the Doctor’s regal nature occurs in episode one, when he and Jo return to UNIT HQ after investigating the mysterious disappearance of Mr Ollis.  As the Doctor enters the lab, he shrugs off his cloak without a backward glance – no doubt fully confident that Jo (as she was) would be there to take it off him and hang it up.  It’s the briefest of non-verbal moments, but it’s something that speaks volumes about the relationship between the Doctor and Jo.  It’s hard to imagine some of the Doctor’s later companions being quite so pliant and biddable!

But somehow Katy Manning manages to make it all work.  Jo could easily have turned out to be nothing more than a doormat, but Katy’s humour (and undeniable sexiness) help to prevent Jo from being the cardboard cipher she otherwise could have been.  However, whilst Jo’s in pretty good form in this one, what’s happened to the Brigadier?  The Time Monster was the first example of the dumbing down of the Brig and it’s a process continued here.

Luckily it’s only a short-term thing and he’s back to his normal self by The Green Death, but the Brig’s sadly at his most pompous and blinkered in this story.  When it works (his sublime double-take as he spots Troughton’s Doctor for the first time or his reaction to the inside of the TARDIS) it’s brilliant, but there are times when the script seems to treating him as little more than a figure of fun, which is a far cry from the efficient soldier of season seven.

There’s something which has always bugged me about the first episode.  When the Doctor and the others find themselves under attack from the jelly organism they take refuge in the TARDIS.  The Doctor attempts to take off, but tells Jo that he can’t because the organism is preventing him.  What?!  He’s been exiled to Earth for three years and during all that time the TARDIS, unless it’s been under the control of the Time Lords or another outside force (such as Axos), has been immobile.  A sloppy piece of scripting, fire the script editor I say!

The Gell Guards are highly amusing but also not in the least threatening and the brief battle between them and the UNIT soldiers (“holy moses”) isn’t exactly one of UNIT’s finest moments.  But the always reliable Pat Gorman is lurking about, so that’s some small consolation.

With the Doctor and the Time Lords facing the same crisis (an energy drain from a mysterious black hole) there’s little the Time Lords can do to help the stricken Doctor.  But wait, there’s just enough energy to lift the second Doctor from his timestream.  Hurrah!  The return of Troughton’s Doctor is a joyful moment and even if his Doctor has deliberately been written down at times to make the Pertwee Doctor the dominant force (“what’s a bridge for?”) then he’s still a highly entertaining force of nature.

He’s possibly at his best in episode two, after the Third Doctor and Jo have crossed over to the black hole.  This leaves the Second Doctor back at UNIT HQ with the Brig and Benton for company.  To be honest, this entire episode is little more than padding for all three of them (the Doctor achieves nothing in his fight against the organism, so they all could have travelled into the black hole at the start, rather than the end, of the episode).  But the run-around nature of this instalment isn’t really an issue, because it’s all such fun.

There’s the Brig’s shock at seeing the old Doctor back, but even better is the working relationship between the Doctor and Benton.  Originally it seems that Jamie was also scripted to appear, so no doubt he would have performed Benton’s role here.  But luckily for John Levene that didn’t happen, enabling Benton to get a decent share of the action.  Mind you, Levene does seem to be on the verge of corpsing several times and has to pull the most extraordinary faces in order to prevent this.

The brief appearances of the First Doctor is the icing on the cake, even if it’s tempered by how frail William Hartnell looked.  Although he wasn’t that old at the time, illness had taken a heavy toll, leaving him unable to learn even the simplest of lines.  His balance wasn’t terribly good either, so several stage-hands had to prop him up into the capsule – to prevent him from toppling out.  But with the aid of cue-cards held off camera he still managed to capture the authoritative spirit of the original Doctor and, ill as he was, there’s a little touch of magic about these scenes.

If you wanted loud, then you booked Stephen Thorne.  He was loud as Azal in The Daemons and he was even louder in his (mercifully brief) appearance as Eldrad in The Hand of Fear.  As Omega, he starts fairly quietly but then works himself up into a frenzy by episode four.  No doubt we’re supposed to feel sorrow for the tragic Omega, but by the end, as I’m reaching for the remote control to turn him down, I just wish he’d tone it down a little.  Thorne can also do subtle (he’s a gifted audiobook reader and doesn’t tend to rant and rave on those) so it’s a pity he wasn’t encouraged to be a little more restrained here.

