Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Saturday 28 December 1963

Hello chums! It's the last Saturday night of 1963, and how many viewers could have predicted that this winter evening's telly would give us our first full look (not to mention listen) at one of the enduring icons of 20th century British pop culture?


Hello.  You may remember that last Saturday we left a terrified Barbara Wright as she was being threatened with a sinister plunger.  Just who was wielding that plunger we have to wait a while to discover, as the scene shifts to her companions' search for her.  The Doctor, Ian and Susan stumble into some kind of laboratory, where they hope they might find some mercury to refill the TARDIS's fluid link.  Having almost forgotten his story about the link, the Doctor confesses to Ian that there's nothing wrong with it - he just wanted an excuse to see the city.  "Abuse me all you like, Chesterton," the old man begins as Ian starts to berate him - and to be honest the mental image conjured by this meant I couldn't concentrate on the next few lines.  There's a more pressing concern than the Doctor's deceit, though: the lab contains a geiger counter showing the radiation in the air is well over the danger mark: which certainly explains why everyone's been feeling a bit peaky.

The Doctor suspects that the planet's surface was hit by a neutron bomb, which destroyed life but left the buildings intact.  It dawns on him that the case they found outside the TARDIS might contain anti-radiation drugs.  He's in favour of legging it back there to cure themselves of their sickness, but he's made the mistake of giving Ian the fluid link, and the teacher's not giving it back until Barbara's been found.

That won't take too long, it emerges, as the door of the lab opens to reveal strange metallic forms: clearly these are Barbara's captors.

In bizarre staccato voices they insist the travellers accompany them.  Ian makes a run for it, only to find himself on the receiving end of a blast of their egg whisk-like guns.  If you were inclined to bad puns you might say they give off a lot of negative energy.

The blast has temporarily paralysed Ian, who has to be carried to Barbara's cell by the Doctor and Susan.  Still, it's good to know Barbara's safe, and that her hair's holding up well under the strain.  Susan rather rudely laughs at her conviction that there's something alive within those metal casings.

The effects of the radiation sickness are beginning to tell on the party, especially the Doctor.  Presumably because he appears the least likely to hold out under interrogation, the metal beings call him to an interview (they're brilliantly conceived, by the way, from their gliding movements to their distinctive voices to the fully-realised city environment designer Ray Cusick's placed them in.  Look at those little round screens - ideal for their little round eye).

The creatures reveal that they're called Daleks, and initially believe the Doctor and his companions to be Thals, the other race that shared the planet in the days before the neutron bomb, a few of whom still live on the surface.  The Doctor tells the Daleks he and the others' precarious state of health, and the presumed drugs in the TARDIS.  His captors agree to allow one of the group to go back to the ship and get them.

The illness is telling on the Doctor pretty badly - once he gets back to the cell he gets his lines stupendously muddled: "It's possible that they may have been anti-radiation gloves... drugs".

Ian insists he should be the one to get the drugs, but he still can't walk, and besides Susan reveals that the TARDIS lock is liable to melt unless the key's operated by someone who knows what they're doing with it.  It looks like Susan will have to go back into the jungle, but Having been frightened by the Daleks' insistence that the Thals are "disgustingly mutated", she's utterly terrified (though given that the Daleks thought their prisoners were Thals it should be pretty obvious that their idea of disgusting mutants might be a bit different from ours.

As Susan reluctantly embarks on her quest, the Daleks, in classic villainous fashion, discuss their true plans: they intend to let the travellers die, and keep the drugs for themselves.  The rotters.

It's night time, and Susan's trek through the petrified jungle is as scary as the BBC's limited budget could conceivably make it.  Eerie sounds assault her from all angles, and there's a scary scaly something following her.  Could this be one of the hideous Thals?

Susan's overcome with relief at making it safely to the TARDIS, but Ian's pleas for urgency ring in her ears, and pausing only to catch her breath, she prepares to head back outside, a dramatic flash of lightning illuminating the jungle as the TARDIS doors open...

Now, if you'll just squeeze yourself out from behind the sofa, it's time to welcome back a TV Minus 50 favourite.

The new series gets off to an ideal start, with a pair of familiar character actors (Norman Rodway and Derek Benfield) in a Victorian funeral parlour.  Rodway is Mr Darcy (not that one), secretary to Lord Liscurragh, and the funeral arrangements are for the peer's soldier son, killed in action.

