The Ghosts of Motley Hall 2.3 – Where are You, White Feather?

In this blog, I have been quick to mock the many and mediocre efforts by American television to present British characters while casting them with actors who put forth no effort whatsoever to sound like they’d ever left southern California. In the interest of fairness, here’s that most British of character actors, Tenniel Evans, putting forth no effort whatsoever to sound like he’d ever walked the prairies of the old west. Well, the script lets him say “how” and “heap big” and “happy hunting grounds” and talk about totem poles, because Richard Carpenter was every bit as guilty as all the writers in southern California in the sixties and seventies in mashing all of native culture into one catchphrase-spouting stereotype, but Evans didn’t put a lot of work into his accent.

White Feather is the spirit guide of a remarkably powerful psychic who can see all of our heroes and cancel their ability to disappear. It’s a funny episode with an unusual adversary, and our son really enjoyed it, but I was kind of hoping that White Feather would have confided that he’s really an actor who died on stage in “red Indian” costume and just plays along saying “how” and “heap big” to keep the medium happy because he doesn’t want to cross over. We reminded our son that this kind of character isn’t acceptable for entertainment anymore.

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (part four)

I don’t have much to add tonight. We really enjoyed the conclusion of this story – again, it’s one of my favorites – and our son liked it as well. It did strike me this time that almost all of the great Drashig action is confined to just episode three. Two of the beasts do escape onto Inter Minor in part four, but they’re really quickly dispatched… after they’ve dispatched Michael Wisher’s scheming politician character. Wisher would return a couple of seasons down the line as one of the all-time great Doctor Who villains. Peter Halliday, shown above as one of the other politicians, will also return to Who down the line in a couple of small roles.

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (part three)

Another reason I love “Carnival of Monsters”: this bit here was the first Doctor Who that my daughter, who was then very small, ever saw. She came in just as the Drashig burst out of the ship’s hold and ran screaming from the room in almighty terror. She cried and cried and wouldn’t let me or her older brother watch an episode without making a federal case about it for months. He and I had then our viewing of season eleven interrupted by life getting in the way in a big, but good, way, and after several weeks’ break, he and I resumed in the privacy of our new home with the girlchild usually sitting on the staircase pouting that we were watching something too scary for her, occasionally punctuating our viewing in the television room by bellowing “I AM NOT WATCHING THAT!” If I remember correctly, it took ten episodes like that before she deigned to actually enter the room with the TV to watch Pertwee’s final serial.

If you’re familiar with Doctor Who, you’ll know that last one has some whacking huge spiders in it. She was almost as upset by those as she was the Drashigs. We had to wait a couple of weeks before starting the Tom Baker years.

Proving that the Drashigs still have their amazing tendency to horrify my offspring, while there were no tears tonight, our son did watch portions of this episode with his face buried in the pillows behind his mother’s back. It didn’t take long for her to get tired of that. They really are just superb monsters to inspire such antics.

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (parts one and two)

I absolutely adore “Carnival of Monsters,” which, depending on what day you ask me, might make my list of favorite Doctor Who stories. I love everything about it, from the unbelievably dense and witty script to the sets to the costumes to the better-than-average visual effects for its day. I’m so glad to revisit it and pleased that our son seems to really like it, too. “That was pretty creepy,” he announced with a yelp when a Drashig shows up.

Looking back to his earlier adventures with Krotons and Autons, you can see writer Robert Holmes flexing his muscles and learning how to fill in years of backstory with the tiniest amount of dialogue: the Seely’s marriage, the unhappy Farrell family. Here, he can rely on our familiarity with the culture of the 1920s for those characters, and go to work on the alien civilizations: the bureaucratic and xenophobic ruling class of Inter Minor – one is instantly reminded of how Douglas Adams would later develop the Vogons in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if one doubts very much that these gray people would write poetry – and the Lurmans. I really love how he brilliantly uses our understanding of colorful, down-on-their-luck showpeople with big dreams to give Vorg and Shirna color that the audience can easily grasp, and then sketches in their galaxy and their opinions of Earth people. We’re called “Tellurians” in their far-distant corner of the universe, and they’re so far away from our sphere of influence that Vorg has to think twice to remember the name “Dalek.”

So it’s a great world and a brilliant script, with new information added very slowly, leaving our son wondering what connects these weird space people and a human cargo ship in 1926. Part one ends with one of the all-time great cliffhangers, as right out of the blue a gigantic hand plucks the TARDIS away. Part two has another fine ending, as we meet the roaring, monstrous Drashigs for the first time. Doctor Who would spend the rest of its original run trying to replicate the perfect success of these giant monsters and flopped, the visuals letting them down every single time. Dinosaurs, giant robots, the Skarasen in Loch Ness, Kroll, the Mara, none of them are as effective or as fun as the Drashigs.

Lastly, what a cast! Barry Letts put together a wonderful team of guest stars. Two of the gray bureaucrats of Inter Minor are Peter Halliday and Michael Wisher, each of whom we’ve seen before. On the SS Bernice in what looks like 1926, we’ve got Ian Marter, who would later join the cast as companion Harry Sullivan, and Tenniel Evans, who starred with his good friend Jon Pertwee in the long-running radio comedy The Navy Lark. Vorg and Shirna are played by Leslie Dwyer and Cheryl Hall. While Dwyer had appeared in dozens of films already, both actors would become better known for sitcoms that were in their future: Hi-de-Hi! and Citizen Smith. They’re perfectly cast here. I love these characters, and I love this story.