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SHERLOCK HOLMES - The Classic 1965 BBC TV Series / BFI DVD Review

In the pantheon of celebrated Sherlock Holmes adaptations there is one BBC television series that tends to get overlooked. In 1965 the BBC produced a series of faithful adaptations of 13 Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories starring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock. The series is perhaps unfairly eclipsed by the colour series made by the BBC two years later starring Peter Cushing, fewer episodes of which survive, and the Granada series that consumed much of the 1980s and 1990s and the energies of actor Jeremy Brett.

However, you can judge Wilmer's and Stock's celebrated interpretations for yourselves when the BFI release the remaining episodes of Sherlock Holmes on a 4-DVD set this month. Previously available as a Region 1 set, this new release features commentaries, interviews and using the remaining archive footage, the reconstruction of two episodes.

Before and since Holmes has been reinterpreted many times on radio, film and television with the latest incarnations being the Guy Ritchie action films, the contemporary restaging of the characters and stories in Steven Moffat's hugely successful Sherlock and the CBS police procedural Elementary featuring Jonny Lee Miller. Holmes and Watson are a very prolific presence among the roll call of iconic British literary myths - including King Arthur, Robin Hood, Dracula - that have continued into the 21st Century, joining modern legends such as James Bond, Harry Potter and the Doctor.

Adapting the Holmes canon was not a new undertaking for the BBC. It had broadcast a six-episode Sherlock Holmes series in 1951, starring Alan Wheatley, and a series of radio adaptations with Carleton Hobbs in the lead role that spanned 80 episodes between 1952 and 1969. Bringing Holmes back to BBC television originated from staff director Vere Lorrimer's approach to Head of Light Entertainment Tom Sloan.

Sloan discovered, rather remarkably, that the rights from the Conan Doyle estate were available and, by sheer coincidence, when he suggested a Holmes series to Head of Drama Sydney Newman, Newman revealed a Sherlock Holmes story was due to be included in a series of one-off drama pilots called Detective. (1) As the Radio Times of May 14 1964 exclaimed, 'No series with a title like Detective could possibly afford to ignore the father of all fictional detectives - the man with the deer-stalker and the 9.25 pipe, the Sage of Baker Street - Sherlock Holmes himself.' (2)

Newman's motive for producing Detective was to find a replacement for the highly successful Maigret series, starring Rupert Davies, which had concluded a run of 53 episodes in December 1963. Detective's most successful try-outs would be considered for a full series and, underlining the Maigret connection, were each introduced by Davies 'in character' as Maigret.
'I decided I would paint him warts and all'
Prior to Detective's production in late 1963 and early 1964, the BBC had secured the options on five Holmes stories and 'The Speckled Band', transmitted 18 May 1964, was chosen to represent the detective in the anthology. Newman and his producer David Goddard recruited Robin Midgley to direct and Giles Cooper as scriptwriter. Midgley had previous form, having produced and directed many of the Holmes radio adaptations featuring Carleton Hobbs, and Cooper had adapted the Maigret stories for television. (3)

Newman determined that each of the Detective instalments would be headed by a star actor and producer Goddard contracted established stage and screen actor Douglas Wilmer to play Holmes in 'The Speckled Band' with a view that he would continue in any series that developed from the pilot. Wilmer was described by the Radio Times as, 'a Conan Doyle enthusiast who has coveted the part since the start of his acting career' and who bore 'an uncanny physical resemblance to Holmes as drawn by Sydney Paget to illustrate the original Strand Magazine stories.' (4)

Wilmer had featured on the big screen in historical epics Cleopatra (1963) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) but had also carved out a successful radio and television career. He was familiar with the Conan Doyle stories and, as he later expounded in his biography, felt that previous interpretations of the character had never fully embraced the darker side of Holmes: 'I decided I would paint him warts and all. He was a towering and commanding figure, often forbidding and silent. Such men cast great shadows. They can be intimidating and inspire fear.' However, Wilmer also acknowledged that, even though he thought the scripts should mention it, in 1964 the viewing public was not ready for a television series to describe 'anything so utterly depraved as a cocaine habit .' (5)

Joining Wilmer to play the redoubtable Dr John Watson was Nigel Stock, a recognisable British character actor fresh from supporting roles in Brighton Rock (1947), The Dam Busters (1955), The Battle of the River Plate (1956 with Wilmer), Victim (1961) and The Great Escape (1963). Stock managed to imbue Watson with many of the qualities of Doyle's 'old campaigner' and offered something of an antidote to the buffoonish Watson, despite the appeal of Nigel Bruce's performance, seen opposite Basil Rathbone's Holmes in the film series of the 1930s and 1940s.

Anthony Read, who adapted 'The Red Headed League' and took over as script editor on the series in September 1964, further underlined to writer Duncan Ross, who had submitted what would be an unused adaptation of 'The Sussex Vampire' that he should: 'keep away from the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce interpretations which we firmly eschew.' (6)

Wilmer and Stock's immediate rapport with the characters, the atmospheric location filming in Dorking and BBC Birmingham's economic but effective studio production derived a suitably Gothic melodrama from Conan Doyle's story. A highlight of the pilot is the encounter between Holmes and poker-bending Dr Grimesby Roylott, featuring a volcanic performance from Felix Felton. Under Midgley's direction, Felton had previously appeared in a radio adaptation of the story with Liane Aukin as the heroine Helen Stoner. She also reprised her role in the television version.

'The Speckled Band' was a notable success with viewers and the BBC optioned eight further Conan Doyle stories for the series that followed in 1965. However, negotiations with the Conan Doyle estate now came with an added pressure. They wanted to see the BBC make the series on film and, enthusiastic about Holmes's export potential, enter a co-production deal with an American network, and thus have a greater say in the selection of cast and crew.

The BBC were not keen as a significant financial outlay would be required to shoot on film and complete the series before any guarantee of a sale and they rejected the idea that an American network should therefore be allowed to interfere with what original script editor John Gould saw as a quintessentially English series. (7)

Another issue, which would gradually have a significant impact on the writing of the series and Wilmer's decision not to continue when the BBC commissioned a second series, were the negotiations over rehearsal time, scripts and directors. The BBC originally agreed to Wilmer's request for scripts to arrive three weeks in advance of production and that the series would be handled by a small group of directors to maintain quality and style, including the pilot's Robin Midgley. (8)
... he 'had not the smallest intention of appearing in such drivel'
Sherlock Holmes's 12 episodes were eventually made with the standard studio VT and location film inserts, although as restoration expert Peter Crocker explains in the notes accompanying this DVD set, the 405-line VT recordings were transferred to 35mm for editing and broadcast.

The adaptations were divvied out to several writers, including Giles Cooper, Clifford Witting, Jan Read, Vincent Tilsley, Nicholas Palmer and Anthony Read (Read took over from original script editor John Gould and inherited a pile of scripts that would need revising or rejecting). Midgley was not amongst the directors hired to make the episodes and Wilmer was somewhat aggrieved that many of the episodes were handed to inexperienced youngsters.

Jan Read's 'The Man With The Twisted Lip' commenced production in September 1964 with location filming in Wapping and studio recording at Television Centre. With production continuing on 'The Abbey Grange' in October, Anthony Read had to completely rewrite the script for 'The Red Headed League' two days prior to its November studio recording when Harry Green's version was rejected. Indeed, Wilmer recalled the problems with the script in Stage Whispers and told the BBC he 'had not the smallest intention of appearing in such drivel.' He strongly recommended the script editor simply 'have a good look at Doyle and just copy out the excellent dialogue, as written.' (9)

Further scripting problems affected 'The Devil's Foot'. Wilmer observed that Giles Cooper's script ran short of the 50 minute slot by some significant margin and he and Stock had to write additional material at the last minute. 'The Devil's Foot' boasted some excellent location filming in Cornwall, undertaken in December 1964, and the Radio Times recalled Nigel Stock entertaining the cast and crew with a bagpipe recital beneath Wilmer's bedroom window. (10)

The series opening episode, 'The Illustrious Client' was also completed in December and was the first episode to use the Baker Street exterior set specially built at Ealing Studios. Filming and recording continued into January and February 1965 on 'Charles Augustus Milverton' and 'The Copper Beeches' - where director Gareth Davies had to track down an Old English Mastiff to perform as the guard dog of the house and discovered there were only six of the breed left in the UK. (11)The week prior to the 20 February transmission date of the series heralded a press launch at the Sherlock Holmes pub.

