Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Saturday 4 January 1964

When, last week, we left plucky yet easily terrified teenager Susan Foreman gathering her courage to leave the safety of the TARDIS to venture once more through the petrified jungle of Skaro and bring her stricken companions life-saving anti-radiation drugs (or was it gloves?) we could have little inkling of what lay in store for her outside those police box doors: a bloke with PVC trousers and a bare chest (that scaly thing we saw in the trees last week was a sheet of lino he wears as a cloak).  Anyway, he seems like a nice boy: his name's Alydon and he's one of the Thal people that the Daleks hold in such low esteem.  He's played by John Lee, whose subsequent career would include a stint as a love interest for Helen Daniels in Neighbours.  Susan's instantly smitten: "You're perfect!" she exclaims (and this probably says more about the standard of male beauty at Coal Hill school than anything else).

It turns out Alydon deliberately left the vital drugs outside the TARDIS, aware that the travellers must soon succumb to the radiation suffusing the planet's surface.  He explains that he and the other Thals have lived on these ever since the nuclear disaster that made Skaro such an inhospitable place.  For years they've enjoyed a contented existence on a far-off plateau, but have been forced to venture further afield by dwindling food stocks.  Alydon wonders if the Daleks might want to help out, and speculates on what they look like inside their metal shells: "If they call us mutations, what must they be like?" (Is he trying to say he thinks the Daleks might be really pretty when you get their lids off?)

Alydon gives Susan his cloak and takes her back to the Dalek city: she goes in alone, and doses Ian, Barbara and the Doctor up with the Thal medicine.  Susan's grandfather's close to death's door by this time, and the removal of his jacket, combined with his horizontal posture, encourages us to marvel at just how high-waisted those trousers of his are (either that or he's got an incredibly small upper body).

Motivatedly mainly by finding Alydon rather dishy, Susan's determined to help the Thals, an aim the Daleks claim to share.  But can they be trusted? Well no, of course not.  (Two things to note here: the Daleks' really rather marvellous dilating irises and the first, but not the last, appearance of a tea tray-toting Dalek).

Back out in the jungle, we get to have a good look at the marvels of Thal fashion, as we meet some of Alydon's compatriots (are the holes in their trousers/skirts supposed to be there, or has their nomadic lifestyle simply taken its toll on their clothes?).  Doctor Who gets its first name guest star in Alan Wheatley, known to millions as the Sheriff of Nottingham in ATV's long-running Robin Hood series.  Here he plays the much more benign figure of Thal leader Temmosus.  We're also introduced to Alydon's girlfriend, the grumpy Dyoni (Virginia Wetherell) - possibly just feeling self-conscious about the flower growing out of the top of her head - and the rather louche Ganatus.  Ganatus is as supercilious as any other character played by Philip Bond, but as he's the only Thal who seems to have a bit of life in him he's easily the most likeable of the lot.

Alydon's expecting a message from Susan ("No longer a child, not yet a woman", as he refers to her - which  led me off on a wayward train of thought about a musical version of this story featuring the songs of Britney Spears) - his friends are suspicious that if it comes it could be a Dalek trap, but Alydon's convinced that if Susan signs her name all will be above board.

He's wrong of course, the wicked mutants having tricked Susan into signing her name to a letter inviting the Thals to their city for a nosh-up on food grown using their special artificial sunlight.  Odd, when you think about it, that the Daleks would have a pen and paper lying around.

Susan's fellow travellers are less trusting of the Daleks.  Having realised that their captors can hear as well as see them, they decide to stage a wildly over-acted pretend fight in their cell, culminating in the camera mounted on the wall being put out of commission.

"Do you think it was broken accidentally in their struggle?" asks a Dalek.  Bless.  Either way, the Daleks have now decided on the fate of their prisoners: "Extermination!"

Fortunately, the travellers are formulating an escape plan.  The Doctor, back on form, deduces that the Daleks rely on static electricity to move about, and that they could immobilise one by getting it off the city's metal floor and on to... well, suddenly that great big heavy cloak seems very handy.  Resourceful Barbara starts making mud to clog up a Dalek's eyestick with.  The Doctor seems to be taking a shine to her...

When it's time for elevenses the travellers manage to manhandle their unsuspecting tea mutant into immobility.

Ian gingerly lifts the Dalek's lid, immediately deciding that the being within isn't a fit sight for the eyes of young ladies.  He and the Doctor remove the disorientated thing (scrupulously kept from the viewers' delicate eyes as well) and bung it in a corner.  The next, most absurdly risky stage of the plan: Ian is to get inside the casing and, piloting it, escort his companions to freedom.  Let's hope none of the other Daleks notice him giving them dirty looks with his muddy eye...

