Monday, January 20, 2014

Revisiting Old Friends in Peckham

I don’t know about anyone else but there are times that I move away from a TV series for various reasons but when I come back to it, I wonder it’s been so long since I had last watched it. Only Fools and Horses is certainly one of those series for me. I think I have been pretty lucky with how I came across this series. Obviously I am in the US and in the mid-1990s I was on the lookout for UK series I have never seen before. I was one of a limited number of people around with a PAL TV and VCR. A friend of mine had a Dad who fondly remembered Only Fools and Horses. I am not quite sure why as I don’t think he lived in the UK but perhaps my memory was failing. So, my friend decided that he would purchase the series (on PAL VHS at that point) and asked if I would convert the tapes to NTSC, then I could keep the PAL originals. Yes, there were a lot of tapes but I wanted to get into it and check it out. A good decision on my part.

I started to watch it from the beginning of the series. I found it OK and mildly funny but I really didn’t give it much thought until I watched Friday the 14th from Series 3. Clearly, I wasn’t paying attention too closely when I was watching it originally because there are so many amazing episodes prior to that one. Pretty much all of them are good. Have you ever watched a series where you have been watching it for a while and suddenly it just clicks with you? That was what I found with Only Fools and Horses. In fact once I got to that point, I couldn’t stop watching it. I started to make these conversions faster and faster because I couldn’t wait to see the next episode. When I finally got to the end of the series, which at that point was the 1996 trilogy, I thought it had a proper finale. Even though I had seen all of the episodes, I would watch the tapes over and over. The comedy was so well written and if there was drama, it was appropriate and handled delicately. Then, I almost un-loved the series. Even though the series, in my opinion, had a perfect ending it came back in 2001. There were a lot of reasons why this annoyed me. Most importantly two important actors had passed away since 1996. Also, the show was starting to get a little too clever for its own good. When I say a series is getting too clever, I mean that this series starts to do what everyone expects and no longer is doing anything different or new. A series like Only Fools and Horses deserved to be written better. The first special since the return in 2001, If They Could See Us Now…. really turned me off of the series. When the second special came out, Strangers on the Shore, I stopped caring altogether. When John Sullivan said in an interview that the second special was returning to classic Only Fools and Horses comedy, I knew it was too late for the series. It confirmed that the series strayed too far from what it made it so endearing for all of those years. Not only did it get me to not want to see the third (final?) special but it actually soured me on the whole series. It’s ridiculous but it’s almost like I was in an argument with a TV series and this is where we make amends.
Modern Men TX: 27/12/96

It’s pretty embarrassing that I have forgotten so many of the characters and situations when I started to watch this episode. This episode is the second from what was hailed as the final trilogy to the series. The three episodes are loosely connected. From the moment that the familiar theme music started up and that classic title sequence, I felt at home again. There were truly moments that characters would pop up and my heart would melt because I haven’t seen them in so long. Uncle Albert telling stories about what was happening during the war, Mike the Landlord at the Nagshead, and of course Trigger. I actually exclaimed, Trigger! How could I forget Trigger? He is one of the best written comedy characters played of all time. So underrated yet often having the best punch line to the joke. I watched this before Roger Lloyd-Pack passed away. I had no idea he would be leaving us so soon.
The episode itself starts out with word that Rodney and his wife Cassandra are expecting a child. This is amazing news for them especially as a lot of the episodes from the 1990s dealt with a rough relationship with those two. They found their way and were now expecting their first child. There is a lot of celebrating amongst everyone about this. Obviously there will be the jokes about how Rodney had it in him and all of that. There is a great moment in the Nag’s Head (which is the local) where pretty much the whole cast is present to celebrate the happy occasion. I cherish this scene. There isn’t much more of these type of scenes left in the series and when the show came back in 2001, this sort of scene would have been impossible to do.

There is Uncle Albert playing the piano with all sorts of old songs from a bygone era. There is Boyce, Denzil (another amazing character I forgot about), sitting at the table with Del, Rodney, Cassandra and Raquel having fun. Mike is trying to get Del to pay for his drinks but Del wants to pay with shoddy merchandise instead, Mickey trying to one-up Rodney and Trigger just being dumb. Del has this funny trick to trying to get out of paying for his drinks by doing a hand trick with Mike. He tells Mike that he can make Mike turn his hands over without touching him. He tells Mike to hold out his hands, which Mike does, and Del looks at him and says “No. The other way.” and Mike simply turns his hands over. There you have it; he turned them over without touching them. So when Rodney goes up to buy the next round, Trigger (who saw Del do the trick) bets Rodney £5 that he can make Rodney turn his hands over too. Trigger then plays the trick perfectly on Rodney only to then give Rodney £5 instead of collecting it from Rodney! What a plonker!
There were a lot of themes and moments in this episode which I truly enjoyed. The last Only Fools and Horses I had watched generally had been the new post 2000 episodes. What I liked about this was being reminded how badly they were off with money. The crap that Del would try and sell which would even sometimes, amusingly, injure his friends. There is a hairdryer in this episode which burns Mike’s scalp. There is towards the end of the episode a bike helmet fitted to benefit Indians who wear a hijab. It is kind of insulting but it is also highly hilarious. It is hilarious because of how ignorant Del is but how honest he is to think it will catch on. Del wanted to call it The Turbanator. In the later episodes when the series come back, we have these same type of gags but I just don’t think they are as sincere as they are here or in the original run of the series.