As the series began on BBC One, the rest of Sherlock Holmes continued to be recorded through to April 1965, concluding with 'The Bruce-Partington Plans', 'The Retired Colourman' (negotiations with Boris Karloff to guest star as Barker unfortunately came to nothing) and 'The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax'. The latter's Swiss setting was provided by some extensive location filming in the French town of Montreuil-sur-Mer. (12)

'The Illustrious Client', boasting a Radio Times cover, received some mixed reviews. While the Sherlock Holmes Society of London praised the adaptation and Wilmer's and Stock's performances, the BBC's Director of Television Kenneth Adam informed Sydney Newman that the BBC Board and the Director General were disappointed that the episode had not lived up to the promise of the pilot.

The format of the series, established so effectively in 'The Speckled Band', is certainly consolidated by 'The Illustrious Client'. Two very broad performances from guest stars Peter Wyngarde, providing a ripe German accent as the serial womaniser Baron Gruner, and Rosemary Leach, plunging into Cockney melodrama as the vengeance seeking Kitty Winter, tend to dominate over the quieter, subtler work from Wilmer and Stock.

Far better is 'The Devil's Foot', despite the scripting problems, and it expands the series out of the often poky studio settings with its Cornwall location filming. Patrick Troughton is also a highlight as the poisoner Mortimer Tregennis hoist by his own petard by the scheming Dr. Sterndale. It's also here that Wilmer's adjustments to his performance as Holmes begin to emerge. He had rewatched his performance in 'The Speckled Band' and told the Radio Times in April 1965: 'when I saw it again five months later I thought my portrait of Holmes was incomplete and in places inaccurate; too smooth, urbane and civilised. I've realised that he is a much more primitive person, more savage and ruthless.' (13)

Stock's chemistry with Wilmer isn't quite as well developed as the later relationship between him and Peter Cushing in 1968's colour series but as the series progresses both actors refine and define their characters. Their portrayals are appealing but very self-contained. Stock's Watson certainly paved the way for the excellent work that David Burke (who makes an early television appearance in 'The Beryl Coronet') and Edward Hardwicke would put into their portrayals of Watson in the Granada series. Wilmer offers a definitive portrayal of Holmes for the times, which now provides an antithesis to Jeremy Brett's own brilliant but often extravagant embellishments.

The series is blessed with further outstanding guest roles. Patrick Wymark and Suzanne Neve are perfect casting in 'The Copper Beeches'. Wymark encapsulates Jephro Rucastle's snarling but suave cruelty as he forces Neve's Violet Hunter to stand in as his imprisoned daughter Alice. He users her to convince the man watching from the road Alice is no longer interested in seeing him and to prevent the couple from benefiting from her mother's will. Tucked away in the episode are lovely turns from Michael Robbins as the drunken servant Toller and horror icon-to-be Sheila Keith as employment agency owner Miss Stoper. 

Sadly, only the final reel of 'The Abbey Grange' remains in the archive (and this wasn't presented on the previous Region 1 DVD of the Wilmer series) and the first 25 minutes of the adaptation are here represented by Douglas Wilmer reading the opening half of the story to camera. What we do eventually see is a well made, atmospheric adaptation with Nyree Dawn Porter effulgent as the tormented Lady Brackenstall desperately waiting for lover Captain Croker to rescue her from a violent husband.

As played by the hawkish Peter Madden, Inspector Lestrade makes the first of six appearances in the series with Giles Cooper's adaptation of 'The Six Napoleons'. It's notable how elements of light comedy flavour this, 'The Red Headed League' and 'The Retired Colourman.' In Cooper's version of the former James Bree provides a very appealing performance as Dr. Barnicot, the Napoleon enthusiast whose destroyed plaster bust of the French Emperor provides the catalyst to Holmes' investigations.
Wilmer did not return when a second series option was taken up.
'The Man With The Twisted Lip' establishes the series proper. It's an evocative and effective adaptation and Anton Rodgers provides a suitably sympathetic performance as business debtor turned beggar Neville St. Clair. There's some splendid location filming in Wapping photographed by Dick Bush, one of the best film cameramen working at the BBC at the time.

However, viewers were more concerned about the correct depiction of an opium den, according to the Radio Times letters page, than what was then the common practice of asking a Caucasian actor (in this instance Danish-English Olaf Pooley) to 'black up' and play ethnic stereotypes like the Lascar.

The series' growing confidence can also be seen in 'The Beryl Coronet' in which Leonard Sachs's (familiar to viewers as the tongue twisting MC of The Good Old Days) banker Alexander Holder, safe-keeping a beryl-encrusted crown, falls victim to David Burke's unscrupulous villain George Burnwell.

Another incomplete episode in the archives is 'The Bruce-Partington Plans'. The first 25 minutes of the episode exist and are here supplemented by surviving audio and the shooting script. It works very well and the engrossing adaptation features a smashing performance from Derek Francis as Holmes' brother Mycroft and well-known television character actors John Woodnutt, Gordon Gostelow and Allan Cuthbertson add quality to director Shaun Sutton's ensemble casting. A shame we can only see half of it.

'Charles Augustus Milverton' is dominated by Barry Jones' turn as the 'most dangerous man in London', the reptilian master blackmailer Milverton. He's definitely the highlight, as is Stephanie Bidmead as Lady Farningham, a former victim who is observed seeking her violent revenge by Holmes and Watson while they are breaking into Milverton's safe to destroy the blackmailer's evidence.

In the last act, there's also some lovely comedy between Watson, Holmes and Inspector Lestrade when Holmes acknowledges that Lestrade's description of one of the 'burglars' seen trespassing on Milverton's estate matches that of Watson. Stock's comedy timing and reaction is particularly satisfying. 

The series concludes with two fine episodes, 'The Retired Colourman' and 'The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax' both of which benefit from excellent location filming. One of the best of the series, 'The Retired Colourman' features the legendary Maurice Denham as the supremely grumpy miser Josiah Amberley and the story refreshingly provides Stock with an opportunity to shine as Watson. The last episode of the series is also not without a superb supporting cast, including Ronald Radd, Joss Ackland and Roger Delgado, here playing the hotel manager Moser.

Sadly, Wilmer did not return when a second series option was taken up, a decision buoyed by a successful repeat run of the first series in summer 1966. Although Head of Series Andrew Osborn asked Wilmer to return, the actor declined.

His experience of the production treadmill on the first series, the fact that some of his demands had not been met about script availability and director approval and the BBC's decision to cut the production time for each episode of the next series down to ten days, and thus reduce the rehearsal time, had all left him rather unimpressed.

In Stage Whispers, he recalls that John Neville (a fine Holmes in the 1965 film A Study in Terror) and Eric Porter were approached to co-star with Nigel Stock before the BBC settled on Peter Cushing (having played Holmes in Hammer's Gothic take on The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959) to bring Doyle's anti-hero to colour television in 1967. But that's another story...

For now, Holmes purists can return to these episodes. They are an interesting counterpoint to the Granada series of the 1980s, where money was clearly lavished on sets and location work and many liberties were taken in stretching stories out, and their pace is probably best described as very genteel in comparison to contemporary television but these faithful, if rather economic, adaptations are worth viewing for the Wilmer and Stock interpretations of the Doyle characters. There is also a generous selection of extra features to complete a very welcome DVD release.

