Thursday, September 21, 2017

Johnny Ringo (The Gunfighters Episode 3)

The one where it's curtains for Charlie the barman...

I was very keen on finding out whether director Rex Tucker allowed the Clantons to actually put the noose around Steven's neck, because it's a pretty grim visual for a teatime children's programme. But yes, stuttery Phineas Clanton tightens the rope around Steven's neck, which I think is taking Wild West realism a little too far for the target audience. Mind you, I'm also well aware that rough and ready depictions of the Wild West were rife on British TV screens in 1966, thanks to countless imported US Western series such as Rawhide, Wagon Train and Bonanza, so maybe I'm being too much of a 21st century snowflake? Kids in '66 could take allusions to hanging in their stride!

A quick word for Rex Tucker here. He directs The Gunfighters with lots of style and panache, indicative of an experienced man who'd been directing and producing TV since 1950. He uses high shots quite often, notably looking down on the Last Chance Saloon from the top of the stairs, but also when Holliday, Kate and Dodo arrive at the Wagon Hotel. Perhaps the most striking use of the high shot in Johnny Ringo is for the death of Charlie the barman, who lies spreadeagled across his bar, liquor sploshing from a bottle onto the floor.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Don't Shoot the Pianist (The Gunfighters Episode 2)

The one where the Doctor gets put in jail for his own protection...

The Clanton clan are gunning for Doc Holliday for his part in the murder of their brother Reuben. The trouble is, the real Doc Holliday (who's masquerading as Tombstone's resident dentist) has framed the Doctor so that the Clantons think he's who they're after. The Doctor looks the part, and is equipped with Holliday's own pistol and gun belt. How is the Doctor going to talk himself out of this one?

The fact is, he doesn't. There's plenty of delightful dialogue which William Hartnell absolutely revels in as the Doctor tries to bumble his way out of trouble, but in the end, he has to resort to the only language the Clantons understand - violence! Although the Doctor accidentally sets off his gun, it puts the Clantons on the back spur, and thanks to Kate's help, he manages to put the brothers into line.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Holiday for the Doctor (The Gunfighters Episode 1)

The one where the Doctor has a tooth extracted without anaesthetic...

Waitaminute-what-whut!? This episode of Doctor Who opens with a song! Is it a musical? What's going on? This is highly irregular. But hang on, what's this... It's set in the Wild West! There's cowboys and horses and guns, the works! Wow, what a stunning opening to the episode - completely different, utterly refreshing and totally putting the viewer on the back foot. How many viewers back in 1966 had to check their Radio Times to make sure they had the right programme?

And look at that set! An entire Western saloon town, complete with stoops and shops, a livery store and a dusty old track down the middle. It's no surprise to see the designer for this serial was Barry Newbery, one of Doctor Who's finest ever creatives. This might be squashed into Studio 4 at Television Centre, but to be honest it looks pretty expansive. You can tell that it isn't when you see actors taking their time to cross the street, because there's nowhere else to go, but Newbery has come up with a stunning set here, which has so much detail and depth that it looks real and lived in. And director Rex Tucker affords us some lovely high shots and low shots too.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Final Test (The Celestial Toymaker Episode 4)

The one where Steven and Dodo play TARDIS hopscotch with Billy Bunter...

At last I'm able to see the imaginative set and costume design of The Celestial Toymaker, although obviously not in colour, as the beautiful set photos are. Daphne Dare and John Wood really excelled themselves on this story, creating the fantasy world of the Toymaker with brash and colourful skill. The design of the story is probably the best thing about it, but it's also frustrating that the sole surviving episode is the only one not to feature the wonderful Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera. The Final Test doesn't really demonstrate Dare and Wood's work adequately either.

John Wood's set design is particularly reminiscent of those episodes of The Avengers which pit the female star against a diabolical mastermind in a house of traps. It's one of the most memorable Avengers episodes, whichever version of it you remember or prefer (Don't Look Behind You, The House That Jack Built, The Joker), and the Swinging 60s day-glo design of the swirling dice indicator, the reflective walls and the toy robots could have been influenced by Harry Pottle's design work on The House That Jack Built, which debuted in the UK on March 4th, 1966 - two weeks before The Celestial Toymaker's first episode went into studio.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Dancing Floor (The Celestial Toymaker Episode 3)

The one with a food fight in a kitchen...

William Hartnell has hardly been in his own TV series these last few weeks. His part in The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve was much reduced (despite him having two roles to play!), and his physical presence has been absent from episodes 2 and 3 of The Celestial Toymaker. The fact the Doctor is both invisible and mute for much of this story means poor old Michael Gough has nobody to bounce off, and ends up talking to himself mostly. He does get a brief exchange with Sergeant Rugg and Mrs Wigg, but other than that, Gough is virtually performing a monologue. Shame.

Rugg and Wigg are this week's characters for Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera to bring to life, and once again they come up trumps. Brian Hayles doesn't so much write characters in The Celestial Toymaker as conjure caricatures, so there's not much depth for your average actor to dig into. By all accounts, there were probably too many voices trying to be heard in the production of this story - producer John Wiles had his preferences, and so too did outgoing script editor Donald Tosh and his replacement Gerry Davies - so it's hard to know just how much depth Hayles gave his creations, but I'd wager what we get is a good example of what he wrote. Which is not much.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Hall of Dolls (The Celestial Toymaker Episode 2)

The one where Dodo almost gets frozen to death...

As soon as the Toymaker made the Doctor both invisible and mute, I knew William Hartnell was off on his holidays again! It's a pretty blatant way to explain the absence of your leading man, and demonstrative of the contempt which producer John Wiles had for the argumentative Hartnell behind the scenes. Making the Doctor invisible was one of Wiles's ideas for changing the series' star, as he hoped that when the Doctor reappeared, he'd be played by another actor. Thankfully, Wiles's rather two-faced plan did not come to fruition, and we would enjoy another six months of Hartnell's twinkly magic.

The handful of lines the Doctor does have are delivered so dispassionately by Hartnell that it's obvious they were recorded separately and played back into the studio. There's no immersion in the moment from Hartnell, he's simply reading the lines from a piece of paper, and not performing them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Celestial Toyroom (The Celestial Toymaker Episode 1)

The one where the Doctor is made both invisible and intangible...

The big problem with The Celestial Toymaker is that you can't watch it. If you look at the beautiful full colour photos that were taken on set, and then listen to the off-air soundtrack recorded by David Holman, your heart sinks. Because The Celestial Toymaker looks stunning. It's just a shame that we can only listen to it, because that makes for a very different, and much less rewarding, experience, sadly...

As the episode begins we're reminded of what happened at the end of The Bomb, when the Doctor seemed to disappear in the TARDIS. Dodo understandably attributes this to the Refusians from The Ark (because they too were invisible and intangible), but it seems a much more sinister force is responsible for this jiggery-pokery.