The whole point of the episode is the idea of the Modern Man which the title is taken from for this episode. Del is reading a book about the modern man and how he should act. This is very much in character as Del is all about trying to portray himself in a certain way. He spent most of the 1990s wanting to give people the impression he was a yuppie but really had no idea on what that meant! Part of being a modern man is being responsible. He feels he needs to be responsible to Raquel and decides that means he should get a vasectomy. This scene takes place in their bedroom. It is fun to watch because there is a naïve sweetness to the character of Del Trotter and it really shows here. In fact, there are a couple of time where it looks like David Jason and Tessa Peake-Jones are going to crack up at any moment. It’s really fun to watch. Within that scene we move on to Raquel suggesting that Del ease up on Rodney a little bit. Make it so he can have some help especially with a child on the way. We find out that Del is already way ahead of her as he had put an ad in the paper for some help.
Rodney on the other hand is looking to possibly getting another job as he feels his career is going nowhere under the Del Trotter regime. He searches the paper and finds an ad for a company that is global and is looking for someone with the same skills that Rodney possess. Rodney picks up Del’s house phone and calls this company. Meanwhile, in Del’s room, Del’s cell phone rings. He gets Raquel to pick it up and answer in a professional receptionist voice only to hear Rodney on the other end inquiring about this cool company. Del decides to have fun with this and answers in a thick Welsh accent. I wouldn’t do the gag justice here but it is pretty funny if not going on for a tad too long. Finally, Rodney realizes it is Del and thinks Del is trying to replace him. Nothing could be further from the truth and instead Del has a great idea to get his little brother a better position within the company. It actually fires Rodney up and he is super excited about what can be achieved with the company.

To celebrate, the Trotters go to Sid’s café and have a fry up. I am such a foodie. I love the idea of a fry up and I have done my own over here on occasion. Fry ups have eggs, bacon, sausage, perhaps baked beans, and tomatoes. Not very good for you if consumed often but they appear to be consumed quite often in Only Fools and Horses. I love seeing food in TV series and I enjoyed this scene. I also enjoyed this because Del confines to Rodney that he is thinking about getting a vasectomy. He ends with telling Rodney not to tell anyone. As they leave, Rodney goes straight up to Sid to tell him Del is getting a vasectomy and as soon as he leaves Sid announces it to the whole diner.
Something John Sullivan had always done well was to create a simple and effective way to combine comedy and drama. As the episode starts with the pure excitement of the next chapter of Rodney and Cassandra’s life, Rodney gets a call at Del’s house and finds out that Cassandra had a miss-carriage. They lost their baby. Rodney and Del race down to the hospital. Once they are there, the nursing staff mistakes Del as the father and gets him into the scrubs and keeps addressing him while Rodney is trailing behind. It is a simple comic expression which immediately lightens the mood. Once that is all sorted out, Rodney stops Del and tells him in all honesty that he can’t handle seeing Cassandra like this. He doesn’t know what to say or do to console her. Del tells him to be the strongest person he can be because she needs him. Do not shed a tear. They walk into Cassandra’s hospital room and before anyone can say anything, Del uncontrollably bursts into tears. He can’t stop! It’s sweet and once again really breaks down the tension.

The final act of breaking down tension occurs when Del takes care of one of the people waiting in the reception area of the hospital. Before Del and Rodney arrive, there is a belligerent drunk who demands he gets seen before anyone else and is being rude to the nurses. As he is still drunkenly yelling insults, Del come out still in his scrubs and punches him out and walks away. This guys was punched into sobriety and instantly behaves thinking that was a doctor.
It has been a while since I have seen these characters in action. I had forgotten how Del spoke. Using slang, he would call things differently than they really were. Such as calling peanuts “Dry Roasted” or a coronary a Connery. I somehow forgot that Trigger would always call Rodney “Dave”. There is no reason for it. When everyone proposes a toast to Cassandra and Rodney at the Nag’s Head, when they say Rodney’s name you can hear Trigger in the background say Dave! I also forgot how Rodney thought Damien (Del’s son) really was Damien from The Omen. Damien had no special powers but every time he would appear, Rodney’s eyes would get big and he would hear the theme from The Omen. I always laughed at it.

