Saturday, 22 March 2014

Saturday 18 January 1964

Regular viewers may recall that on our last visit to the planet Skaro the Doctor and his companions were preparing to bugger off in the TARDIS and leave the pacifist Thals to their own devices against the potential threat of the decidedly un-pacifist Daleks.  But now they've learned the Daleks are still in possession of the ship's fluid link, leading the unwilling Thals into battle has become a matter of life and death for the travellers.

The characters' reactions to their predicament are interesting: Ian's contention that it would be morally wrong to encourage the Thals to fight purely so that the travellers can escape finds little favour with the Doctor and a surprisingly bloodthirsty Barbara.  But while she at least convinces herself the Thals will need to fight the Daleks one day anyway, for the Doctor it's selfishness that holds sway.  As he alarmingly chides Susan, "This is no time for morals!" And by taking Ian's side in the argument, it seems Susan's beginning to question whether her grandfather's always right after all.  The moral dilemma's handled well (even if at this stage in the show's development it feels a bit like they put names in a hat to decide which character thinks what this week), with Ian accepting it's imperative for the Thals to attack the Dalek city, but only if they can be persuaded it's in their interests.  Particularly marvellous is a glimpse at what Ian's like in the classroom, as he gives the Doctor and Barbara, behaving like truculent schoolkids, a stern telling off: "Now listen here, you two..."

Meanwhile, the Daleks are watching the events in the petrified jungle, though not in real time.  They've taken a few still photos and, charmingly, are watching them as slides (complete with whirry shutter noises)...

Ian's not getting very far with his attempts at convincing the Thals' new leader, Alydon, that his people should abandon centuries of passivity and strike against the Daleks.  The threat of taking the Thals' historical records to the Daleks meets with little resistance, but Ian eventually hits a nerve when he starts to make for the city with Alydon's ladyfriend Dyoni.  For someone who's supposedly entirely non-violent, Alydon seems to pack quite a punch.

While this is all going on, the Dalek city's thrown into crisis.  In the hope of venturing outside their city, the Daleks have reproduced the Thals' anti-radiation drugs.   Unfortunately, by the time they discover these drugs are poisonous to them they've already handed them round like sweets.  Daleks all over the shop are experiencing mental breakdowns and eventual death (the shots from the perspective of a stricken Dalek are brilliant, but the  "Aaah.  Aaah.  Aaah" noise it makes as it expires, probably unintentionally, utterly hilarious).

The Daleks are startled to learn that, in the years since Skaro was devastated by a neutron bomb, they've become so accustomed to radiation that they need it to live - hence the deadly effects of the drug.  The way to make Skaro inhabitable for them, then, is not to counter the effects of the radiation but to irradiate the planet even further, with another bomb.

A brief pause here to note that the Daleks are apparently keen viewers of Doctor Who...

...and to draw your attention to the it-seemed-a-good-idea-at-the-time use of lifesize photographic cutouts of Daleks to bulk out the metal monsters' numbers - which looks especially woeful in the shot below.

...and I think the Daleks' tickertape machine also deserves a mention.

Back in the jungle, a conflicted Alydon has finally given the go-ahead to an attack on the Dalek city.  Camped out under the stars, Barbara and Richard Madeley lookalike Ganatus seem to be getting quite close, as he sweet talks her with tales of a nearby lake full of hideous mutated creatures.

The next day, as the Doctor and Ganatus dominate the discussions of how best to plan the attack, it's decided that this lake will be a good, if risky, way of accessing the Daleks' back passage.  One team will go that way to take the Daleks by surprise, while another will distract them at the front end.

The group taking the Daleks from behind consists of Ian, Barbara and Ganatus, along with Ganatus' nervous nelly brother Antodus (Marcus Hammond), the very deep-voiced Kristas (Jonathan Crane) and the nondescript Elyon (Gerald Curtis).  Barbara, by this point, has changed into a pair of the Thals' peep-hole trousers (I'd be intrigued to know what these are made out of - it seems unlikely the Thals have the wherewithal to make PVC).

Something (on film) attacks Barbara from the lake.  I have absolutely no idea what it's meant to be but happily Ian rapidly dispatches it.

After making camp with the Thals, Ian heads down to the lake for some water, only to be confronted by this charmer:

He manages to get away, but it looks like poor Elyon might not be so lucky, having roused something rather fearsome...

Over to the other side now (actually having to get up to change the channel - can you imagine?)

Ronald Adam, grumpy authority figure in a myriad British films, sports a fine pair of Piccadilly weepers as dreaded hanging judge Lord Justice Palmer, who dons his cap to sentence 14 year old Alan Fowler (Jonathan Collins) to death for the murder of a master at the school where he assisted the gardener.  The boy's (much) older brother Len (Patrick Carter) swears vengeance...