Special Features
Toby Hadoke moderates five audio commentaries: with director Peter Sasdy on 'The Illustrious Client', Douglas Wilmer on 'The Devil's Foot' and 'Charles Augustus Milverton', director Peter Cregeen on 'The Abbey Grange', and actors Trevor Martin and David Andrews on 'The Red Headed League'.
Alternative Spanish audio presentation of The Speckled Band
The Spanish export version, entitled 'La banda de lunares', if you are so inclined.
Alternative title sequence for The Illustrious Client
Apparently Peter Wyngarde requested his name to be included in the title sequence when the series was sold abroad, feeling he should share and benefit from equal billing with Wilmer and Stock.
The Abbey Grange episode partial reconstruction
Of the two 25-minute film reels only the second survives and here 95-year-old Douglas Wilmer reads the opening half of the story to accompany the surviving footage.
The Bruce-Partington Plans episode partial reconstruction
The first reel exists of the episode and the remainder of the episode is represented by an audio recording mixed with extracts from the shooting script.
Douglas Wilmer...on Television (22 mins)
A convivial conversation with Wilmer in which he discusses his casting as Holmes and his determination to play him as an unsympathetic, vain and dangerous character. He recalls various aspects of the pilot and series, from snake wrangling in 'The Speckled Band', his desire to see its director Robin Midgely continue directing the series, to the work of Shaun Sutton compared to the many 'pup' directors on the series and the uneven quality of the scripts.

Nigel Stock is fondly remembered by Wilmer as a loyal support during a time when Wilmer was very unhappy with the production of the series and he amusingly recounts the arguments with Patrick Troughton about Catholicism and working with other guest actors such as Joss Ackland.

Wilmer then reflects on his days at RADA and the Old Vic and his debut at the BBC, working with Rudolph Cartier, making 1958's The Diary of Samuel Pepys, acting with Nigel 'Tom' Kneale, and the Royal Court and film versions of One Way Pendulum. The interview brings us up to date with his recent cameo in the Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss series Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes
BBC 1964-1965
BFI Cat No. BFIV2040 / Cert 12 / Monochrome / English language with optional hard of hearing subtitles / 650 mins approx / Original broadcast aspect ratio 1.33:1 / 4 x DVD9 / PAL / Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio (192bps)

(1) Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes - The Complete Film and TV History
(2) 'Detective - The Speckled Band', Radio Times May 14 1964
(3) Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes - The Complete Film and TV History 
(4) 'Sherlock Holmes', Radio Times February 18 1965
(5) Douglas Wilmer, Stage Whispers - The Memoirs
(6) Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes - The Complete Film and TV History 
(7) Ibid
(8) Douglas Wilmer, Stage Whispers - The Memoirs
(9) Ibid
(10) 'Dr. Watson Takes Over', Radio Times April 29 1965
(11) 'The Copper Beeches', Radio Times March 4 1965
(12) Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes - The Complete Film and TV History
(13) 'Douglas Wilmer as Holmes', Radio Times April 8 1965

Coppers & Spies Revisited
Continuing with the re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.

2: Kinky Boots and Z-Victor 2: From The Avengers to Z Cars

George Dixon had been on his beat for five years in Dixon of Dock Green when ABC’s canny producer Sydney Newman created Police Surgeon in 1960. A short-lived star vehicle for actor Ian Hendry, it featured the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Dr Geoffrey Brent as he assisted the London Metropolitan Police with Bayswater’s dysfunctional families, disreputable landlords, delinquents and petty criminals.

Created, written and initially produced by Julian Bond, many of the scripts had been written in collaboration with J.J. Bernard, the pseudonym of a real police surgeon. When he raised certain contractual issues, Newman cancelled the half-hour drama after 13 episodes. It had also not fulfilled a brief from ABC’s chief executive Howard Thomas for Newman to develop an adventure series similar to Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, featuring retired private detective Nick Charles and his wealthy wife Nora.

While the ‘police in the community’ theme of Dixon developed into the realism of Z Cars, Newman asked producer Leonard White to take elements of Police Surgeon and create an entirely new crime drama for his star Hendry, inspired by Hitchcock’s thriller North By Northwest (1959) and Fleming’s Bond books, and based on nothing more than a title…The Avengers. Police Surgeon’s successor ushered in a very different crime fighting partnership.

Iconic bowler, brolly and sharp tailored suits

Writer Brian Clemens, who had worked on Danger Man (which we will return to in due course) in 1960, was given the task of making the title a reality. Hendry became Dr. David Keel and was joined by actor Patrick Macnee as John Steed, an undercover spy to whom Keel turned for help after his fiancée was murdered by heroin smugglers in the opening episode ‘Hot Snow’. When Hendry left during a prolonged Equity strike, Macnee’s Steed took centre stage and The Avengers reinvented itself.

Steed’s raincoat and trilby uniform were replaced with his iconic bowler, brolly and mod-trad Edwardian suits. Keel’s dialogue was transfered to Honor Blackman’s self-assured, leather outfitted anthropologist Dr Cathy Gale, the first of Steed’s strong, independent female partners. Newman saw Gale as a mix of Grace Kelly and noted ethnographer Margaret Mead. Dave Rogers summarised her as ‘a 1960s version of Shaw’s emancipated young woman providing the conscience in combat with Steed’s contemporary Chocolate Soldier.’

The sexual tension between Steed and Cathy flavoured the rapidly changing series. Gritty stories about London’s criminal underworld gave way to Cold War thrillers and yarns featuring the occult, advanced computers and unbreakable ceramics, deadly viruses, industrial saboteurs, technological espionage and political assassinations.

The Avengers continued to self-consciously explore the gender play, fashion and materialism of a changing post-war society especially when the series, produced jointly by Clemens and Albert Fennell, moved onto film in 1965 and introduced Steed’s new foil, Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel.

Publicist Marie Donaldson was apparently responsible for her name, summarising her qualities and shortening ‘Man Appeal’ to ‘M Appeal’ in a press release. The widow of test pilot Peter Peel and daughter of industrialist Sir John Knight, she was an adventurous, intelligent and sexually confident woman capable of fending off assailants with her karate skills.

Steed and Emma were kept busy thwarting malcontent scientists, autocrats, astronomers, executives, aristocrats, ministers and dilettante playboys sidelined by the modernisation of Britain. The series cherry-picked from various genres, playfully wove them together using exaggerated colour, stylised fashion and production design and a self-awareness about the relationship between the television audience and the programme itself.

Stories such as ‘Epic’, ‘Escape in Time’ and ‘Something Nasty in the Nursery’ saw a pop-art style married to increasingly surreal narratives, commenting on the nature of storytelling and film-making, at a time when London was regarded as the epicentre of the 1960s explosion of pop, architecture, fashion and design.

Michael Bracewell summarised this construction of an England of the imagination as one ‘in which the underworld of crime, the underground of popular culture and the hidden precincts of Cold War paranoia were compressed into a Looking Glass world where nothing - to satirical ends or not - was ever quite as it seemed.’ Science fiction, fantasy and the psychedelic increasingly infiltrated the format as flirtatious Emma Peel handed over to ingénue agent Tara King, played by Linda Thorson.

Women as independent protagonists

Thorson was initially promoted as a Shirley Maclaine type and producer John Bryce, who had replaced Clemens and Fennell, was under instructions to return the series to a more grounded style. Rookie agent Tara King was less stylised than predecessors Emma and Cathy and wore fashions of the moment. There was a suggestion of a more human, rounded 'May to December' relationship between Tara and Steed.

However, Bryce struggled with the production schedule and Thorson was deemed too young and inexperienced. Clemens and Fennell returned to overhaul the series, developing Tara King’s character and introducing support in the form of Steed and Tara’s boss, Mother, played by Patrick Newell. Mother’s presence increased the bizarre humour and, in inimitable style, episodes embraced noir, Victorian horror and spoofs of hard-boiled spy fiction.