This episode, as I am sure others, always is fun to watch in a historical sense. The UK has changed a lot since 1996. There are references made electric cars and solar windows in this episode. It sort of reminds me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Electric cars or Hybrids are a lot more accessible now but certainly still a ways away from being mainstream. Speaking of the more things change……
This past Christmas, a brand new episode of Open All Hours aired and was called Still Open All Hours starring David Jason. The last episode aired was in 1985. I will watch it but have yet to do so. I am in no hurry. There is also talk of an all new episode of Only Fools and Horses. Even though John Sullivan passed away, his sons were looking to make a new episode. We then found out that wasn’t quite true and that the new episode may only have been a skit for Sports Relief because it could give high visibility to the charity. John Sullivan’s sons were adamant that they would not dare resurrect the series. That being said, it looks like it may have been produced with David Beckham appearing in it.

As for myself, luck hit me twice. I never had to pay for the PAL VHS releases of the series and I was very fortunate to not have to pay for the DVDs either. A friend of mine (Mike) had a second set of the entire DVD set which is twenty-some discs. He sent it to me which was really cool. It sort of like history repeating itself.
Sadly, after I watched the episode, we were hit with the sad news of the death of Roger Lloyd-Pack. He played Trigger pitch-perfect. Everything I have seen him in was truly memorable. Roger was only 69. He was way too young to go and he will be missed. I am sorry to say this but I hope never to see anything new of Only Fools and Horses because everything that makes it unique is now gone from it. I want to remember it for the truly funny and sweet series that it was…..from 1981 to 1996.

Next week: I will be publishing the final regular 50WHO article which is happening a month later than I planned but I really think it was worth the wait. I have spent the last year writing one article on each of the Doctors and a story of theirs that meant a lot to me for my own personal reasons. Next week I will publish an article on how I worked with Ian Levine to animate the incomplete Tom Baker story and how we had plans to go beyond it into The Reign of Terror and other stories. Next week, I publish an article titled, Animating Shada.
Have a great week!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Animation Domination: The Moonbase Animated Episodes Review

Although The Moonbase is 47 years old, I appreciate not everyone has seen it and is waiting for the DVD to come out.  Please note that this article reveals some plot points and spoilers that may ruin the enjoyment of the episode/story. If you do not want to be spoiled please do not read further or read at your own risk.
I have been watching an evolution of an animation studio over the last year. It seems like it should be longer but it has just been about a year since The Reign of Terror had been released. When The Reign of Terror was released by Thetamation, which then became Planet 55, I thought the animation overall was inconsistent. There were a lot of good things going on with it but so many of the production decisions made left me baffled, I was quite disappointed by the effort. As we begin 2014 with the buzz of missing episodes possibly being found hanging over everything, I watched something really remarkable.
The Moonbase is the second time we have seen the Cybermen in the series and the first occurrence where they meet Patrick Troughton’s incarnation of the Doctor. Troughton would meet the Cybermen a total of 4 times during his era. I have always thought this story was cool but now I feel that I see this story differently. Perhaps now, this sort of reaction is becoming a bit clichéd. I mean, it is becoming clear that episodes make a lot more sense when we are able to see a fluid visual presentation. Take The Enemy of the World for example. Many of us thought it was an oddball story in a season of monsters. Now that this gem had been found in its entirety, a lot of us feel quite differently about it. For me, it has become an instant favorite. It’s the same with The Web of Fear. I always knew it was a classic but there is so much more to be taken from the story once you are able to see the visuals the way they were meant to be seen.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Moonbase takes place on the moon. The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie land on the moon trying to get to Mars. After romping around on the surface of the moon, Jamie makes one large jump for man a little too far and ends up knocking himself out. He lands near the entrance of the Moonbase and is taken inside. The Doctor and his other companions go to the Moonbase to collect the fallen Jamie.
Once inside they realize they are at a weather control station set on the moon which I think is a pretty cool concept. Jamie is in the sick bay but we find out that there is something really odd going on at the base. There are strange drops in the air pressure that is unexplained, there is evidence to suggest that communication with the Moonbase personnel and the Earth are being monitored, and finally there is a strange virus that is taking crew members down. Dr. Evans is one of the first to go. The base no longer has a doctor until the Doctor arrives. It is clear from the start that the Doctor is convinced that this virus has more to it.