Once everybody makes the trip to Omega’s domain the story becomes something of a runaround – highlighted by Dr Tyler’s (Rex Robinson) totally pointless attempt to escape.  But Pertwee’s Doctor does have a decent fight scene – battling the demons from Omega’s mind in a slow-motion dreamscape – and the bickering between the Second and Third Doctors never fails to raise a smile.

So it’s not perfect, but there’s no doubt that The Three Doctors is a very pleasant way to while away 100 minutes.

Doomwatch – In the Dark

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A swimmer dies off the Scottish coast.  Quist doesn’t consider this to be much of a mystery – after all, people have been known to drown before.  But he begins to show a little interest when Ridge reveals that the man died of mustard gas poisoning.  Some twenty five years earlier, a ship commanded by Lionel McArthur (Patrick Troughton) sank nearby.   Since it carried mustard gas it therefore seems likely that somehow this deadly cargo has started to pollute the area.

Although McArthur is an old friend of Quist, he elects instead to send Ridge along to investigate.  But Ridge finds McArthur to be a very elusive man and even when he tracks him down he finds his answers to be rather vague.  Eventually the truth is revealed – the man posing as the public face of Lionel McArthur is actually his cousin, Alan.  The real Lionel McArthur exists in a vegetative state – kept alive by machines.  But he doesn’t regard this in a negative way, for him it’s a positive triumph.  His body became diseased, so he replaced it with machines …..

Although In The Dark has a striking pre-credits sequence showing the hapless swimmer’s death (and following the credits there’s another memorable shot of the man’s dead face in the water, overlaid with the story title) this part of the story is little more than a MacGuffin – designed to get the Doomwatch team interacting with McArthur.  It’s not the first time this sort of plot device has been used, but it still feels a little clumsy.

But no matter.  Once we get past the first twenty minutes the story proper can begin.  Immobile in a hospital bad, with only his head visible, Patrick Troughton still manages to dominate the screen.  It’s interesting that given the subject matter of the story you might have expected it to be scripted by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, rather than John Gould.  McArthur is basically a Cyberman – his body fell ill, so he cheated death by replacing it.  The only part of him that remains human is his head, and he has plans to do something with that as well.  He tells a horrified Quist that he wishes to remove emotions – “anger, fear, love, hate” – in order to make him function more efficiently.  Anybody familiar with the first Cyberman story, The Tenth Planet, will instantly see the parallel.

The question of what existence actually means is at the heart of the story.  Both Ridge and Quist regard McArthur’s half life as no real life at all.  Quist asks McArthur some probing questions.  “We have no bodies, no needs, no desires. What’s the purpose of existing at all?”  McArthur responds he wishes “to become pure. To achieve that state that all the mystics have tried to achieve in their little futile, frustrated ways.  I may not look it to you Quist, but I am perfect. I am perfect man, because I am only brain.”

Alethea Charlton, as McArthur’s daughter Flora, has a small, but telling role.  She loves her father dearly, but implores Quist to try and persuade him to turn off the machines.  Unlike him, she’s realised that he’s now barely human and that although he’s gained a version of immortality it’s been achieved at a terrible cost.  Her husband, Andrew Seaton (Simon Lack) doesn’t share her concerns.  Somewhat coincidentally he’s in charge of McArthur’s treatment, telling Fay that “we virtually abolished death for him” and clearly regarding this to be a positive thing.

As for the Doomwatch team, Geoff and Bradley once more get the short end of the stick with just a few lines apiece.  It’s clear again that Quist, Ridge and Fay are the main characters and Gould’s script is tailored to all three of them.  Quist faces a moral dilemma – McArthur is a leading scientist and an old friend, so he feels an obligation to stay and do what he can to help.

Ridge has a wonderful monologue directed at Quist.  “You absorb all life into your own, did you know that? Everything that ever happens becomes a part of you. When you’re pre-occupied sometimes, I watch you walking. You don’t walk down ordinary, mundane streets, jostled by ordinary, mundane people. You pace the streets of a deserted village, or you tread the shattered planks of a seaside pier.”  Fay now occupies the same place in the narrative that Toby did during series one – acting as something of a buffer between Quist and Ridge.

