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 …..

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Six

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The team investigate the death of a fourteen year old prostitute called Justine Painton (Caroline O’Hara) ….

We’re pitched straight into the action. It’s late at night and in a run down part of town, Justine’s body is discovered. With a plastic bag over her head and rope marks on her wrists it seems that natural causes can be ruled out.

The officers stand around cracking weak jokes in the time honoured fashion (anything to take their minds off the actuality of the present situation). A brief moment of levity is provided when Becky sets the record straght about her night of limited passion with Lew (she knows that he would have already spun them his version of events). The only problem is that he hasn’t said a word ….

Justine’s mother, Fran (Siobhan Finneran), maitains a shrine to her daughter at home. Numerous school photos and beauty pagent trophies act as reminders of the girl she was, not what she’d become. Wasted potential (Becky and Warren view the cleaned up girl on the mortuary slab and Warren mentions how beautiful she was) is a theme of the story.

Family-man Ron finds the case a little hard to deal with. It’s not dificult to understand why (girls the same age as his daughter leading a dissolute life). One of Justine’s friends, Kirsty (Sarah Jane-Potts), tells him and Marty that Justine embraced life on the streets wholeheartedly. Is this the truth or simply an obfuscation? And what precisely did her mother know about her daughter’s new life?

One very striking moment occurs when Kirsty is speaking about Justine. The scene is overlaid with photographs of a younger Caroline O’Hara, which serves as an effective counterpoint between the past and the present.

It’s a remarkable coincidence that Richard Shaw (Pip Donaghy), the father of Warren’s ex-girlfriend Lucy, knew Justine intimately (he took bondage photographs of her). He offers to share his information, provided the police can arrange a meeting with his estranged daughter. Warren knows precisely where she is, because he’s been keeping tabs on her (mmm, a touch obsessive).

Local celebrity, boxer Vinnie Harper (Adam Kotz), was involved with Fran. But was he also intimate with Justine? The big guns (DI Temple and Lew) are wheeled out for a pulsating interrogation as we see Vinnie hauled over the coals.

Although Caroline O’Hara (making her screen debut) has very limited screentime (after all, her character is dead when we first see her) Justine still permeates every part of the story. Her death means that she’s robbed of her own voice, so others have to ascribe her with motivations and fill in her character for us.

Although answers are provided, justice is harder to come by. This was one of the strengths of Out of the Blue, a series which never felt obligated to pretend that life was fair. One of the final scenes – in which a distraught Lew makes this point to a resigned Temple – could be seen as a setup for the third series which never came. Would series three have finally been the point where Lew went too far?

We’ll never know, but while Out of the Blue never became a mainstream success, twenty years on it stands up as a flawed – but fascinating – series.

Deborah Watling (1948 – 2017)

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I was very sorry to hear today that Deborah Watling has died at far too young an age. Whilst she’ll no doubt always be best remebered for Doctor Who, she had several other entries on her CV which are worth checking out.

Right at the beginning of her career was H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man (1958). Ten-year old Debbie played Sally, niece to Peter Brady, the invisible man of the title. Sally rarely played a central role in the stories but Debbie was always eye-catching and managed to steal more than a few scenes.

Her last dramatic television role was as the vampish Norma in Danger UXB (1979). Possibly not a series that’s terribly well-remebered today, but it’s a quality WW2 programme with a fine ensemble cast which I’ll have to dig out soon for a rewatch.

On the big screen, 1973 saw her act with two British pop stars from very different generations. Take Me High, a tale of Cliff Richard and brumburgers is a wonky guilty pleasure whilst That’ll Be The Day is in a different class altogether. Debbie played Sandra, a young girl used and rather abused by the feckless Jim MacLaine (David Essex). That’ll Be The Day is more than a David Essex star vehicle since it stands up as a decent film in its own right. It’s something else which I’ll no doubt be revisiting shortly.