Soon, whatever attack is happening has been escalated. It is now turned into crew members disappearing. This includes people who have been taken ill or even have died. Jamie, who is still delirious from his fall, is terrified of the Phantom Piper to take him away. It’s worse than the Phantom Piper. It’s a Cyberman.
Obviously, the story here is that the two missing episodes of The Moonbase have been animated by Planet 55. They animated the two missing episodes to The Reign of Terror and Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet. There is a progression of skill that is very obvious from these three animations. I feel The Moonbase is really a triumph of quality that is almost perfect. My biggest gripe of the animations have been a lack of cohesiveness through the episode. It’s still a slight issue here but greatly reduced. The main problem that I see is when there is any sort of moving character action that is created by rotoscoping from real footage, the detail of character is severely lacking. The good news is that these two episodes don’t have a ton of action to them so this isn’t as big of a problem as it could have been. The detail is in the character designs and backgrounds otherwise are excellent.

Another area that frustrated me with Planet 55’s animation in the past has been how inconsistent Hartnell looked from shot to shot. It was a pretty annoying to me. I am pleased to say this is absolutely not a problem with Troughton. I think Troughton is realized better here than he has been in any of the other animated episodes he appears in from the DVD range. He looks like Patrick Troughton which is always a plus. He looks great. That was one thing that really was obvious from the start of the episode. The others Ben, Polly and Jamie look good too. I think Ben is the poorest of the three but that really is a poor choice of words on my part. They are all pretty close with Polly looking really spot on. The characters in the story such as Hobson, Benoit, Nils and the others are pretty good too. Once in a while there are shots where Hobson that may look a little off but generally they look really good.

The animated Cybermen are absolutely excellent in this. That is what truly sticks out for me. This is one of my favourite designs for the Cybermen and they are refined enough in this animation that make them stand out. Don’t get me wrong, when I say refined, I don’t mean anyone changed anything from how they look from the episodes, the designs are just cleaned up a bit. They look solid. I guess what I like is how they have almost a chrome finish to them in the animation. They are metallic and menacing. In The Tenth Planet, it was harder to get them to look as good in animation because of the cloth faces, etc but with them being solid, the design is a triumph. Easily a highlight of these episodes for me.
The other highlight for me is realizing that this story is more than the “base under siege” story that we have been told this was for years. There is actually a horror element attached to this story that I didn’t either pick up on or respect before now. There are some tense and creepy moments. We are treated to fleeting shadows of Cybermen when we least expect it. Scenes in the other areas of the base where the food supply is located is suitably creepy. The animation sets the tone for this well. There are other scenes in Episode 1 that has almost an atmosphere of terror. Moments set in the sick bay where Polly’s nerves are frazzled by seeing shadows or when the lights darken to simulate “night”. The soundtrack also adds to this as the sound is just of the moonbase background sounds which somehow add to the tension.

While watching the episodes, I was mistaken about a couple of things. I thought Planet 55 took liberties with the animation that didn’t appear on screen in the real episode but found out I was wrong. In Episode 3 when Ben, Polly, and Jamie use the “Pollycocktail” on the Cybermen, they start spewing foam from their chest units. I thought this was wrong but I double checked the telesnaps. It’s how it happens in the episodes. There is a shot of battered Cybermen in the Weather Control room which is accurate too. It’s funny how these telesnaps have been around for a long time and I have never noticed this. Now, in the animated Episode 3 foam comes out of the Cybermen mouths after getting the “Pollycocktail” too but I am not convinced that is accurate. Maybe one day we will know for sure.
Finally, the sets and the backgrounds are superb. They have been superb for all of the productions. I think the characters and the backgrounds combine well together. Planet 55’s animation makes a lot of these 60s props and costumes look cool. For example, the scene with the Doctor and companions on the moon in their space suits are great where they look kind of hokey in the actual episodes. The space suits are very cool in a 60s retro kind of way.

I think this is the best animated presentation of missing episodes so far but what is the future of such animation? A couple of interesting things are going on right now. On the DVD for The Moonbase, there was the Coming Soon trailer for The Underwater Menace which was supposed to include more animation from Planet 55, this is said to be cancelled now. There is also the large omni-rumour regarding missing episodes that have been around for a while. Pretty much every episode has been named as being found in one of the various scenarios of this rumour. Has the animation for The Underwater Menace been cancelled because episodes have been found or are they just putting it on hold waiting to see what Philip Morris has recovered in his large find of film prints? This animation for The Moonbase has been in the works before the rumours of missing episodes started to take traction. Is it possible that one day we will be able to watch the recovered episodes of The Moonbase and compare it to the animation to see how close it looks to the real thing? Speaking of comparisons, here are comparisons between the animation and telesnaps.

Here are some other screen grabs from the episodes:

Speaking of animation, in a couple of weeks I will be publishing an article that details my involvement with Ian Levine’s Shada and some other cool animation projects.