The conclusion of the story doesn’t come as a surprise, but it’s still a powerful conclusion to a tale that poses difficult questions about how technology and medical care should co-exist.

The Cleopatras – Episode Four

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Alexander (Ian McNeice) now reigns whilst Cleopatra Berenike (Pauline Moran) is queen.  Alexander continues to enjoy drinking and dancing and seems to have very little interest in anything else.  War with Rome seems a real possibility, but Alexander has no desire to start a war he has no chance of winning.

Alexander just wants a quiet life – he knows that Rome tolerates him (regarding him as nothing more than an aimable drunkard) and by doing nothing controversial he hopes they’ll leave him alone to live his remaining years in peace.  But his unpopularity amongst both the people and the army means that civil war seems inevitable.

Familiar themes of royal musical chairs are played out in this episode.  General Chaetaes (Morris Perry) conspires with Cleopatra Berenike to depose Alexander and replace him with his younger brother Chickpea.  Alexander’s death is either another stunning example of minimalism or it’s a symptom of the series’ very small budget.  He’s supposed to be on a seashore, although it’s little more than a CSO backdrop and a few sound effects.  And it’s interesting that his death, like most of the murders throughout the series, is portrayed in an abstract way.  Given the amount of female breasts on display there was no watershed reason why they should be so coy, so it must have been another script/directorial choice (almost as if the current Cleopatra – who’s still listening to the tales of Theodotus – is editing out the grisly bits.  After all, it’s her family).

Another batch of well known faces pop up.  Morris Perry, something of an underrated actor I’ve always felt, is smoothly manipulative as Chaetaes.  Patrick Troughton has a frustratingly small role as a Roman soldier called Sextus whilst Donald Pickering and John Bennett also make appearances.  Pickering is the impossibly smooth Roman diplomat Lucullus (not a great stretch for him it must be said, since Pickering specialised in playing smooth characters) and John Bennett is very still and restrained as Philocles.  Given some of the more exuberant playing throughout the series so far, Bennett’s scenes are a model of restraint.

The death of Alexander means that Chickpea returns and he’s now an older and seemingly much more ruthless ruler.  His mistress Irene (Lois Baxter) explains why he’s changed from the younger, baffled man we saw in the last episode.  “He loves ordering people to be killed. It makes him feel like a strong man, or a king or a god. With power over life and death.”  So at heart Chickpea’s the same man, he’s just better at creating a public persona of power.  David Horovitch continues to mine some decent comic moments from the script whilst Pauline Moran (later to play Miss Lemon opposite David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot) is a characteristically manipulative Cleopatra.

Following the death of Chickpea, Rome puts his son, Alexander the younger (David Purcell), on the throne.  Purcell isn’t one of the series’ strongest actors and thankfully his reign is pretty brief.  Rape and incest are foremost on his mind as he’s upset that Cleopatra Berenike won’t sleep with him.  After he kills her in a fit of rage he’s set upon by an angry mob (there always seems to be an angry mob hanging around the palace for some reason) and his mutilated remains are very briefly glimpsed.

So that means another of Chickpea’s sons ascends the throne.  He’s known as Fluter (played by Adam Bareham) and yes, he delights in playing the flute.  Fluter demonstrates his skills to the multitude in a characteristically idiosyncratic conclusion to the episode.

Inspector Morse – The Dead of Jericho

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When Inspector Morse debuted in 1987 it was regarded by some as a risky venture.  The most common format for drama was the hour long slot, but every episode of Morse ran for two hours (or approximately 105 minutes once the adverts were removed).  It was generally believed that holding an audience’s attention for two hours would be a difficult task – especially with a series like Morse, which eschewed action to concentrate on intricate mysteries with, at times, an unashamed elitist air.

But the series’ many strengths – the Thaw/Whately partnership, the Oxford settings, first-rate guest casts, etc – all helped to make Morse an instant success and many other series would later copy the two hour format.  Some, like the revived Van Der Valk, didn’t endure but others (A Touch of Frost, Midsomer Murders) clearly benefited from Morse’s lead.

Inspector Morse made his debut in the novel Last Bus to Woodstock, written by Colin Dexter, which was published in 1975.  Dexter would pen another twelve Morse novels between 1976 and 1999.  When the television series went into production they had seven novels to chose from and elected to launch with Dexter’s fifth, The Dead of Jericho, published in 1981.

