Love on a Branch Line – Second Sight DVD Review

7457The year is 1957 and civil servant Jasper Pye (Michael Maloney) is stuck in a rut.  When his girlfriend mentions to a fellow party guest that he’s something of a bore, Jasper decides to take immediate action.  But his initial plan – to move to France and become a painter – is shelved after his superiors send him deep into the English countryside.

Since 1940, a small outpost of the Ministry of Information (Output Statistics) has been in residence at Arcady Hall.  Jasper is sent with the express mission of discovering a reason to close it down, but he finds himself constantly distracted.

The delightfully eccentric Lord Flamborough (Leslie Phillips), owner of Arcady Hall, is happy with the status quo – especially since the upkeep of his house depends on the subsidies he receives from a benevolent government.   Lady Flamborough (Maria Aitken) intrigues Jasper, but it’s Flamborough’s three daughters – Belinda (Abigail Cruttenden), Chloe (Cathryn Harrison) and Matilda (Charlotte Williams) – who all manage to bewitch him at different times …..

Based on John Hadfield’s 1957 novel, Love on a Branch Line is a serial which simply oozes class.  Adapted by David Nobbs (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) it has the sort of cast to die for.  Leslie Phillips looks to be enjoying himself enormously as Lord Flamborough, an idiosyncratic aristrocrat who, along with his wife, lives on a train at the defunct local station. He bought the station, track and train and he now indulges himself by travelling backwards and forwards.  That he never actually goes anywhere might be a not-so-subtle metaphor.

There’s no doubt that the serial’s appeal rests with the quintessentially English atmosphere it generates even if, as with the best examples of the genre (such as PG Wodehouse), events are clearly taking place in an idealised and stylised England that never was.  Therefore steam trains, cricket matches and village fetes are all very much to the fore.

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Charlotte Williams, Michael Maloney, Cathryn Harrison and (front) Abigail Cruttenden

When Jasper arrives he suspects that the team at the Statistics outpost, having been left to their own devices for so long, might be somewhat behind with their work.  Both the statistician Professor Pollux (Graham Crowden) and the data collector Quirk (Stephen Moore) have found numerous distractions over the years – Pollux has been researching the history of Arcady whilst cricket is Quirk’s passion.  Luckily for both of them, they have the efficient Miss Mounsey (Amanda Root) on hand to keep them in some sort of order.  Crowden and Moore are great value with Crowden (arch scene-stealer that he was) never failing to entertain every time he sidles onto screen.

Belinda (“the wicked one”) is the first of Lord Flamborough’s daughters encountered by Jasper. Within a few minutes she’s already kissed him, although this unexpected moment of pleasure is short-lived after Lady Flamborough interrupts them. As so often throughout the serial Michael Maloney’s comic timing is spot on (he delightfully leaps back in horror after Lady Flamborough calls out).

Matilda, the youngest daughter, is neatly summed up by her mother. “Funny girl. She spends all her time reading old-fashioned thrillers and wating to be seduced by a sinister monk. She’ll grow out of it”. Chole, the eldest, is plainly the apple of her father’s eye (“she’s a damn good engine driver”).  A later encounter at the pub with the drunken Lionel Virley (David Haig), husband to Chole, puts another piece of the jigsaw in place. Also there is railway enthusiast Mr Jones (the always entertaining Joe Melia).

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Charlotte Williams

Jasper quickly becomes a part of the local cricket team and is also drafted onto the local fete’s organising committee. That the fete is in aid of fallen women is something which has endless comic potential. Lord Flamborough declines to be chairman.  “I never could be trusted with fallen women”.  This line is delivered in the trademark Leslie Philips style.

By the end of the first episode Jasper’s been kissed by all three daughters and is somewhat perplexed by his experiences. He continues to ping between them like a pinball as the rest of the serial plays out.

A lovely comic moment occurs in episode two after Belinda decides that Jasper’s proposed painting of the Hall doesn’t sound terribly interesting. Surely he’d much prefer to paint her in the nude? Belinda’s very keen and Jasper doesn’t take too much persuading either (although he valiantly attempts to keep his mind on his art). Although he does wonder if they should ask Lady Flamborough’s permission so Belinda, stripped to the waist, casually leans out of the window and shouts down to her!

Further complications ensue when Pollux turns up with Miss Tidy (Gillian Rayne). Pollux is giving her a guided tour of the Hall and his desire to show her every nook and cranny means that Belinda is forced to beat a hasty retreat. The vision of a fully-frontal nude Abigail Cruttenden, albiet in long shot, was a slight surprise (I wonder what the original Sunday evening audience made of it?)

