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By johnbensalhia, Aug 25 2017 12:04PM

Cast your mind back to the glory of The Brit Awards 1989.


In case you didn’t catch it, or were too young, basically, the 1989 edition of the annual awards ceremony went down as one of the all-time clangers in TV history. Mick Fleetwood and a fright-wigged Samantha Fox goofed, stumbled and fluffed their way through proceedings. Sir Cliff of Richard told the audience off for taking the mickey out of Thatcher, while the pointless finale consisted of a bemused Randy Newman trying to be heard amongst a load of OTT backing singers (if memory serves, flame-haired T’Pau bellower Carol Decker was the worst offender).


I only mention this because the 1989 Brit Awards are a classic case of good intentions going spectacularly wrong. Going even further back to 1965, this also applies to Doctor Who’s ambitious Web Planet.


Time has not been kind to The Web Planet. 52 years ago, this tale of alien beings, giant butterfly people and grunting slug things was regarded as a ground-breaking 150 minutes of television. Nowadays, that reputation has been dashed a little. Problem is, today’s modern Doctor Who has an impressive budget to match the ambitious concepts. Back in 1965, the budget wasn’t quite as high, and would probably be the equivalent cost of Peter Capaldi's sandwiches today.


Mind you, even if you’re inclined to suspend your disbelief (and believe me, this takes a lot of doing), The Web Planet still tries the patience, because the story’s slow moving and rather dull. In short, The Doctor and co stumble on the planet Vortis after a power drain, where they join with the Menoptra to reclaim their planet back from the dreaded Animus (a spider thing with the voice of a bored speaking clock announcer) and their pet Zarbi. It takes six whole episodes to achieve this, and while the idea’s perfectly sound enough, unfortunately there’s too much talk and very little action.


Even when there is action though, it’s rather clumsily staged. This isn’t director Richard Martin’s finest hour. Whilst Martin manages to do his best to achieve an alien ambience (smeared Vaseline over the camera lens, for example), unfortunately, his action sequences are static and poorly executed. The battle at the conclusion of Episode Four seems muddled and to a less charitable eye, rather silly, what with butterfly men flying around on wires, Barbara looking confused and repetitive stock music oo-wee-ing in the background. The last farewell scene is also one long shot rather than a series of different camera angles. Presumably, time was running out on the studio floor, and with the episode needing to be in the can by 10pm, the quick option had to be taken. That's unavoidable, but the end result looks rushed and boring. You wonder what Douglas Camfield or Waris Hussein would have made of this, but as it stands, the direction on The Web Planet isn’t mind-bogglingly spectacular.


The regulars get mixed fortunes this time around. There’s a classic Hartnell goof in the first episode where the main man seems to forget his lines (to the evident bemusement of William Russell) and instead falls back on mad chuckling. Indeed, The Doctor just seems to spend the first episode cackling to himself, as if he’s memorised a horde of Tommy Cooper jokes. Vicki spends the story scowling and playing second banana to The Doctor, while Ian and Barbara wander round looking vaguely sheepish at the absurdity of it all.


So what have we got here? The Web Planet “boasts” a whole menagerie of monsters and alien concepts. Here then, is John’s Guide to Vortis and all its wonders.


• The Zarbi: The lackeys of the Animus, which actually are men in giant ant costumes. Imagine carrying a heavy ant-shaped backpack, and you’re on the way to a good description of the Zarbi. Sadly, it’s all too obvious that the Zarbi actors found it difficult to move around the cramped rockpool sets – at one point, one of them blunders into the camera with an almighty thud.


• The Venom Grubs: Namechecked in Boom Town, the Venom Grubs resemble giant mobile hairbrushes. Pity the poor actors having to crawl around like babies, following the Zarbi around like sulky alien toddlers.


• The Menoptra: The main protagonists of the Zarbi, these butterfly people desperately need the help of The Doctor and his companions. Until they arrive, they spend their time dithering on the best course of action to defeat the Animus. They’re not exactly the most mobile creatures, as they constantly barge into each other with their kite wings. Plus, what’s with all that bizarre high-pitched shrieking as they do battle with the Zarbi? Presumably, all that “Zaaaaarbeeeeeeeee!!!” wailing is some Menoptra equivalent of a battle chant, like when the Sontarans bellow “Sontar-ha!!” over and over again. Not exactly subtle, though, is it? You’d think that they want to keep that element of surprise, so shrieking like a two-year-old calling for their dog in a park won’t do much good.


Interestingly, one of the Menoptra’s number is actually that fine actor and Countdown stalwart, Martin Jarvis. Amazingly, Jarvis’ role as Hilio isn’t quite as shocking as the prospect of being a love interest between Peggy “Geeeeaaaahhhmaaahhhpub” Mitchell and Pat Butcher in early 2010 episodes of EastEnders.


• The Optera: Underground dwellers who come into contact with Ian. These hybrids of slugs and constipated kangaroos are no more effective than the Menoptra. They speak in bizarre, grunting voices, which sound silly rather than alien. The leader, Hetra, sounds like a cross between the It’s man from Monty Python and Terry Scott’s character in Carry On Up The Jungle. For some bizarre reason, the female Nemini sacrifices herself by getting drenched in a waterfall of acid, in one of the few dramatic scenes of the story.


• The Animus: The baddie of the story, the spider thing dwells in what looks like the inside of your average Chinese takeaway restaurant. The Animus should actually start some sort of alternative therapy service, since The Doctor is subjected to an alien blow-dry tube and a blast of freezing cobwebby substance. Expect the Animus to make a bid for unusual therapy retail on QVC any day now.



• Flying pens and live bracelets: Not the sort of product that Ronco would have sold many moons ago. There wouldn’t be much of a black market for these things. Writing a letter with a flying pen would take aeons, as it lurches away from your grip. The living bit of bling would still crop up in Doctor Who, though, as favoured by such characters as Countess Scarlioni in City Of Death and Nyssa in Logopolis.


And there you have it. A weird and maybe-not-so wonderful gathering of alien beings and concepts, which in theory, is highly imaginative, but in practice, doesn’t quite come off (although John Wood’s set designs are excellent – also check out his detailed drawings in the novel). The unusual ideas should undoubtedly be applauded, but the problem is they’re stuck in a slow, lumbering plot that’s directed with all the urgency of a snooker match. Even if they were to remake The Web Planet with brand new effects and costumes, it’s doubtful whether it would still work, since the pedestrian plot would still fail to satisfy.


* My Doctor Who guides are now avaialble at Amazon for very reasonable prices. The first one concentrates on the Jon Pertwee era (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071P3CQ9M https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P3CQ9M) while the second looks at the first half of Tom Baker's time (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0746NQZ4J https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0746NQZ4J)

By johnbensalhia, Aug 25 2017 11:58AM

* Includes spoilers! Go and see the movies first, and then come back!


By the middle of the 1990s, the horror film had seemingly died for good. Just like Dracula slowly rotting away to a skeleton, the horror genre had slowly ebbed away for the past decade or so. Hammer Horror classics from the 1960s and 1970s had given way to popular horror franchises in the 1980s such as Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street, but even by the mid-1990s, these had seemingly vanished into the ether. However, acclaimed director Wes Craven along with Kevin Williamson were to breathe new life into the rotting genre. The end result rejuvenated the former success of horror films with a brand new franchise.


Scream took all the usual elements of traditional horror films – psychopathic killers, high body counts and copious amounts of blood and guts – but mixed these clichés with a self-aware, ironic and very witty take on the genre. The Scream films acknowledge the usual trappings of the horror genre – whether it's film geek Randy pointing out the many rules of horror films, sequels and trilogies or the wink to the audience with the Stab film parodies. One of the most appealing things about the Scream franchise is its humour – tons of sly, self-deprecating wit and also amusing characters such as the aforementioned Randy and the hapless Dewey Riley, a deputy only marginally more effective than Deputy Dawg.


That's not to say it's just one long Mickey-take – there are enough shocks and scares throughout all four films to keep the squeamish clutching breathlessly at cushions. Furthermore, it's a refreshing change to have horror films with plots. Instead of a random series of killings and carnage candy, the Scream films all follow the whodunnit plot pattern, and it's left to the audience to deduce who's behind the Ghostface mask. In addition, the film series garnered enough interest to secure some high profile names from both film and TV.


So here then is a cut out and keep guide to what this much-loved horror franchise is all about. Just don't use a long, bloody knife to do the cutting, huh?


What's It All About?

Basically, the four Scream films revolve around poor Sidney Prescott, who is constantly harassed by local nut-jobs out for her blood. Whether she's in high school, college, living life as a semi-recluse or promoting her new book, someone's out to get her while doing so in that creepy skull mask (based on Munch's Scream painting) and long black cape. She's aided by many friends in her hunt for the killer, such as ruthlessly ambitious reporter Gale Weathers or inept cop Dewey Riley.


The films take on the traditional Christie approach of a Whodunnit. Any of the guest characters could be the killers – the normal pattern is that there's two of the blighters (Although see Scream 3 as the exception to the rule). The killers' motives either tie in with Sidney's mother, a desire for Sid's fame or just sheer madness.


The later Scream films also parody their own franchise by including fictional Stab films, which are based on the characters and situations. For example, in Scream 2, we have Tori Spelling starring as Sidney (there's even a neat clip halfway through which copies the awkward argument between Sidney and her boyfriend Billy pretty much word for word) in a big screen adaptation that's followed up by several fictional instalments.


The Regulars


Sidney Prescott (Played by Neve Campbell, Appears in Scream 1-4)

The Scream Queen for the 1990s, poor old Sidney just wants a quiet life. The problem is, this shy teenager's promiscuous mother went after one Hank Loomis. This broke up the Loomis family, with the mother abandoning her son, Billy. This set off a chain of events from the murder of her mother through to the Woodsboro killings.


From that point on, Sidney is terrorised by a gaggle of loonies, who dress up in the Ghostface mask while using a voice-synthesised gadget to taunt her.


On the surface, she's a victim – her first boyfriend turns out to be a psychopath, while she has severely bad trust issues with her second fella. She's placed in several near-death experiences. Her family members turn out to as equally crazy as Billy. But despite this, Sidney isn't afraid to stand up for herself, confronting the killers head on (and even taking the bullet in Scream 3 or the knife in Scream 4). She uses her traumatic experiences to try and help others, whether it's as a crisis counsellor or through a self-help book.