It’s easy to understand one of the reasons why Jericho was chosen  – it has a personal angle which helps to flesh out Morse’s character straightaway.

Anne Staveley (Gemma Jones) and Morse belong to the same choir and a friendship between them blossoms.  It becomes clear very quickly that Morse is hopeful this will lead a deeper relationship, but Anne (whilst she doesn’t explain why) gently tells him that it can’t happen.  “It’s complicated” she says.  Shortly after this conversation, Anne is found dead at her house in Jericho (a suburb of Oxford).  It appears to be suicide, but Morse isn’t convinced.

John Thaw had been a television regular since the mid sixties.  His first starring role, Redcap (1964 – 1966) had seen him play a military policeman, Sergeant John Mann, whilst The Sweeney (1975 – 1978) had been his most high profile role prior to Morse.  Detective Inspector Jack Regan was a rough, tough Flying Squad officer and it had taken Thaw a while to dissociate himself from the part.  So the thought of playing another copper might have palled, although it quickly became clear that Morse was no Regan.

This is amusingly demonstrated in the opening scene as we see Morse take part in a raid on a car chopshop.  There’s fisticuffs and the sort of action that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in The Sweeney (although it’s very atypical in Morse).  But director Alastair Reid chooses to intercut this with choir practice scenes – and the bizarre juxtaposition (together with the sweet choral soundtrack) is an odd, but effective, choice.

Thaw was only forty-four when The Dead of Jericho was shot, but he looked at least a decade older.  Thaw’s Morse is instantly a more vulnerable character than the literary Morse – his relationship with Anne is a good example of this (he pursues her with an almost pathetic eagerness).  And when he makes Lewis’ acquaintance later in the story he’s keen at every opportunity to invite him for a beer.  Is this because he wants to discuss the case or is Morse simply a very lonely man?

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Reid’s directorial style very much favours close ups – it’s an effective way of establishing a sense of claustrophobia and tension – although he does occasionally pull the camera back.  The most striking example of this comes after Morse and Anne leave the pub, early in the story.  As Morse walks Anne home, Reid takes every opportunity to showcase Oxford’s impressive architecture (in a way that will become a signature mark of the series).

Gemma Jones is appealingly vulnerable as Anne, whilst Spencer Leigh has just the right amount of sneering superiority as Ned Murdoch, a student who’s latched onto Anne as something of a surrogate mother.  Patrick Troughton, in one of his last roles, is delightfully seedy as Anne’s next door neighbour – an odd job man who gets his kicks as a peeping-tom whilst James Laurenson is perfect casting as Tony Richards.

Richards was Anne’s former employer and all the evidence suggests he and Anne had enjoyed a lengthy affair – something confirmed by Richards’ disgruntled wife Adele (Annie Lambert).  Laurenson is one of those actors whose face is instantly recognisable, even if his name is less so, and it’s nice to know that he’s still going strong today.

If the television Morse differed somewhat from his literary counterpart then the same certainly goes for Lewis.  Dexter’s Lewis was a contemporary of Morse and tended to always be several steps behind his boss.  By casting a younger actor, Kevin Whately, the whole dynamic changes (for the better it must be said).

Indeed, The Dead of Jericho doesn’t really start to work until Morse and Lewis are teamed up.  To begin with, Lewis is partnered with the acerbic Chief Inspector Bell (Norman Jones).  Bell, in charge of the case, distrusts Morse because he’s clever(!), but Lewis has a more open mind.  It does appear that Morse and Lewis have never met face to face before – which makes more sense in the book as it’s explained that Bell works at another station.

That Morse sees himself as a free-wheeling maverick is made obvious when he fails to tell Bell that he knew Anne, or that he visited her house on the afternoon she died.  His disregard for the law can also be seen when he decides to clandestinely visit her house in the dead of night to search for clues.

Lewis, lying in wait, nabs a villainous-looking character in a back leather jacket climbing over the wall, only to be shocked when it turns out to be Morse!  It’s a nice comic moment, although it does support the view that Morse shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the case.  But when Bell is promoted, Chief Superintendent Strange (the always wonderful James Grout) does indeed give Morse the case (and gives him Lewis as well).

