Friday, 15 August 2014

Saturday 15 August 1964

At the end of last week's episode things were looking grim for Ian, Barbara and Susan in revolutionary France, as they were carted off to prison, and even grimmer for the Doctor, who was trapped in a burning farmhouse.  The story picks up this week at the Conciergerie prison, with requisite cackling tricoteuses camped outside (one thing that tends not to be mentioned about the reign of terror was that there were clearly a lot of woollen garments to go round).

Inside, the captives are brought before a grim-faced judge (Howard Charlton) who has them thrown into cells pending execution.  It's William Russell's turn to take a two-week holiday, but thanks to the magic of pre-filmed inserts we still see a fair bit of Ian this week.  The juxtaposition of Russell alone on film and Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford in the studio in this scene is not terribly convincing.

The girls are delivered into the hands of a seedy jailer played by Jack Cunningham (his performance is pretty broad, but his Lancashire accent makes a pleasant change from the BBC English spoken by everyone else in the universe), who makes Barbara the target of his advances and, on receiving a slap in the face, condemns her and her companion to the dankest, most rat-infested cell in the entire establishment.

"It reminds me of when we were prisoners before, in the prehistoric age," sighs Barbara as they settle into their new quarters, having clearly noticed that their adventures all tend to follow a similar pattern.  Susan, meanwhile, is distraught with worry over the fate of her grandfather...

Who, it turns out, has been rescued from the fire by young Jean-Pierre, who we met last week.  Refreshed, revived and refusing the boy's request to be his new companion, the Doctor hastens to Paris on foot to find his friends.

A series of location shots of the Doctor marching along country lanes provide an excellent opportunity to appreciate the tremendous score composed for the adventure by Stanley Myers (who scored many films in the 70s and 80s, most famously The Deer Hunter).  It's not actually William Hartnell in these shots, by the way.

While the Doctor enjoys the fresh air his companions are denied, Susan and Barbara mount an escape attempt.  Ian too has thoughts of getting out, but is currently busy attending to his cellmate, a dying English spy named Webster (Jeffry Wickham).  Webster implores Ian to seek out a man named James Stirling and warn him of the dangers of France attacking England.  With his dying breath Webster tells Ian to approach a Jules Renan at the sign of Le Chien Gris and ask after Stirling.  It's a convention of the show we've come to expect that wherever in space or time our travellers end up the people there will all speak English, so this lapse into French simply for a pub name seems a tad odd.  If we follow the show's later explanation that the TARDIS translates for its passengers, perhaps the explanation here is that Webster really is speaking English here, and gives the pub name in French.  Or something.  Never mind.

The comic jailer has already given us an indication that this story's got more of a humour quotient than others up to this point, but the next sequence is Doctor Who's first dalliance with all-out comedy (of the intentional variety, anyway).  On his way to Paris, the Doctor comes across a gang of road workers supervised by a tyrannical overseer (Dallas Cavell).  The Doctor's suggestion that the overseer speed up the work by joining in himself.  For this he gets a gun pointed in his face and, the overseer fingering him as a tax-dodger like the rest of the road workers,  an instruction to join the gang.

The wily old time traveller swiftly extricates himself from this predicament by claiming an eclipse is coming, then picking the overseer's pocket and planting the extracted coin among the roadworks, convincing his cruel master that there's a stash of gold buried in the ground.

The greedy overseer barges the other men out of the way and starts digging (William Hartnell's face in the below shot is a joy to behold)...

...only to receive a brutal clonk on the head with a spade from the vengeful Doctor (who of course has form with hitting people over the head).  The violence is rendered comic rather than savage by the cringeing reaction of the Doctor's fellow worker (Denis Cleary), and the overseer's loud snoring on being rendered unconscious.

In an especially grim jest, the Doctor places the supine overseer's coin on his eye.

It's Doctor Who's first moment of pure comedy, but not its last: writer Dennis Spooner would soon replace David Whitaker as the show's script editor, and with him would come a noticeable lightening of tone.

Anyway, back at the Conciergerie, Ian finds himself being roughed up by prison inspector Lemaitre (James Cairncross), who seems desperate to know what the dying Webster had to say for himself

Sensing that Ian is holding out on him, Lemaitre bemuses the jailer by crossing him off the list of prisoners to be executed.

Susan and Barbara aren't so lucky, and are soon being led, along with their fellow prisoners to a tumbril heading to the guillotine (still, at least they've escaped the rats).  Ian watches helplessly as they depart toward their doom.

Next tonight, a visit to far swankier surroundings (I don't mean the Larkins' caff).

In tonight's Larkins, the magnificent Barbara Mitchell takes centre stage as Hetty Prout in a cautionary rags-to-riches and back again tale.  The scatterbrained waitress continues to be in thrall to the Larkins' workshy lodger Osbert Rigby-Soames, who's now got her darning his socks.  She likes needlework, she says, as it stops her from getting the "screaming hump" at her "somewhat solitary existence".  Despite having a slave at his command, Osbert remains keen to dodge her amorous attentions.

It takes a while for Peggy Mount to come on this week as Ada Larkins, which might explain why, when she does turn up, she gets a huge, unprecedented round of applause.  I've never known her to get such a warm hand on her entrance (apologies to Julian Clary and everyone else through the ages who's done that joke).  When Ada does finally invade Osbert and Hetty's privacy, it's with disturbing news: a legal-type gent has turned up at the caff in search of a Henrietta Foskitt.  Hetty admits this is her, Foskitt being her maiden name (we're still none the wiser as to what happened to her husband).  She's thrown into a panic, convinced she's been caught for doing something wrong - though she's not entirely sure what.