We're in Brighton (where I live, if you're remotely interested - actually I live there even if you're not), where Sergeant Cork and Constable Marriott have been assigned to keep an eye on the holidaying Palmer family, due to the judge receiving several threatening letters.  The policemen are horrified to learn that they're expected to share a room (well this is Brighton, after all), and receive little co-operation from Justice Palmer, who thinks his wife (Hazel Bainbridge) is getting unnecessarily het up about the letters.  The other Palmers are young son David (Gerald Rowland) and daughter Virginia (Anna Palk), who immediately attracts Bob Marriott's interest.

There could be no better casting than Ronald Adam for Palmer, an unbending patriarch straight out of Victorian melodrama - where this vision of filial love featuring Len Fowler comforting his distraught mother (Grace Arnold) as they face up to Alan's fate also belongs.

For Bob Marriott this assignment - having to accompany a beautiful young lady to the seaside - is the best he's ever had.  William Gaunt's never been more endearing than he is here as he tries to chat up Miss Palmer in his Victorian leisure gear.  But why on Earth is young David behaving so strangely?

On the pier, Bob and Virginia meet Charles Unwin (Robert Sidaway), editor of the (fictional) local paper, the Brighton Bugle.  Committed to the abolition of the death penalty, he's revolted by the forthcoming execution of young Fowler.  During their chat, David vanishes.

The family's traumatised, but not enough that Virginia can't show her daring bathing costume off to Bob the following day...

While young Marriott enjoys himself, Cork's got work to do.  He visits young Alan Fowler in Lewes prison, where the boy denies killing the schoolmaster, Sweeney, but also reveals that he knows David Palmer - a pupil at the school - quite well, and that Davis utterly despised Sweeney, who made his life a misery.  As Cork prepares to leave, Alan begs him to stay, as he can't bear being alone in his cell any longer.  It's a deeply affecting moment.

More bizarre than affecting is the moment when Lady Palmer discovers a noose hanging from the ceiling of the family's beach hut.  An offstage scream is followed by an obvious still photograph of Hazel Bainbridge, before we see what's occasioned all the bother.

The anonymous person who planted the noose has also left a note promising an unpleasant end for young David unless Alan Fowler lives.  Justice Palmer's agonies over the injustice of his 14 year old son being treated abominably meet with a fiery response from his daughter, who rubs the full irony of the situation in his face.

Len Fowler's the obvious suspect in David's kidnapping - which obviously means that he didn't do it.  In fact, it soon emerges there was no kidnapping - David just went off on his own and Charles Unwin - along with the boy's sister - sent the notes in an attempt to secure Alan's release.  The question of why David disappeared is answered when Cork returns to see Alan - accompanied this time by Mr Howard (Kenneth Edwards), headmaster of the school where the slaying took place.  

It emerges that Alan killed Sweeney in self-defence, and the witness to the incident, David Palmer, was commanded by Howard (out of fear for the school's reputation) to keep quiet about it or face expulsion.  It's rather brilliant how, once the terribly upright Howard's revealed as the true villain of the piece, he turns into a hysterical wreck who Bob has to rapidly usher off.  Palmer, meanwhile, undergoes a Scrooge-like transformation into a kindly old gent as he rushes off to stop the execution, which comes a bit late for the 49 other people he condemned to death.

The mystery solved, we're treated to the undeniably erotic sight of Bob Marriott in his bathing costume.

Right, well, take a moment now to get over that... and then it's on to another treat from ATV.

This week's show seems to go at a snappier pace than those of the last couple of weeks, squeezing more sketches than usual into the running time.  The first sees Arthur selling knocked-off whisky door to door - 15 bob rather than the usual 41/6.  Nicholas Parsons is delighted, and blissfully unaware that it's all come from his own cellar.

Tonight's musical act comes early in the running order.  In contrast to last week's appearance from men of the moment the Dave Clark Five, this week's performer has her days of reaching the top 10 far behind her, though she'd manage to squeeze a career out of her success with "Bobby's Girl" for a few decades yet.

Here she belts out another US original, Debbie Dovale's "Hey Lover", which she tramples over just as comprehensively as she did the Marcie Blane hit.

The next sketch sees Arthur getting an audience with the private secretary to the minister of defence (Parsons of course), which it seems you can do simply by turning up in Whitehall and mentioning the word "defence".  Several viewings of To Love from Russia have opened Arthur's eyes to the espionage going on under the very noses of the British people.  Of course, it's a well known fact that Stalin was a US spy: "He was trained over here by the Americans, down in the Mile End Road," but Arthur's concerned about the Prime Minister, who's not even an Englishman: "Not that I've any prejudice about foreigners coming into the country and getting good jobs... What would happen if we was suddenly to have a war with Scotland? I mean, he's our leader and he's one of them."