Anthony Minghella’s adaptation changes most of the names as well as removing a few characters (or changing them somewhat).  Whether this helps to make the screenplay better or worse than the novel is open to debate, but it’s undeniable that around the seventy minute mark it’s impossible not to find your attention drifting.  This would always be a problem with the two hour format (more so once the series had exhausted Dexter’s novels) but it’s worth sticking with it until the end.

So whilst it’s not the most involving of whodunnits, Thaw and Whately hit the ground running and this ensured that Inspector Morse had a solid future.

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The Glories of Christmas

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Broadcast on the 25th of December 1973, The Glories of Christmas boasts a host of familiar faces. John Bluthal, Dora Bryan, Patrick Cargill, Diana Coupland, Les Dawson, Arthur English, Gerald Harper, Kathleen Harrison, Melvyn Hayes, James Hayter, Gordon Honeycombe, John Laurie, Alfred Marks, Bob Monkhouse, Pat Phoenix and Patrick Troughton were amongst those making an appearance (although some were very brief).  But the undoubted star of the show was Princess Grace of Monaco and it was a considerable coup that Yorkshire Television were able to recruit her.

We open with the Beverley Sisters and the Batchelors taking it in turns to sing excerpts from Christmas favourites.  If you can keep a straight face as the Batchelors sway their way through Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer then you have more self control than I do.  This sets the tone for the show – a selection of middle-brow entertainment that in some ways seems a lot further back than 1973.

The music hall setting of part one reinforces this – in quick succession we see the Scottish tenor Kenneth McKellar, Francis Van Dyke and his violin, Janet Baker singing Cherubino’s Aria from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Rostal & Schaefer tickling the ivories.  Let’s stop for a moment and consider that ITV decided this was just the sort of thing audiences wanted to watch on Christmas Day afternoon.  You certainly wouldn’t see anything like it today (especially the young boy blacked up as a golliwog) which makes it a window into a vanished television age.

Much more worthwhile is part two – The Glories of Literature – in which the cream of the British acting and entertainment profession make fleeting appearances as some of Charles Dickens’ immortal characters.  John Laurie is a perfect Scrooge, Gerald Harper is a fine Mr Jingle whilst Les Dawson is an interesting Mr Micawber (for some reason he chose to play it as W.C. Fields).  Dora Bryan has an amusing few lines as Sarah Gamp and Patrick Troughton reprised his role as Mr Quilp (albeit for twenty seconds or so).  It’s a great pity that his original turn as Quilp (from the 1962 BBC adaptation) is wiped – maybe one day it’ll return from a dusty overseas archive.  We can but hope.

Part three sees Princess Grace read the story of the nativity, which serves a reminder that The Glories of Christmas was produced by ITV’s religious department.  The visual representation of the story is either charming or shoddy (depending on how forgiving you are).  Everything is studio-bound and very false-looking, but maybe they were aiming for the slightly unreal feeling of a school nativity play.  Or it could just be that they lacked the budget to shoot on location.

The Glories of Christmas is a real curio that’s certainly worth a look (if you want to track it down it’s on the Les Dawson at ITV – The Specials DVD).


 

Doctor Who – The Enemy of the World – Episode Six

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The Doctor’s impersonation of Salamander places him in a rather precarious position as Benik doesn’t seem to be totally convinced.  But he’s able to authorise the release of Jamie and Victoria and he asks Bruce to take them to the gates to ensure they get away safely.  There’s a lovely moment when Bruce asks them to call his deputy Forrester, once they get outside, and tell him that Bruce is at the research station (using the word “redhead”).  Jamie wonders if that’s a reference to his wife, but Bruce tells him no, it’s just a code-word.  Typical Jamie, always thinking of women!

Once Jamie and Victoria leave they don’t reappear until the the final scene, so this, together with their fairly light appearance in episode five and their absence from episode four, means they’ve hardly featured in the second half of the story.  Maybe this is because whilst The Enemy of the World is a good story, it’s not necessarily a good Doctor Who story, so Jamie and Victoria end up rather surplus to requirements.  Indeed, you could remove the Doctor as well and it would have been made a very decent one-off serial with Kent and Astrid facing off against Salamander and Benik.