As the travellers set off on their foolhardy gambit, we get the very barest glimpse of the uncontained Dalek before all fades to black...

Top class adventure.  Now, from the barren, hostile world of Skaro we move to the not too dissimilar setting of the Salvation Army girls' home in Streatham, where the warden, Major Proctor, has been savagely beaten (to the strains of "Onward Christian Soldiers").  Could the man standing over her with an ornate candlestick and a bewildered expression have anything to do with it...?

Sergeant Cork will not be on the scene to find out, having been confined to bed with a stinker of a cold, and devoting his remaining energy to running his temporary nursemaid Miss Bolton (Pauline Winter), sister of his similarly bedridden landlady, ragged.

That means that this week Bob Marriott's conducting the investigation into the attack on Major Proctor alongside Sergeant Jones (Jack Watson, overdoing the Welsh accent).  At the home, they meet the replacement warden, exasperatingly pious Major Washbourne (Gwynne Whitby) and her underling Captain Ruth Chilvers (Kathleen Byron - interesting coincidence that, as in her most famous role in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus Byron plays a highly-strung woman called Ruth who's a member of a religious organisation).  Man about town Bob is even more horrified by the Major's attempts to recruit him to the service of Christ than he is by her obvious keenness on meting out harsh punishments to wayward girls: "The devil has a very strong hold on these girls.  Sometimes the devil must be paid in his own coin!"

Clearly it's the devil's grip causing the girls to swoon over penny dreadfuls when they should be cleaning the band's instruments, and making them swarm like blood-crazed piranhas around any halfway attractive man they see (in this case a terrified Bob).

Two lines of inquiry suggest themselves in tracking down Major Proctor's assailant: the first involves two girls, Josephine Wells and Violet Berry, well-known pickpockets, who were seen waiting outside the Major's office shortly before the attack, and who disappeared from the home shortly afterwards; the other, Henry Gill, porter at the home - also a visitor to the Major on the night of the assault, and also missing.  When Bob follows Captain Chilvers to Henry's house he learns she's engaged to the porter, and agrees to her request that she bring him to the police station the following day to explain his absence.

In exchange for a parcel of grapes (he wolfs them down whereas Bob delicately peels), Sergeant Cork offers some thoughts on the case from his sick bed: as neither the girls nor the porter seem likely to have anything to do with the mysterious amber beads found in the Major's office, could she have had a fourth, unseen visitor that evening?

Marriott heads off with this thought playing on his mind, leaving his superior to the hated beef tea Miss Bolton insists on forcing upon him.

To help him find the girls, Cork's suggested Marriott enlist the services of young bootblack Dick (Roy Holder), whose knowledge of the streets he's had cause to use before.

With Dick under instruction to locate Josephine and Violet, Marriott and Jones receive a highly nervous Henry Gill (Howard Pays), who insists he found Major Proctor unconscious and fled from the scene, scared that the time he served in prison for theft would see him blamed for the crime.  Marriott senses he's not telling the whole truth, and Jones obliges by producing Henry's file: rather than a year for theft, he was in prison for 10 years for armed robbery, and what's more he already has a wife.  Kathleen Byron's underused in this episode but the way her face conveys the devastation wrought by this revelation on a life clearly lacking in any kind of fulfilment more than justifies her casting.

This awkward interview out of the way, Marriott heads to a house in Canonbury which Dick's pinpointed as the hideout of the missing girls (Margo Andrew and Kika Markham - whose sister Petra would later play Roy Holder's sister in children's fantasy series Ace of Wands).  They're living like princesses in the charge of the ever so refeened Mrs Wilkinson (a panto dame-like turn from Betty Baskcomb), who's grooming them to be star turns at her bawdy house in Pimlico.  The scene where she bustles the girls into their revealing new outfits as a spellbound Dick watches outside the window like a Victorian Robin Askwith is classic British smut (pre-watershed style).

When Bob bursts in on this little scene Mrs Wilkinson somehow manages to convince him she's perfectly respectable and took the girls in with no idea where they'd come from.  It's only on Cork's prompting that he returns to see her, having fingered her as the owner of the amber beads.  Producing the candlestick with which Major Proctor was attacked, Bob tricks the procuress into a confession by confusing her with talk of the new science of fingerprinting: "How can my fingerprints be on there when I was wearing gloves?"