The sight of a desperate Jasper – convinced that Lord Flamborough knows about his dalliances with his daughters – dancing the Charleston whilst his Lordship tunelessly bashes away on the drums is another stand-out scene. Maloney cuts some impressive moves whilst Phillips is his usual louche self.

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Leslie Phillips, Abigail Cruttenden, Maria Aitken, Michael Maloney & Cathryn Harrison

The big cricket match occurs in the third episode. Unfortunately, Jasper and Lionel are locked in one of Arcady’s wine cellars with only several thousand bottles for company. Few actors can resist a spot of drunk acting and Michael Maloney and David Haig are certainly no exception as Jasper and Lionel take solace in some of the more obscure vintages.  Carrot whisky anyone?

Things look grim for the village since their two best batsman have failed to appear but – improbable as it may sound – Jasper and Lionel do eventually stagger up to the crease. But will they be able to save the day? The cricket match is another entertaining setpiece sequence, as is the aftermath (everybody crowds into the pub for a hearty rendition of Yes, We Have No Bananas).

Love on a Branch Line has a delicate path to tread regarding tone.  It would be easy for Jasper to appear as little more than a letch  – after all, he’s already seduced (or been seduced by) Belinda and Chloe and when the sweetly virginal Matilda comes crashing down his bedroom chimney it seems that his cup runneth over.  Luckily, the unreal tone of the serial – and Michael Maloney’s skilful playing – ensures this is never too much of a problem.

The concluding episode promises to bring a dash of reality to the Shangri La of Arcady.  Jasper’s recommendation that the Statistical Unit be closed down forthwith doesn’t please either Lord Flamborough or Pollux and the arrival of jazz musician Ozzie Tipton (Simon Gregor) seems to turn Belinda’s head.  But Jasper – pressganged into becoming a judge at the Fallen Women fete – might just have secured his own future after he awards first prize in the prettiest ankle contest to Miss Mounsey.

In the end everything turns out fine for everybody and as the credits roll you can be assured that the sun at Arcady will always continue to shine (just as it will at Blandings Castle).

With an experienced cast of comic hands, beautiful locations and a sharp script from David Nobbs, Love on a Branch Line is a treat from start to finish.  Abigail Cruttenden, Cathryn Harrison and Charlotte Williams all catch the eye (although it’s Abigail Cruttenden that we definitely see the most of) whilst Michael Maloney, as the lucky Jasper, reels from one unlikely encounter to the next with aplomb.

Originally released on DVD by Acorn back in 2006, it’s now been brought back into print by Second Sight.  It comprises of four 50 minute episodes and whilst there are no additional features, the episodes are subtitled.

Something of a forgotten gem, this really is something that any devotee of British archive television should have in their collection.  Highly recommended.

Love on a Branch Line is released by Second Sight on the 17th of July 2017.  RRP £15.99.

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Michael Maloney
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Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Four

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The Nimon’s hyperspace portal has transported Romana to the Crinoth (the previous planet occupied by the Nimons) where she meets Sezom (John Bailey).  Bailey adds an instant touch of class to proceedings: after some of the exuberant performances seen during the last few episodes he essays something which was much more subtle and grounded in reality

Needless to say, after what we’ve witnessed recently it’s somewhat jarring to have a decent spot of acting but never mind, this first scene brings into sharp focus the Nimon’s planet hopping and destructive capabilities.  Sezom, like Soldeed, foolishly believed the Nimon’s promises.

SEZOM: But I have caused the deaths of so many others. The total destruction of our planet and all its people. I am to blame.
ROMANA: Why? What did you do?
SEZOM: I allowed the Nimons to come here. I worked for them, became their creature. They promised us technology, peace, prosperity. It ….
ROMANA: Go on.
SEZOM: It seemed so easy. Such a small price.
ROMANA: Did you have to provide them with some sort of tribute?
SEZOM: How did you know that?
ROMANA: I’ve seen something similar.
SEZOM: There was only one of them to start with. I never knew what was to come. I swear, I never knew what was to come. It seemed such a small price to pay.
ROMANA: It always does.

It’s something of an egregious info-dump it has to be said. Romana just happens to stumble straight into the path of someone who can put the final pieces of the plot together, but no matter – at least now we know the fate that awaits Skonnos.

Elsewhere, the Doctor has a friendly chat with the Nimons, which features one of my favourite exchanges of the story.