Next week: I have pushed back my article for Only Fools and Horses so I could publish this one as soon as I could. Next week I look at the Only Fools and Horses episode Modern Men.
Have a great week!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

DVD Review: Midsomer Murders - The Early Cases Boxset

Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases Collection DVD 10-Discs (31 hours)
Released by Acorn Media on January 7, 2014. SRP $119.99 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 4:3 & 16:9

I am a huge fan of British television, obviously, but I am also a big advocate to set people straight on what British television is about. I think a lot of people in the US don’t realize or forget that British television is made up of more “real-life” television like Special Branch, Z Cars, or Dixon of Dock Green. Not every British television series about a class struggle set in the 1920s or a man who travels through time and space in a Police Box. It is important to know that good British television is made that is not fantastical. Now that I got that rant out of the way, let’s talk about fantastical British television.
Of course murder is not a fantastical topic. No matter how it is dealt; it is serious and devastating but I have been watching for the past 2 years a series that delights as well as horrifies me. It is Midsomer Murders. Detective series have been around for a long time. We, as a society, are interested in how law-abiding people catch villains. Sometimes it takes place in gritty locations which makes the setting real and unpleasant. Very often in the villages of Midsomer the murders are unreal which is ultimately the charm of this series.

This review looks at a DVD boxset released by Acorn Media looking at the first 4 series of Midsomer Murders. It is a series I had seen advertised on A&E long ago prior to the channel’s Duck Dynasty days but never tuned in. This is the perfect time to start watching and collecting this series with this wonderful boxset of the first 4 series. When I started to review DVDs, I knew this one would be a series I would like watch sooner than later. I instinctively knew it. I am a true testament to the fact that even though we are 16 series into it, one can start anywhere when watching Midsomer Murders. I started with the Series 10 episode Dance with the Dead. By this point Tom Barnaby was paired with Ben Jones. I think it’s simplicity with its main characters is what makes it easy to get into. There are continuing developments in the lives of these characters but they are not overly intrusive. In this boxset I am reviewing, a couple of episodes focus on Tom and his wife Joyce looking to get a new house. It’s not Downton Abbey and that’s why I like it. It’s simple. The complexity lies with the murders.
Of course there are murders which is why this is called Midsomer Murders. Murders are a nasty business which often revolves around greed. Midsomer Murders is deceptively simple because the murders take place in an amazing contrast of some of the most English and wonderful locations in any TV series. It’s all well and good to go on about how US viewers of British television should remember there are more grounded British series that should be remembered but when I look at Midsomer Murders, there is a certain amount of eye candy involved. No, I do not mean Daniel Casey or Laura Howard. We are talking about big manor houses, long never-ending fields of luscious crops or even quaint village churches that you would only find in The Vicar of Dibley. It is beautiful to watch and as much as I know that there are countless locations like this in the UK, I am still amazed that I keep seeing new unique places for these murders to take place.

Just as unique as the locations is the kind of people who are murdered and who are the murderers. If there are seedy people in an episode of Midsomer Murders, chances are they are not the murderers. It is often white collared people or people of wealth and entitlement. They are imaginative and twisted. They kill people in the most horrific way. As the series went on, it wisely increased the number of murders and murderers to bring a new dimension to the episodes.
Another aspect to this series which I love is the melding of certain interests that I hold. Episodes such as Beyond the Grave uses the influence of people’s fear of the paranormal or The Electric Vendetta where it is believed deaths are caused through extra-terrestrial means. Just as enjoyable as that is, sometime the purely British traditions are the focus of murders such as Destroying Angel where there is a focus on Punch and Judy shows or Dead Man’s Eleven that has the game of cricket central to the plot.

It is wonderful to go back to the beginning of this series. I did a full review of the first series set last year that can be found here. As mentioned earlier, watching Series 10 and going back to Series 1, there are only a few noticeable changes such as Barnaby’s original partner Det Sgt Troy. Barnaby’s wife Joyce and his daughter Cully are basically the same as they were when I was watching Series 10, just younger.  Even Dr. Bullard is there though occasionally replaced by Dr. Petersen played by Toby Jones. Though I can’t quite put my finger on it, I feel that the series doesn’t hit it’s completely recognizable stride until Series 3. I am not saying that is good or bad. The series is consistently strong throughout all series but for me, when Series 3 started, it all completely clicked for me.
Although all the episodes held my attention and I really loved watching them, some really stood out for me. I loved episodes like Death’s Shadow as it takes very separate plots and somehow ties it together with the church being central to it. I loved the tradition and deceit in Dead Man’s Eleven. Blue Herrings is one of my favorite episodes. I have never seen a murder mystery take place in an old age home which of course looks like a manor house. What I really enjoyed was the way the episode was lit. Much of it takes place in dark places in the house and everything is only lit through natural light. It is so good.

