Friday, 31 October 2014

Saturday 31 October 1964

It's Hallowe'en, which wasn't celebrated very widely in Britain back in 1964, so none of tonight's programming is tailored to it at all.  That's not to say, however, that there aren't some scary things to be seen.

After just a few weeks off the air, Doctor Who's back for a second series, kicking off with a storyline originally mooted to begin its first.  It's passed through various hands in the meantime, but the version that finally made it to air is scripted by Danger Man writer Louis Marks, and features an ecological twist that puts it a good few years ahead of its time.

The first thing the viewer is likely to notice in the new series is the highly elaborate cloak the Doctor's now sporting (having clearly decided to take Beau Brummell's style advice to heart).  Barbara scarcely has time to admire it before she gets an electric shock from the console, and things start to go horribly wrong.

The fault locator shows that it might be worth panicking, and the doors begin to open while the TARDIS is in flight.  In the face of the Doctor's dire warnings, Ian, Barbara and Susan manage to force them closed while the Doctor does his best to right the problem.

Susan checks the readings and everything seems to be OK, but the Doctor's still in a flap.  Barbara and Ian try to assist him, but he doesn't give them much of a chance: "Can't you understand? Can't you see?... Don't keep talking on the 20th century level, I'm talking about time travel!"

The character of William Hartnell's Doctor is perfectly encapsulated in this scene, as he exasperatedly berates Ian and Barbara for their pitiful intellects and then just a few moments later offers Barbara a heartfelt apology for his behaviour.

The ship seems to have landed safely, but when Susan turns on the scanner to take a look outside the screen explodes ("Perhaps you need a new tube, Doctor," Ian comments wryly).  But the readings on the console all look safe enough, so the travellers decide to venture out and have a look at their surroundings for themselves (the Doctor having by now satisfied himself of the reason that the doors opened: "The space pressure was far too great!").

Barbara and Susan examine the curious "pebbles of sand" on the ground outside the ship, while the Doctor strikes a marvellous pose that I will copy at every opportunity I get.  They decide to split up, into the tried and tested male/female, human/alien groupings of Ian and Susan, and Barbara and the Doctor.

Straight away, the latter pair discover what Barbara takes to be "a huge snake", which the Doctor assures her is quite dead.

Meanwhile, Ian and Susan stumble across a strange, lozenge-like object which they guess to be some kind of egg.  Walking on, they find a whole pile - and atop it an enormous ant, which also appears to be dead.  "Stiff as a poker," notes Ian, adding "It's a giant ant!" for the benefit of slower viewers.  "I wonder what sort of a world could produce an insect that size."

Much to Barbara's disbelief, the Doctor's deduced that the creature they've found is a gigantic earthworm.  He speculates that "There's a brain with a purpose behind it all."

After finding six more dead ants, Ian and Susan are further astonished to discover what appears to be an enormous advert for night-scented stock seeds.  The mention of Norwich seems to confirm that they're on Earth.  "I suppose it couldn't be part of a crazy exhibition," muses Ian.  "You know, where everything had been increased in size?"

Barbara and the Doctor are further baffled by the discovery of a huge piece of wood, charred at one end: it looks just like a giant used match.  And suddenly, the Doctor's got it...

...And, simultaneously, as she and Ian find the matchbox, so has Susan: "These things haven't been made bigger: we've been made smaller."

The Doctor's explaining it to Barbara, in exactly the same words (a really lovely touch that strengthens the idea of a kind of psychic bond between grandfather and granddaughter).  He informs her that they are now "roughly the size of an inch."

And on this startling revelation, we zoom out from a dinky model of the TARDIS to reveal it's touched down in a crack in the crazy paving of a picturesque country cottage.

Ian refuses to believe what Susan's telling him, prompting an irritable "Oh Ian, work it out for yourself!" (if only we saw more of this side to Susan's character!).  But their argument's cut off by the sudden descent of darkness upon the pair.  Cut to reveal that this is the shadow of a man, who retrieves the matchbox and walks off with it - with Ian still in it.

Predictably enough, this causes Susan to switch back from tetchy genius to hysterical pain.

The shaky footage of Ian trapped in the dark of the matchbox is great fun.

The others decide to head off in the direction Ian's been carried off in, but at their current tiny size it's a long trek up that garden path.  But the Doctor reassures the others everything will be fine once they've recovered Ian and got back to the TARDIS.

We now focus briefly on the world of normal-sized people: in particular the retriever of the matchbix, Mr Farrow (Frank Crawshaw), a government scientist and inhabitant of the cottage, and ruthless (and ironically named) businessman Forester (Alan Tilvern), who's pressuring him to drop his objections to DN6, a highly effective new pesticide.  So effective, in fact, that it kills even the insect life essential to the ecosystem, meaning widespread use would have a disastrous effect on the planet.  This is the first time since Doctor Who's first episode that we've had what appears to be a contemporary setting - the intentional irony, of course, being that Ian and Barbara are hardly in a position to appreciate it.