What Arthur's really come about, though, is the shocking lack of guards on the country's reservoirs.  Enemy agents could easily poison them and kill off the entire population of the UK: "Well, it's cheaper than the atom bomb, innit?"

Parsons arranges for Arthur to be ejected ("You reckon he's not Russian?" Arthur asks of Parsons' aide Leslie Noyes.  "He's got vodka coming out of his eyeballs!").  But suddenly he's gone off his cup of tea...

The next sketch is notable for an appearance by that comedy perennial of the 60s and 70s, the pyramidal stack of tin cans in a food shop.  Parsons, camping it up absurdly as he assembles the stack, requests manual labourer Arthur's assistance in ensuring the top can's placed exactly right.  Arthur then operates his pneumatic drill, which knocks the cans over.  Cheesy to say the least, but, weirdo that I am, few things perk my interest more than a 1960s grocer's.

Finally we head for Harley Street, where we find the unlikely figures of tramps Arthur and Dermot among the wealthy and neurotic patients waiting to be seen by eminent psychiatrist Dr Parsons.

If the furclad dowagers in the waiting room weren't mentally disturbed before Arthur's arrival, they certainly are after he's plucked the cigarettes from their holders to light his own, then stubbed his fag out on their hats.  Sadly, the surviving version of this show has no credits at all, so I don't know who any of the actresses in this sketch are.  If anyone recognises the lady with the wonky eye, I'd love to know who she is.

All hell finally breaks loose when Arthur chucks a jug of water over a wig he's set on fire, sending its owner into a fit of hysterics.  With all his patients scared away, Parsons expresses doubts that the tramps can afford his services.  After unsuccessfully trying to convince him Dermot's an eccentric Irish aristocrat who likes to dress as a tramp, Arthur admits they've just come in to have a laugh at all the loons.  There's still a great deal of stigma attached to people with mental health difficulties, but at least most of us can console ourselves with the fact that we're not being laughed at by tramps.

The teaser scene in tonight's episode of The Avengers poses us the question of what an worried-looking Peter Sallis is doing on a train with an important-looking file containing a photo of John Steed...

We learn who Sallis's character is from Steed's superior Charles (Paul Whitsun-Jones, making a return appearance): he's Hal Anderson, an old friend of Steed's since they trained together (old friends of Steed since they trained together would become increasingly frequent in the show, reaching epidemic proportions by the time of The New Avengers).  Anderson was one of seven agents stationed in a sensitive part of eastern Europe.  He's the only one not to be killed by the enemy, and now he's disappeared.  It's up to Steed to track him down.

Steed tells his closest confidante (or "lady helpmate" in Charles' words), Cathy Gale (resplendent in a quite glorious hat) all about his assignment prior to heading off in search of Anderson.  In one of those odd moments when she reveals her more tender feelings toward Steed, Cathy leaves him a note.

Steed's first port of call is the tailor - this particularly tailor (Gerald Sim) being a friend of Anderson's who proves unable to shed any light on his whereabouts.  But a new lead sends Steed to a firewatching post in the Scottish highlands, where he nearly meets a grisly end at Anderson's hand.

Yes, played by dear old Peter Sallis in a Christmas jumper Anderson may look cuddly, but he's a ruthless killer who's already dispatched three men who were sniffing around his post.  Steed manages to avoid joining them, and learns that Anderson's got a gap in his memory about what happened out east.

Meanwhile Charles has summoned Cathy, who visits his office early in the morning, coming straight from a wild party.  "Quite enchanting!" is Charles' verdict on her striking outfit.  Steed's left no word of his whereabouts and Charles is hoping Cathy can shed some light.  Instead, she upbraids him for assigning Steed to a case where he has an emotional attachment.  "There are rules," he tells her.  "We make them, and occasionally break them.  That's our privilege, Mrs Gale."

In the highlands, Steed awakes to find a gun trained on him.  It appears that Hal's regained his memory: and he now recalls that Steed was the man responsible for the deaths of his fellow agents...

Alarmingly, Anderson's story seems to check out: Steed was abroad alone at the time of the killings, and his whereabouts can't be verified.  The "is Steed a traitor?" trope was done to death at the start of this series, and it's hard to stifle a groan on seeing it raise its head once more.  What's notable is that whereas before Cathy's always had her doubts about whether or not there's any truth in the allegation, here she's unswervingly loyal to Steed.  As she explains to Charles' subordinate Oliver (future Doctor Who producer Barry Letts in a toupee), she can't believe for an instant that Steed's guilty.

