Friday, 12 September 2014

Saturday 12 September 1964

With the Doctor seemingly selling out Jules Renan in exchange for Susan's freedom, things are looking pretty bleak for the counter-revolutionaries Ian and Barbara have inadvertently hitched themselves to. 

But writer Dennis Spooner has a genuinely thrilling twist up his sleeve, with the black-clad Lemaitre, who up to now has seemed like this serial's main antagonist, announcing to a gobsmacked Ian, Barbara and Jules that he is in fact James Stirling, the English spy they've been seeking for the last few episodes.

As there's only 20-odd minutes left to the end of the series, it doesn't take long either to convince them of his identity or to enlist them in his espionage activities.  With help from Ian's recollections of what he was told by the dying Webster, Stirling deduces that one of Robespierre's deputies, Paul Barrass, is due to have an important meeting that evening with someone unknown at an inn called the Sinking Ship - and he wants his new allies to spy on it.

The scene changes to the inn.  Jules is there as a customer, smoking a pipe in the shiftiest manner possible.  Ian and Barbara, meanwhile, are posing as the staff.  What's happened to the real staff isn't touched upon - perhaps they were sympathisers with the cause who were only too happy to get a night off? Or perhaps they're tied up in a cupboard somewhere.  Anyway, there's something very 'Allo 'Allo before the fact about all this elaborate (and faintly risible) intriguing in a French hostelry.  Obviously nobody's talking in a French accent, but William Russell stops just short of broad West Country yokel in his role as innkeeper.  Jacqueline Hill has no such qualms about going the full ooh-arr.  Ian's very proud of the glory hole he's carved to watch the meeting through (I hope somebody's going to pay for that damage to the woodwork or it's quite simply vandalism).

Barrass (John Law) arrives shortly before the other attendee of the meeting (Tony Wall), who Ian instantly recognises when he pokes his head out: it's Napoleon Bonaparte! (I would have added Barbara asking him how he knew, and Ian responding "I had a bottle of brandy that looked just like him," but perhaps that's why I don't write for television).

Through the spyhole, Ian and Barbara watch the meeting: Barrass plans to help Napoleon seize power from the beleaguered Robespierre.

Stirling is so shocked by the news that he needs an enormous close-up.  He thinks Napoleon's too ambitious to be content with the current plan, which would see him ruling France as one of three Consuls, and decides that keeping Robespierre in power would be a safer option.

The Doctor's had enough of all this politicking and just wants to get Susan back and be on his way.  Stirling tells he and Barbara to try and get her freed while he, Jules and Ian head off to warn Robespierre.  Left alone with the Doctor, Barbara succumbs to a giggling fit as she's struck by the absurdity of the situation:"This ferocious activity to try and stop something we know is going to happen!"

And indeed it's too late to save Robespierre, who tries in vain to escape the mob baying for his blood, eventually being hauled off by two rebellious soldiers, and shot in the jaw for his trouble (the chap with his tongue out's played by Patrick Marley, the more attractive one's uncredited).

At Conciergerie prison, the jailer's busy mid-piss up, when the Doctor returns in all his finery, William Hartnell stumbling a bit over his dialogue: "I see you haven't heard the ner - the news yet."  The Doctor claims he played a major role in Robespierre's downfall, and has arranged for Lemaitre to be killed, and commands the soldiers the jailer was sharing a drink with to lock him up as Lemaitre's accomplice.  However, he then decides to show leniency - "I can't decide whether you're a rogue or a halfwit or both!" - and lets him go on the condition that Susan's released.

In the streets, Barbara watches in fascinated horror as history unfolds around her, and Robespierre is carried off to meet his doom.

With the Terror at a bloody end, and Susan finally free to fall over in the open air once more, Jules speculates on who'll be next on France's merry-go-round of rulers.  "Remember the name Napoleon Bonaparte," says Ian.  All right, nobody likes a know-it-all.

Stirling prepares to return to England, but his interest piqued by the mysterious travellers, he has a question for Barbara: "Who are you really? And where are you from?" He doesn't get an answer.

The travellers secure a lift back to the remote spot where they left the TARDIS (obviously it was decided there was no point rebuilding the forest set, as we're just shown some stock footage of a carriage superimposed over a map, then a still of the TARDIS peeping out from behind a bush).

The series ends with a lovely scene in the TARDIS as our heroes reflect on their adventures, the Doctor assuring the teachers that any attempt to change what happened in Paris would have been doomed to failure.  Isn't this a wonderful image of the regular cast? They all look like they're having so much fun.

The scene fades to an image of a starfield,  the Doctor and Ian's conversation echoing into the ether:

Doctor: Our lives are important, at least to us.  And as we see, so we learn.
Ian: What are we going to see and learn next, Doctor?
Doctor: Well unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars.  So let's go and search for it.

It's a beautiful end to 42 weeks of adventure, sometimes thrilling, sometimes silly, but always interesting.  And our adventurers will be back before you know it.

Next tonight an adventure for Sergeant Cork that makes a fascinating contrast to last week's.  That was about Britain's encroachment into a foreign land; this looks at a foreign culture in Britain itself, and the extent to which it adapted to its new surroundings.

Cork and Marriott have got a night off, and the Sergeant's decided to take his subordinate out of his comfort zone with a visit to the part of London Chinese immigrants have made their own.  Their first encounter there is not with a Chinese person but with a dishevelled sea captain (Dallas Cavell, last seen around these parts being whacked with a shovel by William Hartnell), whose rambling state Cork explains is caused not by alcohol but by opium.  Marriott, having never encountered the effects of the drug first hand, is rather excited.  Cork reveals that he once tried the drug, but was kept from addiction by his sheer horror of how much he enjoyed it.