The show's title character is being paid a visit by an old friend, Sergeant Tovey (Anthony Sagar), the CID's Irish Expert.  He's been on the track of Fenian terrorists for years (although to date he's never actually caught any), and he's due to work with Cork on tracking down a group who've lately been threatening to make .  Brian Mosley, best known as Coronation Street's Alf Roberts - last seen around these parts assaulting a policeman - is behind the beard.  He tells Tovey all about a change of personnel at the CID - Superintendent Nelson's due to be replaced by a Superintendent Rodway (is it pure coincidence he shares the uncommon surname of an actor in this episode?).

This week, we get to see Cork immersed in his grooming regime, which with the current fashion for outlandish moustaches looks oddly contemporary...

...prior to his being approached by Irish streetwalker and pickpocket Biddy (a splendidly saucy performance from Maureen Toal), who offers information on Fenian activity (her current squeeze is a member of a terrorist gang with a tendency to expound their plans in his sleep) for the princely sum of £25.

Neither Cork nor his superiors, Superintendent Nelson and Inspector Bird, are particularly inclined to take up this known criminal's offer.

At a pub in Camden Town, an aggressive drunk (Jack MacGowran), whose nickname, Drummer, is a hangover from his years serving in the army, angrily asserts his Irish nationalist credentials to the landlord, Quinn (Jack Cunningham).

Both men are involved with a secret Fenian group commanded by Mr Darcy, who's in the pub's cellar, overseeing the arrival of several crates shipped over by surly Scandinavian sea dog Selstrom (Brandon Brady).  Darcy's lieutenant, Byrne, is played by future Ballykissangel star Tony Doyle, surprisingly handsome in his youth.

Byrne and Quinn acknowledge to Darcy that Drummer's a dangerous psycho, but he's very enthusiastic, and his military experience could prove invaluable in operating the apparatus they've received.  It turns out that Drummer is also Biddy's fella.  Although Cork and the rest of the CID weren't interested in her blabbing about him, she's managed to get £50 from the army for the information, and tries to convince Drummer they should use it to emigrate.  He's not so keen.  "You bitch, you betrayed us!" he screams, and Act One ends with Biddy screaming in terror as he's about to smash her head in with a bottle.  Which seems a bit strong, especially as the show has a new timeslot of 7 pm.

Beside Biddy's mutilated corpse the police find a letter to Darcy from Bulstrode's undertakers about the Liscurragh funeral, and a list containing the names of several peers.  The tone of the episode lightens a bit with Bob Marriott's hilarious visit to the funeral parlour, where he's informed that "Mr Bulstrode is indisposed.  A slight chill on the kidneys.  We expect to see him here very soon."  "Oh, I see," replies Bob, meaningfully.

Cork, meanwhile, is tackling Lord Liscurragh, an Irish landowner who proves to be boiling over with anti-Fenian sentiment, decrying the namby-pamby measures that have been taken against the insurgents.

Having pinpointed Quinn's pub as the terrorists' hideout, Tovey heads down there with a squad of men, only to fall foul of what's in the basement: not explosives, as we've been led to expect, but a Gatling gun.

There's a genuinely upsetting scene as Cork goes into the cellar next day to see his friend's body, and Marriott finds the slab of Stilton Tovey had promised to bring round to Cork's.

Cork deduces that the Fenians' plan is to carry out a massacre of peers who own Irish land at the Liscurragh funeral.  When he confronts them in the chapel that they've occupied for the task they realise the game's up, but Darcy's plea to Cork that ordinary Englishmen like him who don't give a hoot about Britain's interests in Ireland should join with the Fenians in rejecting the country' occupation are searing.

The Fenians let the unarmed Cork and Marriott go, but they're determined not to surrender, and as a sorrowful Cork walks away the army arrive for what looks to be a guaranteed bloodbath...

The brilliance of Sergeant Cork is in the fact that as well as giving an utterly convincing portrait of the Victorian era it also provides the viewer with a lot to think about.  In retrospect this episode, made at a time when Irish nationalist violence had been dormant for a while, seems to evoke spectres of its future as much as of its past.

Ada Larkins is peeved.  Even more than usual, I mean.  A caff filled with snoozing men seems to her to sum up the lack of help she gets in running the place: "I don't know what we're one short of: the seven dwarfs or the seven deadly sins".