A look at the future?
Of course one that everyone loves is Judgement Day. When we watch these episodes and are trying to figure out the murderer, it is sometimes that the obvious that trips us up. Episodes like Garden of Death shows us once again the beauty of the British gardens and what someone will do to protect those places and keep the truth away from other people. It is the way the plots deceive us is what keeps me tuning in. There were a few times I guess who the murderer was but what about the other times when there were more than one murderer?
The lead character Tom Barnaby is a fair man. He is a good cop and he is extremely perceptive. He will look at a situation and file items he saw in the back of his mind to use later when he has a better understanding of the situation. With his long suffering wife Joyce, he is active in the community. As good of a husband and father he is, he is on call 24 hours a day. Even when he is off duty to get his new house ready in Blue Herrings, he still involves himself in a case because people are in danger. Sgt Troy is an officer who wants to do well in his job but he is still learning. He has a lot to learn. Troy is also a horrible driver which we see all throughout these episodes. As time goes on, Barnaby has a closer relationship with Troy but it starts off with Barnaby giving Troy a lot of ribbing and sarcastic responses. This never really goes away but over time they seem to spend more time together actually building a strong friendship.

Being a fan of British television, I am always happy to see actors I have seen in other series or films. Some of my favorite guest star roles in this set include: Robert Hardy, Richard Briers, Prunella Scales, James Bolam, Samantha Bond, Phyllis Logan, Terence Rigby, Kevin McNally, John Duttine, Honeysuckle Weeks, and Orlando Bloom. It even has Neil Dudgeon in Garden of Death. He returns later to take over the series from John Nettles, of course as a different character than here. There are also great writers attached to this series such as Anthony Horowitz who wrote for Poirot and created the wonderful Foyle’s War, Peter J Hammond (PJ Hammond) responsible for Sapphire and Steel, and even the creator of the Midsomer Murders novels Caroline Graham write an episode from Series 1.

The set itself is a repackage of the recently released series DVD sets from Acorn Media. It takes the outer box packaging from the earlier cases set but the individual DVDs are housed in the new series covers. This set is 10 discs which is reduction from the original release of this box set which was 19. I am not sure how that worked unless there was one episode from Series 5 on the original set. There are a total of 18 episodes in this set.

The quality of this set is fine. It reflects the age of the series. I know it sounds absurd to say that since the series started in 1997, the quality can still be seen. Telecine technology has come quite away even in this short amount of time. These episodes have the A&E logo at the end of them. These episodes exist in SD. Maybe someday the film can be retransferred to HD and we could get Blu Ray editions. I would love to see some of these locations in HD. The series starts off in 4:3 aspect ratio but move to 16:9 in Series 4.

Making of Feature: This is only 8 minutes long but it is very good. It is a standard making of feature but the real stand out for me is the interview with John Nettles. I have been blabbing on for a while in this review and not be able to quite explain why this series is so unique but Nettles sums it up perfectly. He calls it a comedy drama which I didn’t really think about until he said that. Plus the two words I keep missing out which he say right away: gothic and eccentric. That is perfect. He also says that he doesn’t believe Tom Barnaby is particularly bright but I do disagree with that. Otherwise Nettles and I are on the same page!
Midsomer Map: On the DVDs there are maps of the villages of Midsomer which are kind of fun to look at and see where everything is located.

John Nettles on Midsomer Murders Essay: Perhaps one of the hidden treasures which I almost accidentally threw away is a little leaflet that is a short word from Midsomer Murders Star John Nettles. His honest and straightforward way of describing the series is fun. He has an obvious humility to him which is refreshing. I really think he is a terrific actor and a wonderful ambassador for the series. Well worth a read.
Disc breakdown:

Disc 1: The Killing’s at Badger’s Drift, Written in Blood
Disc 2: Death of a Hollow Man, Faithful Unto Death
Disc 3: Death in Disguise

Disc 4: Death’s Shadow, Strangler’s Wood
Disc 5: Dead Man’s Eleven, Blood Will Out

Disc 6: Death of a Stranger, Blue Herrings
Disc 7: Judgement Day, Beyond the Grave

Disc 8: Garden of Death, Destroying Angel
Disc 9: The Electric Vendetta, Who Killed Cock Robin?

Disc 10: Dark Autumn
I seem to say this with every review I write for Midsomer Murders but I love this series. Having all of these episodes together in one compact box is great. I love watching these episodes over and over again. There are too many to always remember the murderer but I also love watching them to take in the wonderful locations. I can hardly wait for Series 5 onwards! Well worth the investment!

Next week: I visit some old friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I watch an episode of the “final” trilogy of Only Fools and Horses called Modern Men. It has been so long since I have sat down to watch and episode of this series it really was like seeing old friends again. It was a joyous experience.
Have a great week!