Farrow's preparing to go off on holiday, but intends to inform his ministry of the undesirable side-effects of DN6 before he leaves.  So Forester pulls a gun on him.  Elsewhere, as the Doctor, Susan and Barbara venture onwards, Susan's nearly crushed by a bumblebee that falls dead from the sky.  "Now what chance, I really wonder, would human beings have in a world of creatures like this bee?" the Doctor wonders, failing to make his companions feel any safer.  He's noticed that all the dead creatures they've encountered have the same distinctive aroma.  Barbara's worried that whatever's causing the insects to die could do for them as well.  The Doctor agrees: "So no eating or drinking until we have done our very best to find Ian!"

There's the sound of an enormous explosion, and Ian reunites with his friends just as they discover what caused it: Farrow's been shot dead by Forester (the effect of the travellers superimposed over an image of Frank Crawshaw's face unfortunately just makes it look like they're at the pictures, especially when the Doctor sits himself down in front of the big face).

The grass backdrop behind them leaves something to be desired, as well.

"It's fortunate for us everything is dead," the Doctor muses.  And as if by magic, the travellers find themselves looking up into the eyes of an enormous, and very alive, cat...

Well, that was tremendous fun.  On to tonight's next show, and once again the existing version of this Arthur Haynes Show is curiously bereft of any kind of title card.  Instead we go from the introductory sketch (the show's regulars as fisherman, Arthur hooking a bra), to tonight's musical guests.

The Dallas Boys (actually from Leicester, which wouldn't sound as glamorous) certainly couldn't be accused of being dull.  The version of "I'm Into Something Good" they treat us to tonight speeds up and slows down all over the place, with the middle feller continuing to sing and strum away as his chums break into a peculiar dance routine, with the one on the end who looks a bit like Jon Pertwee later popping off to the side of the stage for a bit of a plinky-plonk on a handy piano.  They're like the Bachelors with ADHD.

Tonight's first sketch proper is set in a dogs' home, and is essentially a rerun of the zoo sketch from a couple of weeks back, with Arthur and Dermot now dressed up as respectively, a bulldog and an Irish terrier (whose former owners' confusion over his gender allows much gleeful use of the word "bitch").

Leslie Noyes and Nicholas Parsons are also dressed up this time, Noyes as an aged mongrel and Parsons as a pampered dalmatian. Parsons' costume is quite possibly the most disturbing thing I've ever seen.

The feeling that you're watching footage of a very niche club night is almost welcome, as it helps distract from an overlong sketch that doesn't have a great deal of comedy in it, just interminable talking.  It finally comes to an end when the dread Rita Webb appears and chooses to take the horrified Parsons home with her.

Next, a perfunctory little sketch with Haynes cutting a swatch out of Parsons' suit on the tube - the punchline being that he's had his own suit slashed by the Tube Maniac and so tricks Parsons into patching up his suit with a bit from his own.  And so it goes on, presumably.

The final sketch starts out pretty bog-standard, with Haynes and Kelly as incompetent removal men driving "Sir Nickelarse" to distraction, but it takes a pleasingly surreal turn when Arthur puts a pike through the ceiling, causing the leg of a maid in the room above to dangle alarmingly from above, with the leg of butler Leslie Noyes swiftly following suit, the two disembodied limbs becoming very chummy with each other.

And finally tonight it's the third episode of Redcap, notable for a phenomenal "before they were famous" guest cast.

The pre-episode title scene sees Sergeant Jacko Rolfe (Leonard Rossiter) bandage up his damaged hand in front of a shattered mirror as Sergeant Ted Bailey (Mike Pratt) stands over the badly beaten body of an Arab...

The action of this week's episode takes place in Aden, one of the final outposts of the British Empire.  Sergeant John Mann is on his way to investigate Rolfe's attack on the Arab, who's now in critical condition in hospital.  The young engineers in Rolfe's company include the bullying Baker (Kenneth Farrington, Coronation Street's Billy Walker, who we first see reading an unconvincingly mocked up paperback presumably inspired by the famed Lady Don't Fall Backwards of Hancock fame), Welshman Evans (future Blue Peter presenter John Noakes) and quiet, sensitive Russell (Ian McShane), who gets a hard time from Baker for supposedly toadying up to the widely despised Rolfe.

