Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #37: The Doctor

Just Enough Information:  The Doctor?  What kind of doctor? That’s okay, because apparently The Doctor isn’t even the real star of his own series.

The Doctor was a one year wonder which rode out the 1952-53 season on NBC and then evaporated like a snowflake…except for stations that needed a cheap gap-plugger for their local schedules.  The Doctor was sort of like the The Whistler in that he didn’t actually figure into most of his stories, but his introductions gave a loose framework on which to hang unrelated stores about people in high emotional stress.  In fact, there was so little doctoring that when the producers dumped the series into syndicated reruns, it was retitled (in the print we’ve been given) The Visitor (and what the hell is that supposed to mean? Is he an alien now?).

Warner Anderson (as The Doctor) was the only series regular, but there’s no telling if that’s even him in the recut Visitor version.  The series actually drew some interesting talent. Rod Serling was one of the writers (but not this episode, oh God no), and Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin popped up in roles.  So it shouldn’t be surprising what I found in the end credits…but you don’t get that just yet, buddy.

The Christmas Episode: “A Tale of Two Christmases”. Original Broadcast: December 21, 1952.

I will give them this, though. The Visitor intro has some great atmosphere.

Keep an eye on this overcoat. You will never see it in the story.

“This is the story of a family and two gifts, and the year that came between them.” We open in December 1951 and as soon as the girl opens her mouth, I get that old familiar sinking feeling.  It’s all about Ann and Jimmy Farrell, estranged (divorced?) parents of young daughter Barby.  Barby just dotes on dad, a travelling salesman (I guess) and really, she’s the only one.  Ann looks so wrung out that she could burst into tears at any moment, and Ann’s father Mr. Bentley, who owns a department store, is kind of an ass, although presumably a well-meaning one.

He takes his girl to see Santa at the department store and overhears the girl suddenly bursting into tears because, since she only gets her dad for one day, she wishes the days could be six days long like at the North Pole. While dad’s trying to calm his daughter down, the floorwalker/Bentley spy walks up at exactly the wrong time with exactly the wrong comments, which sets Jimmy off to the point that he tells the man maybe we will go to the North Pole! There, wise guy, how do you like that?

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Santa and Barby share an uncomfortable moment.

That wasn’t such a hot idea after all, because he takes her to the car and just start driving, and doesn’t bring Barby home at all.  Yes, that’s right, at the core of this little family drama is an attempted child abduction.

Later that night, dad comes to his senses and brings Barby home, but he knows he’s in the soup, and furthermore Bentley knows what flavor of soup Jimmy’s in.  He puts a harsh proposition before the younger man: either cut ties with the daughter for the next year to help her shake loose this bizarre notion that he’s an awesome daddy, or spend that year in jail.  After considering the family-destroying jail option for a second, he takes Bentley up on the first proposition.

I’m running way, way behind, so let’s take the second Christmas in one breath (highlight for spoilers): The resolution of the plot, which happens one year later, involves Jimmy bribing the regular Santa to let him sit in for the hour that his daughter will be visiting, then listening to his tearful little girl (who apparently doesn’t recognize her dad’s voice through the whiskers) ask Santa to take her to where her daddy is. That triggers the realization in mom that yes, she never stopped loving her man.  And they all lived happily ever after…except Bentley, who in that last shot doesn’t seem as happy as he could be.  It’s Joe Santa Claus all over again, I tells ya.

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That’s mom’s version of smiling.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: “A dream can be a good thing if the whole family dreams together.” Except Barby’s grandpa isn’t exactly a dreamer.  You don’t get the feeling that anybody’s changed, so this probably won’t end well the second time around. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Spot ‘Em: And yet, as grindingly off-the-shelf as the story feels from a modern viewpoint, there are a few visual touches that makes you feel like the director was a little bit more ambitious than the script.

Turns out there’s a reason for that, because this was one of the early television works of Robert Aldrich, who moved on to such classics as Kiss Me Deadly, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and The Dirty Dozen. IMDB says this was his only episode of The Doctor, and it’s a shame that he didn’t have something better to work with.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: “A Tale of Two Christmases” is the top half of another Youtube double-feature.

Next: Not just A Christmas Carol, but THE Christmas Carol!

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