Dwight “Dewey” Riley (Played by David Arquette, Appears in Scream 1-4)

Originally conceived as a traditional, beefy deputy type, David Arquette brought a new dimension by turning him into a more vulnerable character. Dewey is something of a figure of fun throughout the first film. Gale's incredulous that he has managed to become a deputy at a young age, while his feisty sister Tatum isn't afraid to show him up in front of his work colleagues. He's even bemoaning the way his dimwitted persona which is mercilessly sent up in Gale Weathers' book (“Deputy Dewey oozed with inexperience”).


Despite this oozing, Dewey is still something of a hero in his own unassuming way. He gets his girl, marrying Gale. He ultimately becomes the new Sheriff of Woodsboro. And he's positively imitating Kenny from South Park and Rory from Doctor Who with more near-misses than Wile E Coyote. In the first film, he's stabbed in the back, and in the second film, suffers an equally vicious (if not more so) attack. Clearly this man has more superhuman powers than he's given credit for.


Gale Weathers (Played by Courteney Cox, Appears in Scream 1-4 )

The Anti-Monica, Gale may not be there for you at first. She's too busy pursuing her media career, ruthlessly trampling over pretty much anyone in her gaudy stiletto shoes. She writes a sensationalist book about the murder of Sidney's mother. She arranges a 'surprise' interview between Sidney and the wrongly accused Cotton Weary in Scream 2. She gives her sidekicks Kenny and Joel a hard time.


But beneath this steely exterior, Gale is still willing to muck in and help solve the mysteries, sometimes at the risk of her own life – for once in Scream 4, she's the one in the ambulance rather than Dewey. She also falls in love with Dewey, and has married him by the latest instalment.


Randy Meeks (Played by Jamie Kennedy, Appears in Scream 1-3)

One of the most popular Scream characters, Randy Meeks is the geeky film authority. Put it this way, if you were stumped by a movie question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Randy's your first choice of lifeline – although he'd probably take more than just one minute to explain the answer and its rules in fiendish detail.


He is in lurve with Sidney, but it's a case of unrequited love. Never mind, he can still impress the chicks with his knowledge of the movie rules, whether it's horror clichés, sequels or trilogies. Maybe Karen Colcheck fell for this patter, since he reveals this dalliance from beyond the grave – although ironically, it proved to be his downfall, since according to the man himself, sex equals death. Sure enough in Scream 2, Randy sealed his fate by slagging off Billy Loomis to his “knife-happy” mother.


Cotton Weary (Played by Liev Schreiber, Appears in Scream 1-3)

Initially, you think he won't play a major part in the Scream story. He's falsely accused of murdering Maureen after he was found to be having an affair with her. Cotton and his Cotton, sorry Curtain Cut, are bundled in a police car – but by the second film, he's got rid of the curtains after his exoneration. He's now making a small mint from his experience, appearing on chat shows (he's constantly on at Sidney to go on the Diane Sawyer show) and in interviews to put forward his side of the story.


By the third film, he's even landed his own talk show, but with such success, death's inevitably waiting in the wings. The latest Ghostface is demanding to know the whereabouts of Sidney, and in the process, Cotton and his new girl Christine are stabbed to death.


Neil Prescott (Played by Lawrence Hecht, Appears in Scream 1 and 3)

Father of Sidney – thought to be the killer in the first Scream film after conveniently going away on business (he's actually kidnapped by Billy and Stu). Later pops up in the third film to voice concerns over Sid's isolation. Passes away between the events of Scream 3 and Scream 4.


Maureen Prescott (Played by Lynn Mcree, Appears in Scream 1 and 3)

Wayward mum of Sidney and part-time wife of Neil, given that it's revealed that she's been having affairs on the quiet with the likes of Cotton and Hank Loomis. Also gave birth to a son in the early 1970s, after she was gang-raped at one of John Milton's seedy parties in Hollywood (where she had briefly eked out a career as an actress under the stage name of Rina Reynolds).


Her son Roman persuaded Hank's son Billy and his friend Stu to kill Maureen after showing him filmed footage of Maureen's affair with Hank.


The Movies


Scream (1996)


Plot

Someone is terrorising the inhabitants of sleepy town Woodsboro, and in particular, high school student Sidney Prescott...


Notable characters


Billy Loomis (Played by Skeet Ulrich)

Creepy boyfriend of Sidney. Instantly marked out as a prime candidate for the perpetrator of the Woodsboro murders, given that his mobile phone conveniently drops out of his pocket in the wake of a Ghostface visit to Sidney (And also because he tends to hang around looking all surly and intense all the time). He's let off the hook, but if only the police had stuck to his guns, given that he's one of the killers – his motive is that Sidney's mum had an affair with his dad, causing his mum to up sticks and abandon him.


Stu Macher (Played by Matthew Lillard)

Dorky friend of Billy and boyfriend of Tatum. Up for a good time, and organises an impromptu party at his house in the wake of the school closing. Despite his goofy clowning around, he's revealed to be Billy's co-conspirator, although he claims that his motive is “Peer pressure”. Bit of a mummy's boy – he even wails that his mum and dad will be mad at him when they discover what he's done. His mum will never be able to get those bloodstains out of his moth-eaten jumper.


Tatum Riley (Played by Rose McGowan)

Best friend of Sidney and a faithful protector to boot. She's impressed by Sidney's bar room brawl with Gale, but less impressed with her brother Dewey's authority as the deputy in town, even heckling him in front of his colleagues.


Feisty to the last, although a trip to get some beer and a garage door do not bode well for her. Remember, too much beer is bad for you, kids.


Casey Becker (Played by Kevin Patrick Walls)

Second on-screen victim of the Woodsboro killing spree. Likes her scary films, and has enough knowledge to answer a series of grilling questions set by Ghostface. Too bad that the crafty git tricks her with a Friday The 13th poser, leading to the death of her boyfriend and herself.


Steven Orth (Played by Kevin Patrick Walls)

First on-screen victim of the Woodsboro killing spree.


Kenny (Played By W. Earl Brown)

Long-suffering cameraman of Gale's – constantly has to put up with Gale's putdowns (“My name isn't Jesus”). Takes refuge in a tasty snack or two.


Principal Himbry (Played by Henry Winkler – uncredited)

Heeeeeyyy!! How cool would it be to have The Fonz as the big cheese of a school? He's fair-minded but authoritative when required – he gives some clowning students short shrift after they run around in Ghostface costumes around the school. The janitor doesn't seem to like him much though.


Sheriff Burke (Played by Joseph Whipp)

Leader of the police investigation. Takes no prisoners, if you'll pardon the expression.


Body Count

Steven and Casey are the first victims of Ghostface, gutted – and in Casey's case, hung from a tree. They are followed by Principal Himbry, who's violently stabbed in his school office. Tatum is killed after trying to escape through a panel in a garage door, but Ghostface activates the door, which then breaks her neck as it lifts up. Kenny's throat is slashed, but Ghostface's remaining attempts at murder don't quite come off as Dewey, Gale and Randy survive attacks.


The two killers are naturally bumped off. Stu has a TV pushed onto his head by Sidney, while Billy is shot many times, after a pointy umbrella fails to do the job.


John's Verdict

A mightily impressive first stab at creating a humorous but scary horror film. The first sequence in which Drew Barrymore's character sets the stall right away. It's compelling, witty, unsettling and also unpredictable in equal measures. A high-profile name such as Barrymore should play a character who lasts until the end of the film, yes? Well, Scream already proves that things are not set in stone, and the memorable opening sequence serves as a chilling prelude.


The rest of the film ain't too shabby either, with lashings of witty lines and sequences (Randy's rules and his outburst in the video rental store) offsetting the eerie tension that permeates Woodsboro like a black cloud. The direction from director supreme Wes Craven only adds to the drama with plenty of tense sequences. Too many to mention, but there's the well-executed prologue, the reflection in the dying Himbry's eye of Ghostface, Tatum's struggle against her killer, and the uncompromising showdown between Sidney and her tormentors.


It also helps that the characterisation's strong, and furthermore it's propelled by some outstanding performances. Neve Campbell is an instant hit as Sidney, likeable but with a vulnerable core. Courteney Cox proves that she can do so much more than play neurotic chefs, with her fine performance of ambitious Gale. Originally, the plan was to make Dewey a stereotypical jock-style deputy, but be honest, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as effective as the end result that we got, and that's down to David Arquette's highly engaging take on the character. Jamie Kennedy's already proving to be a fan favourite with his scene-stealing turn as the geeky Randy.


The two baddies are also superbly played. If Skeet Ulrich's Billy is a creepy, unsettling presence, then Matthew Lillard's Stu is relishing his bad guy status, and he's clearly having a ball playing this demented crazy.


Often regarded as the finest of the franchise, Scream definitely sets the benchmark for all future offerings, and does so in considerable style.


Scream 2 (1997)


Plot

Sidney is not safe at Windsor College, where Ghostface is back to make sure that the publicity machine for the Stab film is at maximum...


Notable Characters


Derek Feldman (Played by Jerry O'Connell)

Faithful boyfriend of Sidney – was planning to be a doctor, but could have made the grade as a singer, given that he serenades a doubting Sid in the campus cafeteria with a rendition of cheesy 1970s classic, I Think I Love You. A closet Partridge Family fan? Blimey, that should mark him out as a baddie, for sure.


A member of the tiresome university fraternity, Derek makes the frat faux pas of giving his letters to Sidney (for which he's then captured and chained to a wonky stage prop while being force fed booze by a sizeable group of dimwit jocks).


Is he, isn't he the killer? Well, as it turns out he's not, although Sid's doubts result in his death. Having said that, in the original draft of the script, he was one of the killers.


Hallie McDaniel (Played by Elise Neal)

Sidney's new best friend, although this never really works out well. Hallie is working on a psychology course, and even uses her cod-psychology on trying to promote the wretched sorority gang on Sidney.


Likes a bit of Aerosmith, which is inherently cooler than Cassidy's gang. She elects to travel with Sidney when she's whisked away to a secret location, although inevitably, the car's hijacked by Ghostafce.


Was also one of the original killers in the draft script of Scream 2, having been recruited by Mrs Loomis along with Derek, whom she'd met online. Much more of a movie geek in the original script, to the point where she had some sort of creepy blog on Sid.


Mickey Altieri (Played by Timothy Olyphant)

Freaky friend of Derek's and film student. Knows a geeky amount of film knowledge and trivia, almost rivalling his in-class sparring partner, Randy.