Made in colour, financed by American network ABC to the tune of $2 million, The Avengers was one of the first British series aired in US prime time. Despite achieving some of its highest ratings in the UK, the Thorson series faltered in the US ratings, a casualty of its scheduling against Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. ABC pulled the plug and, financially unviable, The Avengers concluded in May 1969 just as the tensions pulling apart Britain’s economy, which had led the consumerist boom associated with the series, became all-too apparent with its steep decline.

As well as influencing many 60s spy adventure series, returning as The New Avengers in 1975 and a forgettable 1998 film, The Avengers lasting impact was placing women, as independent protagonists, at the heart of a genre dominated by masculine discourse. While Cathy Gale and Emma Peel were perhaps hostages to male fantasies, they did anticipate the women-centred police procedurals and adventure dramas of the 1980s and beyond.

‘It was obvious that the police were not coping’

With the crime rate soaring, public safety a major concern and policing high on the political agenda in the 1960s, the ‘cosy’ world of the BBC’s Dixon of Dock Green, which had been running since 1955, looked static and remote. Developments in documentary-drama and the assimilation of social realism into television saw a new drama series address these issues.

Debuting in January 1962, Z Cars was also the BBC’s response to a serious ratings challenge from ITV. It was inspired by the memoirs of Liverpool police officer Bill Prendergast, a regular consultant on BBC programmes, and writer Troy Kennedy Martin listening to police radio chatter as he convalesced from mumps. Overhearing “incidents where it was obvious that the police were not coping”, he took ideas for a crime drama to Elwyn Jones at the BBC Documentary Department.

Jones was considering a new police series after positive reactions to Gilchrist Calder and Colin Morris’s documentary Who, Me?, about police interrogation methods, from a group of Lancashire policemen. Jones then sent Kennedy Martin and fellow writer Allan Prior to research Lancashire County Police’s ‘crime car’ policing, live in the community and develop scripts from case material supplied by them and Prendergast.

Producer-director John McGrath then assembled the cast and “spent a clear week with them discussing the complete social background of every character” and was determined that “not one of those blokes would say a line without knowing why he was saying it.” He also insisted they visit policemen at home and get to understand their work and family life.

Joseph Brady, who played PC Jock Weir, reflected: “Police are human beings. They don’t spend all their time saying don’t - as we found out in our filming in the North of England. They look after old widows and children - but if it comes to a scrap they get steamed in.” Joining him in the series were Brian Blessed, Colin Welland and James Ellis as PCs ‘Fancy’ Smith, David Graham and Bert Lynch. Along with their bosses, tough DCI Charles Barlow and bad-tempered DS John Watt memorably brought to life by Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor, they became household names.

Set in the fictional Liverpool district of Newtown, Z Cars injected pace into the police procedural and developed its documentary style from recording live in studio using six cameras, a dozen sets, film inserts and back projections. Employing over 250 changes of shot per episode fulfilled director McGrath’s aim, “of giving television some of the speed, the pace of film… where people cut, cut, cut...”
Group producer Robert Barr, the documentarian responsible for Pilgrim Street and War On Crime, was often at loggerheads with Kennedy Martin. “One of the qualities of Z Cars comes from a constant war between me, who wants it to be documentary, and Troy, who wants to write fiction.” Elwyn Jones would also tear up scripts during rehearsals, dropping characters and scenes, and leave Kennedy Martin to rewrite the episode.

Provocative stories about delinquency, domestic violence and racism

Documentary-dramas Tearaway, Who, Me?, and Jacks and Knaves, made by the Calder and Morris team, influenced Z Cars’ depiction of police officers, criminals and their victims and its use of housing estate locations, vernacular speech and class authenticity. This also reflected the emerging British social realist cinema’s focus on the human foibles and weaknesses of the rootless, displaced and dispossessed in society.

However, Z Cars’ realistic portrait of policemen as gamblers, drinkers and wife-beaters enraged Lancashire’s Chief Constable Colonel Eric St Johnston. He complained to the Home Office, drove to London and begged Controller of Television Stuart Hood to abandon the series. The credit thanking Lancashire County Police for their support was withdrawn. Despite mixed reactions from police, public and press, Z Cars’ high viewing figures ensured the extension of its initial run from 13 to 31 episodes.

Kennedy Martin and McGrath left the series, feeling it had abandoned character in favour of story and shifted emphasis from social issues to the personal problems of police officers. Attempts to include strong female characters foundered too. With the focus firmly on male characters, radio operator Katie Hoskins, played by Virginia Stride, was written out of the first series.

Writer John Hopkins, a prolific contributor to the series who became its new story editor, offered, “Z Cars is like a serial rather than a series. Each story is progressive; there’s a growth in the characters.” Under his influence, it delivered provocative stories about delinquency, domestic violence and racism and provided early opportunities for directors Ken Loach and Ridley Scott and writer Alan Plater.

The series’ live format ended in 1965. It returned as a twice-weekly drama in 1967, updated with Panda Cars and pocket radios, and produced by Colin Morris, who made the innovative docu-dramas with Gilchrist Calder that anticipated Z Cars’ creation. The characters of Barlow and Watt transferred to Elwyn Jones’ regional crime squad sequel Softly, Softly, which became Softly, Softly: Taskforce in 1969.

Barlow’s popularity generated another spin-off in 1971, Barlow At Large and he was reunited with Watt for 1973’s fascinating, experimental six-part Jack The Ripper series, where they reopened and analysed the notorious case. They unpacked other famous unsolved crimes in 1976’s Second Verdict and Watt made his final appearance in the last Z Cars episode in 1978. By then Z Cars and its spin-offs had, together with Dixon of Dock Green, run on the BBC for 16 years.

Over on ITV in 1975, Troy Kennedy Martin’s brother Ian transformed the police drama with The Sweeney, a fast-paced, hard-hitting series featuring Inspector Jack Regan of the Metropolitan Police’s elite Flying Squad. The representation of the British policeman altered from Z Cars’ flawed but committed pillar of the community to The Sweeney’s unorthodox outsider consorting with villains to secure an arrest. Yet, as Rebecca Feasey observed, even if both shows were aesthetically poles apart Regan’s innate ‘honesty, incorruptibility and fairness harks back to the core values of those earlier productions’ like Z Cars.


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  • Rogers, Dave, The Ultimate Avengers (Boxtree/Channel 4, 1995).
  • Rolinson, David, ‘The Blue Lamp to The Black and Blue Lamp: The police in TV Drama’, 24 April 2011, British Television Drama (2009), available at http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=1429, accessed 3 March 2014.
  • Rose, David E., ‘Softly Softly: the work of the Regional Crime Squads is the subject of this new detection series which features some of the characters from Z Cars,’ in Radio Times, (BBC,1 January 1966).
  • Sydney-Smith, Susan, Beyond Dixon Of Dock Green: Early British Police Series (I.B.Tauris, 2002).
  • ‘Z Cars,’ interview with John Hopkins, in Radio Times, (BBC, 5 September 1963).
  • ‘Z Cars: Elwyn Jones, Head of Drama Series, introduces the hundredth edition,’ in Radio Times, (BBC, 27 February 1964).
  • ‘Z Cars,’ interview with Stratford Johns, in Radio Times, (BBC, 5 March 1964).
  • ‘Z Cars: Back as a twice weekly serial,’ in Radio Times, (BBC, 2 March 1967).  

Last time: Fabian of the Yard and Dixon of Dock Green
Next time: ITC and The Prisoner

Coppers & Spies Revisited

I thought you might enjoy these extensively re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.  

1: Evenin' All: From Fabian of the Yard to Dixon of Dock Green
 Crime and detective fiction developed from the public’s appetite for lurid reports of court proceedings, the serialised, sensationalist ‘penny dreadfuls’ and the first appearance of Edgar Allan Poe’s creation C. August Dupin in 1841’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. As Dupin worked his case, the Metropolitan Police set up Scotland Yard and, forever synonymous with the London detective force, the Yard caught the public’s imagination. Inspector Bucket, in Dickens’ Bleak House, and Wilkie Collins’ creation Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone were inspired by the real-life exploits of the Yard’s officers.