If not quite Sergeant Cork at its most brilliant, The Case of the Fourth Visitor is hugely entertaining, and the performances of Byron and Baskcomb alone are worth the price of entry.

Now, also from the ATV stable, the return of another TV Minus 50 favourite.

In an apparent tweak to the series' format, we only get one sketch per act in this episode, broken up with a musical number (in its original form this series actually had two musical acts per episode, but the overseas export versions, with one act snipped out to bring down the running time and allow for more commercials, are now the only ones that exist).

Sketch one sees painter and decorator Arthur blag his way into 10 Downing Street, which he recently helped freshen up for its new occupant, in order to give his brother-in-law Les some inspiration on doing his place up.

The character Arthur plays here is edging closer to writer Johnny Speight's most famous creation, Alf Garnett: "He's only Prime Minister now," he says in disappointment at Alec Douglas-Home casting off his place in the nobility.  "Anyone can be Prime Minister now.  Get the right number of votes and bang, you're in."  Of Mrs Douglas-Home's supposed plans to furnish the house in more extravagant style Arthur notes "I think he's got a bit more money than old Mac had."

It's Arthur's experience that things are different across the political divide: "They've got different tastes, the Labour lot...  tiled surround and flying ducks... can you imagine President Johnson coming over here to talk politics and he winds up here with a glass of port and a tiled surround, with three flying ducks above his head?"

The visit's cut short by private secretary Nicholas Parsons, aghast that this pair have managed to get in.  "Course, I was only the one who worked my fingertips to the bones," Arthur huffs on being ejected before he can even show Les the bedroom wallpaper.

On his way to the door, Arthur overhears the Prime Minister addressing his cabinet: "I think I can get this country back on its feet..." "Gorblimey," exclaims the decorator, "He's daydreaming again."

The surviving musical interlude this week comes courtesy of Mr Marty Wilde.  His hit parade days over by this stage, Marty seems to be emulating the Beatles with an audience of ecstatic female hands and a cover of the original Motown hit, Barrett Strong's "Money", popularised in the UK by the Fab Four and at the time of broadcast a top 20 hit for Bern Elliott and the Fenmen.  Marty even plays his own harmonica.

Finally tonight we catch up with tramps Arthur and Dermot, as usual harrassing a Nicholas Parsons-shaped establishment figure.  This week it's a wealthy businessman who's parked his Rolls in a layby (or rather his chauffeur has) for a spot of lunch.  Enter Arthur, being driven by his very own chauffeur.

Stopping for a cup of tea, Arthur obtains some water from the most convenient nearby source.

Arthur tries to make conversation with chauffeur Leslie Noyes: "Rolls Royce, is it? They're good little runners, they are", but doesn't get far.  He decides this unfortunate underling of the ruling class is too firmly under his master's thumb to communicate with his proletarian brothers any longer.

The chauffeur's employee proves no more communicative, and won't even let Arthur have a look at his important papers.  Arthur's astonished to find that such an apparently important figure is so shy, and expounds to Dermot on how the only possible way someone so shy could have reached an important position is due to his high birth.  Dermot sighs for the social status that was never his: "My mother, she was too easy.  If you're going to do that sort of thing you've got to save yourself for someone with a bit of money."

"He didn't mean to be offensive," insists Arthur, "Only he's Irish, and they're a bit primitive."  Dermot, in fact, is facing deportation, even though he hasn't done anything.  Actually, it's because he hasn't done anything.  Unfortunately, the Irish aren't willing to have him back.  In an ideal world he'd like to draw his national assistance in Britain, where you get more, and spend it in Ireland, where the cost of living's cheaper (In an era where the welfare state's become a controversial topic, this almost affectionate portrayal of benefit cheats seems remarkable).

The funniest thing about the sketch is Arthur' insistence on talking about his tatty old pram as if it was a vehicle on a par with Parsons' Rolls Royce.  But of course, there's  method to his madness.  With the Rolls out of water, Arthur kindly offers to lend the contents of his kettle - in exchange for a lift to London.  He insists the pram be tied to the back, and while this is being attended to, he and Dermot nonchalantly drive off.

Ah, it's splendid to have you back, sir.  From one theft of a rather conspicuous item to another now, as the staff of private zoo Noah's Ark are baffled by the disappearance of Snowy - an albino elephant.

Could it be a coincidence that Steed (who's just taken up yoga - not as ubiquitous in 1964, possibly because at that point it seems to have consisted purely of staring at flowers) has suggested the zoo's vacancy for a Zoological Director could be an ideal opportunity for Cathy Gale?