NIMON 2: Later you will be questioned, tortured and killed.
DOCTOR: Well I hope you get it in the right order.

The other main point of interest is Soldeed’s death scene which has to be seen to be believed. And even then, I don’t quite believe it …

To be fair to Crowden, it does appear that he believed they were only rehearsing rather than going for a take, but as the clock was probably ticking round to 10 pm (when the plugs would be pulled) it presumably was felt to be “good enough”. Which rather sums up the end of season feel of the story (even if Nimon was never intended to finish S17). By this point it seems that time, money and inspiration had rather run dry.

The Horns of Nimon is certainly fun if you’re in the right mood – Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Graham Crowden are always worth watching – but it also has a definite end of an era feeling.  Change was coming and for many it wasn’t a moment too soon.

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Three

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Anthony Read once admitted that The Horns of Nimon was written as a somewhat tongue in cheek story, but he’d hoped it would have been played in a slightly more serious manner.  Although if you script scenes like the opening one of this episode – the Doctor uses a red handkerchief to indulge in a spot of impromptu bull-fighting with the Nimon – then you can’t really be surprised if things turn out the way they did.

After being absent from the main action for the last episode or so, the Doctor is back in the thick of things after meeting up with Romana, Seth, Teka and the remainder of the Anethans (who remain – as befits non-speaking extras – mute).  He starts to wonder exactly what the Nimon are up to, whilst also highlighting Soldeed’s clueless nature (whatever the Nimon are planning, Soldeed seems to be kept in total ignorance).

Sorak has begun to question why the Nimon has decided to aid them in their quest to once again become the dominant force in the galaxy.  “Soldeed, it sometimes occurs to me to wonder exactly why the Nimon is doing this for us. I mean, to be blunt, what’s in it for him?”  It’s a reasonable question, which you’d have assumed someone would have asked before.  Possibly Skonnos is a totalitarian state which brooks no free will from any of its subjects or maybe Read’s script was just rather ill-defined on this point.  Skonnos is pretty much represented by two individuals only – Soldeed and Sorak – which means that it never comes alive as a real, functioning society.

This isn’t a problem isolated to just this one story, since Doctor Who often struggled to create well-rounded civilisations.  Some writers – such as Robert Holmes – were skilled at using dialogue to put meat onto the bones (think of The Ribos Operation which builds up a fairly vivid portrait of its planet – complete with changing seasons and a strong air of religious dogma) but this isn’t something that Read attempts here.

The major revelation in this instalment is that the Nimon isn’t a single creature as Soldeed thinks.  There are many, many others and they all plan to use their newly built hyperspace tunnel to travel to Skonnos and take over the planet.  As far as invasion plans go it’s rather long-winded – couldn’t they have found a planet closer to home to colonise?

This leads into a rather nice piece of dialogue, with Teka declaring that the Nimon’s invasion is going to take quite a while, considering they’ve only got the one transmat machine.

DOCTOR: Yes, it happens all the time. When a race runs out of space or destroys its home, it has to find somewhere else to live.
SETH: Skonnos?
DOCTOR: Yes.
SETH: But it’s already inhabited.
DOCTOR: Yes.
TEKA: Then how many more are coming?
DOCTOR: Well
ROMANA: To make all this worthwhile, there must be thousands.
DOCTOR: Millions.
TEKA: What, two at a time?

As Romana is accidentally transported in the hyperspace capsule to who knows where, Soldeed once again pops up to menace the Doctor ….

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Two

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Episode Two opens with an ambitious effects sequence, which sees the TARDIS deliberately placed in the path of a spinning asteroid.  The Doctor succinctly sums this up.  “Oh, you know, K9, sometimes I think I’m wasted just rushing around the universe saving planets from destruction. With a talent like mine, I might have been a great slow bowler.”

With the Doctor and K9 stuck in the TARDIS, this leaves Romana, still onboard the ship, free to quiz Seth and Teka.  She learns that the Nimon lives in the Power Complex (“that fits”) one of a number of witty lines which possibly may have gone a little unnoticed due to the broad performances elsewhere.

We meet the Nimon.  Season 17 really wasn’t a vintage year for monsters, was it?  Following Erato and the Mandrels, the Nimon are another disappointment. With a combination of stack heels, an obviously stuck-on head and weird movement, it’s hard to see the Nimon striking fear into anybody.  It’s interesting to learn that the Nimon heads were supposed to look artificial (with their real faces being visible beneath) but this isn’t something that ever comes across during the story – they just look like cheap, ill-fitting masks.

