Friday, 8 August 2014

Saturday 8 August 1964

You may recall that last week the Doctor responded to some good-natured ribbing about the TARDIS's sense of direction with one of his trademark fits of pique, announcing that he would be booting Ian and Barbara off the ship at the next stop.  He's convinced he's brought them back where they came from, but he might not be all that bothered if he hasn't.

The teachers, having had time to get used to the Doctor's funny ways, take it all in their stride: if he's brought them home, great.  If not, they just need to stall him long enough for him to have another change of heart.  Susan, however, is never one for emotional restraint, and gets Ian's polo neck all soggy as she bids her companions a tearful goodbye.

It appears the Doctor's managed to improve the ship's performance a tiny bit - that conspicuous noise it makes when landing isn't heard at all this time.  However, the place it lands is a forest - which doesn't inspire a huge amount of confidence as they're supposed to be in Shoreditch.  Attempting to be optimistic, Barbara notes that it reminds her a bit of a holiday she had in Somerset.  "Then I expect it is Somerset, my dear!" chortles the Doctor, the matter clearly having been put to bed as far as he's concerned.  The audience, however, knows it's highly unlikely the TARDIS has touched down in the west country of the present day: our first sight in the episode was a pair of men stalking through these woods in cloaks (which, of course, wouldn't come back into fashion until later in the 60s, and even then were not likely to be seen in rural areas).

A deeply sceptical Ian and Barbara sweet-talk the Doctor into not abandoning them to their fate just yet.  This is a really lovely little scene between Jacqueline Hill and Williams Russell and Hartnell, with the teachers showing how well they now know their host and how to get round him.  Ian pours the flattery into his ear as Barbara preens at his lapels.  Interestingly, the deciding factor in the Doctor accompanying them out of the TARDIS is the promise of a goodbye drink.

As the travellers head outside, Ian and Barbara become ever less convinced that they're in the right time and place: it's dusk, but there's not a light to be seen anywhere.  Ian goes to investigate a noise, and brings a bewildered little boy (Peter Walker) back by the scruff of his neck (if this is a window into his treatment of the kids at Coal Hill school I imagine they were overjoyed when he mysteriously disappeared).

Before being sent on his way, the boy reveals that they are, in fact, in France, 12 kilometres outside of Paris.  The Doctor, twisting reality in a way that shows he'd've made a brilliant politician, insists that this just demonstrates how accurate his piloting of the TARDIS was: "It's only a fraction of the distance we've travelled... it's quite accurate, in fact."

Ian and Barbara suspect they might have overshot the time as well as the location (though they don't seem to have noticed that the little boy's clothes clearly didn't date from the 1960s).  The brief scene where they commiserate with each other, resigning themselves to their life of aimless wandering, is really lovely: the characters have never seemed quite this close before and it's finally clear that, however many aliens and assorted weirdos she might have lusting after her, Ian's the man for Barbara.

Investigating the nearby farmhouse the travellers find - in a hilarious moment of plot expediency - a chest full of 18th century clothes ("They're all different sizes, too!" exclaims Barbara, and fortunately those sizes are exactly right for her, Susan and Ian).

But it's another discovery that finally clinches when they are: a sheaf of recent documents, including one signed by Robespierre.  They're in the midst of the reign of terror that followed the French revolution (think of this as a prequel to The Count of Monte Cristo if you like).  Susan (who, you may recall, was reading a book about the revolution back in the show's very first episode) reveals that (bizarrely) this is her grandfather's favourite period in Earth's history.

The old man isn't around to share the discovery, having gone to investigate the rest of the farmhouse and ended up being clonked on the head by an unseen assailant (which you might expect would put him off the period a bit).

We very quickly get to see the assailant, however, as he heads downstairs to menace the others.  He's a royalist named Rouvray (played by the grandly named Laidlaw Dalling).  His companion, D'Argenson, is played by Neville Smith, who gives easily the most appalling performance yet seen in Doctor Who (that really is saying something).

The pair argue about whether or not to kill the travellers, but decide to join forces when the army arrives in search of them, surrounding the farmhouse.  D'Argenson really goes off on one here, yammering on about how they captured his sister or something.  Ian and Rouvray seem to be deliberately ignoring him, and who can blame them?