Back In my convention-going days I had the opportunity to meet Debbie on several occassions and she was always a delight – an attentive and welcoming guest. Possibly my strongest memory of her comes from a small convention held in Weston-Super-Mare during the mid nineties.

As often happened, the timetable started to go a little awry which meant that nobody was terribly pleased when the auditorium was cleared for what appeared to be no good reason. But all turned out well in the end as it became clear that Debbie had been rehearsing a special entertainment – a song and dance routine where, showing a good deal of leg, she left most of us speechless! Happy days and a memory to treasure.

This is an obvious clip to end on, but it’s a very pertinent one. Thank you Debbie. RIP.

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Five

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Three homeless people (one of them played by the highly recognisable Andy Devine – who would later appear as Shadrach in Emmerdale) are poisoned after a seemingly good Samaritan offers them a drink of champagne laced with prescription tranquillisers.

Temple’s mildly curious, but doesn’t regard it as much more than a sick joke.  It’s a sign of the times that the office only seems to have one computer and – as the victims use it to put together an identikit picture of their well-heeled poisoner – Temple gripes about the expense.  “Have you any idea how much that computer takes out of my budget? It’d be cheaper to hire Walt Disney”.

Temple’s given some good lines in this one.  A few minutes later he asks Becky and Warren exactly what they’re going to do.  “Put out an All Points Alert for Burlington Bertie?”  That’s a rather obscure reference which – back in the pre-internet nineties – would probably have perplexed a section of the audience.

Elsewhere, Bruce, Lew, Marty and Ron go in mob-handed to tackle Gibbs (Peter Jonfield), who appears to have a shop full of stolen goods – although annoyingly none of his stock appears to be on the stolen property register.  By racially taunting Bruce, Gibbs successfully manages to get under his skin – making him all the keener to nail him, although it also might serve to make him more reckless.

This subplot somewhat moves into the background once it’s discovered that Jackson (Devine) has been attacked again, only this time he’s dead.  Is it connected to the previous poisoning?  The descriptions of the suspects indicate not and the fact that one of them had red hair gives Marty the chance for a droll comeback.  “That’s handy, I’ve been looking for an excuse to arrest Mick Hucknall”.

They trawl the drug rehabilitation centres for clues, which sees Lew and Tony take diametrically opposing views on their usefulness.  It’s no surprise that the humanitarian Tony believes they help to prevent crime as well as getting people back on the straight and narrow whilst the more cynical Lew begrudges the fact that his taxes are used on such people.

Bruce has been operating on a tight-fuse for a while.  And after Warren makes an offhand remark (wondering if his obsessive nature is a family trait) Bruce takes it as a dig directed at his father and fisticuffs ensue.  This creates a nice sense of tension which, together with Lew’s off-kilter personality, means that the team have never been more dysfunctional.

Another soap favourite, Maggie Jones (Blance Hunt from Coronation Street) makes a brief appearance as Joan Palmer.  Bruce wants Joan to identify the property from Gibbs’ shop as hers, but when she’s unable to do so Bruce is once again frustrated.  Emma Bird, who also would have been a familiar face at the time (she’d played Maxine during the 1992/93 run of Casualty) makes an impression as Nikki, another of the poisoned down and outs.  She’s an actor who seems to have slipped off the radar, as her last screen credit (an episode of Liverpool 1) was all the way back in 1999.  And the eagle-eyed might spot a young Benedict Wong making a brief appearance as a wages clerk.

The team arrest a suspect, Eamon Timmer (Simon Tyrell), for Jackson’s murder.  He’s very talkative before the tape starts rolling (“I killed Jackson Hanley! I did it. And I’ll kill every tosser in this room”) but doesn’t say a word after the red light goes on.

Although none of the plots really engage, the interactions between the team (especially the continually wise-cracking Marty) helps to keep the interest levels up.  The final scene is especially intriguing. After Becky’s attempt to console Warren (still smarting over the end of his relationship with Lucy) comes to nothing, she winds up in bed with Lew.  Her post-coital expression makes it plain that she realises what a terrible mistake it was ….