Their popularity ushered in the ‘golden age’ of crime fiction and the success of Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie also went hand in hand with the
mythologising of Scotland Yard. Inevitably, these stories would be adapted for radio, film and, finally, television. The crime drama and police procedural television series then emerged out of several related pre-war and post-war film and television traditions and practices.

For example, BBC dramas of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, developed from an experimental documentary ethos that stretched back to the General Post Office film unit overseen by John Grierson. It greatly influenced the BBC Documentary Unit’s production of public-information style crime documentary-dramas prior to Dixon of Dock Green. On the other hand, crime dramas shown on the commercial channel ITV, when it began transmission in 1955, evolved from economic and industrial changes to the production of B pictures.

Funded by US studios, these crime B pictures were also influenced by American detective noir of the 1930s, popularised by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and often featured lead American actors to ensure export potential. This British-American hybridisation of the genre would have a lasting effect as British film studios gradually switched to production of filmed crime series, intended for American television networks and often repackaged for cinema exhibition in Britain.

Pilgrim Street’s ‘manor’ and ‘ordinary everyday crime’

Prior to ITV’s arrival in 1955, at the BBC a key figure in the development of the crime documentary-drama was Robert Barr. A former BBC war correspondent and crime reporter Barr was unofficially in charge of the Documentary Unit at the BBC in the late 1940s and contributed to and produced several television magazine and story-documentary strands. His expertise on the police and crime featured in 1946’s Telecrimes, in which a Scotland Yard representative presented 15 minute dramatisations of true crimes, and a reconstruction style documentary about black marketers It’s Your Money They’re After, made in cooperation with the Yard in 1948.

Barr’s understanding of what constituted police work and his insider knowledge of Scotland Yard continued to inform BBC series such as 1950’s War On Crime and 1951’s I Made News. Fictional dramatisations of crime and the work of the police emerged from this documentary-reconstruction tradition and the research methods used were central to the early development of Dixon Of Dock Green and Z Cars, both of which would set the template for the television studio based police series of the era.

Many visual tropes in War On Crime were repeated in later dramas such as Fabian Of The Yard and Dixon Of Dock Green and production techniques used on I Made News, including creation of the new role of ‘director’ in BBC television production, had a lasting impact. Their reassuring public service element was eventually reconstituted within George Dixon’s direct to camera homilies in Dixon Of Dock Green.

Barr’s innovations coalesced in 1952’s Pilgrim Street, a weekly, public service themed drama-documentary series that shared aspects of Basil Dearden’s iconic 1950 Ealing crime thriller The Blue Lamp. Pilgrim Street’s working title was ‘the Blue Lamp series’, both were co-written by Jan Read and, like Dixon, they focused on a police station’s ‘manor’ and ‘ordinary everyday crime’. A framing shot of the ‘police’ lamp outside Pilgrim Street station referenced a similar image in the film and would be repeated in the Dixon Of Dock Green series.

Scotland Yard and the dual-purpose film

ITV recognised the potential for British filmed series as way of filling their schedules. Dramas made on film rather than on tape, using a rationalised, economic production ethos, allowed Anglo Amalgamated/Merton Park, the Danzigers, Hannah Weinstein, Lew Grade’s ITC and Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman to make the transition from crime feature films to television production in the 1950s and fulfil the demand from the small screen.

Anglo Amalgamated specialised in the dual-purpose film. 1953’s Scotland Yard, successor The Scales of Justice and their Edgar Wallace adaptations were featurettes shown in UK cinemas, sold for television broadcast in the US and later retransmitted on ITV. Quintessentially British, they explored an authentic London milieu on the verge of the social and cultural changes ushered in by the 1960s. Many of these films were based on actual cases and exploited the mythical status of Scotland Yard, due largely to the increasing relationship between sensationalist journalism and its ‘celebrity’ detectives.

In 1959 ITC and Baker and Berman’s company New World agreed a deal to produce Leslie Charteris’s The Saint and adapt John Creasey’s George Gideon novels as Gideon’s Way for television. To make them, New World put together a stable of writers, including Terry Nation and Harry W. Junkin, and directors such as Cyril Frankel, Roy Ward Baker and John Gilling. All had considerable experience working on the crime feature films made by New Word’s predecessor Tempean and they were gainfully employed by Grade’s ITC making British-American hybrid crime adventure series for the next decade.

American producer Hannah Weinstein came to Britain and established Fountain Films in 1952. She optioned the rights to John Dickson Carr’s Colonel March stories for a series of 26 dual-purpose half-hour film series transmitted as Colonel March of Scotland Yard on ITV from 1956. Boris Karloff played the eye-patched detective solving crimes too baffling for Scotland Yard, many with a hint of the supernatural. Weinstein, in collaboration with ITC, scored international success with historical adventure series The Adventures of Robin Hood but she returned to crime drama in 1959 with The Four Just Men, one of the first series to exploit the vogue for international detectives.

Two American brothers, Harry and Edward Danziger also brought an American production ethos to Britain and speedily made a series of crime features and series with an American and British repertory company of directors, actors and writers, including the creator of The Avengers, Brian Clemens, ITC stalwart Dennis Spooner and the prolific Roger Marshall.

Crime anthology series The Vise, produced in 1956 at Riverside Studios, eventually evolved into Mark Saber, a standard crime thriller featuring the eponymous former Scotland Yard man and gentleman detective. A British-American hybrid series, 130 half-hours of Mark Saber were networked in the US and then ran on ITV from 1957. It was retitled as Saber of London when NBC acquired the series and it ran for a further 90 episodes.

The Danzigers also contributed to the development of the international crime adventure series with Man From Interpol, a production made entirely at Elstree that exploited the use of stock footage to represent a myriad of foreign locations. It was a format that would stand the likes of ITC in good stead throughout the 1960s.

From acid bath murders to terrorism

With the launch of ITV imminent, in 1954 the BBC was pressured into developing new formats for drama and comedy. The new Head of Light Entertainment Ronnie Waldman commissioned the weekly Fabian Of The Yard, written and produced by Robert Barr and made by Trinity Films for the BBC, which ran for 36 episodes between 1954 and 1956.

Fabian shared many of the features of the US series Dragnet: it was notable as one of the first British series shot entirely on film; it used a voice-over travelogue to locate its crime stories in post war reconstruction London; and it based its stories on many of the real-life Fabian’s cases at Scotland Yard. The series’ noir-ish, forensic approach to everything from acid bath murders to terrorism established the benchmark for the dramatised police series on television.

Barr had persuaded Robert Fabian, head of the Flying Squad, to appear in I Made News and used his connections again to bring the detective to television. Actor Bruce Seton played his fictional incarnation and would then be switched to the real Fabian for an awkward prologue and epilogue to each episode, another device borrowed from Dragnet and used more effectively by Fabian's successor Dixon Of Dock Green.

To replace Fabian Of The Yard, Ronnie Waldman asked writer Ted Willis to revive PC George Dixon, last seen murdered in Ealing’s crime thriller The Blue Lamp. Based on Fabian’s case files about the gangland murder of Alec de Antiquis.

Written by Willis and Jan Read, the film’s depiction of the typical bobby on the beat and police teamwork set the tone for the television series Willis created. He told the Radio Times in January 1957 that he ‘discovered’ Dixon, while researching for The Blue Lamp, by walking ‘the manor’ with an East End copper and meeting the various denizens of the area around Leman Street Police Station.

The writing of six initial scripts for the Dixon of Dock Green series were inspired by his research at Paddington Green police station and anecdotal evidence from hundreds of officers. It informed the direction Willis would take: ‘We decided from the start, win or lose, to break away from the accepted formula for police and crime stories. Dixon wouldn’t be Dixon in a programme which was full of wailing sirens, screeching brakes, gun fights, murderers and crazy mixed-up kids. His life is one of routine: traffic duty, drunks, night-beats, answering questions, handling minor criminals.’