It's this slavish dependency on the movies that proves to be his backup for his criminal actions. As one of the new Ghostface killers, he claims that he'll blame his actions on the movies, and get some sort of twisted fame in the process. Sidney rightly susses out that in fact, he's just a psycho. Met his backer, Mrs Loomis on the internet, who agreed to pay his tuition fees and offer a little guidance on being a complete looney tunes. Big clue that he's the killer in that he takes his handy camcorder everywhere he goes (Mickey's and Deb's footage click into action while Dewey and Gale are making whoopee) – if this was remade in 2012, he'd be the sort who goes around everywhere with a piddly mobile phone and camera to record drunken lager louts running riot.


Originally, Mickey was a victim, taking on more of Derek's role (he was originally the faithful boyfriend of Hallie and would suffer the same frat fate as Derek).


Debbie Salt aka Mrs Loomis (Played by Laurie Metcalf)

At first, this unassuming reporter looks as if she wouldn't hurt a fly. She's on the receiving end of a string of withering putdowns from Gale, even after she's proclaimed herself to be a fan.


But as soon as Randy mentions Mrs Vorhees from Friday The 13th, suddenly it all clicks into place. Sure enough, after a weight loss programme (Coming soon! The Debbie Salt Kills The Pounds Weight Loss Programme!) and a little surgery, Billy's mum has come back to claim her revenge, not quite a '90s motive as Mickey's but a dangerous one nonetheless. Disposes of her partner Mickey pretty swiftly, in order to pin the whole killing spree on the student – and given that Debbie Salt doesn't exist, she nearly gets away with it, if it wasn't for Cotton's constant nagging about the Diane Sawyer Show.


Cici Cooper (Played by Sarah Michelle Gellar)

Caustic film student and designated driver for drunken students who have attended the sorority shindig. Real first name is Casey. Has a drunken lout of a boyfriend called Ted, but he's not around to save Cici from the clutches of Ghostface.


Phil Stevens (Played by Omar Epps)

First victim of the Scream 2 murders after taking his girlfriend Maureen to a screening of the Stab movie. Not too keen on Sandra Bullock films – Miss Congeniality only marginally less painful than taking a blade through the lughole.


Maureen Evans (Played by Jada Pinkett-Smith)

The other victim of Ghostface at the local flicks. Doesn't want to be there, but actually starts getting into the film after she's sponged off Phil for some money to buy popcorn and drinks. Cheap date, much?Unfortunately, Ghostface puts paid to this new-found conversion to the Stab series, as he makes her the leading lady of tonight's show in the worst way imaginable.


Joel (Played by Duane Martin)

Angsty cameraman, who really should have gone to his latest gig with a bit more knowledge. Joel only takes the time to read up on what happened in Woodsboro, and his already uneasy worries are heightened when he discovers that Kenny bought it in grisly fashion. Temporarily drops out, but returns once the crisis is over.


Likes Saved By The Bell.


Officers Andrews and Richards (Played by Philip Pavel and Chris Doyle)

Perma-frowning bodyguards of Sid. Not much known about these two grunts, except that Andrews is a Gemini and possibly gay, while Richards is Capricorn and married.


Sorority sisters Lois and Murphy (Played by Rebecca Gayheart and Portia De Rossi)

Irritating airheads who are seemingly in charge of the campus sorority group. They are part of the Greek chorus of Gus' play, and other than that, seem to spend their time making crushingly inane conversation and holding boozy parties for bimbos and himbos.


Chief Louis Hartley (Played by Lewis Arquette)

No-nonsense chief of the investigation.


Gus (Played by David Warner)

Sid's drama teacher – urges her not to give up the fight and to use all that repressed emotion for her performance as Cassandra. Looks suspiciously like that dude from The Omen.


Body Count

Larger and more bloody than ever before (and in keeping with Randy's rules about horror sequels). Phil is stabbed through the ear while listening to creepy babbling from an adjacent toilet cubicle. Ghostface then dons Phil's jacket and proceeds to stab Maureen seven times in front of a baying crowd of goons who actually think that it's a publicity stunt.


Cici's up next – shoved through a glass window, stabbed and thrown off a roof. The killers then break the pattern after Randy proceeds to criticise Billy (he's stabbed several times, leaving a bloody mess). Officers Andrews and Richards are killed after Ghostface hijacks the getaway car. Andrews' throat is slashed, while Richards is impaled through the eye with a large pipe after a frenzied car crash. Ouch.


Mickey proves that he's not going to win Friend Of The Year Award after stabbing Hallie and shooting Derek. He's then shot by Mrs Loomis and finally killed by gunshots from Gale, Cotton and Sid. Mrs Loomis is shot twice, just to be on the safe side after not quite being crushed by polystyrene rocks.


And hey, Gale and Dewey survive again – in Dewey's case, this is a miracle, given how bad his attack is.


John's Verdict

Sequels suck? Well, in this case, Randy's wrong. Scream 2 is just as good and in some ways better than the original. It's maybe a little bit slicker, with the lush green grounds and halls of Windsor College making for more attractive surroundings than the small town of Woodsboro. The deaths are more elaborate and in some cases, more gruesome than the first – Phil's death is a particularly grisly example (which was already cut from three stabs to just one) and the eerie voice in the cubicle is just as chilling. In addition, there's Cici's fatal fall and the unsettling sight of a writhing Officer Richards, after being impaled on a pipe.


There are lots of other very well-staged set-pieces, including the grandiose rehearsal for Gus' play (the flash lighting works very well here, adding to the disorientation experienced by Sid), the tense chase of Gale in the media suite and the equally gripping hunt for the killer in the broad light of day at the college.


This time around, it's more of an intriguing mystery as to who the killers are. While it was fairly certain that Billy was involved in the original, here, the pitch is wide open. It's a neat twist that Derek is bigged up to be the killer, but then this is thrown off beam after he declares that he would never hurt her. The two killers are just as well portrayed here – Timothy Olyphant is pitch perfect as the unhinged Mickey, although it's Laurie Metcalf who steals the acting honours as Mrs Loomis, a wide-eyed, seething cauldron of rage and hate, whose determination to revenge herself on Sid is terrifyingly mad. The reveal of Mrs Loomis is a neat twist, and as Mickey himself bellows, it's a case of “Didn't see that coming!”


Scream 2 is a class act all the way, with strong performances from both the regulars and the guests. Also a quick mention for Marco Beltrami's haunting incidental music, which perfectly complements the action rather than overpowering it. About the only grumble is the pointless sorority rubbish, which just intrudes on the story, but apart from this minor niggle, there's nothing to fault here at all.


Scream 3 (2000)


Plot

Ghostface moves to sunny Hollywood, where the third Stab film is being shot – but why is he leaving pictures of Maureen Prescott with his victims?


Notable Characters


Roman Bridger (Played by Scott Foley)

Director of Stab 3, and, as it happens, half-brother of Sidney. Tried to get in contact with Maureen, but she turned him down. This prompted him to throw a hissy fit, and so got in contact with Billy to show him a little footage of what his father got up to in his spare time. You know the rest.


Has a few handy updated gizmos at his disposal this time around – a voice changer that can mimic any person he wants when threatening to kill them on the phone. Not to mention a handy bullet-proof vest, which comes in handy at the end.


Is insanely jealous of Sid and her fame – although surely making a quick buck as the director of a popular horror flick isn't too shabby?


Jennifer Jolie (Played by Parker Posey)

Has landed the role of Gale Weathers in the latest Stab movie – is literally taking her homework a bit too far by dating the guy that Gale used to go out with.


A neurotic, stuck-up diva, Jennifer nevertheless agrees to help find the killer (if only because she thinks that she's the next victim).


Real name is Judy Jurgenstern.


John Milton (Played by Lance Henriksen)

Blink 'n' miss him producer of the Stab films. Maybe gets about three short scenes throughout the entire movie. We do learn however, that he used to like holding seedy parties back in the 1970s, and at one of these parties, poor Maureen was gang-raped. As a result, Roman blames Milton for events, offering his interpretation of the “final cut”.


Angelina Tyler (Played by Emily Mortimer)

Simpering, nervy actress who apparently won the role of Sidney in a talent show, although it turns out that she used more direct means with Milton to nab the part.


Was originally the co-killer in the first draft of the script – her real name was Angie Crick, a former schoolmate of Sid's who wanted Sid's glory and new-found status. Suffered the same fate as Stu in the script, although inexplicably, a falling TV on the bonce couldn't quite kill her. Maybe her head's made out of steel or something.


Sarah Darling (Played by Jenny Mccarthy)

Klutzy actress and early victim of Roman Ghostface. Should never be let near awards cabinets.


Tom Prinze (Played by Matt Keeslar)

Arrogant chump playing the role of Dewey Riley (since when did Dewey have a 1990s mullet?). Brassed off at Gale for her writing a report about his lax driving. Dumb enough to use a cigarette lighter as a torch when gas is leaking into the building.


Tyson Fox (Played by Deon Richmond)

Cheery actor playing the equivalent of Randy, Ricky.


Steven Stone (Played by Patrick Warburton)

Taciturn bodyguard to Jennifer. Not too impressed with Dewey, although he keeps inexplicably calling him Dewdrop, which sounds more of a “Whisper sweet nothings in his ear” nickname than an insult.


Detective Mark Kincaid (Played by Patrick Dempsey)

Curly headed detective placed in charge of the investigation. A bit wet behind the ears, although he does get his girl in the form of Sid at the end.


Joshua Wallis (Played by Josh Pais)

Irritating second banana to Kincaid. Angry little rat-faced bloke who serves no purpose but to repeat what Kincaid said but in a slightly more sarky tone of voice.


Christine (Played by Kelly Rutherford)

Cotton's girlfriend and a mean singer to boot. A possible stint on American Idol is literally cut short. Doesn't like Cotton's Stab games, whatever that means. The mind positively boggles.


Martha Meeks (Played by Heather Matrazzo)

Randy's sister, who comes bearing a video message from everyone's favourite late movie geek.


Bianca Burnette (Played by Carrie Fisher)

A former actress, now holed up in a dingy archive den. Not in any way Carrie Fisher – she just looks like the Star Wars actress, you see.


Body Count

Still high, but notably less bloody than before. Cotton and Christine are Roman's first victims, before the director moves to his own film. Sarah is stabbed, then Stone, although Tom blows himself to kingdom come after gas is released into the building.