Whilst Romana, Seth, Teka and the others are delivered up to the Nimon, the Doctor eventually arrives on Skonnos and has a chat with Soldeed.

DOCTOR: Having a little trouble with the neutrino converter?
SOLDEED: Neutrino converter?
DOCTOR: Neutrino converter.
SOLDEED: What do you know about such matters?
DOCTOR: Oh, I’ve seen similar things here and there.
SOLDEED: Oh, come now, Doctor. This is my invention.
DOCTOR: How very odd, how very extraordinary, then, you don’t know what a neutrino conversion is. Did you know that someone’s building a black hole on your doorstep?

It’s remarkable for Tom Baker to come up against a fellow actor who makes him look fairly normal, but Crowden’s idiosyncratic performance left Baker with two options – either attempt to match him or play it straight.  Tom decides to play it straight, which was a wise move (leaving the field open for Crowden to indulge himself).  Soldeed’s manic cackling as the Doctor enters the Power Complex is a joy to behold, a weird joy, but a joy nonetheless.

What’s interesting about this scene is the way it shines a light on Soldeed’s self delusion.  He later claims to Sorak that making the Doctor venture into the Power Complex was all part of his great plan, when it was plainly nothing of the sort.  Soldeed might nominally be the power on Skonnos, but he’s continually buffeted by events outside of his control (with the result that every time something unexpected happens, he desperately attempts to reconcile it into his worldview).  This character trait makes Soldeed a much more interesting character than if he’d simply been just another single-minded maniac, utterly convinced of his own omnipotence. Soldeed’s increasing self-doubt is a nice touch.

Before the Doctor enters the Power Complex, he dashes about desperately looking for an alternative.  This gives rise to one of my favourite moments in the story, as he spies a group of councillors standing about.  “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’d like to say one thing and let me make it perfectly clear, I stand before you desperate to find the exit. Can anybody help me?” A wonderful Tom moment.

Meanwhile Romana and others come face to face with the terrifying Nimon. Roarrrrrr!!!!!

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode One

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I have an affection for many of Doctor Who‘s also-rans, those stories which sit unloved and unappreciated at the bottom of every favourite story poll.  You could argue that this is because I have absolutely no taste at all, but I prefer to believe that it’s more about appreciating what does work, rather than criticising what doesn’t.

There’s certainly plenty wrong with Horns of Nimon, but it also entertains (and sometimes intentionally).  The first scene offers an impressive info dump, as we learn that Skonnos was once a mighty planet of warriors which has now fallen on hard times.  No matter though, as the mysterious Nimon will make them great again (provided they deliver the final cargo – which turns out to be a collection of young people dressed in yellow jumpsuits).

The co-pilot (played by Malcolm Terris) has a limited line in insults (“weakling scum”) which he freely uses on several occassions to taunt the cargo.  Terris possibly wasn’t best served by the two Doctor Who stories he appeared in (The Dominators being the other) but still manages to make something out of this unpromising material.  The co-pilot, like most of his fellow Skonnons, is a weak man, full of bluster and desperately clinging onto the hope that Skonnos will rise once more to become feared throughout the galaxy.  Is there a faint touch of satire here?  For Skonnos, read Britain, which back in the late 1970’s had also fallen on hard times.  I wonder.

Two of the cargo have speaking parts – Seth (Simon Gipps-Kent) and Teka (Janet Ellis).  Seth and Teka are young and earnest (especially Teka, who hangs on Seth’s every word).  Like most of the other roles across these four episodes, their characters are only lightly sketched, so both Ellis and Gipps-Kent have to work hard to make Seth and Teka come to life.

Meanwhile, the Doctor’s tinkering with the TARDIS.  This is a scene which allows Tom Baker to freewheel as we see the Doctor carry out some slapdash repairs.  If you view Tom’s performance during this era as somewhat self-indulgent then this probably isn’t the story for you – since the tone for Nimon is firmly set right from the start (it should come as no surprise to learn that the Doctor’s mouth to mouth resuscitation with K9 was unscripted).

But what we do have is a nice contrast between the increasingly erratic Doctor and the long-suffering Romana (as has often been observed, throughout the story Romana – complete with her own sonic screwdriver – acts more like the Doctor than the Doctor does).