The soldiers outside the farmhouse are a colourful lot.  The lieutenant (Ken Lawrence) looks just like Napoleon in Abel Gance's 1927 film.  His sergeant (Robert Hunter) is a ruddy-faced sadist, and the men include one with an eyepatch (James Hall) (I have a curious fascination with eyepatches which it's probably best for everyone I don't go into).

Unable to stand being surrounded by the army any longer (they've been there about five minutes), Rouvray heads out to face them, and is immediately shot.  Happily, D'Argenson rapidly follows after and shares his fate.

Luckily for Ian, Barbara and Susan, the lieutenant decides that's quite enough killing for today thank you - they're to be brought to Paris as proof of the discovery of a load of royalist insurgents.

But, you may be wondering, what about the Doctor? Well, the others are keeping quiet about him in the hope he can come to their aid in some way, but this hope becomes a bit forlorn when the soldiers decide to raze the farmhouse to the ground just for the hell of it.

Upstairs, the Doctor's just coming round from the blow to the head he received.  He needn't have bothered, as he's swiftly rendered unconscious once more when the room fills with smoke...

The episode ends with a shot of a model farmhouse burning, and the final pan up to blackness, with a few flames licking away at the end credits, is very neat indeed.

And now it's time for another tenuous link, as we move from Robespierre's reign of terror to that of Ada Larkins...

Café Larkins is dying.  There's been no customers in a week, and Alf's been reduced to building pyramids of sugar cubes to amuse himself.  Even resident snack barflies Henry, Paddy and Lofty haven't been in.  What's going on? Where is everyone?

Much to Ada's outrage, Alf makes the (not entirely unreasonable) suggestion that it could be his wife's constant "hollering and bellowing and nagging" that's keeping people away.

Hetty's quick to leap to her friend's defence, and "Besides, they've come in here for ages.  They're used to her nagging and hollering".  For Hetty, the situation's reminiscent of a film she once saw: The Body Snatchers.  But if it's not aliens who've abducted the café's clientele, perhaps it's a gang of female white slavers?

Alf's sent Osbert on a mission to find out where all the customers are going.  When the Larkins' lodger returns he's reticent about where he's been and refuses any food.  He appears to be suffering from terrible indigestion.  The mystery deepens.

The next day Alf follows Osbert and arrives at the deeply insalubrious surroundings of Joe's Snack Bar.  It's clearly not the terrible food or the gruff Scottish owner, Joe MacKenzie (Andrew Crawford) that's drawing people in, so what could it be?

Alf descends accusingly on a sheepish Osbert, but swiftly finds out for himself what's keeping the customers away from his door...

It's Joe's new waitress, and fellow Scot, Jeannie Fraser (Toni Gilpin) - any man who sees her becomes immediately smitten (it didn't work on me, for some reason).

But just as it appears that Joe's Snack Bar has claimed another victim, Ada barges in, in search of her husband, who she unceremoniously drags away.

In an attempt to avoid his landlady's rather Osbert hides behind a newspaper, the ads in which are amazing.

With Jeannie's pulling power to compete against, the Larkins begin to think they might as well shut up shop.  Hetty doesn't see it as a problem at all - she's a match for "that tarty Scotch piece" any day of the week - "I could do my hair in one of them buffoons, pair of four inch eyelashes, off the shoulder gown, long cigarette holder..." Ada's not convinced it would draw the right crowd: "It's bad enough being bankrupt, we don't want to get imprisoned!"

Deciding that the most drastic of measures are called for, Alf manages to lure Jeannie away from Joe to work for him.  Hetty's devastated that her hopes of being the resident vamp have been dashed.

Ada also has qualms, but quickly gets over them when the caff starts to fill up.  Hetty's not so easily pacified, especially when Jeannie starts a particular flirtation with Osbert - who all of a sudden Hetty seems to carry a torch for (by now the husband and daughter she had in the show's first four series seem not so much forgotten as written out of history altogether).  When she decries the new waitress's "oggling" of him, a startled Osbert tries to justify her interest: "After all, I am half Scotch".  "What's the other half?" snorts Ada.  "Soda?"

