Sunday Watch: The Singing Detective e05 – Pitter Patter


The classic series structure is fifty-fifty. The first half for raising all the questions, the second half for filling in the answers. Though Michael Gambon’s psoriatic make-up is diminishing each week, indicating that he is on the road to recovery physically, it isn’t being paralleled in any way by his mental recovery and the episodes grow thicker and denser as the series goes on.

I haven’t liked the episodes in the ‘answer-half’, neither last week”s nor today’s, anything like so much as the ‘question-half’. There are specific issues: David Ryall’s Mr Hall rises to new heights of sheer spite, nastiness, hypocrisy and faux-superiority and it’s a terrific performance but it’s so terrific that you can only wish to be as far away from him as is possible, whilst I neither like nor respect the new sub-plot of Nicola’s supposed attempt to steal Marlow’s screenplay which, coming in the contemporary and therefore suposedly objective part of the story, is both sordidly trite and unnecessarily meodramatic. It just doesn’t have the weight to sustain the load it’s being asked to bear.

‘Pitter Patter’ is where everything starts to break down, where the barriers between the disparate strands become porous. Nicola and Mark Finney speak the dialogue written for them by Marlow, complete with punctuation. Finney hears Marlow’s voice as he and Nicola plot, the knock on his door in 1985 is from 1944, his bare stair wall transmutes into Mark Binney’s painting of the bare-breasted woman, and the two Mysterious Men, the long-coated, snap-brimmed men, are unmoored. They shoot at Marlow the Singing Detective in the dancehall, study him at visiting time on the ward, they run and they run and they run into the Forest of Dean as Philip’s Dad calls for him whilst Philip’s up a tree, hiding. Everybody’s looking for him.

Indeed they are. Dr gibbon conducts one of those counselling sessions where Marlow fences with him at every turn, determined that he won’t be helped. They play word association, where woman leads to fuck and fuck leads to dirt and dirt leads to death. It’s that same old thing about sex, for marlow and for Dennis Potter, who put it into other character’s words: we see Marlow shagging a prostitute, Kate McKenzie who was the Russian hostess, Anna, only he’s fully-clothed, shirt buttoned up to neck and down to wrists, lumping off her as soon as he’s come, jumping out of bed for a cigarette, insulting her for what she does, words twisted out of his reaction to Nicola.

And young Philip, laying the blame on young Mark binney, because his Dad were laying on a top of our Mum, provoking her into admitting Our Dad’s not coming or them, not ever, and he runs away,pounding with rigid determination, running through the Ward.

No, it’s all falling in on itself, and you wonder why Marlow’s skin is becoming so much clearer when his mind is disintegrating and even he thinks he’s paranoid, because body and mind are not in sync and his re-writing of his detective story is coming no neaer to solving his problems, its only revealing more.

As well as Mr Hall, and the screenplay, I’m taking exception, gross exception, to the attitude to sex. It’s not just the overt disgust at its very existence but its reflection onto the female characters. Nurse Mills is pretty, so she’s nice, Staff Nurse white isn’t so she’s a pain in the arse, the Night Nurse is black, fat and sleeps at her job so she’s a cow and a hypocrite (the only black characters in the whole series are feckless at best). Nicola’s got a husky voice so she’s a slut, the achoolteacher is a frustrated old spoinster and a monster, Mrs Marlow is pretty and the life Mr Marlow has given her, all unaware that any other kind of life can exist, is crushing her – You Always Hurt The One You Love – but she’s an adultress and she’s bound to die, Anna is a whore. I don’t like this side of The Singing Detective. And I’m liking it even less as I go along.

But then it’s the last part next week.

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