Originally broadcast March 8, 2003
Season Four, Episode Two
Preceded by The Coonskip Cap
Followed by The Tailor’s Dummy
Written by David Renwick
Directed by Christine Gernon
Jack Dee was well established as a stand-up comic with a famously deadpan delivery by this point and had starred in a much-loved series of ads for John Smith’s beer and a few years earlier been the winner of the first season of Celebrity Big Brother. He is a fixture on panel games and has chaired the iconic radio series I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue since 2009.
Sophie Thompson has several genre credits for appearances in Death in Paradise, Midsomer Murders and the adaptation of Hallowe’en Party for Poirot. I remember her most as Miss Bates though in the Paltrow version of Emma.
Trevor Peacock, playing the creator of the ventriloquist’s dummy, is best known for his role as Jim Trott in the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley.
Tamsin Greig is probably most widely known for her performance as Maggie in the film Shaun of the Dead but UK audiences will also be familiar with her from comedy shows such as Green Wing and Black Books.
An intriguing and pretty original impossibility but it’s hard to route for the client here…
Composer Dudley Houseman had thought himself the luckiest man alive when he got married to pop star Sally Ellen Oakley but soon he began to wonder if he had fallen in love with her showbiz persona, not the real woman. He meets Maria, an air hostess, and the pair seem to click and start a short and reckless affair, seeing each other frequently over the course of a few weeks.
During a lunch before Maria leaves for a trip overseas, Dudley’s P.A. voices her concerns that Maria may be after his money and calls his attention to a strange package addressed to him in her travel bag. He dismisses the idea and continues their date but as they are about to part his wife returns home prompting a violent exchange between the two women.
Sally soon spots the package and opens it to find a video tape and some hair. Putting it in the player they are shocked to see Maria tied up to a chair with a masked man by her side. She reads a statement which demands a ransom of a hundred thousand pounds for her safe return and proceeds to cut her hair. He even holds up a copy of that week’s Radio Times to show the date.
Dudley approaches Jonathan to seek his help understanding what happened. Having looked carefully at the tape it is clear that her hair is really being cut off and he knows she was not wearing a wig, so how could her hair have grown back in just two days?
It can be difficult to come up with a truly novel impossibility but Angel Hair certainly makes a decent stab at it, centering a mystery around a woman’s apparent ability to regrow her hair in just two days. I haven’t studied my Adey well enough to be able to say with certainty that this is an original idea but I have certainly never encountered it elsewhere.
One slight problem that this episode has to confront from the start is that this impossibility could well be possible thanks to some movie magic. Care has to be taken to definitively rule out a really well-fitted bald cap or wig as well as the possibility of some kind of video manipulation. Renwick’s script does manage to do that but it does mean that the setup for this story feels a little slow.
It doesn’t help much that I didn’t find Dudley at all likeable. He fits into a fairly common theme for the show of lousy men being portrayed sympathetically in spite of the faults in a situation largely being of their own making. It seems like he almost blames her for not matching his image of her. There is no suggestion that Sally has behaved particularly badly and yet this will be another one of those situations where the impetus seems to fall on the woman to understand and make allowances for her man.
Dee ought to be well cast in the part, which he plays straight. He certainly handles the explanation of the situation well and I do enjoy his interactions with Trevor Peacock who played his father. Unfortunately though Dee amplifies his character’s unpleasant, selfish traits in his performance to the point where I was left to wonder just why she ought to go back to him and give him another chance. Much as in The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish, I struggle to see just why I ought to want a reconciliation, even though it is clear that the script thinks we should.
This is unfortunate because I do quite like the core puzzle itself and I think it works better in performance than it does in description. Perhaps more importantly, at least for those of us who like to play along with these, it can be unpicked quite logically from quite early in the episode just from reviewing the core facts of the case. Proving that explanation can be a bit trickier but this case felt pretty fair to me.
That is not to say that everything about the solution was convincing. I do have some issues with some aspects of the explanation, particularly those relating to the identity of the masked figure in the video, but I think I will have to save those for the spoiler section below. None of them were significant enough though to significantly alter my enjoyment of that resolution.
I am a little less forgiving of a B-plot in which Carla becomes offended at her gynaecologist’s choice of music after spotting a CD in his briefcase. My issue here isn’t with whether it is funny or not (though for what it’s worth, the payoff is really weak) as much as that this plot thread feels completely tacked on to the episode, having little relationship to anything else going on. This makes it feel like padding rather than something to actively look forward to seeing more of.
Brendan gets some better material to work with as we get to hear about how viewers had responded to the events depicted in the previous episode. While I know the character isn’t to everyone’s taste, I quite enjoy the little swipes at the way that broadcasting works and the focus grouping.
There are two other comedic subplot on offers. One involving the commissioning of a ventriloquist’s dummy for Adam’s act from Henry Houseman, Dudley’s father. The gag here is an old one but I think it still has some impact and is played pretty well by everyone involved. The other involves Jonathan getting into a romantic relationship with a make-up artist and which leads to a very silly montage that is one of my favorite little comedy sequences the show ever did.
It all leaves me with rather mixed feelings about this episode. I think that the central concept feels original and the impossibility (and aspects of its solution) are pretty clever but I find it difficult to get past my issues with Dudley. I wonder if instead of creating a new character whether this was a scenario that Adam Klaus should have been used for instead. The scenario would take a little tweaking to reflect his single status but I think it would be easier to think sympathetically of that character if they hadn’t been cheating on their partner.
I can only judge the episode in front of me though and so while this has some interesting ideas, I couldn’t get over my dislike of Dudley. Others may well feel differently though!