The avuncular Jack Warner reprised the role of George Dixon, whom he had played in The Blue Lamp, and became the epitome of community policing and the traditional image of the foot patrol policeman. The series consolidated the BBC’s move toward serialised drama and embraced the public service remit of Robert Barr’s documentaries, providing advice on crime prevention and information on support organisations such as the NSPCC.

With Fabian’s demise, Barr moved to ITV and worked there until 1958, when Elwyn Jones enticed him to return to the BBC as a Group Producer. He produced the BBC’s Scotland Yard series in 1960 and oversaw the development of, and contributed scripts to, Z Cars.

A cosy, paternalistic attitude towards crime

Willis left Dixon in 1963 as the 1960 Royal Commission on the Police and the Police Act 1964 responded to the public’s concerns about police corruption, organisational issues and accountability in a Britain then witnessing a crime wave. He and Warner were somewhat dismissive of Z Cars and its realistic reflection of these issues when it started transmission in 1962 but Willis later admitted that George Dixon was a product of his time, forever linked to Jack Warner’s gentle performance.

Although criticised for its cosy, paternalistic attitude towards crime, the series made a valiant attempt, with an influx of new writers, to inject realism into the format. In 1966 producer Ronnie Marsh responded to the series’ perceived cosiness with ‘a new tempo’ and introduced a toughness into the series when writers Eric Paice and N. J. Crisp created stronger stories less focused on Dixon’s home life.

When producer Joe Waters oversaw the series’ transition into the 1970s the lads of Dock Green were faced with police corruption, blackmail, suicide, gang warfare and gun crime. However, the final series in 1976, where a retired Dixon was re-employed as a civilian collator analysing criminal records, felt very anachronistic compared with the faster paced, gritty realism of The Sweeney.

The legacy of George Dixon continues in period dramas George Gently and Heartbeat, both nostalgic derivations of the uniformed police series with the former exploring the moral complexities of policing and the latter retreating into an idealised past. The police station as the centre for community-based stories was also reconfigured in the equally long running The Bill.

Robert Reiner, summarising this evolution, saw Dixon Of Dock Green as the thesis, with the police depicted as carers, The Sweeney as its antithesis where the police were controllers, and The Bill, as a synthesis of the two, showed the police as a service of interdependent care and control. The police series continues to evolve in this way, offering a pluralist approach to the depiction of police procedure and crime and its relationship with British society.

  • Adams, Bernard, ‘Dixon of Dock Green: why TV’s longest-running crime series is more talked about than ever,’ in Radio Times, (BBC, 20 January 1966).
  • Leishmann, Frank, ‘From Dock Green to Life on Mars: Continuity and Change in TV Copland,’ inaugural lecture at University of Gloucestershire on 7 May 2008 (The Cyder Press, 2008). 
  • Mann, David, Britain’s First TV/Film Crime Series and the Industralisation of its Film Industry, 1946-1964, (The Edwin Mellen Press, Wales, New York, 2009)
  • Reiner, Robert, ‘The Dialectics of Dixon: The Changing Image of the TV Cop’, in Mike Stephens and Saul Becker (eds), Police Force, Police Service (MacMillan, 1994)
  • Rolinson, David, ‘The Blue Lamp to The Black and Blue Lamp: The police in TV Drama’, 24 April 2011, British Television Drama (2009), available at http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=1429, accessed 3 March 2014.
  • Sydney-Smith, Susan, Beyond Dixon Of Dock Green: Early British Police Series (I.B.Tauris, 2002).
  • Willis, Ted, ‘George Dixon of Dock Green is back,’ in Radio Times, (BBC, 4 January 1957).
  • Willis, Ted, ‘Dock Green through the years,’ in Radio Times, (BBC, 17 September 1964).
Next time: The Avengers and Z Cars

DOCTOR WHO: Deep Breath / Review

Deep Breath
23 August 2014, 7.50pm

Yes, take a deep one.

We've had all the hype, all the leaks (I wonder what Marcelo Carmargo was doing as the episode went out) and we're down to the brass tacks. Does Peter Capaldi live up to his promise? I'll get to that presently.

A new Doctor always precipitates some deft rearranging of the furniture. Back in 1966, replacing your lead actor was a risk in itself; in 1970 they did it again, went into colour and tweaked the format; and so on, and so forth. The series survived through changes of actor, rearranging of music, new titles, modes of production, not being on television at all... and as Capaldi himself self-effacingly admitted recently, he'll be loved by someone at least and he'll always be someone's Doctor. He knows the score.

And Steven Moffat's done this before, handling the change from David Tennant to Matt Smith in The Eleventh Hour, and in the scheme of things (yes, The Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani I'm looking at you) Smith's debut was generally acknowledged as a particularly good example of how to introduce a new Doctor. And now Moffat has to do it all over again but the situation is trickier. He has to convince young fans an older actor can carry the show again. 

So, let's get the cosmetic changes out of the way. Cue the bold new opening titles, inspired by designer Billy Hanshaw's much viewed portfolio piece on You Tube. The problem I have with them is the music. For a graphically powerful set of images - whirling timepieces, clocks, cogs, stars and planets - Murray Gold has opted to go heavy on the chimes and a theremin. I'm all for an emphasis of the wooo-eeeeee-wooooo-oooo sections of the Derbyshire-Grainer original but I'm not sure this version works. It sounds a bit too pared down for me. Not quite the plus ça change I was hoping for. Hanshaw's version using Gold's older arrangement, with the Derbyshire whoops intact, is a better combination. However, it's a mere quibble.
'Here we go again.' 
The episode opens with a gorgeous shot, perhaps also a little nod to the dinosaur at sunset Chris Achilleos cover image of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. A dinosaur bellowing against a rusty coloured sky kids you into thinking you're back at the dawn of time until the camera pans away. The chimes of Big Ben provide a tantalising bit of schadenfreude as the dinosaur stomps across the Thames and puts the screaming abdabs up the crowd of Victorians rubbernecking on the Embankment.

Those chimes also sound a note of doom echoed by the tolling of the Cloister Bell as a vomited up TARDIS disgorges the Twelfth Doctor and a very worried Clara Oswald before the astonished gaze of the Paternoster Gang. Capaldi hits the ground running as a disorientated post-regenerative Doctor whose ability to recognise faces both familiar and unfamiliar, including his own, has been severely compromised. Clara's seen the Doctor abruptly change and she's not sure she likes this wide-eyed, grey haired Scotsman who decides to take five face down in the Thames's mud. As Madame Vastra so eloquently quotes a certain Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, 'Here we go again.'

Re-establishing the Doctor's identity is one of the key motifs here. It's not just for Clara's sake, as the story takes great pains to emphasise, it's also for that young audience out there for whom Matt Smith was their Doctor. Us old hands can take it in our stride but a franchise's continued success with that group clearly concerns those calling the shots at the BBC. But Moffat astutely turns this into a treatise on pre-judging appearances and identities - from the gender of dinosaurs to the self-awareness of artificial intelligences - and satisfactorily provides Clara's character ('the not-me one, the asking questions one') with some much needed substance.

The otherness, the smile behind the veil, that lies beneath our outward appearances abounds in the story. Before the Doctor passes out on the shore of the Thames director Ben Wheatley, who makes a terrific job of this episode, opts for a series of point of view shots to emphasise the distances between us, the new Doctor and his friends. As the dark clouds of unconsciousness descend upon the Doctor we get a shot from his point of view, backing away from Clara, Strax and Vastra who are now rendered as even more alien to him. Wheatley then switches to a point of view shot of Clara and Strax looking at the Doctor as he backs away from them. Point of view is used sparingly in the current series but with Wheatley at the helm it crops up again in this story as does a later shot which breaks the fourth wall.