Cork leads Marriott to a Chinese restaurant where he runs up against Hsien, an obstructive waiter unimpressed by his insistence that he's an old friend of the owner.  Like most of the other Chinese characters in this episode (specifically the male ones with speaking parts), Hsien is played by a white actor in "slitty-eye" make up.  In this case it's Geoffrey Hibbert, father of Edward Hibbert who played Gil Chesterton in Frasier.  Even with the make up you can see the resemblance.

Fortunately the proprietor, Feng, comes to Cork's aid and, greeting him enthusiastically, shows him to the best seat in the house.  Here it's dear old Peter Sallis looking like he's in an am dram production of Aladdin.  His performance, as much as his ridiculous appearance and the staccato accent de rigeur for Oriental characters (he sounds more Dalek than Chinese) allows,  is excellent, but honestly - it's ridiculous.

Chinese cuisine was still a new and exotic thing for most of Britain in the 1960s, let alone the 1880ss, so it's not surprising that Bob Marriott's terrified by the menu set before him.  He allows Feng to pick his meal, and it's spare ribs and rice wine a go-go.  The ribs get the thumbs up, the wine practically sets him aflame.

Marriott's ears naturally prick up when he hears that Feng has a beautiful daughter, and he's very taken with Lotus (Lucille Soong) when she appears.  But almost as soon as she does there's an almighty barney when her gentleman caller, Chang (Christopher Guinee) rushes in.  Turns out he's a Manchu (it sounds more like "mad jew" in the accent adopted by the performers), one of China's ruling class, and as they kicked Feng out for being a dangerous dissident (the whole Manchu thing was all in an episode of Espionage a few months back, as long-time readers probably won't recall) he's naturally not that keen on them, or Lotus and Chang's relationship.  Feng threatens Chang with his tong, and Chang smashes a vase on his way out (he's a student, and you know what they're like).

Cork refuses to back Feng up, and tells him he thinks his objections to Chang are ridiculous.  In exchange, he's warned never to darken the doors of the restaurant again.  Meanwhile, Hsien discovers that Lotus has done a moonlight flit.

Next thing it's some weeks later, and Feng's made a complaint to the CID that Cork refused to assist him in the search for his daughter.  And the whole sorry tale takes a darker turn as Lotus is found strangled on the outskirts of Epping.  Chang's been arrested, and Superintendent Rodway fears dire consequences if it turns out Cork failed to stop the girl's elopement with the man who eventually killed her.  Cork goes to Feng to tell him the news, and is shocked to discover that the restaurateur already knows.  It's obvious he's starting to suspect Feng of his daughter's murder, for which he feels the grieving father's full wrath.  Feng tells him he learned the news from Hsien, who had been spying on the couple, having been very keen on Lotus: "He taught her the virtue of submission."  Hsien had gone to fetch Lotus back from the hotel in Ongar where the couple were staying, but instead saw Chang kill her, informing Feng about it before the police.

At the police station in Epping, Chang claims that he left Lotus alone in the woods after they quarrelled...

...while Hsien (who Cork suspects of the murder) breaks down when Feng goes to see him.  Feng's advice to him: "Be like me, an empty vessel that can be replenished only by revenge".

The series' venture into Chinese culture is balanced by a wonderfully amusing portrait of English domesticity in the local superintendent (Roger Avon), who answers Cork's questions about the night of the murder with a sketch of his nightly routine of a mug of cocoa and putting the cat out.  Eventually he reaches what Cork's getting at: there was no moon that night, and it would have been impossible for Hsien to see what he claims to have.  And what's more, the cord that Lotus was strangled with was tied in a complicated knot only a sailor would know - and Hsien used to be one.

Cork suspects Feng's tong of having a hand in Lotus's killing, and demands to see them.  Feng tells him it's impossible, but Cork insists, and is eventually brought before the tong's leader (Michael Atkinson), who warns Cork of (yet more) dire consequences.  He reveals that the tong are carrying out their own investigation, which will culminate in the execution of the killer.  But Cork eventually persuades him that the differences between England and China mean that the tong has to operate in a different way, and give the law more respect.  He agrees to leave the matter alone as long as Cork pursues the case without prejudice.

But as they leave, Cork and Feng are set upon by Chinese thugs...

As Cork's life seems to hang in the balance, Bob and Chalky reflect that maybe the old tartar wasn't such a bad chap after all.

 Bob gets a scare when Rodway receives a call informing him of a death, but it turns out to be Feng who died from his injuries.  Cork, having escaped with only a minor head injury, escapes from the hospital and is soon back at the Yard bossing everyone about.

Cork now suspects Chang of arranging the attack on him, though Chang suggests it was the tong themselves.  But the leader now appears, announcing that the thugs have been taken care of, and can be found bound and gagged in a hotel.  They admitted to being paid by Chang.  The student admits it was he who killed his bride - out of revenge for Feng killing his father.  "The dead are always with us," sighs the tong leader, admitting that if Chang were a member of his tong he'd have directed him to do the same.  Once again Cork has to live with the consequences of his actions - or in this case inaction, as he faces up to his culpability in not stopping Lotus.

In script terms, The Case of the Dutiful Murderer is another winner from Julian Bond, and the performances can't really be faulted either.  But, as with last week's episode, it makes for a rather queasy glimpse at the more regrettable attitudes of TV past.

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