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Four

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Danny Caswell (David Prosho) makes a stand against local drug dealer Tommy Defty (Neil Stuke). But when Danny’s house is trashed and his car is torched he wonders if talking to the police was the best option. Meanwhile, Tommy continues to taunt the police, convinced that he’s untouchable.

This episode’s cold open is very effective. A typically bleak, run-down estate is the venue as Lew and Bruce rush over to Danny’s house. It’s not just the damage that’s disturbing as the imagery (stickmen hanging) is plainly designed to intimidate. But although Danny’s not scared off, the CPS, in the form of Barbara, decide that they haven’t good enough evidence to proceed.

Warren caustically refers to the CPS as “Couldn’t Prosecute Satan” whilst Marty has his own unique take on how they might deal with Tommy. “I could take me Black and Decker round his house and drill his arse”.

Danny and his wife, Diane (Kate Rutter), cooperated with the police and got nothing for their pains – except a burnt car, a trashed house and the enmity of Tommy’s crew. It’s not really a great advert for working with the police. A frustrated Danny later vandalizes Barbara’s house and when questioned by Temple angrily tells him why. “You’ve given up on us. You’ve pulled the ladder up after you”.

Lew’s off-kilter personality comes to the fore when he and Bruce question Tommy’s mother, Mrs Defty (Barbara Ewing). He fingers her drying underwear and lays a delicate hand on her shoulder. Later, he breaks into her bedroom for a chat ….

Lew’s mind games are effective, if unconventional (and no doubt illegal). He knows that Tommy’s mother, just like everybody else, lives in fear of him – so needling both her and him might be the way to chip away at his hard shell. Ewing (best known for Brass) is effective whilst Stuke (who has gone on to enjoy a considerable career) is excellent value as the cocky drug-lord.

The loose cannon that is Lew is the motor which drives this episode along. Mrs Defty sums it up well. “Tommy scares me right enough, but you scare me more”.

Warren’s relationship with Lucy seems to have hit an impasse after she starts chatting to Tommy at a nightclub (despite Warren telling her not to). This might be good news for Becky, who seemed a little perturbed that Lucy and Warren were becoming serious. It’s doubtful that Lucy and Becky will ever be friends though, especially after Lucy spits in her face.

When Lucy – an unstable person if ever there was one – declares that she’s heading off to be with Tommy it adds another complication to the story. Warren and Becky go riding to the rescue, which involves them planting drugs on Lucy so they can extract her without making Tommy suspicious.

Another strong story which features a victory of sorts, although the collateral damage also has to be taken into account.

Olivier Twist/Bleak House/Barnaby Rudge to be released by Simply Media – 21st August 2017

Due on the 21st of August from Simply Media are another three classic Charles Dickens adaptations from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Press release  –

Simply Media are delighted to announce the DVD release of three BBC Charles Dickens classic drama adaptations on 21st August 2017: Oliver Twist (1962), Bleak House (1959) and Barnaby Rudge (1960).

These rare and highly sought-after original BBC drama series are presented in their stunning black and white original form, and are all fondly remembered for their great production value and the fantastic acting talent in each production.

These will form a part of Simply Media’s Charles Dickens Classics Collection, with three other Charles Dickens classics already available on DVD from Simply Media: Dombey and Son (1969), Great Expectations (1967) and Our Mutual Friend (1958).

 

Oliver Twist (1962)

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The first ever BBC television adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist. Adapted by Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award winner Constance Cox (The Forsyte Saga), who specialised in creating great adaptations of classic literature for screen, and featuring an atmospheric soundtrack composed by BAFTA-nominee Ron Grainer (Doctor Who).

This uncompromising adaptation of Dickens’ tale of a gang of orphan boys turned to crime changed the face of British Sunday teatime viewing. Cox’s unvarnished depiction of despair and depravity in the back alleys of 19th century London, and the cruel divide between rich and poor, shattered expectations of cosy family drama. But this is Oliver as Dickens intended, without the enforced jollity of the blockbuster Lionel Bart/Carol Reed musical.