Charles clearly does believe it, however, and Steed's packed off to a top secret establishment where a dodgy pair of interrogators aim to extract a confession from him.  These are Neil Robinson (who could boast of appearing in Fellini's 8½ the previous year) as the sinisterly camp Bethune and Terence Lodge as a chap known only as the Wringer.  With his prominent teeth, hip dress sense and self-consciously groovy way of talking ("Time is what you make it, baby"), the Wringer can't help striking modern audiences as a prototype Austin Powers.  As an aside, it's slightly confusing that Terence Lodge and Paul Whitsun-Jones both appeared in the earlier episode Man with Two Shadows, but whereas Whitsun-Jones returns here as the same character, Lodge plays a different one.

The best thing about The Wringer is Don Leaver's ultra-stylish direction, which comes into its own during the scenes with Steed in his cell, exposed to all manner of proto-Prisoner assaults on his senses.

In classic baddie style, the Wringer and Bethune chat to each other in detail about the nefarious experiment that they're really up to: having made Anderson believe Steed killed the agents, they're now making Steed's mind a blank so they can then plant the belief that he really did it.  Under the pretence of trying to get him to talk, Cathy pays Steed a visit, and finds him in a shocking state, his perception of time having been destroyed by the Wringer's treatment.  She manages to rouse him enough for the two to escape through the drains, though.

Turns out they're just a short way from Anderson's firewatching post, where Steed heads to explain all to his friend.  But he's been followed by the perpetually chortling Wringer...

Fortunately Anderson regains enough of his memory to realise Steed's telling the truth, and kills the barmy interrogator.  So that's that - all that's left is to wrap up the episode with a bizarre scene involving Cathy trying to make coffee with a broken arm.  The Wringer's a solid episode, the most exciting in weeks, but it all feels a bit Avengers-by-numbers.  And if Steed's accused of being a traitor again I think I'll scream.

We wrap up the evening's entertainment with another trip to the world of Espionage...

Martin Balsam plays middle aged sad sack Richard Carey, who's just been informed by his doctor (Oliver Johnson) that he's only got three months to live (it's strange how in films and TV shows the amount of time a sick person's given to live is always very exact - throughout the episode Carey's life is spoken of as if it's due to come to a sudden halt in precisely three months time).  As he leaves the doctor's office, understandably glum, Carey's halted by a strange man, Mr Smith (James Maxwell), who wants to enlist his services for some shadowy task.

Smith takes an intrigued Carey to meet his superior, Mr Pattison, played by one of the most familiar Americans on British TV, Alan Gifford.  Pattison wants Carey to give up a few days of the time he's got left to replace a Soviet scientist currently held in an American embassy in anticipation of being spirited to the west.  Word's got out that the scientist's due to be assassinated by Soviet forces, and Pattison wants Carey assassinated instead.

Carey doesn't see doing a good deed for his country as a good enough reason for ending his life a few days prematurely: he wants to live the time he's got left to the full.  Which he commences to do that very evening (I'm not exactly sure where the poodle fits in)...

After a few weeks of non-stop debauchery Carey awakens in a sorry state, his money nearly all gone, to find Mr Smith at the foot of his bed.  Living life to the full having turned out to be quite disappointing, being taken care of in an embassy for a while doesn't seem such a bad idea now.

So Carey flies out east, where he's given a luxurious embassy suite and an aide, Joanna (Ann Lynn), willing to fulfil his every need.

Despite Pattison's reluctance, Carey insists on meeting Professor Zhadov (the aptly-named Bernard Rebel), the man he's due to replace.  Carey's deeply disturbed to find that Zhadov isn't especially keen on going to America: he fears being forced to work on instruments of warfare, when all he wants is to put his scientific knowledge to peaceful ends.

With death around the corner, Carey has to hurry up and decide whether he's going to go ahead with his assignment.  As Joanna's helped him to find meaning his last few days, Carey finally trusts her assurances and replaces the professor on the evening of an ambassadorial do, when an assassin's dispatched to bump him off.

As Carey breathes his last, we briefly glimpse the Russian and American ambassadors (Richard Marner and John Longden respectively) toasting a new era of co-operation between their countries.

A distraught Joanna, who had begun to fall for Carey, receives his final letter, thanking her for the happiness she brought to his final days.  This touching moment is marred, however, by the decision, both cheesy and a tad creepy, to have the letter read out by the disembodied head of Martin Balsam, superimposed over the paper.

As always on a Saturday, we finish with a song.  This week the Beatles have finally been knocked off the top spot in the hit parade by the Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over".  Up to number 4, here's the spectacular Dusty Springfield with her very first solo effort.

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