Hetty's the only person not to have fallen for Jeannie's celtic charm - even Ada's become fond of her, and encourages her to find herself a nice young man.  "I'm not very interested in boys," the young waitress sighs.  It's older men she's keen on and, much to Hetty's horror, it seems Osbert is pretty much her ideal.  Initially bemused, Ada eventually decides to make a romance between the two of them happen.

A fly enters the ointment in the form of Joe MacKenzie: he's loved Jeannie ever since they first knew each other in Scotland, and is determined to get her back.

Joe suggests a compromise whereby Jeannie works part-time at both caffs, but Ada's having none of it: "She's a young woman, not a ping-pong ball!" When Jeannie returns from the pictures with her new swain, Joe gets her alone and proposes to her.  Here the show briefly turns into a sort of Scottish kitchen sink drama, with Jeannie voicing her fears that the monstrously tight-fisted Joe just wants her as slave labour.

The others (except for the temporarily banished Hetty), listen at the door.  Ada informs a less than enthusiastic Osbert that Jeannie loves him, and browbeats him into making a competing proposal.

In the end, she makes it on his behalf.

But (much to Osbert's relief), Jeannie decides it's Joe she loves, and hies herself back off to the snack bar with him.  Facing the knowledge that with Jeannie gone their business probably is too, the Larkins are pleasantly surprised when their regular clientele return the next day, all sporting black eyes meted out by the aggressively jealous Joe.

Counter Attraction's one of the best episodes of this series of The Larkins, mainly because it adds some new characters to the mix.

Next tonight TV Minus 50 turns its attentions to the BBC's new second channel for the first time, with the first of two special programmes starring one of Britain's most beloved monologuists.

It's a very simple production, which seems no different from how it would have been produced ten years before: the opening titles are simply a stage backdrop which we pan out from to reveal the star.  "We are a company of two," says Joyce, referring to herself and her pianist, William Blezard (and rather rudely ignoring the plainly visible orchestra).  The only prop is a chair, and costume changes are of the most minimal kind.  I would say it's a no-frills production, but that's not strictly true.

A consummately middle class entertainment, Joyce's show makes a particularly striking contrast with The Larkins when the two are juxtaposed.  The audience for her show are expected to recognise the amateur opera singer types of her "Five Encores", and her working class characters (a garrulous shopgirl relating how she was whisked off to Hampton Court Palace by a German tourist, and a dowdy woman on a bus dreaming of being the belle of a society ball), while clearly affectionate portraits, can't help being a bit patronising (but then, the middle class characters of The Larkins are ineffectual vicars, shabby genteel rent dodgers and uptight authority figures).

Perhaps because she's on home ground, it's Joyce's middle-class caricatures which are the most effective: the woman proudly informing a guest being molested by her dog that the animal has ESP; the hopelessly naive young girl being charmed by a famous author at a party (the subtext of this celebrity trying to get into her knickers seems particularly chilling at the moment in time I write this, but it seems likely this particular girl will escape purely through being so dim; on an unrelated note, Joyce's face - even toothier than usual - looming out of the darkness in this sketch is rather a creepy sight when captured in still form).

For me the highlight of the show's a very brief sketch with Joyce as a middle class mother trying to be terribly understanding about her 15 year old daughter's relationship with an unsuitable man.  In a bizarre and rather sinister twist, it's not a juvenile delinquent the girl's mooning over but a middle-aged Portuguese conjurer (it's engagingly surreal elements like this that, for me, stop Joyce's humour pitching over into the twee).

Alongside these, there's a rather rambling song about George du Maurier (topical stuff!), a pair of songs from the Deep South taught to Joyce by her mother, a native of Virginia, and a strange and melancholy sketch with Joyce as the widow of a famous pianist telling her husband's biographer about his relationships with other women.

And she does the skit for which she's most famous, the nursery teacher one.  He she is at the very moment of speaking the phrase she'll forever be identified with: "George, don't do that."

This would seem like a good way to end the show, but instead Joyce squeezes in one more song, about the women of a northern ballroom dancing society having to dance with each other for lack of male partners.  It's not quite as funny as it perhaps could have been.

There'll be more from Joyce next week, and more from most of the other people you've seen here.  But thankfully not D'Argenson.

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