Friday, 18 July 2014

Saturday 18 July 1964

Last week, as you may recall, the First Elder, leader of the Sensorites, invited the Doctor and his companions over for drinkies and nibbles.  Social embarrassment loomed when it emerged that the refreshment being served to his guests was not from the Elders' supply of special crystal water, but the normal stuff drunk by the Sensorite hoi-polloi.  But things got worse when, after drinking some of it, Ian collapsed, choking.  Can the Doctor save him? It's...

It doesn't take the Doctor long to realise that the mysterious disease that's been slowly killing off the Sensorites is in fact poisoning from something in the water - which has affected Ian immediately as he's got no resistance to it.  The Doctor demands that the crystal water be made available to all Sensorites, and sets to work on a cure for Ian.  It takes three days for someone to die of the poison - which will be plenty of time, as long as the Sensorites let the Doctor get back into his TARDIS.

Unfortunately, the Second Elder thinks it's all a ruse, and Ian's faking being sick in order that the travellers can get away - and come back with a fleet of warships.  The matey way the Second Elder puts his hand on his colleague's shoulder to express sympathy with the stresses of leadership is really very sweet: it's not often you see aliens, even when they're from the same species, who seem to be actual friends.

Meanwhile, there's a suspicious new junior stylist at Maison Renee..., of course not -this is one of the Sensorite scientists who's trying to put John's mind to rights after the damage that's been done to it.  The City Administrator, of course, thinks it's all a waste of time as John should just be disintegrated along with the other humans.  An unimpressed Second Elder warns him he'll be stripped of his collar of office if he doesn't stop making trouble, but John's warnings that the Administrator's evil are dismissed as the ramblings of a madman.

When Carol pays a visit to her troubled fiancĂ©, she inadvertently gives the Administrator an idea for a new nefarious plot against the humans when she tells him that the Sensorites all look the same from the distance.  His moment of revelation is one of cherishable silliness for the viewer:

At the Elders' palace, the Doctor marvels at the extent to which Susan's able to mentally communicate with the Sensorites.  Her ability to "listen in" to their thoughts clearly comes as a surprise to him.

But before there's a chance to explore Susan's mind powers more thoroughly, the First Elder breaks it to the Doctor that he won't be allowed to board his ship, and will have to find an antidote using the Sensorites' limited resources.  The furious old man reacts by behaving extremely menacingly toward his hosts - rather more so than he even intends.  The volume of the Doctor's indignant threats causes the Sensorites to cringe in pain, eliciting Susan's memorable apology, "We didn't mean to use sound as a weapon."

With Jacqueline Hill on holiday, William Russell mostly supine this week and the Sensorites characterised by their meekness, William Hartnell gets to hog the limelight like never before, and clearly has a marvellous time, bossing the Sensorites (and everyone else) about and getting to be all serious and intense as he races against time to save Ian's life (though his glasses tend to make him look a little too Clive Dunn for comfort).

The Doctor diagnoses atropine poisoning, and the search for the antidote is conveyed to us in a wonderfully cheesy montage sequence of lists (don't the Sensorites have lovely writing?), test tubes, and (best of all) a Sensorite sorrowfully shaking his head at a distraught Susan to indicate there's no luck yet (it's a shame he's not in a nurse's uniform)..

But finally - hooray! - the Doctor identifies caffeine citrate as the antidote.  The First Elder's so overwhelmed that he starts referring to the old man as "my Doctor".  But it looks like the good news is to be short-lived, as the Administrator puts his wicked plans into action by kidnapping the Second Elder.  "Your family group is also in my power," the Administrator announces, which raises all sorts of questions that don't usually crop up where Doctor Who aliens are concerned.  I'm sure you have some of your own concerning the Sensorites and how they raise families - the thing I find myself wondering is, what does a baby Sensorite look like?

Anyway, while his cronies hold the Second Elder, the Administrator strips him of his sash of office (Peter Glaze seems to struggle a bit with getting it over Bartlett Mullins' head) and dons it himself...

It's one thing if outsiders can't tell the Sensorites apart, but if they themselves think they all look the same then surely (with family groups in mind) this is extremely worrying?

Never mind, here's a camera accidentally tilting up to reveal a microphone to take our minds off the possible confusions the Sensorites might face:

But the Administrator's plan works, and tricking a scientist into thinking he's the Second Elder, he obtains a beaker of antidote and smashes it on the floor to prevent Ian from having it...