The killings proceed apace at Roman's birthday party. It's not a happy event for Angelina, Tyson and Jennifer, who are all killed in rapid succession. Milton is captured and killed by Roman, before the evil director is shot in the head by none other than Dewey. There's one point where it looks as if Sid has croaked it too, but her bullet proof vest allows her to live another day.


John's Verdict

Scream 3 moves on up to Hollywood, but sadly, slightly down in quality. It's not a bad film by any means – it's well written, well worked out, well acted, you name it, it's well done. The problems are that two of the most notorious Scream elements are missing – the fear factor and the strong characterisation.


The fear factor, in a way you can forgive, given that there had been a media backlash against film violence of late (in reaction to certain terrible real life events). But if you were gripped by the grisly terror of the first two Scream films, then you may be disappointed, given that the deaths in Scream 3 are filmed in such a blink 'n' miss it manner. The deaths of Angelina, Tyson and Jennifer are sloppily filmed, and over and done with in what seems seconds. But, like I mentioned, there was more pressure on film makers not to cross the line, so the lower level of gory death is understandable.


The poor characterisation isn't however. Some of the regulars get plenty of good material, in particular Dewey and Gale. Sid is sadly relegated to the sidelines, especially in the first half of the film (owing to Neve Campbell's filming commitments), and her presence is missed. Most of the supporting characters get a raw deal. Roman and Jennifer are about the only ones who have any vague depth to their characters. The others are either too bland (Kincaid), irritating (Wallace) or non-existent (Sarah, Angelina). A great actor such as Lance Henriksen maybe gets about five minutes of screen time throughout the whole film, which is crazy.


But there's still lots of good stuff on offer. Scott Foley and Parker Posey make the most of their roles – Foley makes for a good, creepy villain, while Posey steals the show with her amusing portrayal of Jennifer. The script is well written and makes a neat full circle back to the events of the first film, with more emphasis placed on Maureen's past. Talking of which, if the film doesn't have as much blood and guts, it does make up for it with a chilling ghostly air. The scenes in which Sid sees her 'dead' mother (especially when she's walking around the prop set of the house) are pretty spooky, and add a bit of backbone to the story. Altogether, it's not a bad instalment by any means, but it's a shame that the characterisation isn't quite as strong as before.


Oh, and one more thing – what's up with Courteney Cox's hair in this one?


Scream 4 (2011)


Plot

Sid's back in Woodsboro – unfortunately so is Ghostface. Can't she even go on a book tour without old skull features coming back?


Notable Characters


Jill Roberts (Played by Emma Roberts)

Sid's cousin and, on the surface, promoted as Sidney: The Next Generation. She also has a badly behaved bloke called Trevor, who decides to cheat on her. In fact, she turns out to be Ghostface: The Next Generation after she's jealous of Sidney's fame and glory. Blimey, what is it with Sid's psycho family and their desire for fame? Couldn't they just go on America's Got Talent and play the spoons or something?


Jill teams up with new movie geek Charlie and together they embark on a new killing spree, but Jill stabs Charlie to death too, aiming to frame him and Trevor. What's more, she injures herself to make it look as though she is a victim, too, and a lone survivor. If only Sidney hadn't lived too, she might just have got away with it.


Charlie Walker (Played by Rory Culkin)

The next generation's Randy – this 21st century movie geek is a big fan of the Stab series and even runs a quaint movie club for fellow nerds. In lurve with Kirby Reed, although there's no love lost when he ends up stabbing her after he professes himself as Jill's co-killer (if only Kirby had taken a bit more notice of him earlier).


Could do with a haircut.


Kirby Reed (Played by Hayden Panettiere)

On the face of it, with her blonde tresses and big blue eyes, Kirby should be a cheerleader or the all-new Sister Lois or Murphy. In fact, she's a big horror film fan, and likes nothing more than hanging out with her buddies Jill and Olivia, as well as her new beau, hippy baby-face Charlie. Her knowledge of film trivia is sorely put to the test.


Trevor Sheldon (Played by Nico Tortorella)

Jill's ex, although he's attempting to claw his way back into her affections with limited results. Typically implicated as a suspect after his phone conveniently goes AWOL. Eventually ends up paying the price for his two-timing actions in the worst possible way that a bloke could ever experience.


Robbie Mercer (Played by Erik Knudsen)

Charlie's buddy and equally geeky film buff. Co-runner of a movie club. His friendship with Charlie evidently doesn't count for much, since he too becomes a victim.


Olivia Morris (Played by Marielle Jaffe)

Sprightly friend of Jill and Kirby and yet another example of why friendship with Jill counts for nothing.


Rebecca Walters (Played by Alison Brie)

Sidney's publicist and PA. Keen on the big bucks, but going all Gale Weathers by suggesting to Sidney that she should capitalise on the fresh batch of Woodsboro murders to promote her book was never going to go down well. Sidney then morphs into Alan Sugar and fires her. What a blaahhdy disaster – literally for poor Rebecca, who becomes a victim of Ghostface.


Judy Hicks (Played by Marley Shelton)

Deputy sheriff in town, and another acquaintance of Sid's (they used to go to school together). Naturally not a fan of Gale, since she's too buys being a fan of her boss, Dewey.


Kate Roberts (Played by Mary McDonnell)

Another relative of Sidney's, and amazingly, this one has no psychotic or slutty tendencies. She's Sid's aunt and Jill's mother, and learns the hard way never ever to lean against a door while hiding from a knife-totin' maniac.


Anthony Perkins and Ross Hoss (Played by Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody)

You couldn't make the names up really. Which are certainly more memorable than these two goons who find that even the law cannot help save them from Ghostface.


Jenny Randall and Marnie Cooper (Played by Aimee Teegarden and Brittany Robertson)

Woodsboro students and the first proper victims of Ghostface.


Body Count

After the gentler Scream 3, the next one bounced back with a vengeance with a higher quota of grisly deaths. So apart from the Stab killings, we have students Jenny, Marnie, Robbie, Olivia, as well as Perkins, Hoss, Rebecca and Kate. Poor old Trevor is shot in the misters before receiving a bullet in the head, while neither Charlie or Jill live to see their much-craved fame. Kirby is left for dead (if they do Scream 5, would she be back?), while again Sidney and Gale cheat death after narrow scrapes.


John's Verdict

Bringing back the Scream franchise after more than a decade was one hell of a risk. It's a decision that could have alienated long-term fans, while the newbies may dismiss this long-lost horror uncle as being a bit jaded. I suppose the box office figures weren't as high as was hoped, but in this day and age, both the DVD and the internet work against a good old-fashioned trip to the cinema.


Scream 4 itself though is actually very good indeed. It's interesting in that it goes right back to its roots, back to where we started in Woodsboro all those years ago. It's also nice that the franchise hasn't lost the ability to surprise or mislead the viewer. It's possible that Jill is being groomed as the next Scream heroine to take the place of Sid, but in fact, it turns out that she is this film's culprit. Ditto the new Randy, since Charlie turns out to be Jill's accomplice. Incidentally, both Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin are excellent as the new terror tots.


The regulars have not lost their staying power either, with Neve, David and Courteney all turning in superb performances. It's nice to see that their characters have not been abandoned with third-rate lines – poor old Gale's writer's block and her determination to bring in the biggest, boldest headlines are particularly well handled.


The old team of Craven and Williamson doesn't disappoint. Craven's direction is pacy and stylish, and he clearly hasn't lost the power to stage a good set-piece. Williamson's script is both exciting and witty, with plenty of nods to the sabbatical years of Scream – a lot's happened since the year 2000, and while some may suggest that the film isn't as hip as its original, it's still fast, exciting and overall, great fun.


By johnbensalhia, Aug 17 2017 09:16AM

If The Reign Of Terror saw Doctor Who historicals dabble with comedy, then The Romans was the first of its kind to embrace this genre with open arms. Rather than concentrate on teaching its young viewers about past historical events, The Romans, instead, sets out purely to make the young ‘uns laugh. Rather than become a full-blown disaster, this is actually one of the second season’s finest moments.


In fact, The Romans marks a number of firsts for Doctor Who, and even a couple of one-offs. From the start, the story doesn’t even attempt to tie up its literal cliffhanger from the conclusion of The Rescue. Instead, we fade up on the Doctor and his three friends enjoying a meal in a luxury Roman habitat. It’s a refreshing change of tack to see the Doctor appear so unconcerned about the preceding week’s peril, and is the first story to suggest that the TARDIS is a lot stronger than it looks. Stories like The Curse Of Peladon and Frontios would build on this. Who would have thought that a rickety old Police Box could stand up to a fall down a whacking great chasm?


Another first is the unusual story structure, which comprises multiple stories in one. The Doctor and Vicki get their own adventure, as do Ian (who ends up with new buddy Delos) and Barbara (who becomes entangled in the amorous pursuits of Nero himself). What’s more, Barbara is in exactly the same place as the Doctor and Vicki, but amazingly, the two parties never meet. This is one of the very few stories to try such a trick, and in fact, it works brilliantly. Imagine the viewers screaming to their TV sets to urge Barbara or the Doctor just to stick around that little bit longer to meet up. By the end of the story, both parties have reunited, blissfully unaware of each others’ adventures.


The main first is, of course, the humour, and while The Reign Of Terror attempted this genre with mixed results, The Romans gets it spot on. While John Lucarotti or David Whitaker may have depicted Nero in a more serious light, Dennis Spooner does the opposite and presents him as a bumbling, sexist old fool. He thinks nothing of going behind his wife Poppaea’s back and attempting (in vain) to seduce Barbara, is perfectly happy to throw the Doctor into the lion’s den after the Time Lord makes a fool of him at a banquet, and also gleefully casts Rome into a fiery inferno. Credit should also be given to Derek Francis for his amusing portrayal of the emperor, and while it’s all obvious farce, it’s still never less than enjoyable.


This story works because of William Hartnell’s performance. Hartnell, in fact, had been long associated with comedy – for example, he had played Sgt Bullimore in The Army Game and had also appeared in Carry On Sergeant. Up to now in Doctor Who though, Hartnell had never really got the chance to show his talents for comedy. In The Romans, he’s on top form, whether he’s all too aware of what Nero has in store for him in the lion’s den (and producing some all-too obvious puns in the bargain) or when he’s hilariously playing the lyre (in a neat homage to The Emperor’s New Clothes). While there are one or two obvious fluffs (“Impossibissity” or the scene when he intrudes on Michael Peake’s cue after missing his own), all in all, The Romans proves to be a great showcase for the main man, and manages to steer the character of the first Doctor into previously uncharted territory.