Once awoken, Alf and Osbert announce their intention of heading off to the pub, along with Jeff, who's clearly now had enough booze to cure him of those soppy American ailments he was affecting last week.  Alf calls them the Three Musketeers.  "The Three Mustgetbeers!" Ada crows.

Meanwhile, Hetty's reluctantly participating in one of Georgie's predictably explosive experiments: "Would you hold this wire?" "Not on your thermodynamic nelly!" (I feel I will spend the rest of my life seeking opportunities to use that last line).

Once Georgie's been sent to his room, Hetty offers her sympathies to a comprehensively cheesed-off Ada.  Initially she's not keen on the offer of a cup of tea, having dispensed far too much of the brown liquid: "If I see another drop of the stuff I shall bawl my eyes out."  Eventually she relents, and what sight could be more glamorous than Peggy Mount drinking her tea?

Ada's got the 'ump with Alf's unwillingness to help out around the place.  Hetty suggests "Being ladylike and dignified, take him quietly in a corner and thump him."  It looks like Ada might favour less subtle means.

When Alf and his companions roll in at 4 pm thoroughly inebriated and demanding food it's the last straw for Ada.  Forcing Alf to gulp down a black coffee, she makes a grave announcement: despite her stern disapproval of pubs and their habitu├ęs, she intends to accompany him to the Lion and Unicorn that evening.  "Who knows? It might be quite a jolly evening."

Jollity at first looks in short supply, as Ada shoots down Hetty's idea of drinking "something madly gay and exotic".  There's work at the caff tomorrow, so a peppermint cordial's the most she's allowed.

Ada soon begins to enjoy herself, though (it's not thanks to alcohol -she's on the tomato juice), as she loudly condemns the pub for its all-round grottiness, and drives the other customers away by telling them off for drinking.  It all gets a bit much for Hetty: "Ooh, get me a shandy, I'm past caring."

The embarrassment Ada causes her companions reaches a head with the arrival of her hated former char, Mrs Gannett.  When the two have to be restrained to prevent them exchanging blows, the Larkins' entire party are banned from the pub by exasperated barman Fred (played by The Larkins' writer, Fred Robinson).

Next day smooth-talking Osbert tries to persuade Fred to lift the ban.  It doesn't go well.

It seemed as if Ada was being extra loud and objectionable deliberately to get Alf barred, but the horrifying thing is that she actually wasn't: she's baffled as to why they were kicked out, and feels genuinely sorry that she's stopped Alf from going to the boozer he's attended for 30 years.  Despite Hetty's prediction she'll be forcibly ejected, Ada heads back to the Lion and Unicorn to plead on her husband's behalf: "The man has not been born who could forcibly eject me!"

Later that day news reaches Alf that the ban's been lifted and he's welcome back to the pub.  When he gets there he learned that Fred threatened to leave if he should be allowed back in.  And rather than placate his barman, landlord Mr Wheeler's taken a rather drastic course of action, and one that leaves Alf wishing the ban still stood...

That's the last episode of The Larkins in the present series, but the show will be back in the summer.  Next week sees the very welcome return of The Arthur Haynes Show.

Next tonight, The Avengers follows up its Bonfire Night special with a New Year's special...

This week we begin with a sinister chap in a duffle coat (Leon Eagles) cutting through the fence of an early warning station, before using a very early mobile phone to report to his boss that all is well...

Cathy Gale pays Steed a visit after returning from Christmas in Marrakesh (Steed chuckles with disbelief when she tells him it was "very quiet"), and finds some remarkable debris left over from the drinks he had with friends the previous night.

There's glorious innuendo as the pair thank each other for their Christmas gifts.  Steed: "I didn't know they did them in crocodile!" Cathy: "I tried it in the sitting room, but I felt it was more effective in the bedroom" (to which Steed responds, "I should have thought that would have been immaterial".

Sadly Steed had to abandon his party the night before when it was in full swing, due to the apparent outbreak of World War Three: "All our early warning stations picked up an approaching missile attack on this green and verdant isle."  Fortunately, it was a false alarm: "Another few seconds and you and I would have been mutating now."  Surely it must be a coincidence that Steed's recently taken an option on some prime trout fishing land in Cornwall nearby Smallwood, the only station that didn't pick up the rogue signal?