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Death By Mis-Adventure on Dixon of Dock Green

There are certain series I look back on and think of them in a certain way. They hold a perception that may not really be there. Maybe it’s right or wrong but if I look back and remember a series like Diagnosis Murder, I think of it as a standard Sunday night murder drama that has a wacky doctor who roller skates through the halls of a hospital. Maybe it started out this way but by the time it ended, it was actually a some-what dark series. At least it tried to be; whether or not it succeeded is up for debate. Anyway, by the time it ended, Dr. Sloan’s (Dick Van Dyke) daughter had been murdered, the hospital blew up because of a terrorist and there was a horrible plane crash perhaps caused by terrorists too.

What does any of this have to do with Dixon of Dock Green? Possibly more than you think. Dixon of Dock Green suffered from the same identity crisis as Diagnosis Murder. Dixon of Dock Green started out life in 1955 as a live program where we followed along with the life of George Dixon. He would unofficially become the face of the Metropolitan Police in terms of how the public saw the “Bobby”. He was polite and courteous but wouldn’t let the ruffians get away with anything.
Every episode started with Dixon foreshadowing of what we would see in the following episode and then re-join us at the end and tell us, essentially, what everyone learned from it. It was a comfortable series. It wasn’t fast pace. That could be down to the fact the series was live in the 1950s but also Ted Willis, the creator of the series, created a procedural police series. We first see George Dixon in the 1950 film, The Blue Lamp, played by Jack Warner just as he would play the character in the series. Shockingly, Dixon is killed in the film. His murder is central to the plot. Five years later, Dixon is brought back to life in his own series.

The series ended up getting a reputation of being comfortable and perhaps even simple with old time values and views. It may even be perceived as naïve. I don’t think it is. I have called it comfortable and admire the time it was made in and how it portrayed some of the values. I am not sure when it changed, but the way the series was seen by the general public was going to change.
By no means have I seen all of the episodes of Dixon of Dock Green. Most people haven’t. Out of the 432 episodes made between 1955 and 1976, only 32 still exist. You don’t need to be Adric to do the math. There are 400 episodes of Dixon of Dock Green missing. Doctor Who fans are upset that 97 episodes are missing of their series. The thing about Dixon of Dock Green episodes being gone is that it appears the series does a decent job of reflecting the style of how television was made and how the general public lived. Even though I just made this statement, I am not 100% sure I believe it.

To finally get to the point I made earlier, everyone thinks of Dixon of Dock Green a certain way but in the 1970s this changed. Joe Waters became Producer of this series. He seemed to want to change the direction of the series. The series started out in 1955 with 30 minutes episode and moved to 45 minute episodes in 1961 (Series 8). The theme music changed in 1966 when the series introduced a theme by Jeff Darnell called later titled “The Ordinary Copper”. At least with the 1970s series onwards, the theme kind of took on a bizarre 1970s tone. Previously the theme had a sort of a light entertainment approach to it. That’s at least what I can find from piecing info together from what I have handy.  In the audio extract from the 1966 episode Nothing to Say, the music is very “dance hall”. I find the theme music very interesting as when I hear it, it sounds to me exactly the same as another song also released in 1966 called “Somethin’ Stupid” written by C. Carson Parks. It was covered by Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams amongst others. Seriously, does anyone else notice this?
Whether or not the series became grittier is an educated guess on my part. Joe Waters became a Programme Coordinator in 1969 but soon became Producer. From what have read online is that he was always disappointed that people thought of Dixon of Dock Green as the program from the 1950s instead of the work he had done and what the program became under his watch. Joe Waters passed away recently and I wanted to pick something that showed his skill as a Producer and Director. In the episode I looked at, he did both.

Waste Land 14/11/70
This episode begins in a very a very abstract way. The camera is moving around outside at a location that looks like abandoned factories. It’s pretty bleak. I doubt that area is there anymore. I am sure that the area has been completely redeveloped. A woman is telling someone about a dream a man she knows often has.

We find out that there is a police officer missing. The woman who is speaking about the dream is his wife and it is his dream. He has been missing since the previous day. He is a mystery to us, the viewer, but he is also a mystery to the police in some way. His surname is Norman and he had joined the Metropolitan Police about 10 weeks previous. He had been in the Police force by not in London.
As the episode unfolds more, we find out a little bit more about Norman. He was attacked in 1965 while on duty by a gang of people who jumped him and hit him over the head with a metal bar. By his wife’s own admission, he had never been the same since. From that point on, his life changed. He believed he could find the people who did this to him. It took a lot out of him and his wife believes this is why he transferred to the Metropolitan police.

