Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who – The 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.

The Galton and Simpson Playhouse – Cheers

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Charles (Charles Gray) and Peter (Freddie Jones) operate under a strictly fixed routine.  Friends since childhood, they went through the army together and now share the same house.  Charles likes to organise everything and as they enjoy their regular evening drink at the pub, he outlines how he sees the week progressing.  Friday night sounds particularly exciting.  “In here for our usual and then off home and wash our hair.  I’ll wash yours and you can wash mine, I never get all the soap out otherwise.”

Then Peter drops a bombshell – he’s getting married on Saturday.  This throws Charles into a spin, how can Peter get married when they’ve got the laundrette to do?  Peter is firm though, he’s in love and he’s going to be married at 12.00 noon on Saturday.

Charles continues to be baffled that Peter could desert him, after all they’ve been through.  “After thirty five years, school chums, brother officers, comrades-in-arms, joint lease-holders of a maisonette and an allotment – which we were going to manure on Sunday.”

But Peter wants to break free from his routine existence and do something very different.  He tells an increasingly appalled Charles that he and his wife-to-be will be “staying in South America.  We’re taking a raft up the Amazon, right into the rainforest.”

If all this sounds very unlikely, then there’s a good reason why – Peter’s made it all up.  There’s no girlfriend, no marriage and on Saturday he’ll be locked into the same old routine.  He then confesses to Charles that he created this wild fantasy in order to try and break the monotony.  Charles agrees that they should try and do something different, but it’s clear that they never will.

A bittersweet tale, Cheers is pretty good stuff, although there are a few awkward moments which do firmly place it in the 1970’s.  Charles is disgusted to see a black woman on the arm of one of the other pub regulars (Nicholas Courtney).  He mutters that such a thing shouldn’t be allowed and he declares that “I’d like to know where he gets his money from, I’m sure he’s a mercenary.”  Awkward though this is, it’s always nice to see Nicholas Courtney and whilst it’s not a large part, he makes the most of it.

Charles is also amazed to learn that people consider that he and Charles are a couple of “poofs”.  The fact they do everything together (including washing each others hair) has clearly not gone unnoticed by the other pub regulars (who call them “Pinky and Perky” behind their backs) but Charles doesn’t understand this at all.  “I don’t believe it! I don’t look anything like a poof.”

Freddie Jones gives a lovely turn as a middle-aged man yearning for escape from his humdrum life whilst the always solid Charles Gray is suitably bluff as another middle-aged man who lives for exactly the routine that drives Peter up the wall.  If anything changes, you can tell that Charles simply wouldn’t be able to cope.

If the scripting of The Galton and Simpson Playhouse so far hasn’t always been the sharpest, the star-quality of the actors has been enough to hold my interest.  Cheers is another good example of this.

Whenever this Doctor turns up, all hell breaks loose. Doctor Who – Battlefield

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After the success of Remembrance of the Daleks it was inevitable that Ben Aaronovitch would be asked to contribute another script.  Battlefield began life as a three-parter which was later expanded to four episodes, although Aaronovitch was to express his dissatisfaction with the story as it appeared on screen – feeling that it too obviously a three-part story with an extra episode bolted on.

But whilst there are script problems, there are also some rather dodgy performances which do drag the story down.  It’s probably (apart from Time and the Rani) Sylvester McCoy’s worst Doctor Who performance.  He’s all over the place and far too many times his line delivery is very poor (“There will be no battle here!”, ” If they’re dead”, etc, etc).  Comparing this and Ghost Light back to back is particularly instructive.  He’s at his best in Ghost Light (restrained and still) and very much at his worst in Battlefield (ranting and over-expressive).

Sophie Aldred has her poor moments as well (“Boom!”) whilst Christopher Bowen’s turn as Mordred is on the ripe side, to put it mildly.  Angela Bruce settles down as the story progresses, but she’s also not especially good to begin with (“Shame!”).

The start of a beautiful friendship?
The start of a beautiful friendship?

It’s not all bad though – Marcus Gilbert has a nice comic touch as Ancelyn and James Ellis is always watchable.  His Tennyson ad-libs (“ Thou rememberest how, in those old days, one summer noon, an arm rose up from out the bosom of the lake clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, holding the sword“) work very well and it’s nice that Michael Kerrigan allowed him some space to indulge himself.

The main guest roles were filled by Nicholas Courtney and Jean Marsh.  Marsh manages to bring out the contrary nature of Morgaine, as she’s someone who is more than capable of destruction but also has her own moral code (observing remembrance for the dead and restoring Elizabeth’s sight).

Ben Aaronovitch was quite clear that bringing back Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT was something of a fannish indulgence.  In many ways this undoes some of the good work from Mawdryn Undead.  It would have been the easy option in 1983 to have the Brigadier back with UNIT and fighting monsters, but instead they went for a more interesting story with a retired and somewhat broken-down figure.

"Ware this man. He is steeped in blood"
“Ware this man. He is steeped in blood”

Here, it’s pure fannish wish-fulfillment to have the Brig back in his old uniform and in charge (albeit temporarily) of UNIT.  It’s hard to believe, to be honest, that any military organisation would reinstate a retired soldier like this, so it may have been more credible to have had him along as a civilian advisor, due to his knowledge of the Doctor.  Courtney’s always good value (especially when facing down the Destroyer in the last episode) but after Mawdryn, this can’t help but feel like a little bit of a let-down.

As with many stories script-edited by Andrew Cartmel, some interesting material never made the screen (although it was restored for a special edition of the story when it was released on DVD).  Chief amongst the cuts was the disdain that Ace has for the Brig, something that is totally absent from the transmitted story.

The story is a little incoherent with various plot devices (a stranded nuclear missile convoy is introduced in the first episode and then forgotten about until the last ten minutes of the final episode) not used particularly well.  And the reason for Morgaine traveling to this universe is never made clear – has some catastrophe affected her own, maybe?  The plot is a little wooly at times, it’s made clear that Morgaine knows she’s traveled to another dimension, but at another point in the story the Doctor maintains that the Earth will be a battleground for a conflict that doesn’t belong here – implying that Morgaine is unaware she’s no longer in her own universe.

The reveal of the Destroyer at the end of the third episode does give the story a little more impetus and it has to be said that the design is wonderful.  Some seven years earlier, the Terileptils in The Visitation were able to curl their lips but that’s nothing compared to the lip-curling that the Destroyer indulges in.  It’s a good indication just how animatronics and technology in general had evolved over the course of seven years or so.

Flawed though Battlefield is, it’s still enjoyable – but it’s very much the weak link in S26.  And a special mention must go out to the closing scene.  Keff McCullough’s comedy tune as the girls leave is perhaps a fitting ending to a real curate’s egg of a story.