Interestingly, the humour works in context, because there are enough serious moments to balance out the comedy. What’s more, it’s subtly done too, for example when Tavius reveals himself to be a Christian, after he helps Ian and Barbara to escape from the clutches of Nero. Ian’s storyline is also pretty gruelling after he is bought as a slave, and forced to deal with the prospect of fighting for his life or becoming lion food. The Romans never goes overboard with the serious tone, but manages to keep it in the background.


Talking of Ian, the relationship between himself and Barbara has never been more apparent. Looking at the two in The Romans, you’d think that they were a married couple, joking to each other about non-existent fridges and experiencing Roman combovers. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill are at their best, and give Ian and Barbara refreshingly natural characterisation that always feels real. Even Vicki works in this story, since she’s not written as a screamer: more a comedic foil for the Doctor, and so, is less irritating than in other stories.


Production wise, this story looks fantastic. It’s a cliché of course, but put the BBC in charge of a historical production, and they turn up trumps. Raymond Cusick’s designs are marvellous, richly detailed and very convincing for the time. It’s too bad that these historicals weren’t produced in colour, since we’re missing out on all the subtleties of the sets. Christopher Barry, too, handles the action and the comedy very well indeed. The superimposed map locations are very effective, and like Marco Polo, are quite ahead of their time. The fight sequences are well done (and nicely set up by stunt man and Delos, Peter Diamond), and form a good counterpart to the humour of the piece.


There’s a refreshing holiday feel to The Romans. It’s nice to see the Doctor and co indulge in a bit of chilled out downtime, and taking a break from saving the universe. If only taking a holiday was as simple as going by TARDIS. No long aeroplane queues. No painstaking security searches at the airport. No yobs on the aeroplane, swilling beer and leering at the stewardess. And best of all, it’s absolutely free. I’d bet that Doctor Who Tours would pull in a fair bit of custom, and if the experience is half as fun as The Romans, then I’d sign up straight away.


* Friends, Romans, Countrymen! My Doctor Who ebook guides for the 3rd Doctor and the first half of the 4th Doctor years are out now at Amazon for very affordable prices!

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By johnbensalhia, Aug 15 2017 11:34AM

PLEASE NOTE: Here be spoilers. If you haven't seen the show, go away and do so. It's rather good, you know.


No matter what, you can throw a boomerang away, and it'll still bounce back (in my case, it'll probably end up whizzing back to hit me on the bonce). Same goes for a number of telly programmes. Big Brother was given the boot from Channel 4, when Channel 5 came along to take standards and ratings down to new lows. Come Dancing was once a late night staple for the Beeb, and was later dusted down to bring in a clutch of Z-list celebrities to move around a big floor for 90 seconds apiece. The difference was that it now included 'Strictly' in the title. Which makes all the difference, apparently. When they revive another Brucie-related behemoth in the future, expect to to be called 'Strictly Generation Game'.

Anyway, the same applies to Jonathan Creek. Quite a few times, it's disappeared from sight to reappear when you least expect it. Back in 2012, there were rumours of a Christmas special recently surfaced on the web, but alas, it turned out to be a false hope. But the following year, The Clue Of The Savant's Thumb came along. Furthermore, a new series got the green light in 2014. When that got decidedly mixed reactions, again, it was thought that that was the end of the duffle coat for good. Not so. For, the far superior 2016 Christmas special, Daemons' Roost was broadcast to more favourable reviews.

So what is it about Jonathan Creek that still brings the viewers back for more? The last Christmas special, Daemons Roost gained some healthy viewing figures, suggesting that there was still a demand for the unassuming fellah in the duffle coat. Basically, for the most part, it's a two-pronged mystery. Not only can it feature whodunnit elements, it also runs along Columbo-tested lines of posing a howdunnit as well. The episodes present an apparently implausible scenario: An arthritic man commits suicide in a closed-off bunker with no way out. A valuable porcelain statue is stolen in front of several witnesses. A smarmy rich bloke returns from the grave after falling to his doom. Part of the fun of Jonathan Creek is to deduce not only the perpetrator of the crime, but also how the crime was rigged in the first place.

Much like deducing an impossible magic trick, but Jonathan Creek himself isn't your average showy, flashy wizard. That's left to egotistical showman Adam Klaus. Jonathan devises the fiendishly clever stage tricks from behind the scenes. With that in mind, Jonathan's not quite your archetypal TV hero either. This is a man who walks around in a grubby old duffel coat, lives a quasi-reclusive existence in a Sussex windmill and has the haircut of... uh, well, I guess me, when I was three years old in 1977.

Jonathan Creek is another good example of writer David Renwick's anti-hero leading characters. Many of Renwick's works revolve around a main protagonist who's frequently bemused and cynical of the modern world, whether it's Victor Meldrew bellowing “I don't believe it!” in One Foot In The Grave or Alice Chenery tutting quietly from behind a cosmetics sales counter in Love Soup. And of course, there's Jonathan, the cynical anti-hero writ large. Don't forget, the first episode went out in 1997, when beery laddism ruled supreme. Turn on the TV, and there'd be Chris Evans or Johnny Vaughan braying at boorish audience oafs. Switch on the radio, and there would be the Gallagher brothers rolling with it. Even if you'd visited your local pub in the summer before, you wouldn't be able to move for bellowing tattooed giants crowing along to Three Lions. So plonk a quietly spoken, fiendishly clever chap in the middle of all this in-yer-face '90s madness, and you have a recipe for Renwick genius.

Jonathan does not conform to the traditional hero stereotype. He's not full of boasting bravado. In the first episode alone, Maddy is surprised that the audacious Iron Maiden trick isn't the work of Adam Klaus, but the chap who previously stabbed her with a cocktail stick. After going out for a spot of lunch, Jonathan demonstrates a trick in the restaurant in the most mundane fashion possible. It's a work of genius, but it's broken down in an ordinary, straightforward fashion. On the subject of Maddy, Jonathan also isn't your archetypal laydeez man a la James Bond. He's shy and generally a bit useless with women. The will-they/won't-they sub-plot of Jonathan and Maddy crops up throughout the first three seasons of the show, and with so many missed opportunities for a straightforward lurve affair, it's no real surprise that Maddy ups sticks and leaves for a book tour in America.

The other notable aspect of Jonathan's persona is that he values brains over brawn. He's not too good in a scrap, cowering from jealous boyfriends with Hoovers or psychopathic nut-jobs in parked cars. He's not your typical cop who throws angry killers around like cricket balls. No, he's a quietly reflective genius who's a return to the traditional old detectives such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, who solve the mystery with pinpoint precision. In one episode alone called The Scented Room, Creek works out how a priceless painting was stolen in little more than a click of the finger. If only arrogant critic Sylvester Le Fley hadn't slated one of his shows.

The Brains Over Brawn mantra extends to the whole show. It's a TV programme that works on repeated viewings, since invariably, there will be something that the viewer had missed the first time around. It's testament to Renwick's writing and the superlative direction that in essence, all the clues are there as to how the crime was committed, but it's only in hindsight that the clues are more obvious than you realise. In the first episode, The Wrestler's Tomb, close-ups of plates of meat and the sight of Francesca being wrapped up as a mummy are very subtle clues pointing to the fact that she shot popular artist Hedley Shale with her feet, after binding herself with duct tape. It's clever stuff, and unlike other disposable murder mystery shows, Jonathan Creek is a prime example of a programme tailor made for the DVD age.

Do the scenarios require dramatic licence? Well, I guess in some cases, you could argue that. A former camera lighting man rigs up a bit of scaffolding and lighting to trick an old woman into thinking that she saw a dead woman who had been fatally killed in an explosion (just to provide him with a handy alibi). A doctored CD manages to make its way into the hands of an elderly lady, who then has the foresight of a businessman's death. But don't forget, this is fiction we're talking about here, and since the episodes are weaved together with careful thought and precision, the sometimes implausible scenarios don't really matter.

A good example of the thoughtful scripts is that the world of Jonathan Creek isn't a simple black and white one. It's a world full of bitter revenge, jealousy and people who have been hard done by. A good number of the crimes are committed by people who believe that justice hasn't been done. Mother Redcap's killer Fay Radnor takes revenge on the judge who released a criminal onto the outside world, who then killed her brothers. Alan Rokesmith takes revenge on Jack Holliday in Jack In The Box after he did the time for Holliday's planned murder of his wife.

Even one of the recent specials, The Judas Tree, continued this trend, with Hugo Dore and his wife Harriet framing Emily Summerton for Harriet's apparent death in revenge for his older brother's death caused by a younger Emily and her friend Kim some years ago (in fact, it was Kim who was killed in the fall). It's a frequently cruel, inhumane world, where it seems that the only way to seek out justice is by doing it yourself. It's also a world full of jealousy and rage, with Clare Sallinger simply killing Felicity Vale out of spite in The Problem At Gallows Gate, or a slightly demented Louise Bergman causing the death of her father in The Tailor's Dummy after he cast aside her ideas. The criminals aren't as straightforward as they seem on the surface, and what Renwick does is to give them some sort of background, which makes their motives just that more credible.

As with many other shows, Jonathan Creek boasts a number of varied supporting characters. There's Adam Klaus, the bumbling but flashy performer, whose tricks can end in disarray, as can his propensity for blatant womanising. Then there are the female sidekicks. It's interesting that Jonathan always teams up with the polar opposite type of female. Maddy, Carla, Joey and Polly are more forthright and prone to getting their own way than Jonathan is. Out of these, Maddy is arguably the most popular. Going back to the laddish trend for the 1990s, Caroline Quentin was also starring in Men Behaving Badly as Dorothy, and you could argue that Maddy is just as forthright and strong-willed as her comedic alter ego. Despite their less than auspicious introduction, it's clear that Maddy grows to be intrigued and even mesmerised by Jonathan's quiet genius. There are plenty of unrequited love scenarios happening in the next three years, and typically it never works out. Carla, Joey and Polly are even more louder in temperament, and admittedly they aren't quite in the same league as Maddy. Although at least, Jonathan finally got his Mrs Creek in the form of Polly.