Astrid is able to do little for Swann, but he’s able to tell her the whole story and Astrid ventures underground to tell the workers that Salamander has duped them. She’s only able to take them up two at a time, so she naturally elects to take Colin and Mary (there’s no point taking any of the others, as they’re non-speaking extras!).

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For a large part of the story, Kent has insisted that the Doctor should impersonate Salamander in order to find incriminating evidence that will expose him.  In the end, this doesn’t happen (and is rather neatly reversed) when Kent meets Salamander (or so he believes) and betrays himself.  Kent and the faux-Salamander seem to be trapped in the records room, but Kent knows about the secret exit.

DOCTOR: Well, that’s very interesting, Mr Kent. Why didn’t you tell me that before?
KENT: Oh no, it can’t be.
DOCTOR: Oh, I’m afraid it is. Oh, look. Here’s another surprise for you. Look behind you.
KENT: Astrid, you’ve come just in time.
ASTRID: It’s too late, Giles. I know everything.
COLIN: That’s him. That’s the man who took us down there in the first place.
MARY: Giles Kent. We thought you were dead.
KENT: Now look, I’ve never seen these people before in my life.
ASTRID: They’ve told me everything. You and Salamander were in it together.

The emergence of Astrid at just the right moment (and with two people who can confirm that Kent was Salamander’s partner) is more than a touch contrived, but it works in story terms as it finally strips away the lingering pretence that Giles Kent was on the side of the angels. The Doctor tells him that he was never convinced by him anyway, as “any man who resorts to murder as eagerly and as rapidly as you must be suspect. You didn’t just want to expose Salamander, you wanted to kill him and take his place.”  Although Kent may have been more convincing had Bill Kerr played him as a more reasonable and sympathetic character, it’s still a very watchable turn.  Best known as Tony Hancock’s idiot friend in the radio version of Hancock’s Half Hour, he also enjoyed a long and successful acting career (some of it spent in the UK) and once of the joys of the recovery of this serial was that we were able once more to enjoy his complete performance.

As previously touched upon, Doctor Who was still a long way away from out-of-order recording, so each episode has to mostly feature Troughton as either the Doctor or Salamander.  Since it was the concluding episode, it’s not a surprise that he’s mainly the Doctor, although this means that after building Salamander up throughout the serial, he rather fades away.  But he does get to confront his old associate Kent, before his first (and last) encounter with the Doctor.

Had there not been at least one meeting between the Doctor and Salamander, the audience would probably have felt a little cheated (although the Doctor and the Abbot never met in The Massacre).  Before that happens though, loose ends are tied up as Bruce and Astrid take charge.  Kent has apparently killed both himself and Salamander (via a huge explosion) and the Doctor leaves Astrid as she attempts to rescue the people trapped in the underground shelter.

The final scene is a bit of a cracker.  Salamander impersonates the Doctor and he asks Jamie to operate the TARDIS controls.  This naturally confuses the Scot, but when the real Doctor makes an appearance, all becomes clear.  The Doctor tells Salamander that “we’re going to put you outside, Salamander. No friends, no safety, nothing. You’ll run, but they’ll catch up with you.”  After a tussle, Salamander is flung out in the Space/Time vortex and (unusually for the Troughton era) the story closes on a cliff-hanger.

Although The Enemy of the World does have a few logistical issues, there’s plenty to enjoy (especially as it’s such a break from the norm).  It was a daring move to tackle a James Bond-type plot with the series’ usual budget (and especially since 95% of the story was shot in the studio) but, apart from the odd wobbly set, it all holds together.  Troughton’s great (no matter who he’s playing) and he’s surrounded by some familiar faces (Colin Douglas, George Pravda, Milton Johns) all of whom would appear in later Doctor Whos.  Hines and Watling have little involvement in the later part of the story, but Whitaker keeps the story bubbling away so nicely that this never becomes an issue.

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Doctor Who – The Enemy of the World – Episode Five

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The mysterious visitor at the end of episode four is revealed to be Donald Bruce.  Although he’s Salamander’s head of security, he also seems to have a policeman’s instinct, as he’s willing to listen to the claims of Kent and the Doctor that Salamander is not the universal benefactor he claims to be (although anybody who’s spent time around him surely would have quickly picked up plenty of negative vibes).

