“Took you long enough to get here, didn’t it?”
We start with Gurney talking directly to the camera, but the best fourth wall break is actually a repeat of something that happened in the first episode, and I neglected to mention before: Gurney initiating the opening theme music with the movement of his fingers on an invisible piano. There is also a similar moment later in the episode where Gurney changes the mood of the incidental music with the wave of a hand, like a conductor. These are not just fourth wall breaks, they are extremely clever ones. I don’t think anyone watching would have seen anything like this before. Even 60 years later it still feels brave and exciting, and quite unlike anything else on television.
The theme of this episode is the nature of love and attraction. Gurney bemoans the social situation at the time, which makes it inappropriate for him to approach an attractive woman unless he is introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance. The problem with that, as he points out, is that the ideal match for him could be unattainable, and too many people end up settling for the “girl next door”. This idea is explored through a variety of imaginary situations (in reality, Gurney is presumably doing nothing more than wandering around a disused airfield and talking to himself).
Firstly, Gurney gets the chance to meet his ideal woman, played by the young and beautiful Anneke Wills, six years before she would become a Doctor Who companion. She was just a teenager here, but behind the scenes she got into a relationship with Anthony Newley and he ended up fathering her first child, although he was already married (and soon to leave his first wife to marry Joan Collins). I wouldn’t normally consider it appropriate to mention the private lives of actors when writing about their work, but this is all too relevant and interesting to ignore. The scene where Gurney and his love match look at each other while we hear their thoughts positively crackles with the attraction between them, and yet she simply walks away, showing how a potentially ideal relationship can fail to get started because of the inability to find the right words to say. Wills’s character comes away from the encounter assuming that Gurney isn’t interested in her, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
But Newley’s real-life restlessness in his relationships is better reflected in what happens for the rest of the episode. First he marshals a line-up of women to see if any will step forward to express their interest in him. Only the nerdy girl with the glasses does so, and Newley escapes from his predicament by somehow conjuring up another, nerdier version of himself to take his place. It’s all gloriously surreal, but it does objectify women in a way that’s really tough to watch nowadays.
“A bird in the hand is another man’s poison.”
The rest of the episode is about Gurney breaking up a family, only for it to reassemble at the end. He finds a typical family group: father, mother, daughter, son, baby. Then he challenges the father about whether he has made the right choice in life, or did he just settle for the girl next door instead of going after the girl he really wanted? That prompts the man to walk away from his family, and then the mother does the same, heading off to find her first love, and leaving Gurney to take care of the kids. It’s a shockingly cruel moment for all involved, although it is underplayed. Nobody appears to be heartbroken here, but we are in Gurney’s head, not in reality. After arguing with the baby about the existence of Santa Claus (!) and meeting Spock a fairy, he makes a wish to be transported into a place full of women, and ends up in a rubbish dump with a load of broken shop dummies. There is something deeply unsettling about this sequence, and the assembly of a dummy to recreate the missing mother reminds me of Jamie’s jigsaw puzzle face in Doctor Who’s The Mind Robber – just a bit disturbing. In the meantime, the father’s search for his ideal woman has proven fruitless and the family are reunited. Gurney has achieved nothing, in the end. It turns out that he can complain about the state of the world, but he just can’t change it.
Our binge watch continues at midday today. Dance away into the distance… but come back soon. RP