On the production front, Jonathan Creek is a triumph in every respect. The stunning visuals bring the show to life, from the distinctive windmill base through to the gimmicky magic tricks. The show employed a number of highly accomplished directors, including Marcus Mortimer and Sandy Johnson (who has recently carried on the good work in ITV's Benidorm). The direction results in some imaginative, well-executed shots, propelling the action along at a barrel of knots.

The casting too, is very good. A good number of famous faces turned up to appear in the show, including Rik Mayall, Griff Rhys Jones, Annette Crosbie, and for Doctor Who fans, there's a plethora of familiar faces, including Mary Tamm, Peter Davison and Colin Baker. The regular actors are also superb. It's hard to think of anyone but Alan Davies helming the show with his understated comic timing and pitch-perfect delivery; Caroline Quentin makes for the perfect sidekick, turning what's on paper quite an aggressive, feisty character into a much more likeable and warmer person, while Stuart Milligan is excellent as the comic foil, Adam Klaus (Anthony Stewart Head got the first shot at playing Klaus, until a certain vampire slayer beckoned him to the United States Of America).

Plus, let's not forget the man behind the machine, David Renwick. As with all of his shows, Jonathan Creek displays the man's talent for providing clever, highly witty scripts that are high on both entertainment and innovation. There's an appealing streak of black humour that runs through the show (there's even an episode, Miracle On Crooked Lane, that sees a whole army of Creek geeks dressed up as the man himself) but at times, there's a curious pathos to be had, whether it's well-meaning chief inspector Ken Speed dying after a struggle between the judge's widow and Fay, or the rather pathetic figure of Norman Stangerson trying and failing to live a double life with his current and ex wives.

Will Jonathan Creek return? Should Jonathan Creek return? Two great mysteries worthy of the duffel-coated one himself. As with all of these shows, a lot depends on budget, availability and logistics. The Beeb's budgets have been affected by the recession, so a high-budget show such as Jonathan Creek could potentially pose a problem. It's vaguely possible that the BBC may choose to bring him back for the odd special.

Plus, there's audience reaction, which has been more up and down since 2009. The Grinning Man and Daemons' Roost, for example were favourably received by critics and fans, although admittedly, others such as The Judas Tree and the 2014 series garnered more mixed feedback. This reviewer personally felt that there was too much screaming and crying in The Judas Tree, and that it just felt a bit too laboured and drawn out (especially in a 90-minute slot). As for the 2014 trio of episodes, the less said about them, the better.

Having said that, Daemons' Roost was a big improvement and return to form. I'd definitely tune in to any future Creek episodes, if only to see an even more flustered Jonathan trying to make sense of a world that relies even more heavily on social media, trendy bafflegab and quasi-reality TV shows that seem even more of a mystery than his most difficult cases. It's a top quality show that rewards repeated viewing, and one that relies on clever, thoughtful writing rather than tacky dumbing down.


By johnbensalhia, Aug 11 2017 09:26AM

If Only Fools And Horses had started in the 21st century, it wouldn't have lasted for more than two series.

Let me explain. Back in the early 1980s, a brand new sitcom was written by John Sullivan, charting the misadventures of a wayward Peckham family, the Trotters. Three generations were spanned in a poky flat, which was part of Nelson Mandela House. The problem was that, when it first went out in 1981, the ratings were deemed to be on the low side. A second series went ahead, but even then, the ratings were not deemed world-shattering. If that had happened today, the show would have been axed quicker than you could shout “Mange Tout!” That's the price you pay for being with a ratings-hungry broadcaster, full of media-savvy trendies with buzzwords and balance sheets.

But luckily, a repeat season was to prove to be Only Fools And Horses' salvation. This time around, the repeat ratings of June 1983 were very good, especially considering the hot weather outside. From that point on, Only Fools And Horses grew in stature, to the point where it became one of the most revered sitcoms in British history.

So what's the secret of its success? John Sullivan had already scored with Citizen Smith, which charted the adventures of loser freedom fighter Wolfie Smith, between 1977 and 1980. After Wolfie went on the run from arch nemesis Ronnie Lynch, Sullivan extended his interest in writing about charismatic losers, and in the process came up with Del Trotter.

Del is the charismatic wannabe writ large. He has a neat line in market stall patter. He could charm the skin off a python. He takes great pride in his appearance, whether it's through showy outfits or flashy cocktails and bling. But when the chips are down, he's the fallible hero. Not many of his schemes come off, and when they do, there's normally some hidden catch. He's hopeless in love for the first seven years, getting his heart broken by Heather or snooty Miranda.

But perhaps the greatest skill displayed by Sullivan here is that at the end of the day, Del is a heartfelt family man. This is why he is left fuming at his wayward dad, who abandoned him after his mother's death – in 'Thicker Than Water', he simply abandons his dad with a handful of fivers and a turned head. He constantly remembers his late mother with affection, but most of all, he's always there for his brother Rodney, whether he likes it or not. That strong characterisation is easy to relate to, in that the viewer can identify with those strong family bonds.

Rodney is also a key player – maybe more of an idealist than Del, but he too, is a character that never quite seems to win the day. Again, he's hopeless with relationships, and even when he marries Cassandra, it's not plain sailing at first. His business ideas sometimes don't work. In great sitcom tradition, the leads are flawed, everyday people, who the viewers at home can identify with. Sometimes Del and Rodney are at loggerheads like any normal family members – there's times when Del is pretty out of sorts with Rodney, such as when he wrecks Rodney's relationship with a posho in 'A Royal Flush'. But when all is said and done, there's that unshakeable brotherly love between the two – just look at the scene when Rodney finally marries Cassandra, leaving Del alone.

Of course, the third main character was vital to the programme. Initially, with bluff old Granddad, and then the sea-loving, war anecdote-spouting Uncle Albert, the family set up was complete.

Part of John Sullivan's successful reputation is his gift for characterisation. Very few sitcom writers flesh out their supporting characters, often passing them off as dead wood with a couple of token lines and forced cameos. But Sullivan made the supporting characters three-dimensional people in their own right. Mention Only Fools And Horses to your average Joe on the British street, and they'll mention Trigger, Boycie, Marlene... That's testament to the skilled writing, but also to an astutely chosen cast. Roger Lloyd Pack, John Challis and Sue Holderness – in fact, all of the supporting actors and actresses were ideal choices for the parts and displayed great comic timing throughout the show.

Ditto the leads. David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst rightly became huge stars on the back of playing Del and Rodney, not just because of their comic timing gifts, but other subtle depths. Lyndhurst could just make the viewer laugh with one of his many facial expressions (check out his horrified reactions to devil spawn Damien), but then he could also handle the more serious sides of the scripts, such as his teary breakdown in the lift in 'Time On Our Hands'. Jason was the king of this though, steering his way through comic lines and poignant asides like a winning Formula One driver. Granville and Pop Larkin may have been highly successful, but no other role defined Jason's acting capabilities as well as Del. And to cap it off, Lennard Pearce and Buster Merryfield made for highly likeable supporting presences too.

The scripts for Only Fools And Horses are rich in texture. They're crammed full of killer lines, one-liners, plot twists and even quite startling changes in tempo. For a light-hearted sitcom, Only Fools And Horses has addressed bereavement, miscarriage, criminal assault, sexual assault, bankruptcy... - you name it, there's been some topical and hard-hitting themes brought up. And for the most part, they haven't been dealt with in schmaltzy, heavy-handed fashion, but with dignity and care.

There aren't too many duff Only Fools And Horses episodes. It admittedly takes its time to find its feet, with some slow-moving, talky instalments in the first series ('A Slow Bus To Chingford' is particularly dull) and there's the odd episode which feels a bit out of place ('A Royal Flush' is out of character, with Del to obnoxious and unlikeable) – but these are well compensated for by a string of classics, particularly in the later stages of its run. 1988 to 1996 are the golden years for the show, where everything just came together, and achieving some pretty high ratings in the process.

A classic of its time, Only Fools And Horses stands as one of the all-time great sitcoms, even spawning spin-offs in the form of The Green Green Grass and the Rock & Chips prequel. So here is a brief guide to all things Only Fools And Horses – Lovely Jubbly!


THE CHARACTERS

Derek 'Del' Trotter (Played by David Jason)

Flashy, gregarious but well-intentioned half of Trotters Independent Traders. Frequently looks out for his younger brother Rodney after their mum Joan passed away and their dad Reggie abandoned them. This results in several misunderstandings and awkward situations such as dates going belly up, business incentives going awry and as many dodgy deals as iffy cocktails.

Was initially in partnership with wig-loving Jumbo Mills in the 1960s where they had a fish stall outside a pub – Jumbo later went to Australia, although he did offer Del the chance to move out there (he turned the offer down).

Drives a classy yellow Robin Reliant and an equally spectacular Ford Capri in later series. Likes the tacky bling and equally naff getup, whether it's the Gordon Gekko yuppie look, hideous pyjamas or equally horrid leopardskin trunks.

He has an instant rapport with people, thanks to his outgoing, friendly nature, and can garner people's interests at the market, even if the goods aren't always up to scratch. Comes up with a string of misunderstood catchphrases (see later section). Despite his cheery persona, Del wears his heart on his sleeve, and gets easily emotional at personal losses or tragedies such as Granddad's passing or Cassandra's miscarriage. He's not easily spooked, although he's not too keen on hospitals and doctors – or dentists, come to that, given that he leaves it 15 years before booking a fresh appointment.

Has been on a string of failed dates, and was engaged one time to a raucous missus called Trudy. Even used to date Marlene for a bit! Eventually, his heart is lost to Raquel Turner, an actress and singer, and together, they become proud parents of Damien.

Attended Martin Luther King Comprehensive (also known as Dockside Secondary Modern) and was in Class 4C with Trigger, Boycie, Denzil and Slater. He played midfield in football at school and left with 8 As, all of which stood for “Absent”.

Has a double who turns out to be a Mafia boss called Don Ochetti.

His favourite toon is 'Old Shep' by Elvis, he likes The Who, he can't swim and he's not much cop with a hang glider either.


Rodney Trotter (Played by Nicholas Lyndhurst)

The other member of Trotters Independent Traders and idealistic younger brother of Del. Always tries to aim high, and is sometimes embarrassed at Del's outlandish schemes, but his plans for bettering himself always seem to come unstuck - his attempts to go it alone in business fail, and he makes the foolish mistake of packing in his cushy job with Alan Parry over a stupid misunderstanding.