The visitor is Mr Crisp (Hugh Morton), a clerk from Arkwright, Duckworth, Son and Wheeler, and there's a rather splendid bit where Alf and Ada (in the belief that he's come to collar Hetty for some hitherto unknown offence) try to butter him up by speculating over the reasons why the other members of the firm have been promoted over him, their music hall-style crosstalk utterly befuddling the poor man.

It turns out that Mr Crisp is in fact the bearer of good news, Hetty having inherited the (then) exorbitant sum of £6500 from a forgotten uncle.  Cue comedy faint.

The next scene picks up some time later, and begins with a rather frightening image of the caff's three regular patrons peering round a door.

Having chucked in her job at the caff, Hetty is now enjoying life as a member of the idle rich, spending her days shopping in the West End, dressed in an ensemble which perhaps comes under the heading of My Fair Lady chic.  Ada's concerned that Osbert's sponging off Hetty and, of course, she's right.

Ada instructs Alf to caution Hetty about Osbert, which he does, but then tries to interest her in his business plan for a chain of betting shops - a dream which swiftly crashes and burns when Ada overhears it.

Osbert announces to the horrified Larkins that he and Hetty are now "stepping out".  Alf and Ada are invited to join the happy couple that evening at a swanky London nightclub owned by a friend of Osbert's, which Ada is planning to buy a half share in.

Alf and Osbert are immediately impressed by Chez Shindig's scantily clad hostesses (Ada noticeably less so), though the clientele seems to be made up of dull old dears rather than bright young things.  German proprietor Heinrich Muller is played by Sergeant Cork's grumpy superior Arnold Diamond.  Alf immediately gets off on the wrong foot with him by assuming he's French.

When the party seat themselves in the candle-lit dining area (Ada's not impressed that they can't even afford electric light), Hetty's bowled over by Osbert's mastery of the French menu (as a huge fan of Round the Horne, I was willing Hugh Paddick to follow up his order for a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape with "That's your Pope's Newcastle").  Though she's got no idea what he's ordered, she'll have the same - with chips, of course.

"If this is your mad gay nightlife give me a cup of cocoa and me bedsocks," grumbles Ada as she chomps disconsolately on a stick of celery (as glamorous an image as I've ever featured here).  By this time, Osbert's deep in conversation with Heinrich, who's decided Hetty's not sophisticated enough to be his partner, despite Osbert's insistence that he can "do the whole Pygmalion bit" on her.

The evening goes rapidly downhill with the arrival of a braying posh woman (Hazel Bainbridge, mother of Kate O'Mara), who gets right on Ada and Hetty's tiaras.

Meanwhile, Osbert and Heinrich end up in a heated discussion about a World War 2 battle they both fought in (on different sides), Alf making things worse with his claim that he saw the whole thing from the top of a hill where Monty left him in charge when he went to write his memoirs.

Just as Hetty threatens to punch the annoying posh woman ("I've never been so insulted!" she shrieks.  "Come, come, dear, you must've been" rejoins Ada), the lads from the caff arrive and try to turn the whole thing into a major knees-up.

As chaos descends on the nightclub, Hetty sneaks out to the casino room to fulfil a lifetime ambition: losing all her money on the turn of a card.  Now it's Ada's turn for comedy fainting.

Next tonight, the second and last in the series of rather more refined entertainments from Joyce Grenfell.

The surprisingly savage opening monologue this week is perhaps the best, with Joyce as a children's author (clearly modelled on Enid Blyton), regaling her youthful audience with the story of how she writes her books: she sits in her hidey-hole, and the ideas (strangely similar ones each time) just come out on the page as she types: "I don't revise, I don't rewrite, and I don't read what I've written".  Then her husband counts the money.  There's a reference in this skit to "growly bear daddies", which probably meant something different back then.

Next is a song based around three women singing in an oratorio concert at the Albert Hall.  It probably makes sense if you're more cultured than what I am, but at least it features a memorable description of the Albert Hall as "A gasworks with a greenhouse roof above it".

Next it's another monologue from Joyce's Cockney shopgirl character, this time about going on a picnic.  It's very patronising toward the working class's perceived mindless consumerism and lack of culture, but it's pretty funny nonetheless.

Next, a rather depressing "portrait song", with Joyce playing the unmarried sister of three brothers, whose one joy in life is slaving after and being taken for granted by them.

The next monologue, set at a cocktail party, derives its humour from Joyce doing a funny accent as a foreign visitor who thinks Cardiff's in Scotland and (horror of horrors) can't pronounce Godalming.

This is followed by an entertaining routine about a society woman whose been caught up in the latest fad, standing in a box of tray so "Earth ray thought forces" can come up through her feet, and ending with the crowd-pleasing line, "We do it together in my little tray".  It's marred by Joyce's absolutely atrocious attempt at an American accent (it's surprising it's so bad, considering her mother was American).

Next up, a very twee "song with gestures", chiefly notable for Joyce briefly lifting up her all-enveloping gown to reveal a glimpse of leg.

Next, a deeply sad sketch with Joyce as a mother saying goodbye to her son and his wife as they head for a new life abroad, and pretending she'll be much better off without them.

A "committee" sketch, taking place somewhere "north of Birmingham", with a ladies' choir facing up to the tricky task of expelling a founder member who can't sing.

Then a song called "Time", which is all about time, and how there never seems to be enough of it until right at the very end of your life when you appreciate every precious moment.

And, to finish, Joyce's signature tune, "I'm Going to See You Today".  And that's it from her.  It's not easy to convey the flavour of a show like this in this format, but if you like this sort of thing I'd encourage you to seek it out.


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