As the Doctor takes a nap, Clara's inability to see beyond the Doctor's outward incarnation is challenged by Madame Vastra. These scenes allow for a more considered approach to character and explore Jenny and Vastra's domestic milieu both comedically and emotionally. There's, forgive the allusion, breathing space to add some nuances to the Paternoster Gang as well as to Clara. Vastra's take on seeing beyond the veil, on the ability to dress up or dress down, to pass as normal in straight Victorian society is configured with Clara's concerns about the Doctor.

Her inability to accept his change marks her out as a stranger in the Paternoster circle. Vastra's position in polite Victorian society is a demonstration to Clara that when the Doctor regularly changes his appearance, the core of his being remains intact. He dons a new face, a new veil, to gain acceptance in the societies he comes into contact with. As Jenny reminds Clara when she mourns the absence of the Doctor, 'he's not gone, he's upstairs.' The Doctor looks different but is still present. It's a terrific scene that touches on acceptance, tolerance, age and expression and denial of desire between Jenny and Vastra, Clara and the Doctor.
'Who frowned me this face?' 
Moffat also has a lot of fun with Capaldi's and Neve McIntosh's Scottish accents. Vastra is the only one the Doctor can understand at first, someone who hasn't developed a faulty accent ('you all sound all... English!') and has a recognisable voice he can respond to. This is also underlined with the delightful scene with the tramp in the alleyway after the Doctor, gallivanting about in his nightie à la Pertwee in Spearhead From Space, witnesses the spontaneous combustion of the dinosaur and plunges into the Thames.

It is de rigueur in a Doctor's introductory episode to have scenes where the Doctor self-examines his latest regeneration. Capaldi shares this superb moment, where the Doctor is rather dark and threatening, with Brian Miller, husband of the late Elisabeth Sladen. Like many of his predecessors, having the new Doctor recognise his face in a mirror is a way for him to overcome these delusional misidentification symptoms.

It is also interesting to note how the Doctor ponders on where his faces come from, suggesting we might eventually get an inkling as to why he resembles Roman merchant Lucius Caecilius Iucundus from The Fires of Pompeii and Torchwood's Home Office permanent secretary John Frobisher. 'Who frowned me this face?' he asks the tramp before he remonstrates with him about eyebrows that could take off bottle tops and how, being Scottish, he can 'really complain about things now.'

There is also the motif of characters physically and spiritually assembling a sense of themselves through the story. Strax examines Clara to test her fighting fitness, praising her 'enviable spleen' but also reveals her subconscious desires and drives: 'deflective narcissism, traces of passive aggressive and a lot of muscular young men doing sport.' The Doctor, naturally, is settling into a new body, gathering together memories and attributes. This is an analogue with the steampunk Victorian droids who, over the centuries, are constantly repairing and regenerating themselves from the resources around them, human beings.

Moffat returns to the world of the repair droids seen in The Girl in the Fireplace and, although there is much horror and abjection generated from their appearances, their reappearance lacks some of the earlier episode's resonances and threatens to diminish its original reputation. That said, the scene in the restaurant offers us not only a great insight into the relationship between this new Doctor and Clara, played extremely well by Capaldi and Coleman and with a strikingly different chemistry than that she established with Matt Smith, but also the creeping sense of horror, the sound of uncanny clockwork in the air, as they realise they're bickering in a room full of automata.

Automata of the Victorian era were also a symbol of the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the period's debates about human nature and human beings as organic machines so it is quite appropriate that the droids are used within this setting. The symbolism of the automata striving to find 'the promised land' is cleverly used as a counterpoint to the humanity that Clara wants to find in the new Doctor. There is a collapse in the boundary between humans and machine in Deep Breath, underlined by the flesh and blood heroes needing to take that deep breath and pass as machines, to briefly deny human feelings, in order to survive the droids' attention or attack.

Ben Wheatley again returns to his use of the point of view shot here as Clara. seemingly abandoned by the Doctor and holding her breath for too long to escape from the droids' lair, passing as a mechanical being, is undone by her body's capacity to store air in its lungs. Wheatley's imagery is dreamlike and we see the edges of her vision blurring and reddening, a swirling recall of a memory as she passes out. It is this memory, of a challenge from a pupil in her class at school, that provides her with the strength to dismantle Half-Face Man's threats. It's also a mark of her faith in the Doctor, that he will return in the nick of time, that 'if the Doctor is still the Doctor, he will have my back.'
'You probably can't even remember where you got that face from.' 
When Clara is rescued from Half-Face Man, an unsettling performance from Peter Ferdinando, the episode summarises the debates about the boundaries between human and machine. The Doctor also squares his own conscience when he realises he will, in all likelihood, have to kill the droid in order to prevent the other droids from murdering Clara and the Paternoster Gang.

As he must unlock the cold, hard logic within himself he also implores the machine to seek out its human qualities and do the honorable thing and save lives by self-destructing. This confrontation between Time Lord and cyborg is also about the machine discovering that to be human is to be mortal and that it must accept finitude and death. The notion of where the Doctor got his new face from, how he has constructed himself, is also restated in the rhetorical question he asks of the Half-Face Man at the climax of the episode.

As the Doctor interrogates the Droid, they both stand facing the mirrored surface of a tray and the Doctor states: 'You probably can't even remember where you got that face from.' Wheatley's shot of the tray reflecting the face of the Doctor on the tray as the machine considers its recycled origins is a wonderful moment of visual shorthand for the idea of the constructed nature of the self.

Does the Doctor throw Half-Face Man from the escape pod, literally a vehicle of abjection with is human skin balloon taking it over the London rooftops, or did it commit the ultimate act of sacrifice? Did it overcome its basic programming or did the Doctor murder the creature? Again, Wheatley inserts a modicum of doubt by including a brief shot of Capaldi, stony faced, looking up from under those furious eyebrows and directly into camera. It's rather spine-tingling and implies the darker nature behind the new face.

When we arrive at the end of the episode, Clara's doubts about the Doctor remain unresolved and it appears he has abandoned and forgotten her. She considers joining the Paternoster Gang but Vastra convinces her the Doctor will return for her. When the TARDIS does arrive, she steps into a redefined interior. The lighting is warmer, there are bookshelves along the walls. Quoting the Second Doctor, she offers of the changes to the TARDIS, 'You've redecorated. I don't like it' and is probably saying exactly that about the Doctor himself.

Even the Doctor remains unconvinced of these changes but he is sure of one thing, he's more his own man again. Moffat underlines that the romantic associations between the Doctor and his companion are a thing of the past and we are on a new footing with the relationship between him and his companion. The Doctor firmly states, 'I'm not your boyfriend', which for Clara he never has been, and qualifies this assumption as a mistake on his part and not hers.

A phone call from Trenzalore, from the Eleventh Doctor, offers a salve to Clara's trouble accepting this older man as the same Doctor she knew. Rather like Cho-Je appeared to the Brigadier and Sarah in Planet of the Spiders to give the regeneration of the Third into the Fourth a little push, the Eleventh parts from Clara suggesting the new Doctor will need her help to adjust and acclimatise. And as the Ninth Doctor found his feet by sharing some chips with Rose, the Twelfth sets out to bond with Clara over a coffee. Or is that coffee and chips?

And there are mysteries yet to be solved. Who is the Mary Poppins-like figure of Missy and what is the paradise she inhabits? Is she the woman in the shop who gave Clara the Doctor's number and placed the ads in the newspaper? Why does she refer to the Doctor as her boyfriend and then claim of his new accent, 'Think I might keep it.' Let the speculation begin. 

Deep Breath has, at its core, a re-defining of the Doctor-companion relationship and Moffat and director Ben Wheatley handle this to great effect. Visually, the episode looks sumptuous and, along with the setting up of the Twelfth Doctor's modus operandi, the tone achieved is just that bit darker, just that bit more serious. Of great importance here is the way Clara's doubts are often placed centre-stage, giving Jenna Coleman some much needed character development, and how Jenny and Vastra's relationship is given some weight and furthers the integration of positive cultural and sexual differences into the series.