He's also initially not much cop with relationships either – usually, his choice of women leaves a lot to be desired. Irene Mackay is too old for him and is already married to a psychotic nut. Sandra turns out to be a policewoman. And he foolishly believes that Nervous Nerys will actually enjoy a wild time on the road. Eventually he meets and falls in love with Cassandra Parry, although it's a bumpy marriage at first, thanks to Cass' obsession with the bank and his misguided expectations of what a wife should do. Has a uniform fetish, much to Cass' chagrin.

More academically gifted than Del, with two GCEs in Maths and Art. Even went on to study at art college, although dabblings with the wacky baccy meant expulsion. His talent for art pays off when one of his old paintings, The Marble Arch At Dawn wins him an overseas holiday. Nevertheless, he enrols in night courses where he studies art and computing.

Initially, Rodney's and Cassandra's plans for a baby are cruelly thwarted after Cass suffers a miscarriage. In the end though, he and Cass become proud parents of little baby Joan.


Granddad (Played by Lennard Pearce)

Curmudgeonly but likeable old cove. Often found in front of his multiple tellies. Not much of a cook, since he frequently makes a meal of the dish (see 'Christmas Crackers' or the end of 'Thicker Than Water', for example).

Del says that he was an “Out of work lamplighter waiting for gas to make a comeback”. His CV doesn't read too good either – he was a decorator for the council in 1924 but that lasted two days. He was a security officer at a warehouse in Chingford, but this too ended in the boot after 341 Hitachi cases went AWOL.

He served in the Boer War, and was deported from Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

Can sometimes get the wrong end of the stick with people's names – the first line of Big Brother is “That Sidney Potter's a good actor, in'ee Rodney?”. Not much cop with cards either (see A Losing Streak), but is a dab hand with a spade and gardening gloves, given that he set up an allotment patch.

Passes away between the events of Happy Returns and Strained Relations, after actor Lennard Pearce passed away in 1984.


Uncle Albert (Played by Buster Merryfield)

Younger brother of Granddad, who turns up at his funeral in Strained Relations. Has the nickname “Boomerang” because he always comes back, but his full name is Albert Gladstone Trotter. More active than his older brother, given that he gets involved in Del's scams a lot more. He used to box for the Navy.

Frequently bores people with his tales of the war (see catchphrases). We do learn plenty of Albert's wartime experiences. He spent most of the war stationed in a storage depot on the Isle Of Wight. However, he was also seconded to a marine parachute training division, once sank the USS Pittsburg and ran HMS Cod aground at Normandy, and was also in the Soviet Union at one point.

He originally left home at 15 to work on a tram steamer, and was also a boiler maintenance man in the Navy. He used to live in Tobacco Road, although his house was knocked down.

He can play the piano, although Mike the barman is none too impressed with his shanty ditties. Has a friend called Knock Knock.


Trigger (Played by Roger Lloyd Pack)

Dimwitted road sweeper. Real name is Colin Ball.

Poor old Trig doesn't have much ambition in life, although he is promoted from road sweeper to environmental hygienist (or glorified road sweeper, if you like). He also gets a medal for saving the council money.

Used to attend the same school as Del and was inexplicably head boy in his year. Has a wide-ranging family including niece Lisa, an aunt called Reenie and a gay cousin called Ronnie. Permanently useless in love – his tryst with council depot manager Linda went down the swanny pretty sharpish, for example. Used to fancy Julie Christie.

Regularly slow on the uptake – for example, he inexplicably calls Rodney, Dave. This leads to some priceless comedy, best summed up in the following three classic quotes.


Rodney: “This is like something out of an Agatha Christie film.”

Trigger: “Yeah, I used to fancy her.”


Rodney: “You know, people become famous for a little while – then they disappear, like Renee and Renato, Simon Dee...”

Trigger: “Or Gandhi.”

Rodney: “Yeah, so see, maybe this time its... Gandhi???!!!??”

Trigger: “Yeah. I mean he made one great film and then you never saw him again.”


Trigger: “If it's a girl, Del and Raquel are calling her Sigourney after an actress. If it's a boy, they're calling him Rodney – after Dave.”


Boycie (Played by John Challis)

Proud, snob of a second hand car dealer from Lewisham. Full name is Terence Aubrey Boyce.

Married to Marlene, and despite their frequent attempts to have a baby, eventually Tyler is born in the late 1980s.

Likes to flash the cash, and like Del, likes the bling and cigars. Unlike Del, he's more of a natty dresser, with his swanky suits. He has enough money to live on a very rich estate and to own extra property such as a Cornish cottage near a salmon farm. He is also a Mason and spends lots of time down at the Masonic Lodge. However, his dodgy deals do land him in the nick for a short spell, after he's done for perjury, embezzlement and various other counts.

Tends to lord it over Del with his frequent boasts, not to mention his trademark machine gun laugh whenever things go awry for the hapless wheeler dealer. Still proud of Del's ultimate millionaire status – in 'Time On Our Hands', he momentarily stares out Del and then warmly shakes him by the hand.

Later moves to a rural retreat in Shropshire with Marlene and Tyler in the spin-off Green Green Grass (in order to flee from the dreaded Driscoll Brothers).


Marlene (Played by Sue Holderness)

Long-suffering wife of Boycie. Very good friends with Del – especially bearing in mind that the two were an item for a nanosecond some time ago.

Also likes the bling and flashy clothes. Gives birth to Tyler in 1989. Related to Bronco Lane, a window cleaner and compulsive thief.


Cassandra Parry (Played by Gwyneth Strong)

Polite, well-spoken wife of Rodney. The two embark on a romance after they meet at an evening class. She is the daughter of Alan and Pamela Parry.

Lives in Blackheath when she first starts going out with Rodney. Very career minded with a sharp focus on the bank at which she works. This causes considerable friction in the first stages of her marriage to Rodney. He punches her boss Stephen and they also temporarily split after Del blabs about an aborted date of Rodney's. They later reconcile, and after a miscarriage, Cassandra becomes mum to Joan.

Hates men with ponytails. Is scared of rats.


Raquel Turner (Played by Tessa Peake-Jones)

Del's long-suffering missus, Raquel used to be an actress and singer with high career goals. She meets Del through a dating agency, although the initial romance thaws after Del finds out that she is having to make ends meet as a stripper. The two reconcile in Margate on the annual Jolly Boys' Outing, where Del discovers that her latest gig is as The Great Raymundo's assistant. Used to be in a pop duo called Double Cream.

Was once married to Roy Slater, Del's nemesis. She hasn't spoken to her folks for a long time, but she invites them round to dinner in 1996. Her father is an antiques dealer, and his discovery of a long-lost John Harrison watch proves to have a long-lasting impact.

Gives birth to devil child Damien Derek in 1991.


Denzil Tulser (Played by Paul Barber)

Good friend of Del's and another alumnus of the Class of 1962. He is married to the scary Corrine, although she's none too keen on Del after frequent mishaps such as a flooded kitchen and a jam sponge for their wedding reception. Naturally, the marriage ends in divorce.

Has five brothers, including one called Carl. Works for the Transworld Express, and also used to drive buses with Sid.


Mike Fisher (Played by Kenneth MacDonald)

Cheery but harassed barman of the Nags Head from around 1983 to the early part of the 21st century. I say harassed – this is normally whenever Del barges in with one of his madcap schemes, and in addition, he has so many slates that Mike could retile the roof of the pub.

Used to work as a cocktail waiter. Sadly, his career as barman ends after he's thrown in the slammer for embezzlement.


Mickey Pearce (Played by Patrick Murray)

Goofy best friend of Rodney. Also hangs out with other best mate Jevon. Not too good with the social graces, with more useless chat up lines than the entire archive of Blind Date. Cassandra is none too impressed with Rodney and Mickey's friendship – Rodney apologises at one point for a raucous dinner party.

Claims to be an MD of his own firm, but more often than not, he's stuck in a dead end job such as selling double glazing.


Roy Slater (Played by Jim Broadbent)

Dodgy copper and the class victim of 1962. Joined the police force at 18, but used the force for corrupt means. Ultimately found to be involved in a diamond smuggling racket, for which he was sent to jail.

His class reunion for the gang of 1962 is just a decoy so that he can try and get back with Raquel, his former wife - or at least use her in a scheme that sees him richer in an inheritance deal. Del saves the day and orders Slater to stay away from Peckham and grant Raquel a divorce with the aid of a dodgy fax machine and some very convincing bluffing.


Sid (Played by Roy Heather)

Mostly runs a greasy café that serves delicacies such as porridge with a wig in it. Later runs the Nag's Head after Mike's in prison.


Jevon (Played by Steven Woodcock)

Right hand man of Mickey Pearce.


Damien Derek Trotter (Played by various actors)

Eerie son of Del and Raquel. Terrifies Rodney after he thinks he's the son of the devil (Rodney makes the mistake of jokingly suggesting Damien as a baby name) – this is usually illustrated with a crash zoom-in into Rodney's horrified face and a burst of the theme from The Omen.


The Dodgiest Deals

* Painting services

Del's plans to decorate the Golden Locust Chinese takeaway go wrong when it turns out that it's dodgy luminous paint. Poor old Mr Chin, the owner has to wear shades.

* China cats

Retailing at only £1.25, these iffy china cats play “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window”. Regrettably, their repertoire doesn't extend to “Oklahoma”.

* Crap watches

A common knock-off from the Trotters (eg: seen in 'The Long Legs Of The Law' ep). Both Rodney and the fearsome Shadow (AKA Lennox Gilbey) own broken timepieces.

* Portable computers

This is all back in the days before laptops, you see.

* Raincoats

Dry clean only. Rodney's raincoat has his name printed on the collar in big, childish letters.

* Iffy toy dolls

Apparently, if you keep them long enough, they grow spots and go to Bros concerts. Instead, they sing in speeded-up foreign voices.

* Musical doorbells

These in-no-way-tacky offerings play 36 national anthems.

* Peckham Spring Water

One of the most audacious gambits devised by the Trotters, this miraculous miracle of bottled water turns out to be recycled tap water! Which admittedly does glow in the dark...

* Russian camcorders

Del has 650 of the things to flog, and in theory, they should be snapped up in the blink of an eye. Problem is, not only are they more difficult to carry than a bulldozer, the buyer also has to have a Russian VCR, since the tapes won't fit in a standard English-made recorder!

