Sufferers of a nervous disposition found much in early '70's British television to give them sleepless nights - the half-eaten corpse in the 'Tomorrow The Rat' episode of 'Doomwatch'; 'Dr.Edith Joynton' ageing to death in seconds in 'Timeslip'; 'Platoon Under-Leader' Benton's transformation into a Primord in the 'Dr.Who' story 'Inferno'; people turning into skeletons in the 'Bones Of Byrom Blain' outing of 'Department S', and in 'The Goodies', Tim Brooke-Taylor in drag finding the remains of Cecily's nanny in a rocking chair ( more frightening than 'Psycho'! ). I forgot to mention Hughie Green in 'Opportunity Knocks!'.
Beating them all for sheer terror was the title sequence of this Thames-made anthology series. Following the familiar Thames logo, we see a bleak overhead shot of a town. We then glide along a row of terraced houses, whose windows contain screaming faces, a faceless figure, and a boy staring at a bald man whose internal organs are on display. Accompanying all this is a haunting Roger Webb tune, punctuated by the chatter of human voices. Brown trousers time.
'The Death Watcher', the third edition broadcast, was written by Jacques Gilles, whose other credits include an episode of 'Danger Man' ( called 'Say It With Flowers' ) starring the late, great Patrick McGoohan.
Emmy Erikson ( Judy Parfitt ) is a University Professor who travels by train to meet Pickering ( John Neville ) in the name of research for a book on psychic phenomena. He surprises her by taking her to a different location, a house in an isolated setting. He appears charming and affable at first, then mentions his reason for bringing her there. He wishes to stage an experiment to communicate with the dead.
Realising he is a nut case, she tries to leave, but there are no late trains so she reluctantly must stay the night. The room she is given has bars on the windows and the door is locked. The next morning, she again tries to leave, but Pickering instructs his employee Dawson ( Victor Maddern ) to physically restrain her. In his cellar, the deranged Pickering has a box in which he intends to imprison Emmy, cover it with chicken wire, and fill with water. As she dies, the last thing she will see is a huge blow-up photograph of her killer. He can then ( so he believes ) speak to her in the next world.
Emmy tries screaming out of her window, but to no avail. Pickering has put up a sign that says: 'Nursing Home'. Passers-by simply ignore her cries of help...
This is a tense, suspenseful story, and John Neville ( who played 'Sherlock Holmes' in the 1965 film 'A Study In Terror' as well as the title role in Terry Gilliam's 'Baron Munchausen' ) is brilliant as the maniac. Charming, elegant, intelligent - but mad, not averse to dancing with a roll of chicken wire! Judy Parfitt likewise is impressive as the imprisoned Professor. Today they would probably cast some bimbo in the role.
Victor Maddern, known for comedy roles, provides good support as 'Dawson'. Ostensibly he is on Pickering's side, but then even he comes to see his employer is off his trolley.
The ending is guaranteed to send a shiver up the spine.
Eleven episodes of this show were made, still exist, and deserve to be released on D.V.D. Checking the transmission dates, I note that the last one went out two years after the rest of the series. I wonder why?
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