The zoo's owner, Noah Marshall (Godfrey Quigley, one of the most frequently seen guest actors at TV Minus 50) is a picturesque figure with his parrot, pipe and scar (the legacy of a run-in with a tiger that ended his big game hunting days).  His secretary Brenda Paterson (Judy Parfitt), by contrast, is the image of the no-nonsense businesswoman.

As Cathy arrives to take her post at the zoo (she never seems to have any difficulty walking into these jobs Steed finds for him), she pauses only to feed a kangaroo before meeting with her new boss.

There's a spectacular moment as the naughty parrot decides to have a nibble on Godfrey Quigley's pipe - causing Honor Blackman much merriment.

Various animals make an appearance in tonight's episode: the smallest, though not the least noticeable, being a fly that scampers merrily across the camera for a good few scenes.

While Cathy settles in at the zoo, Steed (who's fessed up about being on the trail of ivory smugglers), investigates dodgy gunsmiths Bruno Barnabe and Toke Townley.

Unbeknownst to the Avengers, they're sheltering the officially missing Professor Lawrence (Edwin Richfield), Snowy's owner and the man behind her disappearance.  He's also Brenda Paterson's secret husband.  So he won't be best pleased to find her consorting with big game hunter Lou Conniston (Scott Forbes).

I may have exaggerated in my mind the amount of times that an Avengers act ends with Cathy discovering a body hanging from the ceiling, but it seems to happen every few weeks.  In this case it's Snowy's keeper George (Martin Friend, who was in the episode The Gilded Cage just a few weeks back).  George seemed an inoffensive character, so who could have been so keen to guide him to his end?

The White Elephant is one of the more mundane episodes from The Avengers' third series, and the motivations of the unwieldy cast of characters aren't always clear (or maybe they just weren't interesting enough to pay attention to).  Fortunately director Laurence Bourne does his best to keep the viewer's attention, as in this bog standard expository scene at Steed's flat, enlivened by having Steed balance wine glasses on his forehead and Cathy stand on her head.

The highlight of the episode is Steed's visit to the manufacturers of Noah's Ark's cages, filled with suggestive imagery.

Saleswoman Madge Jordan (Rowena Gregory) seems especially keen on her work (Steed later refers to her as "Madame Restraint".  "Quadrupeds?" she asks Steed, when he enters.  "Bipeds," he clarifies.  "What mainly interests your principals?" she asks.  "Strength? Or would they like a bit of weight?"  She offers a discount on a job lot of manacles: "Export order cancelled due to a political upheaval."

Steed returns to the premises in the dead of night, & after making short work of Madge's pet muscleman, discovers the elusive elephant in the backroom.  Kept out of shot, of course.  Patrick Macnee offering a bun to an offscreen elephant is, it must be said, less than convincing.

At Noah's Ark Brenda and Lou, having incapacitated Noah with drugged coffee, are busy concealing ivory in the hollow frames of animal cages.  Professor Lawrence arrives to confront them, but is greeted by Cathy.  "Do you really need a gun to deal with a woman?" she asks him, before demonstrating that he did.

Unfortunately Cathy falls foul of Lou Conniston, less willing to give up his firearm, who locks her in a cage with a sleeping tiger.

The final conflict between Steed and Conniston is certainly unusual, taking place as it does against a backdrop of exotic birds.

The baddies defeated, Steed manages to acquire a few choice ivory ornaments.  As the episode draws to a close, a livid Cathy gives her colleague her sternest talking to yet:

"You always manage to win something, don't you Steed? Whatever anybody else has lost you pick up your perks and off you go.  Well I'm an anthropologist, not one of your gang.  And if you want my help again you'd better have a very good reason."

"Is that it?"

"No.  You're using my experience to cover your indolence."

"Indolence? If it hadn't been for me you'd still be in that tiger's cage."

"Well at least I'd know exactly what I was up against."

Nonetheless, in spite of herself, Steed's got Cathy smiling again by the time the credits roll...