* Trotter Crash Turbans

After an angry Dr Singh has scooted off on his motorbike, Del has a radical idea for getting rid of his riding helmets sprayed red. Simply attach plenty of material to the helmets and you get a Trotter Crash Turban. Likely to be shown on Wayne's World rather than Tomorrow's World.


The Lingo

“Rodney, you plonker!”

Bellowed by Del whenever Rod makes a great big stinking faux pas.

“Cushty!” and “Lovely Jubbly!”

A sign that things are going well for Del.

“Cosmic!”

Means one of two things from Rodney – if said brightly, it's his equivalent of Cushty. If said in a sarky tone of voice, things are not going well.

“During the war...”

Meaning that it's time for a lengthy Uncle Albert anecdote about his wartime days.

“Alright, Dave?”

Frequent Trigger misunderstandings when talking to Rodney.

“This time next year, we'll be millionaires!”

A great bold promise that the business will turn around for Del and Rodney.

“Mais oui, mais oui...”

Usually spoken when Del's in charm mode, with a bird on one arm and a great big umbrella-sprouting Pina Colada in the other hand.

“Bonjour!”

That's Del speak for “Goodbye”.

“Mon dieu!”

Usually bellowed whenever Del gets irritated or annoyed.

“Fromage frais!”

The penny drops for Del.


John Recommends...

Cash And Curry (1981)

An early example of the strong plotting that John Sullivan excels at. It's a case of Del and Rodney getting thwarted in one of their dodgy deals, this time by Mr Ram and Vimmal Malik, who are apparently on opposite sides of the fence. In fact, they are secretly working together, fleecing Del out of money over a dodgy statue.

Maybe it's a bit talky by modern day standards – there's a lot of dialogue exposition, but this is just indicative of the time in which it was made. Overall though, it's clever stuff, carried well by David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst (intriguingly Lennard Pearce is absent this week) and Renu Setna also gives a good, solid performance as the shifty Mr Ram.


A Touch Of Glass (1982)

Famous for that chandelier scene, 'A Touch Of Glass' caps off the second season in style. It's a good example of Del's inept attempts at social climbing, after they fall in with the Ridgemeres (Geoffrey Toone, incidentally, guest starred in a Sullivan-penned episode of Citizen Smith which also dealt with shameless social climbing called 'The Party's Over'). Plenty of fun times here, complete with dodgy singing china cats.


Friday The 14th (1983)

A great little nugget, often forgotten, but this amusing homage to good, old-fashioned ghost stories always satisfies.


Strained Relations (1985)

One of the great examples of how Sullivan was the master at mixing comedy with poignancy. Addressing Lennard Pearce's death, Sullivan took the bold move of killing off granddad and showing how Del and Rodney came to terms with his passing. While Rodney openly mourns, Del tries to put on a brave face, but even then, this is a losing battle – best scene in his angry outburst to Rodney (“Bloody family! I've finished with them! What do they do to you, eh? They hold you back, drag you down, and then they break your bloody heart”).


The Longest Night (1986)

A strong example of how you only need one set as long as the script and performances are up to scratch. This classic sees Del, Rodney and Albert held prisoner in a supermarket office, and it's hilarious. Special mention to Vas Blackwood who gives one of the funniest supporting performances as dopey Lennox (AKA: The Shadow).


Dates (1988)

The beginning of the OFAH Golden Age, Del decides to try the dating agency route and very nearly gets it right with Raquel. It's a non-stop whirligig of funny lines and scenarios – Rodney's date with Nerys is particularly priceless, with Lyndhurst's facial expressions in the car providing more comedy gold than in an entire series of My Family. And hey, it's also got Nicholas Courtney in this one as a waiter.


Yuppy Love (1989)

Well, a lot of people would select this one, if only for the infamous Del Falls Through Gap In Yuppy Bar scene. The problem is, I've seen that scene so many times, so it's become a bit tired for me – newcomers will love it, though, and furthermore, the whole episode shows just how confident John Sullivan had become. He fires off a stream of non-stop witty lines (“I bet it's Wet Wet Wet”) while telling a good, solid story in the process. Del typically has to step in with the late 1980s yuppy culture, but even then, he's like a fish out of water while striding into a yuppy bar, Filofax akimbo. Great stuff, and Jason's near-corpsing at a soaked Lyndhurst tops off what's a fabulous episode.


Chain Gang (1989)

Another example of how Sullivan's talent for plotting comes together. The audience is thrown off beam by the apparently amiable Arnie (good performance from Philip McGough here), a retired jeweller. It looks like a great opportunity for Del's consortium, as they stand to make a healthy profit from some gold chains, and when the plan goes awry after Arnie collapses, there's no reason to suspect that foul play is at work. Of course, it's all a con, since it turns out that Arnie is faking the collapses with his two sons who are disguising themselves as paramedics. If that sounds convoluted – well, it's not (that's just my non-talent for over-complicating things). It's compelling, intriguing stuff and a perfect showcase for Sullivan's talent for tight plotting.

And Jason's face after Arnie tunelessly bellows out a quick snatch of “What A Wonderful World” is priceless.


The Unlucky Winner Is... (1989)

This has everything you could possibly want from an Only Fools episode. It features the antagonism between Del and Rodney – in this case, Del dupes Rodney into thinking that he's won a holiday, the snag being Rodney is supposed to be 14 years of age. It also features more funny scenes than you can shake a jumbo sized burger at, whether it's Trudy asking Rodney if he likes Bros, Rodney coming off worst in a Groovy Gang skateboarding contest or the physical comedy of Del casually taking a ciggy and glass of wine off Rodney after the Groovy Gang reps pay an unwanted visit. An all-time classic.


Little Problems (1989)

John Sullivan displayed four notable talents when writing sitcoms: A knack for writing side-splittingly funny lines. Taut plotting. Great characterisation. And poignancy. You get all four in equal measures in this superb season finale. There aren't many sitcoms that feature such well-crafted characters as Del and Rodney, and Del's 100% devotion to his brother is displayed to the max here, as he suffers a brutal beating at the hands of the dreaded Driscoll brothers in order to stop them getting their grubby mitts on Rodney's cash deposit wedding present.

There's also that finale scene in which Del is left alone at the wedding reception with only Mick Hucknall bawling in his ear, a wedding cake figurine of the groom and countless memories. Even though the farewell between Del and Rodney is expertly written and acted, that scene ends by relying on David Jason's facial acting and perfectly executed direction from Tony Dow (high camera shots and all). Now that's genius.


Rodney Come Home (1990)

A bit too serious and soapy in places, but the conflict between Rodney and Cassandra is well worked out, and it's still buoyed by so many funny lines that it's sometimes hard to keep up because they come at you at breakneck speed.

It also features one of the funniest ever scenes in Only Fools And Horses – the bit where Uncle Albert's supposed to look horrified at Rodney's date with Tanya. Buster Merryfield is really on the ball here and his constant “Huuuuugggghhhh!!!” facial expressions not only crack up the viewer, but also David Jason, who's evidently failing to keep a straight face while the cameras roll.


Stage Fright (1991)

Another quintessential slice of classic comedy, and due in part to the hilarious Tony Angelino, the cheesiest act from the Down By The Riverside club. Not only is his whole appearance a sham (Del bellows “I got lumbered with a star whose props come from Lilley & Skinner, Crown Toppers and Mattesons!”), but he can't sing songs with R in the lyrics. The cringe-inducing duet with Raquel of 'Cwying' is one of the funniest scenes in Only Fools And Horses.

Philip Pope is excellent as Tony, but Tessa Peake-Jones has also proven to be a great asset to the show, in particular her furious recollection of the following repertoire. Altogether, a great episode, and for once, the Trotters actually gain more than they lose.


The Class Of '62 (1991)

A top episode from another strong season. It's a good showcase for Jim Broadbent as the utterly loathsome Slater, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, no matter who he hurts in the process. More strong plotting and acting from the regulars combine to make an unmissable episode.


Miami Twice (1991)

I know a lot of people don't care too much for this one, but I personally really like it. The first instalment's admittedly marking time before the trip, but it's still got some amusing stuff, in particular Rodney's horror at a talking Damien. The second part is feature film stuff – I guess that some of the fans think that the sitcom doesn't translate that well to this genre, but I see it as a confident sitcom pushing the boat out into uncharted waters. The location filming is awesome, David Jason is amusing as Mafia boss Don Ochetti (“I hate Limeys! I hate Limeys!!” he bellows while furiously pedalling on his exercise bike), and best of all, it's great seeing Del and Rodney like fish out of water in a sinister world in which they can't comprehend (Rodney's bellowing of “GIT!” at a mafia boss is especially chucklesome). Flawed? Possibly. But it's still a worthy, and for me anyways, a successful experiment.


Fatal Extraction (1993)

Again, it's not that well-remembered, but this excellent Christmas special neatly parodies the film Fatal Attraction, right down to Albert boiling his pants in a great big pot. Mel Martin is great as the sinister Beverley, and the end scene suggests that maybe she wasn't quite as innocent as she would have you think. Lots of other funny stuff here, including dodgy ski wear and for once, Cassandra freaking out at devil child Damien.


The 1996 Trilogy (er, 1996)

Comprising Heroes And Villains, Modern Men and Time On Our Hands, this swansong (well, it was at the time) sums up everything that's great about Only Fools And Horses in a nutshell. In essence, it's one long three parter which encapsulates the show's essence of three ordinary men facing their share of small victories and personal setbacks, before a great big bombshell changes their lives forever.

It's full of notable, well-staged moments from Del and Rodney's ill-advised entrance as Batman and Robin through to the last lovely coda in which the Trotters finally get their rewards. It's also got its fair share of great lines (“I'll buy the sandwiches 'cos you bought the Rolls”) and lump-in-throat moments.

Cassandra's miscarriage is handled with dignity and sensitivity (and Nicholas Lyndhurst knocks it out of the park in the lift scene as he tries to come to terms with what's happened), while the final scene in which Del, Rodney and Albert say farewell to Nelson Mandela House is just as moving. There's a certain degree of irony in the fact that the get-rich scheme that had eluded the Trotters for so long was in the garage gathering dust all that time, but as Del points out, it's the dreaming and chasing that proved more attractive than getting the reward,

If only it had stopped there – the three comeback specials lacked that certain something, and the fact that the Trotters were now facing bankruptcy after their happy ending kind of undid all that good work. But if you choose to ignore those last three specials, then this magnificent trilogy sends the Trotters off in style.

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