Acorn has released a lot of excellent British programming
here in the US
and they continue that tradition with the ITV show Armchair
first set of shows presents four stories from this serialized anthology
program. Each story if 4 or 6 episodes
long, each running a little less than half an hour.
Presenting intriguing mysteries and
captivating tales of suspense, the set is quite a fun to watch. The main complaint is that Acorn does not
present the shows in order, but rather the set skips around taking
both seasons of the show.
The tales presented are:
Dying Day (four
episodes; season 2, story 3 ): Easily
the best story in this set, this opening tale is mysterious, chilling,
surprising. Not only that, but it features
a wonderful performance by a very young Ian McKellen (The
Lord of the Rings, X-Men). Sir
Ian stars as Anthony Skipling a very mild
mannered, unassuming middle class man who discovers someone is trying
him. On the train home from work on
a boisterous and odd man starts playing audio cassettes for Skipling. The man's a naturalist and he's been creating
a library of recordings of natural sounds from the region; a butterfly
from its cocoon, badgers eating etc.
When the naturalist nearly misses his stop, he gathers his
tapes and scurries off, leaving Skipling with a single cassette - "Pub-
After dinner in his house where he lives alone, Skipling
plays the tape out of curiosity. It
contains the general noises of a pub, people chatting and ordering
also a conversation. Two people, one
with a distinctive voice, are heard plotting to kill a man named
Skipling. They say he witnessed
something, and though he probably doesn't realize the significance,
take the chance and must kill him on February 21th.
He naturally goes to the police, but when they return to his
house to hear the tape, it's missing.
Not the tape itself, it is still in the player and still has the
label but the conversation where he's being threatened is totally gone. Is he going crazy? Why
would someone break into his house and
replace the tape with a fake? He's
scared and paranoid, but it gets much worse when his evening train
stops for a moment
to let another one pass and Skipling sees the naturalist who gave him
outside, clawing at the train with his eyes gouged out.
This is one of those rare mysteries that really keep you
guessing all the way through. There are
so many questions to be answered and Skipling is such an ordinary
the show is instantly engaging. There
are enough twists and turns in the story to keep viewers on the edge of
seats and the final solution works very well too, with all of the
falling into place in a rather unexpected manner. This
is an excellent story that would make a
great DVD release all by itself.
The Limbo Connection
(six episodes; season one, story five):
This next tale is also mysterious though not quite as gripping.
Claire Omney (Suzanne Bertish) is a fairly successful
newspaper columnist. Her husband, Mark
Bolam), was a prominent screenplay author himself, but that was years
now he's a violent drunk prone to blackouts.
Claire is to interview some prominent society people for a
column and then meet Mark at their cottage in the country one Friday
afternoon. She's served some bad fish
however and gets violently ill driving to the house and crashes her car. A couple driving by takes her to a local
private hospital that specializes in geriatric patients where she has
stomach pumped. The doctor leaves a
message on her London answering machine and insists that she stay the
get her strength back.
Mark has an unexpected occurrence too, but instead of getting
in an accident, he meets and only flame in a pub and the two spend the
getting drunk. The next morning Mark
awakens at the cottage with no knowledge of how he got there. He goes to the private hospital, but he's
informed that he wife had already left, early that morning. He finds her wrecked car and her suitcase is
gone, but the make-up bag she is never without was left behind.
Fearing the worst Mark goes to the police. They
think that his wife has either tired of
his abuse and run off or that he's killed her.
After all, he admits that he doesn't know what he did the
disappeared and he does have a history of being violent.
When Claire's paper receives a resignation
notice a few days later along with her last column, it seems that the
scenario is right. But Mark keeps
discovering troubling facts that don't seem to fit.
Just where is his wife?
A nice mystery and one that didn't quite play out the way I
expected. There were a couple of small
holes in the final explanation; it was a generally satisfying mystery
unfolded nicely. The only complaint I
have is that it was about one episode too long.
If they had tightened the story up a bit, it would have worked a
Rachel in Danger
(four episodes; season one, story one):
This inaugural show wasn't as suspenseful as the later episodes
it does contain a certain amount of tension, if you can overlook the
A University Professor moves to London after spending years
in South America in order to be close to his 10-year-old daughter,
(played by Della Lowe who apparently stopped acting after this
appearance.) Having just moved in and
not knowing anyone in the big city, the professor is delighted to run
old acquaintance, Juan, in the street.
The two talk and go back to the newly-rented apartment where
ruthlessly murders the teacher. He's
part of an unnamed terrorist group (which consists of members from the
Japan, and an equally nameless South American country) who has a plan
assassinate the queen. Juan takes over
the dead man's identity and has his name added secretly added on to the
list for a garden lunch the queen is hosting.