We then jaunt to Skonnos to meet Soldeed (Graham Crowden) and Sorak (Michael Osborne).  Plenty has been written about Crowden’s performance over the years and I can’t add much to what’s gone before, except to wonder what would have happened had Crowden been cast as the fourth Doctor in 1975.  Given how exuberant he is as Soldeed, one can only imagine how his Doctor would have ended up by 1979.  In contrast, Osborne looks faintly embarrassed, but then he is encased inside a somewhat bizarre costume, courtesy of June Hudson.

The Doctor, noticing the Skonnos ship in distress, naturally can’t resist popping over to help.  He doesn’t take to the gun waving co-pilot, but is more concerned about the shivering cargo, which he learns are “sacrifices”.  The Doctor agrees to help, but the co-pilot, more concerned about his cargo and his reputation, leaves the Doctor and K9 stranded in the TARDIS once the ship is operational again …

The Cleopatras – Episode One

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They don’t make them like this any more.  Indeed, they didn’t make them like this very often back then.

The Cleopatras, written by Philip Mackie and directed by John Frankau, is a series that delights in its own artifice.  At a time (1983) when British television was slowly moving towards film as the dominant medium for drama, The Cleopatras was an all videotape production which used every available video effect to create a unique atmosphere.

The series makes its intentions clear in the first few minutes – various picture dissolves and wipes (which are used throughout the eight episodes) instantly tell us that this isn’t a run-of-the-mill production.  The sets at times appear more impressionistic than realistic and doses of CSO help to heighten the unreality.

It places the series firmly in the camp of electronic theatre rather than the naturalistic world of filmic drama (such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) that was increasing in popularity at this time.  Series like I, Claudius had shown that videotaped historical drama could be compelling, but The Cleopatras – although it had a similar mix of power-struggles, incest and murder – never had the same impact.

Looking at it today, you have to be able to embrace the production (or at least to tolerate it) and ignore some of the riper overacting.  If you can do that then it’s possible to derive a considerable amount of enjoyment from it.  And if not, you can at least admire their ambition.  Today, pretty much every drama looks identical, but for better or worse you could never say that about The Cleopatras.

Philip Mackie had previously penned a six part series called The Caesars (Granada, 1968) and it’s possible to regard The Cleopatras as something of a companion piece (both were studio-bound productions, although The Caesars didn’t indulge in trippy camera effects).  Although Mackie’s name isn’t that well known today (even amongst the select band of archive television enthusiasts) there’s plenty of interest to be found in his cv.  The Naked Civil Servant is one of his most high-profile screenplays, whilst I’d strongly recommend An Englishman’s Castle, a taut three-parter starring Kenneth More which is set in a Britain where the Germans had, thirty years earlier, won WW2.

The premise is simple.  Theodotus (Graham Crowden) is instructing the latest Cleopatra (Michelle Newell) about the history of her family.  He tells her (and us of course) that the kings of Egypt, who are all called Ptolemy almost always marry Queens called Cleopatra. The latest Cleopatra will ascend to the throne when her father dies and she marries her brother. Otherwise how will the royal blood line be kept pure? But before that happens Theodotus takes some time (the first five episodes in fact) to tell her the histories of some of her famous predecessors.

We travel back to 145 BC for the first of these history lessons. It opens with the moaning of Cleopatra’s mother (played by Elizabeth Shepherd – doomed to be known as the actress who was Emma Peel for a very short while) who’s emoting in a most peculiar fashion. She tells her daughter (also played by Michelle Newell) that her father is dead. We briefly see his death scene, but it’s presented in a characteristically abstract way that’s a feature of the series.

Eupator (Gary Carp) is in line for the throne, but Pot Belly (Richard Griffiths) is chosen ahead of him by Cleopatra’s mother. “He’s revolting. He’s so fat and horrible” says Cleopatra in disbelief. Griffiths is great fun and a highlight of these early episodes.

Eupator doesn’t last long (a mercy since Carp’s very shrill). He’s murdered in his bed in a scene that’s just as artificial as the rest of the series. We don’t see his murderers, but we hear one of them, although the voice sounds like it’s been dubbed on. Why this would be I don’t know, but it helps to continue the sense of disconnection.  This continues when Theodotus pops up to explain the current state of the plot. Graham Crowden appears in a small box which then increases to fill the size of the screen. Once he’s imparted a vital nugget of information the box then shrinks before vanishing.

Cleopatra’s clearly power-hungry. She attempts to resist Pot Belly’s attentions, but ends up being raped by him. It might be expected that she’d treat him with contempt afterwards, but that’s not the case. When she tells him she’s pregnant it’s plain she’s delighted as it gives her a chance to move closer to the throne.