Anyway, it's New Year's Eve, and Steed's hoping to make up for his spoiled party of the previous night.  His friend Tony Linklater, a fertiliser baron, has invited him to a costume party aboard a train heading north from Paddington.  We get an inkling all's not right on realising the ticket collector's the duffle-coated chap we saw earlier.

Steed's ushered into the club car, where he meets his fellow revellers.  There's Napoleon (Alex Davion), and a Pussycat (Anneke Wills), who Steed takes a particular shine to ("You'll make me purr!" she cries as he plays with her tail)...

A Highwaywoman (Anthea Windham)...

...a Victorian policeman (Richard Leech), who responds to the Pussycat's with-it lingo in wearily pedantic fashion: "Fabby? I suppose you mean fabulous... I hardly think this event will pass into fable and legend."

Complementing Steed's outfit there's a Wild West sheriff (The Plane Makers' John Junkin), in truth a former railwayman who recently won the Irish lottery.

And finally there's Leonard Rossiter, playing an overbearing and lecherous self-made man ("I thought she was a model," he says of the Pussycat, "Then I found out she really does model") who's come as Robin Hood.

The revels take on a worrying edge as the partygoers find they've all been brought aboard under false pretences, each given to believe the host was a different acquaintance of theirs.  And things get more curious when the train stops.  The sign reads Wolverhampton, but this just conceals the name of a station that's been disused for years.

What's more, it's just the one carriage halted at the station, the rest of the train having gone on.  And if that wasn't bad enough, a sinister figure dressed as a monk is stalking the partygoers.

As he's the only one who knows anything about the area where they find themselves, the Sheriff agrees to go and seek help.  But it's not long before he's found, killed by one of the arrows Robin Hood claims to have lost.

And the party's soon missing another member, as the Highwaywoman's rendered unconscious by the train's sinister barman (Frank Maher).

The monk's revealed as Cathy, who Steed brought along as he was highly suspicious of his invitation (Tony Linklater's abroad).  Nobody bats an eyelid when she takes the place of the unconscious Highwaywoman (shows how much notice they took of her, I suppose).

The partygoers have deduced that the reason they've been abducted is because they've all got an appointment at noon the next day to sign the papers that confirm their ownership of land nearby the Smallwood station.  Having decided that one among them must be an impostor, the Policeman insists they each point out the plot of land they've claimed (note the camera coming into frame on the left, preparing to focus on the map for the next shot)..

Cathy ends up picking the same plot as Steed (despite choosing the only one the trout stream doesn't run through), the result being imprisonment for both of them.  The tips Steed picked up in his recent handcuffs course prove useless against the Policeman's Victorian model, and the Avengers are more than usually ruffled.

Steed explains that the archvillain (whichever of the party that may be) plans to buy all the land around Smallwood and set up a device to render Britain's early warning system useless by causing constant false alarms.  Fortunately, Pussycat happens along, and Steed attempts to flirt her into setting them free ("She's fascinated by me.  It's my winning smile." "Did you take a smile course?").  "The longer I stay here, the more danger you're in", he warns her.  "I would have thought it completely the opposite," she replies, wonderfully.

Anneke Wills is adorably mischievous (and seemingly completely unconcerned by the perilous situation she and the others are in) as she makes up her mind whether to set Steed free.

She decides not ("But you did ask nicely,") though Steed manages to get the keys out of her pocket.  By the process of elimination Cathy works out that Napoleon is the villain (his costume was a clue to his plans for world domination all along - it would have been ace if the Pussycat had been the baddie, though), and as Cathy tackles the barman with a jolly-faced Speak Your Weight machine ("You are six stone two and have a strenuous day ahead")...

...Steed tackles the boss in a fashion appropriate to his Western costume.

The job done, Steed and Cathy relax in iconic (sorry to use that word) fashion with a glass of Champagne.  Steed wishes Mrs Gale a happy new year "And very many of 'em".  "Let's not push our luck, Steed.  We only just got through this one."

Another brilliant script from Brian Clemens, Dressed to Kill is The Avengers at its most sublime.  I'll drink to many more episodes this wonderful.

Music now, and the last top 40 of the year sees the Beatles still occupying both the top spots.  Up to number 5 this week is Dusty Springfield, whose first solo single trades the cutesy folkery of the Springfields for something rather more punchy.

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