Mann meets the CO, Major Coulter (Rossiter's future Reginald Perrin co-star John Horsley), who's quick to dismiss as exaggerations the claims that Rolfe assaulted the Arab: "Blasted wogs... Do you think I'm prejudiced? Take a tip from me, Sergeant.  Forget this equality lark.  It's all very well if you sit on your behind in England reading the Sunday newspapers, but you come out here and try and deal with 'em and you'll find it's very different."

Mann tries to get a statement from the decidedly uncooperative Rolfe.  The company sergeant claims the local "wog police" are all thoroughly untrustworthy, and condemns Mann as a "Jumped-up little squit" once he's out of earshot.

Russell is clearly disillusioned with life in the army, and asks Rolfe what the point is in their being out in Aden in the first place.  If he was hoping for a well-reasoned answer, he's disappointed by Rolfe's unthinking jingoism: "We've lost Cyprus, we've lost Malta, we've lost Egypt.  We're not gonna lose this one."  The men, fed up with Rolfe's harsh treatment, contemplate "Filling him in for good."

Assistant Superintendent Yacoub of the local police (played by Norman Florence, who's very handsome but so camp he might just as well be credited as Florence Norman) pays a visit (Coulter's warned Mann that "He went to an English prep school, that's why he's so dangerous).  He's no fan of British rule, but accepts the need to weed out "undesirable elements" before independence can be gained.  He informs Mann and Coulter that the man Rolfe assaulted is getting worse.  He believes the man's story, denied by Rolfe, that there were two assailants, and thinks that the attack came about as part of a belief that Arabs simply don't matter in the same way as white people: "You might occasionally sleep with our women, but it is the closest you came to acknowledging that we are in any way human."

Rolfe and his men are off to rebuild a bridge that's been blown up.  On the way, the sergeant reinforces his philosophy that they are out there to blindly follow orders and nothing else, aggressively scorning Russell's continual questioning: "We're not paid to think!"

That night, Baker rouses the Sergeant's ire when he stands up for the men in the face of Rolfe's constant hectoring.

Meanwhile, his suspicions piqued by Yacoub's assistance that two men carried out the assault, Mann meets up with the shifty Sergeant Bailey, who denies that Rolfe was drunk on the night of the attack.

Mann finds a hut that matches the description of the one the Arab claims the two men dragged him to, and is intrigued by the smashed mirror.  He's interrupted by a soldier played by Bill Treacher, later EastEnders' Arthur Fowler.  He's a friendly sort of chap, notwithstanding his unexpected stream of invective about "wogs". 

Later that night, as a wild-eyed Russell feverishly strokes his rifle, Sapper Morse (Roger Heathcote) reveals to the rest of the men that Rolfe, who was due to relieve from watch duty, has disappeared.  Later, Major Coulter reveals to Mann that Rolfe has been found dead - he fell off the bridge.

Mann speaks to Bailey again: he's sick of the general contemptuous attitude toward professional soldiers like he and Rolfe: "It ain't the Jackos that start the wars - they just finish 'em off."

Yacoub intends to continue with the prosecution even though Rolfe's now dead: it's the British army he's after.  Baker's happy to admit he's pleased by Rolfe's demise - he's even taken the trouble to prepare a statement for Mann on behalf of all the men.

Baker's continual haranguing of Russell sees the younger soldier lose his temper and punch Baker in the stomach.

The MO (Frank Mills, later to play Betty Turpin's second husband, Billy Williams, in Coronation Street) shows Mann Rolfe's body, pointing out that before he fell off the bridge the back of his head was smashed in with a rifle butt.

Mann interviews the men, revealing to Baker that he knows the sapper has form where violent assaults are concerned: he was one of the racist Teds who precipitated the Notting Hill riots of 1958: "Yeah, well, spades dirtying up the place, I had to do something, so I got stuck in."  Baker admits he was waiting for the right time to duff Rolfe up, and as a consequence is arrested for his murder.

Mann's hope is that on Baker's arrest the real killer will give himself up, but it doesn't happen, so he goes to see the man he really suspects: Russell, who in a strikingly Freudian shot we see tenderly massaging his rifle up and down.

It doesn't take much to get Russell to admit he killed Rolfe: the sergeant found him asleep when he came to relieve him, and grabbed hold of his throat.  So Russell attacked him with his rifle, venting his disgust that the sergeant was nothing more than a killing machine.  Mann coldly points out the irony in the situation.  Russell's arrested, though Major Coulter opines that it's probably a blessing Rolfe's dead, as his Arab victim now is as well.

As well as fine performances, Epitaph for a Sweat benefits from an excellent Richard Harris script that scrupulously presents viewers with a number of different viewpoints and allows them to make up their own minds.

That's it for tonight.  I'll be back tomorrow with some rather more spooky entertainment, but in the meantime, don't have nightmares.