The investigation on the detective side is handed by Det. Sgt. Andy Crawford. Crawford has been in the series since the first episode in 1955 titled PC Crawford’s First Pinch. Crawford is actually Dixon’s Son-in-Law. His boss is Chief Inspector Presscott played by one of my favourite actors James Grout. He plays it with a suitable amount of “common sense”. Along with Crawford is Det. Con. Lauderdale. They start going around the area having conversations with the locals. One woman who is questioned has a son who spots and keeps notes on all police car numbers. It seems very much like a hobby I would have had when I was younger. Anyway, this woman is non-other than Anna Karen who played the awesome Olive in On the Buses. Seeing her in this brings up an interesting point.
There is something to be said about actors in the UK who were in big name series but ended up in smaller roles either during or just after their big programs ended. It seemed like there was no ego. It was actors staying employed. I think nowadays, at least in the US TV, the networks would probably milk it for as much publicity as possible. On the Buses was not only still going when this episode of Dixon of Dock Green was made but was hugely popular. She is great in this. It was a nice surprise to see her.

Lauderdale ends up finding a woman who may know something. In fact, Ruth Perry not only knew something but she was with Norman the night before. She would see him on a regular basis. Immediately the other officer’s attitudes change as it appears that Norman has been cheating on his wife. It makes it even more delicate as the entire time the investigation has been going on, Mrs. Norman has been with them, mainly with Dixon.
Ruth maintains that Norman would see her only to talk to her. She says Norman’s wife was not interested in what was going on in his life and he wanted to talk with someone about it. It soon becomes academic because the trail of what happened to Norman leads to a waterworks with waterfalls. As the officers continue to look, they get a call on the radio saying they found a body downstream in the water and confirmed it was Norman. Unfortunately, this call came through the radio as Mrs. Norman was sitting in the back of one of the police cars with Dixon. I guess she found out the hard way.

It is questionable what was going on with Norman that night. What was his true relationship with Ruth Perry and was it suicide? Norman was a very complicated person that really began when he was attacked. Chief Sup Bannister decides that the official record should say it was an accident. He tripped and fell in while in the line of duty. The Coroner labels it “death by misadventure.”
It’s a lie but it would appear that this serves a dual purpose. One it saves Mrs. Norman from knowing her husband was up to questionable activities. Two it also makes the Metropolitan police comes out looking good for the same reasons. Whether it was right or wrong, that was the decision. In the epilogue, Dixon personally believed Norman died five years ago when he was attacked. A very grim way to look at it.

As for Dixon himself, he is not very young anymore. He spends the entire episode watching over Mrs. Norman and asking her if she wants to go home while other people actual do something. It’s not so much a criticism but it is a direct link to the age of this character. This episode was the season premiere for Series 17. Jack Warner was born in 1895 and was 75 by the time this episode was made. He actually looked pretty good. My great-grandmother was born in 1891 and lived to be 102. Knowing her, it’s odd to think she was born before and lived longer than Jack Warner. Just a moment of morbidity.
The episode itself has a pretty uneventful perhaps even disappointing ending. Not disappointing for me but for all the people who were looking for Norman. There is hope for a happy ending of sorts but it never happens and perhaps it felt like there wasn’t going to be a happy ending from the start. It was bleak throughout the entire episode.  

The direction is good on this, especially in the beginning. As I have not seen any of the 1960s episodes leading up to this, I can’t help but feel this had to be a shock of sorts for the viewers. Something tells me the series never portrayed itself like this but I can’t be sure. There is a real gritty quality to the locations in this episode. Being shot entirely on film help sells this feel. The lighting is minimal and everything is real. There is nothing glamorous about the setting or locations in this episode. I watched this from the Acorn R2 DVD set and I am sure the others episodes follow the same look but I haven’t seen them all yet. I have watched the episode Domino from the final series and it seems to follow suit in this regard yet that is a standard mix of video interiors and film exteriors setting.
Speaking of gritty, the film print quality of the episode is pretty awful. It looks like it was telecined through dirt. According to the Kaleidoscope book of excellence, this episode exists as a 16mm print. Disgustingly, all the other episodes from Series 17 were made on the standard 2” video masters and they are all missing. So, thankfully it exists at all. I am not sure how Acorn received the episode to put onto this release but my guess it was provided on tape and not film. If it was on film, I don’t know if they would have done anything to clean it up since they are not known to put any money into that sort of thing. If this was a Network release, that would be a different story. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we have this release but if you look at a “popular” title made at the same time such as Spearhead from Space, made during the same period and made the same way, you get an idea of what this could have looked like.

Joe Waters produced 86 episodes of Dixon of Dock Green. What I have seen from his era has been good but will this series ever lose the stigma of what people remember from the 1950s? Even if a ton of episodes are found from Philip Morris with his searches from around the world, would that go a long way to change people’s perception of the series? Probably not, it is my belief that most of the people who remember this series who are not ardent British television archive fans want to remember this series in its former 1950s glory with a black & white George Dixon saying to us  from the TV “Good evening all!”
Next week: Acorn Media is releasing a box set of the early episodes of Midsomer Murders. I love this series! I am going to review the new box set which looks at series 1-4.

Have a great week!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.