...though unfortunately for him, he hasn't considered the possibility that there might be more of the antidote.  As it happens there is, and when Ian takes it he's soon all better.  Well, almost all better: "I feel as if someone had given me a good going over with a hammer," he tells Susan.  Ian's shocked to learn that the Doctor's gone to investigate the aqueduct the contaminated water came from, despite the Sensorites' warnings that the tunnels he needs to get through are full of deadly monsters.  Shrugging off his brush with death, Ian rises from his sick bed and accompanies Susan as she rushes to her grandfather's aid.  The First Elder's so touched by this determination to help a friend in need that he turns to the camera and tells it all about his plans to tell the Second Elder that they misjudged their visitors.

But the First Elder's mental communication with the Second is intercepted by the Administrator, who's keeping the Second Elder tied to a chair (a worrying number of people seem to come to this blog in search of bondage pictures, so I hope they enjoy the below image).

In the tunnels, the Doctor has discovered the source of the poison in the water: deadly nightshade! As he hears a strange growling noise, the credits roll...

Over the channel now to Café Larkins, where there's never any shortage of growling noises.

Henry, the Larkins caff punter played by Willie Payne, is notable for his era as a black regular in a sitcom who's fully integrated with the show's other characters.  Prior to this episode his ethnic origin's never been alluded to in the dialogue, but then he's never really had much to say or do.  This week, both things happen as, brimming with excitement over the social event of the year that is Alf Larkins' birthday party, Henry insists on the need to "get the jungle rhythm going" and drums wildly on the Larkins' dining table for some considerable length of time.  The Larkins is not the sort of show one looks to for nuanced characterisation, and to the mind of writer Fred Robinson this was probably no different from Henry's Liverpudlian pal Lofty continually banging on about the Beatles.  From a 21st century audience it's likely to elicit the same stunned silence Henry gets in the show, if for a rather different reason ("Henry," Osbert eventually gasps, "It's not going to be that sort of party").

Anyway, there's just one snag as far as Alf's party's concerned: it's due to take place that very evening, and he hasn't yet summoned up the courage to tell Ada.  It doesn't help that she's in one of her most tyrannical moods...

But it looks as if fate might have smiled on Alf for once, as his wife has an accident in the kitchen (cue a rather strange montage of bits of Peggy Mount), and is confined to bed heavily sedated  as a result.

Alf tells his ailing wife that he and Osbert (who's now helping out in lieu of rent) will take over the running of the caff so she'll have nothing to worry about - all the while of course, planning his party (not that it's shaping up to be much of a party - it seems the only invited guests are the same cronies he sees in the caff every day).

Osbert, of course, has no intention of doing work of any kind, his demands for sustenance eventually driving a frazzled Hetty to violence: "I'm not a flippin' centipede, you know!"

Celebration Blues is not an especially inspiring instalment of The Larkins (the decision to end the programme after this series is looking increasingly sensible), but on the plus side it gives the wonderful Barbara Mitchell an especially good opportunity to show off her comic talents and range of magnificent facial expressions as Hetty learns about Alf's party plans and blackmails him into letting her take it easy.

Flinging her limbs about everywhere like a Cockney Olive Oyl, Barbara Mitchell dominates this week's episode.  A steady presence in sitcoms from the 50s until her untimely death in 1978 (and best remembered as overprotective mother Mrs Abbott, populariser of the phrase "Mummy's little soldier" in Please Sir!), she was so naturally funny in her very physicality that she deserved to be a bigger star.

Anyway, Alf eventually ends up in bed after an accident himself, leading to inevitable arguments about who has the worst injury ("You can hop," grumbles Ada, "I can only hobble")

Osbert tries to distract Hetty from Alf's escape attempts with his army photos: "That's old Poofy Purbright.  He was a funny lad..."

Suspecting something's afoot, Ada refuses to take her sleeping pills, so Osbert tries the not-at-all peculiar ruse of bringing a gramophone upstairs to play her an extremely scratchy record of Brahms' Lullaby: "Sleep, sleeeep, deeeeep sleeeeep".  Predictably enough it sends Osbert and Alf to sleep but not Ada.

Finally, Osbert resorts to stealing the pills and sneaking them into Ada's cocoa: "As the teenagers say, real dreamy!" Hetty, by this point, has discovered the whisky provided for the party, with startling results for Osbert...

But wait! It turns out that Hetty swapped the pills for aspirins, and put the pills in the whisky.  It's all worth it for the episode's final shot, which is pure Beano.

And now, for the big musical finish - and this week we see the Animals knocked off the top of the hit parade by this little number by the Rolling Stones.

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