Wednesday, 18 April 2018

'Whodunnit? - Which Eye Jack'

'Whodunnit? - Which Eye Jack'

It's the 10th April 1978 and 'Whodunnit?' is now into its Sixth Season. I don't know if they're aware that there won't be a Season Seven, but 'Which Eye Jack' sees the show in full-on panto mode, with possibly everyone taking the chance to do something just for the hell of it . Writers Jeremy Lloyd and Lance Percival have occasionally dipped their toes into history with such stories as 'Goodbye Sarge' but in this one they go for broke with a rollicking yarn of good old fashioned pirates, me hearties!

There are eyepatches and dodgy accents galore as a host of guest stars attempt to out-act each other with varying degrees of success. Apparently, after work on 'Time And The Rani' was completed, Kate O'Mara suggested a 'Doctor Who' story in which the Rani returned as a pirate, and this surely was just an excuse for her to recreate her role here as 'Treasure Chest' Magee.

"Oi'm loaded and cocked!" exclaims 'Which Eye' Jack levelling his weapon at her. A pause and 'Treasure Chest' deadpans with a weary "So I see..."

I won't go into the plot very much here, as this is one of those episodes that has to be seen to be believed, but suffice it to say that there's a murder to get to a black pearl. All the cliches are present and correct. By the way, the nickname 'Which Eye' Jack comes from his constant swapping of his eyepatch from left to right, for reasons that do not even begin to convince even the less-than-alert viewer...

One thing to watch out for in 'Whodunnit?' is the tendency for the camera to stay on the cast for slightly too long as we go into the advert break. The reluctance to cut requires the actors to improvise a bit, or just look around nervously waiting for the all clear.

We've talked about how Kate O'Mara is having great fun, but then there's Jonathan Cecil as Captain Ginger (who shares a name with a track on John Inman's memorable 'Are You Being Served Sir?' album). Ginger is all in pink, with frills, face powder and beauty spot. We're not talking subtlety in any of these characterisations, but the broad strokes all comes together to create a fictional world we are familiar with.

Jon Pertwee describes Blackbeard, here investigating the crime, as a sort of early 'Fabian Of The Yardarm', which gets the reaction such a bad joke deserves.

John Hollis plays to the gallery as The Mad Moor, piddling about with an improvised alarm clock made from a candle and a warming pan, while Sam Kydd and Reg Lye put in their accustomed reliable  turns.

The guest panel this time around features Bill Maynard and Joanna Lumley ("Mr Short Fuse, when you went in to get some cheese..."), joining regulars Liza Goddard and Patrick Mower.

The interaction between the panel and the cast of the play is always fun, especially when the suspects are asked something unexpected. It's a pleasure to watch the wheels turning in their heads as they ad-lib a reply that they hope is at least vaguely convincing.

Production is relatively cheap, but none the worse for that. The set is more convincing when they turn the lights down, of course, and there are actually some decent shots with the candle flames and firelight adding to the atmosphere.

It's daft as a brush, yes, but it knows its place. The guest cast are well worth watching and I wish I'd known about this one when we met Kate O'Mara. I get the feeling she enjoyed herself greatly when doing this, as that's certainly what comes across on screen.

'Which Eye Jack' is a little bit of treasure from Thames.

(By Andrew Trowbridge)

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