Now for something a bit special.  The list of contenders for the title of Greatest British Film Director has not traditionally been a very long one.  The claim to the title of the most obvious candidate, Alfred Hitchcock, is weakened by his buggering off to Hollywood as soon as he was able.  In 1964 most people would probably have pointed to two main contenders: David Lean and Carol Reed.  It seems unlikely that at that time many people would have nominated Michael Powell, though subsequent decades have seen him canonised as our film industry's greatest visionary.  The contemporary critical reaction to Powell's work that was characterised by damning with faint praise and accusations of "bad taste" (whatever that means) turned hostile with the release of Peeping Tom in 1960 (by which time Powell had gone solo from his long time collaboration with Emeric Pressburger.  The scandal that greeted the film effectively ended his career: few people saw his next film, The Queen's Guards (a state of affairs unchanged today), and his final features were made in Australia.  In 1963 he joined the ranks of less prodigiously talented movie directors like Charles Frend, John Paddy Carstairs and Charles Crichton in working on ITC's filmed adventure series, specifically on three episodes of Espionage, the first of which we turn to now.

Exciting credit, exciting star (Powell favourite Pamela Brown), and most of all exciting cardie:

Brown plays Kristine Jensen, a schoolteacher in Nazi-occupied Denmark whose days now mainly consist of teaching German officers English.  By night she's a leading light of the resistance, and has been instrumental in bringing a legendary "demolition team" of three allied officers to the country.  These are a volatile Russian, Tovarich (Julian Glover), a wily Englishman, Wicket (Mark Eden), and a laid-back American, Anaconda (Donald Madden, whose performance is the episode's weakest link).  "An Englishman, an American and a Russian: sounds like the beginning of a funny story," observes Kristine - it's also a typical Powell story - his films frequently draw out revealing contrasts between the English and other nationalities.  But the story that unfolds turns out to be a tragedy.

While out reconnoitring, Wicket captures a Nazi scientist, Professor Kuhn (George Voskovec), in defiance of the group's no prisoners rule.  Wicket believes that the professor might be something a little bit special, though.  What he turns out to be is the catalyst that tears the trio's friendship, not to mention their lives, to pieces.

Kuhn professes that he'd be happy to work for any of the allied governments: the only thing important to him is the advancement of science.  And the advance he's on the threshold of is what viewers in 1964 would recognise all too well as the atom bomb.

The three friends have different reactions to the awesome destructive power the professor appears to be on the verge of unleashing: Tovarich insists the only sensible thing to do is to kill the scientist and prevent his weapon from coming into existence...

...while Wicket quickly begins to negotiate with Kuhn to ensure it gets into the right hands.  Anaconda remains non-committal.  Clearly relishing the role of a Satanic tempter, the professor taunts the three by likening them to the folk tale about three fishermen who find an all-powerful demon, willing to do the bidding of any one of them, in a bottle - but eventually seal the bottle back up because they're scared of what it offers.

Bottles are of special significance here: the three men's effectiveness as a team is underlined by the way they're forever tossing a bottle of liquor between each other, catching it without a second thought.

So when an angry Tovarich hurls the bottle at the professor and it smashes against a blackboard, it's a clear indication that everything's due to go tits up.

As the three friends go to sleep that night, the professor, restrained in the most charmingly civilised fashion, gloats over the conclusion to the folk tale: the demon forced its way out of the bottle and destroyed the fishermen anyway.

It's agreed the professor will accompany the trio out of the country, once they've headed over to his house (where all his top secret work has taken place) to pick up his vital notes.  There they get their first glimpse of nuclear power.

But Kuhn isn't finished with poisoning the trio against one another.  As he further impresses the power of his discovery to Wicket, the English officer becomes convinced that, above all, Russia shouldn't have it.

Tovarich, tipped over the edge by the professor's machinations, makes another attempt on his life.  Wicket restrains him, but ends up dead for his pains.

The rest of the team aren't long in following their companion: Anaconda, following the late Wicket's lead, shoots his Soviet comrade and sends the professor off, ensuring that it's the Americans who'll get to exploit his dangerous knowledge.  As Kuhn observes, "Never turn your back on a friend - it's the golden rule of our times."

A final shootout follows, ending with Anaconda dead and a fatally wounded Tovarich scrabbling around in a pathetic attempt to gather up the professor's scattered notes.  Kristine looks up from the carnage at the departing helicopter and wonders what horrors the world must face next.

It's astonishingly powerful stuff, and shows that even working in the confines of a show like Espionage Powell was a blazing talent, even in his career's premature twilight.  Though one of my favourite things about Never Turn Your Back on a Friend is the casting of middle aged Pamela Brown in a role that just about any other director on the show would have given to a younger, more decorative but undoubtedly far less talented performer.

Well, that was a bit of a marathon session.  To end with, here's this week's selection from the hit parade.  It's Gene Pitney with "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" at number 5 (the Beatles are still at number 1, by the way).