Capaldi nails the sharp humour of Moffat's lines but the plot isn't much of a departure from his signature tropes established as far back as The Empty Child, of half flesh-half machine opponents doggedly following their protocols, of remembering and forgetting and the power of the uncanny. Whether this signature will alter much is debatable as he tends to fall back on tried and tested motifs. Deep Breath does perhaps outstay its welcome at 75 minutes and might have benefited from some trimming but it's a very promising start for the Twelfth Doctor and Capaldi.

COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED - congratulations to winner Miche Doherty

Competition time again! For our third giveaway, we have two more Doctor Who books from BBC Books and Ebury Press to tantatlise and delight you. Simply answer the question below to enter the draw. 

Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks
Justin Richards

Many people know about William Shakespeare's famous encounter with the Doctor at the Globe Theatre in 1599. But what few people know (though many have suspected) is that it was not the first time they met.

Drawn from recently-discovered archives, The Shakespeare Notebooks is the holy grail of Bard scholars: conclusive proof that the Doctor not only appeared throughout Shakespeare's life, but had a significant impact on his writing. In these pages you'll find early drafts of scenes and notes for characters that never appeared in the plays; discarded lines of dialogue and sonnets; never-before-seen journal entries; and much more.

From the original notes for Hamlet (with a very different appearance by the ghost) and revealing early versions of the faeries of A Midsummer Night's Dream, to strange stage directions revised to remove references to a mysterious blue box, The Shakespeare Notebooks is an astonishing document that offers a unique insight into the mind of one of history's most respected and admired figures. And also, of course, William Shakespeare.

Doctor Who: The Official Quiz Book
Jacqueline Rayner

For over fifty years, Doctor Who has been one of the nation's favourite programmes. Now you can discover just how much you know about it.

Straightforward or fiendish, easy or horrendously difficult, all 3000 questions in this book have one thing in common - a certain traveller through time and space. From Ace to Zoe and Axons to Zygons, it covers every single one of the almost 250 Doctor Who stories that have been broadcast since 1963.

So put on your brainy specs, pour yourself a nice glass of carrot juice and prepare to discover if you have the knowledge to graduate from Time Lord Academy...


Cathode Ray Tube has one each of the paperback Doctor Who: The Official Quiz Book and the hardback Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks to give away to one lucky winner courtesy of BBC Books and Ebury Publishing. Simply answer the question below and submit your entry via email.

  • - This competition is open to residents of the UK only but not to employees of BBC Books and Ebury Publishing or their agents. 

  • - Entries must be received by midnight GMT on Saturday 23 August 2014.

  • - This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer and no cash alternative is available.

  • - No responsibility will be accepted for delayed, mislaid, lost or damaged entries whether due to system error or otherwise.

  • - Only one entry per visitor per day. No multiple entries allowed. Entries sent using answers posted on competition websites will be deemed void. We know who you are!

  • - The winner will be the first entry with the correct answer drawn at random.

  • - The winner will be contacted by email. The books will be posted one week after the competition closes (unless delayed by postal strikes).

  • - The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

  • - Entrants are deemed to accept and be bound by these rules and entries that are not in accordance with the rules will be disqualified.

  • - By entering the free prize draw, entrants agree to be bound by any other requirements set out on this website. Entry is via email to frank_c_collins@hotmail.com. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received, only partially received or delayed for whatever reason. Paper entries are not valid.
Question: In the episode The Shakespeare Code, when the immortal Bard flirts with the Doctor, how many academics are said to have punched the air?

Email your answer to the question above, with your name and address, and we'll enter you into the prize draw.

Good luck!

(Congratulations to our winner, Lee Barrett)

Not allowing the dust to settle, let's get on with our next competition. A bundle of three books, again courtesy of our friends at BBC Books and Ebury Press.

Harvest of Time
Alastair Reynolds

A forgotten enemy. An old adversary. A terrible alliance.

From a ruined world at the end of time, the vicious Sild make preparations to conquer the past and rewrite history. But to do it they will need to enslave an intellect greater than their own...

On Earth, UNIT is called in to examine a mysterious incident on a North Sea drilling platform. They've hardly begun, though, when something even stranger takes hold: The Brigadier and others are starting to forget about UNIT's highest-profile prisoner.

As the Sild invasion begins, the Doctor faces a terrible dilemma. To save the universe, he must save his arch-nemesis... The Master.

Tales of Trenzalore: The Eleventh Doctor's Last Stand
Some of what happened during those terrible years on Trenzalore is well documented. But most of it remains shrouded in mystery and darkness. This is a glimpse of just some of the terrors the people faced, the monstrous threats the Doctor defeated. These are the tales of the monsters who found themselves afraid - and of the one man who was not.

Let it Snow is penned by Justin Richards, and features the Ice Warriors. Richards is a celebrated writer and Creative Cosultant to the BBC Books range of Doctor Who books.

The Krynoid returns in An Apple a Day by George Mann, author of the Newbury & Hobbes steampunk mystery series, as well as numerous other novels, short stories and original audiobooks.

Strangers in the Outland by Paul Finch sees the return of the Autons. Paul Finch has previously written for TV crime drama The Bill, and has written two Doctor Who audio dramas for Big Finish - Leviathan and Sentinels of the New Dawn.

And finally, evil mind-parasite the Mara reappears in The Dreaming by Mark Morris. Morris has published sixteen novels, among which are Stitch, The Immaculate, The Secret of Anatomy, Fiddleback, The Deluge and four books in the Doctor Who range.

Summer Falls and Other Stories
Summer Falls by Amelia Williams
In the seaside village of Watchcombe, young Kate is determined to make the most of her last week of summer holiday. But when she discovers a mysterious painting entitled 'The Lord of Winter' in a charity shop, it leads her on an adventure she never could have planned. The painting is a puzzle - and with the help of some bizarre new acquaintances, she plans on solving it.
(Inspired by the Doctor Who episode 'The Bells of Saint John')

The Angel's Kiss by Melody Malone
Detective Melody Malone has an unexpected caller: movie star Rock Railton thinks someone is out to kill him - and when he mentions the 'kiss of the Angel', she takes the case. At the press party for Railton's latest movie, studio owner Max Kliener invites Melody to become their next star. But the cost of fame, she'll soon discover, is greater than anyone could possibly imagine.
(Inspired by the Doctor Who episode, 'The Angels Take Manhattan')

Devil in the Smoke as recounted by Mr Justin Richards
On a cold day in December, two young boys, tired of sweeping snow from the workhouse yard, decide to build a snowman - and are confronted with a strange and grisly mystery. In horrified fascination, they watch as their snowman begins to bleed... The search for answers to this impossible event will plunge Harry into the most hazardous - and exhilarating - adventure of his life.
(Inspired by the Doctor Who episode, 'The Snowmen')


Cathode Ray Tube has one set of three paperbacks, Harvest of Time, Tales of Trenzalore and Summer Falls, to give away to one lucky winner courtesy of BBC Books and Ebury Publishing. Simply answer the question below and submit your entry via email.

  • - This competition is open to residents of the UK only but not to employees of BBC Books and Ebury Publishing or their agents. 

  • - Entries must be received by midnight GMT on Wednesday 20 August 2014.

  • - This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer and no cash alternative is available.

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  • - Only one entry per visitor per day. No multiple entries allowed. Entries sent using answers posted on competition websites will be deemed void. We know who you are!

  • - The winner will be the first entry with the correct answer drawn at random.

  • - The winner will be contacted by email. The books will be posted one week after the competition closes (unless delayed by postal strikes).

  • - The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

  • - Entrants are deemed to accept and be bound by these rules and entries that are not in accordance with the rules will be disqualified.

  • - By entering the free prize draw, entrants agree to be bound by any other requirements set out on this website. Entry is via email to frank_c_collins@hotmail.com. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received, only partially received or delayed for whatever reason. Paper entries are not valid.
Question: What is the date of Amy and Rory's wedding?

Email your answer to the question above, with your name and address, and we'll enter you into the prize draw.

Good luck!

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