Astrid disarms Bruce’s guard and the Doctor attempts to bring Bruce onto their side by handing the gun back to him.  As Bruce says, “you must be a complete fool or very clever.”  The Doctor responds that Bruce will “have to make up your mind to that right away.”  This fairly basic piece of psychology does the trick and Bruce agrees to accompany the Doctor as he attempts to enter the Research Centre.  But as insurance, Astrid and Kent are left behind – under guard.

Meanwhile, Salamander is still underground.  One of the slight problems with the underground scenes is that there’s only three speaking roles – Swann, Colin and Mary (there’s plenty of other people in the scenes, but they’re all just rhubarbing extras who rush around with clipboards, looking busy).  Adam Verney (as Colin) is still machine-gunning his lines, delivering them with an intensity that borders on the manic.  As the character is supposed to be somewhat stir-crazy, it’s a reasonable performance choice – although a little of him does go a long way.  Especially when delivering lines such as “I don’t think it’s right. Just work, sleep, eat, if there’s enough to go round. Like worms under the earth, sightless worms wriggling about without hope, without purpose.”

Mary (Margaret Hickey) has the thankless task of having little to do except react to Colin’s complaints.  Swann (Christopher Burgess) initially seemed also to be a rather uninteresting character, very much Salamander’s yes-man, but events take an unexpected turn when he discovers a fragment of newspaper which was stuck on their new boxes of supplies.  Salamander has told them all that there’s a global war occurring on the surface, and that their work (engineering natural disasters), is vital to the war effort.

But the scrap of newspaper has a report about the sinking of a holiday liner.  How can there be holiday liners in a world at war?  Swann confronts Salamander and it’s the first time that we’ve seen Salamander even slightly shaken.  He quick back-peddles and tells Swann that the war is over, but the survivors are deformed in mind and body.  “They have a kind of society, but it’s evil, corrupt. You don’t think I could expose you to that sort of thing? Think of Mary and the other women.”  Swann insists on going up to the surface with Salamander.  Salamander readily agrees and it’s not hard to understand why – Swann may go up, but he’s not coming down again.

Jamie and Victoria were absent from the previous episode and in the first half of this one were only in a brief shot (as their unconscious bodies were carried past the camera).  Once they’ve woken up, they have to face the tender devotions of Benik.  Milton Johns excels in this scene.  So much is left unsaid, as it’s left to the viewer’s imagination to wonder exactly what Benik would be prepared to do to them.  Jamie tells him that he must have been a nasty little boy, Benik concedes he was, but that he had a very enjoyable childhood.”

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But he only gets as far as tugging Victoria’s hair when he’s interrupted by Bruce and (apparently) Salamander.  In order to convince Bruce that Salamander is as corrupt as he believes him to be, the Doctor stays in character for a while – and he’s convincing enough to fool both Jamie and Victoria.  The recovery of this episode allows us to see a few more nice visual touches – as Jamie and Victoria confront the man they believe to be Salamander, the Doctor takes fright and falls off his chair.  He’s then concerned that his friends don’t recognise him, but after miming playing the recorder he’s delighted to find they believe him after all.  Just before this, Letts manages to ramp up the tension as he rapidly cuts between close ups of Hines and Watling as they list some of Salamander’s crimes.

Kent and Astrid manage to distract the guard (thanks to some HP sauce, it appears) and Kent hot-foots it to the Research Station.  He says he’ll have no trouble getting in, since he has a pass (are we supposed to believe that Salamander wouldn’t have had it cancelled by now?!).

At the same time, Astrid is trying to shake off the guard (through a very unconvincing section of forest – alas, it’s too obvious that it’s a studio mock-up) when she hears a cry for help.  She stumbles across a mortally injured Swann, who clearly has come off second best in a tussle with Salamander.  It’s interesting that a few minutes earlier Salamander asked Swann if he was sure he wanted to go right up to the surface – the inference being that if he’d changed his mind, Salamander would have spared his life.   I’m not sure if that was the scripted intention or just how it was played, but it does make the character of Salamander a little more interesting (was he reluctant to kill?  And if so, was it just because he didn’t want to get his own hands dirty?)

As it is, we once again end on a cliff-hanger where neither the Doctor and his friends are in danger.  It’s another atypical ending to an atypical (but far from uninteresting) story.

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