Cleopatra manages to easily dislodge her mother and proves to be an ideal helpmate for Pot Belly. This is demonstrated when they both attempt to bribe a visiting Roman official called Scipio Africanus (Geoffrey Whitehead). Pot Belly offers him gold (which is refused) and then a selection of topless serving girls (there’s an awful lot of bare breasts in this series, maybe one reason why it achieved a certain notoriety. When Scipio declines them, Pot Belly desperately wonders if he’d fancy boys instead! A nice comic moment from Griffiths.

There’s predictable familial strife ahead as Cleopatra’s mother doesn’t intend to lose her position of power. Cleopatra and Pot Belly are forced to flee Egypt, but we haven’t heard the last of them. And the final image – Cleopatra and Pot Belly send Cleopatra’s mother a memorable birthday present – ends the episode in an unforgettable way.

Zodiac – The Horns of the Moon

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Written by Peter Yeldham
Directed by Joe McGrath

General Weston (Peter Jones) is the autocratic chairman of a small merchant bank.  He wishes to initiate a merger (which effectively means selling the bank).  His fellow directors and his son Tony (Peter Egan) are against the plan, but the General always gets his way – and he does so again.

But shortly afterwards, he falls down the bank’s lift shaft.  As Tony later remarks, anybody else would have broken their neck, but he escaped with just a sprained arm.  However, it does seem to indicate that somebody at the bank wishes him harm.

There’s no shortage of suspects.  His son would inherit everything on his death, whilst the vampish Julie Prentiss (Michele Dotrice) seems to have the General wrapped around her little finger.  The other directors, Rodney Tyce (Graham Crowden), Ian Rentoul (Ronald MacLeod) and Agnes Courtney (Gillian Raine), could all have motives whilst the servant Dobbs (Norman Chappell) is another possibility.

Tony is a regular client of Esther’s and he calls on her to ask for advice.  He wants to leave the bank and break free from his father – but only if she confirms that the stars are correctly aligned.  She visits him at the bank to deliver the horoscope and he suggests they have a drink.  It comes as something of a surprise to find the General frozen solid in the fridge …..

The Horns of the Moon is by far the best mystery of the series since, as the above list indicates, there’s no shortage of suspects.  Once again, Esther is at the scene of the crime when the body is discovered, much to Gradley’s despair.  He’s also a little peeved at having to leave his dinner companion.  “You may not know it but I was at a charity dinner, escorting a debutante of the year.”  When Esther asks which year, he tells her it was quite a recent vintage.

Gradley quickly gets a feel for the list of suspects and it’s clear that Tony is his favourite.  Esther violently disagrees as she says it’s astrologically impossible for him to have committed the murder.  Gradley doesn’t arrest Tony straight away as he knows he’ll make his way to Esther’s flat in order to unburden himself.  This he does and what Tony says is pretty damming.  “What would you say if the files showed that I embezzled two hundred thousand pounds from the firm and the gun that killed the General was in my desk and that I wiped it clear of fingerprints and put it back in the boardroom and I took the files and put them in the cellar?”

Tony protests his innocence – he looks guilty, but that’s only because somebody has framed him.  Later on, even more evidence pointing to his guilt comes to light and Gradley arrests him.  Esther remains unconvinced and continues to nag at him to consider the other possibilities.

As with all the episodes, there’s a lovely group of actors here.  It’s a shame that Peter Jones doesn’t last longer as he’s got some nice comic business as the General.  Peter Egan is a bundle of nerves as the perpetually twitchy Tony whilst Graham Crowden is quite restrained as Tyce.  Tyce is a character that exists on the outskirts of the majority of the story, but he does have a part to play later on.

The banter between Gradley and Esther also helps to keep the interest chugging along.  Both of them, especially Anton Rodgers, have great comic timing and it’s their partnership which is one of the main strengths of the show.

The Horns of the Moon was the final story of this short series.  The real murderer is eventually found and Tony is set free, but that’s the end of the line for Gradley and Esther.  The premise of the series (detective and astrologer teamed up) was an intriguing one, although it’s fair to say that some of the plotting was a little loose in several of the episodes .

The partnership between Hempel and Rodgers as well as the guest casts more than made up for this though and there was certainly enough potential for a further run of episodes.  It wasn’t to be though, which is a shame since Zodiac is a nice little series and provided you don’t mind studio-bound drama (not a single location shot in the six episodes) it’s well worth tracking down.