The problem is Rachel.
She's arrived at the London train station (traveling alone) and
one meets her the police question her to find out where she should be. They eventually reunite Rachel with the
imposter father, but since she hasn't seen him in eight years and only
has one photo
of him which doesn't show his face (lucky, that) she goes off with him
unsuspecting. While Juan's partner, an
oriental woman posing as his wife, wants to kill Rachel and be done
(the wise course) Juan thinks that having a daughter with them will
suspicion and increase the chances that their assassination will be a
success. Rachel is a smart girl however,
and more wily than they thought.
While I really enjoyed the character of Rachel, this story
relied on too many coincidences and improbabilities.
There never was a good reason given for not
just killing Rachel in the beginning either, something that would have
lot of sense. None of the characters act
very logically and there are a few holes that made it hard to really
this story. Added to that is the fact
that I was never really scared for Rachel.
Maybe it's her 'smart young girl' character, but she didn't show
emotion at any time. If she's not really
worried (even after she discovers what's going on) why should viewers? It wasn't a bad story, just not as thrilling
as the others in the set.
The Victim (six
episodes; season two, story one): The
second season gets off to a great start with this intriguing kidnapping
story. The daughter of a prosperous,
though by no means wealthy, mid-level executive of an electronics firm
kidnapped coming home from school one day.
Vincent Craig (John Shrapnel) gets a note demanding
£100,000, which he
doesn't have, with instructions about where to drop it to be delivered
evening by telephone.
Vincent is a sharp guy, and the first thing he does is go to
his boss and ask for £100,000, to let the take over boss' office
which has an
outside line, and the use of any of the companies equipment that he
"So I'm just to clear out, get the money from the bank and
leave the rest to you? And what if I
disagree?" His boss asks.
"Why I quit. Right
now." Vincent replies. Being a valuable
employee his superior goes along with it.
He then sets up some recording equipment, contacts the
police, and waits for the call to come.
And waits, and waits. Eventually
the kidnappers contact him and ask if he has the money.
When he says that he does, they start to tell
him how and where to drop it off.
Vincent interrupts. "Now listen
very carefully. There'll be no money, no
deal. Release the girl, don't let her
see your faces and cover your tracks as best as you can.
That's your only chance. Don't call
again this line is being cut
off." And he slams the phone down.
The police are flabbergasted. Vincent
explains that he doesn't trust the
police or the kidnappers not to mess things up.
If he gives in, there's a chance that his daughter will be hurt
the exchange when nerves are high. He
doesn't think that the villains will kill her just to spite him and
non-negotiation is the best policy.
Of course the crooks don't just let her leave, but Vincent
didn't really expect him to. He turns to
hunting them down using his companies assets but mainly his own
This was another great story with some very nice twists and
turns along the way. The character of
Vincent Craig is interesting and really drives the narrative forward,
does a magnificent job with the role.
Smart but every emotionally involved, they could have launched a
based on the character. A top-notch
story to round out a wonderful set.
Each of these four stories comes on its own DVD, and the
four discs are housed in separate thinpak cases. The
set comes in a nice slipcase too.
The original mono audio track is provided on these shows,
and it does the job. The accents get a
bit heavy at times and can be hard to understand, but usually only for
characters. The audio isn't as crisp and
lacks the range of a recent show (most evident in the opening and
which isn't as full as it should be,) but the dialog is easy enough to
hear. There is a bit of background
hiss, but it's
These DVDs preserve the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the
show. The video is on par with other BBC
shows from the late 70's. It's a bit
soft, and the detail isn't the greatest but the image is fairly clear. The colors are a bit muted but it doesn't
distract from the show. The prints are
generally in good shape, though there are some spots and the occasional
horizontal line pops up once in a while.
There is one odd thing about the transfer. For
a little while in most (all?) episodes
there's a small square that appears in the upper right-hand side of the
frame. It looks like a bug has been
blurred out, but it's smaller than bugs usually are.
It's an odd defect, but luckily only appears
Update: Knowledgeable reader Chris K informs me that the video defect is a "cue dot", a device used to let broadcasters know that a commercial break was coming up. That explains a lot.
Odd square in the upper corner - part 3 ep 2 @ 34 min.
Unfortunately, there are no bonus features offered.
These were excellent stories. Gripping,
intelligent, and often suspenseful Armchair Thriller Set
One is a wonderful
set. I only wish that they had released
the shows in order, but that's a small complaint. Run
out and pick this one up. Highly Recommended.