BAFTA-nominees Max Adrian (The Devils) stars as villainous Fagin and Peter Vaughan (Game of Thrones / Our Friends in the North) an indelibly brutal Bill Sikes, Bruce Prochnik (Emergency-Ward 10) a gentle Oliver, Melvyn Hayes (It Ain’t Half Hot Mum) a spry Artful Dodger, and Carmel McSharry (Beryl’s Lot) the trapped and powerless Nancy. Interestingly, both Prochnik, who played Oliver, and Willoughby Goddard (William Tell), who played Mr. Bumble, reprised their roles in the original Broadway production of “Oliver!

This landmark BBC production was a gritty game-changer that raised the bar and stretched the boundaries of TV adaptation and serial drama.

Format: DVD / RRP: £19.99 / Certificate: PG

Catalogue Number: 169661 / Barcode: 5019322696612

Genre: TV Series – Drama / Run Time: 390 mins approx. on 2 discs

 

Bleak House 1959

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The first ever BBC television adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic Bleak House, also adapted by the prolific Constance Cox. Starring Andrew Cruickshank (Dr. Finlay’s Casebook), Diana Fairfax (Just William), Colin Jeavons (The French Lieutenant’s Woman), Timothy Bateson (Dad’s Army) and Michael Aldridge (Last of the Summer Wine).

Dickens’ elegant satire about a disputed inheritance and the self-serving workings of the legal system gripped the public’s imagination. Cruickshank stars as John Jarndyce and Fairfax as his ward Esther Summerson in this delightfully complex comic drama.

A mystery story in which Esther uncovers the truth about her birth and her lost mother Lady Dedlock (Iris Russell); a murder story featuring one of the first detectives in English fiction, Inspector Bucket (Richard Pearson); and at its heart a redemption tale about a desolate home transformed by compassionate love. A slick and satisfying examination of double-dealing and injustice.

Format: DVD / RRP: £19.99 / Certificate: U

Catalogue Number: 167536 / Barcode: 5019322675365

Genre: TV Series – Drama / Run Time: 390 mins approx. on 2 discs

 

Barnaby Rudge (1960)

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The acclaimed BBC adaptation of Dickens’ classic tale of the 1780s Gordon Riots Barnaby Rudge, adapted by Michael Voysey and directed by Z Cars’ Morris Barry, remains the only TV portrayal of Dickens’ tantalizing gothic drama.

Starring John Wood (War Games), Barbara Hicks (Brazil), Timothy Bateson (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and BAFTA-nominee Joan Hickson (Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple).

On a stormy night in 1775 a ragged stranger (Nigel Arkwright) wanders into the Maypole Inn. Edward Chester (Bernard Brown – Crown Court), whose horse is lame, leaves the inn on foot to meet his beloved Emma Haredale (Eira Heath – A Man for All Seasons) at a masked ball. Joe Willet (Alan Hayward – Cash on Demand), quarrels with his father, Maypole landlord John (Arthur Brough – Are you Being Served?), and joins the army, only saying goodbye to Dolly (Jennifer Daniel – The Reptile), the pretty daughter of locksmith Gabriel Varden (Newton Blick – Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment). Varden’s household includes his formidable wife (Joan Hickson) and dithering maid Miss Miggs (Barbara Hicks).

Simple-minded Barnaby Rudge (John Wood) wanders in and out of the story, chattering with his pet raven Grip. Barnaby’s mother Mary (Isabel Dean) is visited by the stranger, and feels compelled to protect him.

As the stories interweave, Barnaby is caught up in the Gordon Riots, a violent demonstration against Catholics. Jailed with the ringleaders, will he hang for their actions?

Format: DVD / RRP: £19.99 / Certificate: PG

Catalogue Number: 169660 / Barcode: 5019322696605

Genre: TV Series – Drama / Run Time: 390 mins approx. on 2 discs