Book Review – Doctor Who: The Guardian of the Solar System

  • Title: The Guardian of the Solar System
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/08/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The Guardian of the Solar System is the third audio in the Doctor Who Sara Kingdom First Doctor Trilogy. The audio is performed by Jean Marsh as Sara and Niall MacGregor as Robert. I also listened to it about a week ago and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write my review.

Anyway, Sara and Robert have switched places and now Sara is alive and Robert is the spirit of the House – and even though Sara was able to leave the house, she still cannot leave the Island of Ely because there are no boats or other ways off the Island. So again, Sara must tell Robert a story.

Sara tells Robert how she, Steven, and the Doctor landed on her Earth, a year or two before she originally met the Doctor. On Earth, there is a massive Grandfather Clock that is the balance to the hyperspace lanes – it keeps the entire system going and the Earth Empire depends on it for trade and commerce. The hyperspace lanes are essential to Earth. However, the Clock is fed old men – grandfathers, literally. The men work the Clock, and the Clock balances the system. The ticking of the clock underpins the CD, and the sound had started at the end of the previous volume.

Sara does try to change things at first, especially trying to warn her brother, Bret Vyon, but he of course doesn’t believe her. Sara also gets an “audience” with Mavic Chen, who explains the importance of the Clock. Sara realizes that, even though the Clock is a great evil, she can’t destroy it – because that will lead to the greater evil of Chen throwing in with the Daleks. But she also sees the inevitability of it all. Sara goes to stop the Doctor and Steven – but she is too late, and they are assisting the old men in their sabotage of the Clock. In the end, the Grandfather Clock is destroyed and the Doctor, Steven and Sara escape in the TARDIS.

Back at the house, Robert asks what Sara wants … what she wishes for. Then we hear the sounds of the TARDIS landing in the House. And the story ends open-ended, with Sara needing to decide – Will she open the TARDIS door?

I enjoyed this story, and, in fact, the entire trilogy. It’s was wonderful to see a story with Sara Kingdom (especially as “The Daleks’ Masterplan” is one of those stories that no longer exists). The third volume brings in lines and situations from the previous two volumes, sometimes reversing them. In a sense, the entire story is a circle – and I liked that as well. The trilogy is highly, highly recommended, especially for Classic Doctor Who fans.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Guardian of the Solar System on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Drowned World

  • Title: The Drowned World
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/06/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The middle volume of a trilogy is often an odd duck – it’s a story without a beginning and without an ending, a link in a larger tale. Is it any wonder that the “middle film” or “middle book” is often the poorest rated – yet without it the third story wouldn’t be as strong or popular. The Drowned World doesn’t fall into that trap by being almost stand-alone, except for the framing story. This is the second audio play in the Sara Kingdom trilogy. If you haven’t listened to Home Truths first, do. And you may seriously want to listen to Home Truths before reading this review.

Sometime after the events in Home Truths, Robert returns to the House on the Island, Ely. Sara, the spirit of the house, is waiting for him. Sara cares for Robert, urging him to eat something, and begins to tell him another tale.

The TARDIS lands in a tilted laboratory. From the beginning, it’s clear something is horribly wrong – everything in the lab is askew, bolted tables, chairs, and equipment hanging off the walls, the door on the ceiling, and a lake of silvery water filling the room. As the First Doctor, Steven, and Sara exit, the TARDIS slips from it’s precarious position below the water. Sara, telling the story to Robert, remarks she felt very grateful she had thought to close the TARDIS door. The lab is part of a mining colony on an asteroid – the miners are in trouble, their atmosphere generator has been damaged and they won’t have enough air to last until the rescue party arrives. The Doctor immediately sets to work fixing the oxygen generator. Meanwhile, Sara and Steven work with three miners to pull the TARDIS out of the lake. The rope they try to use to rescue the TARDIS melts in the water as if it was acid. One of the assisting miners is killed. The other miners, Steven, and Sara are attacked by the living water, literally – an alien being with the appearance of water. To escape the attack, the rising water, and prevent the deadly water from flooding the rest of the colony, it’s Sara who slams shut the door and locks it. It’s also Sara who breaks open the portal to outside – taking the group to the surface of the asteroid. Unfortunately, though they make it to the airlock they can’t get the door open from the outside. Sara crosses back to the deadly water-logged room to tell the Doctor and the other miners of the colony that they need to let everyone in. Sara’s message is heard, the group rescued, but Sara is still trapped – and dies.

In dying, Sara communes with the water-being. She discovers that the mining is destroying the water beings and poisoning the asteroid. Then she is let go. Sara recovers and convinces the miners to abandon the colony when the rescue ship arrives. Yet, as she tells Robert – she knows that she only delayed the inevitable. The rock held valuable minerals – sooner or later the unique being living there would be destroyed to get to those minerals.

That is the story-within-the-story, the framing story connects with Home Truths and The Guardian of the Solar System. As it concludes, Robert’s motivations become clear – it wants something from Sara, something she isn’t sure she can grant – but if she does, there is a price to be paid. And this leads into the final volume of the trilogy.

Sara is played, wonderfully, by Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom in Doctor Who “The Daleks’ Masterplan”; Morgaine in Doctor Who “Battlefield”; and Rose the Lady’s Maid in the original Upstairs, Downstairs). Robert is played by Niall MacGregor. The Drowned World is written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Drowned World on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Home Truths

  • Title: Home Truths
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/24/2016

Home Truths is a haunted house story. No really – it really is. And it’s a incredibly well-constructed one that works particularly well on audio. I can see this one becoming an annual Halloween favorite. Home Truths begins with the First Doctor (as played by William Hartnell in the original Doctor Who television series), Sara Kingdom, and Steven Taylor landing the TARDIS inside a house. Yes, inside the house – wherein becomes the problem, because they can’t leave by the traditional method – the door, the house has been well and truly sealed. And if you’re wondering how a companion could be traveling around with the Doctor when she’s mostly famous for dying (opps, sorry, spoiler there – but we are talking about a character death from 1966, ok, 50 years – that’s well enough time to not need a spoiler warning) – it turns out that Sara per canon did travel in the extremely unreliable TARDIS for awhile. Anyway, the trio alight the TARDIS and almost immediately stumble over the dead body of a woman, and later, a young man. The deserted house is strewn with wedding presents, most not even unwrapped. The Doctor starts to figure out the mystery when a glass of water appears near his hand, and he remarks that he was thinking about how he’d like some water. But it’s Sara who makes a mistake – placing her hand in a hand-shaped groove near the near from the kitchen. Sara had thought it was a door control, similar to the security panels in her own time. But Sara’s innocent action will have far reaching consequence – that stretch into the two sequels that follow this story, The Drowned World, and The Guardian of the Solar System.

Eventually, the Doctor, with some help from Sara and Steven solves the mystery – which I’m not going to reveal, though the truth is quite horrifying. I’m also not going to reveal here what effect Sara’s innocent action would have. The story is also framed as an interview between the mysterious “Robert”, a policeman of sorts, and Sara, who narrates the story.

Sara is played, wonderfully, by Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom in Doctor Who “The Daleks Masterplan”; Morgaine in Doctor Who “Battlefield”; and Rose the Lady’s Maid in the original Upstairs, Downstairs). Robert is played by Niall MacGregor. Home Truths is written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Home Truths on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Upstairs Downstairs Series 5 (final season)

  • Series Title:  Upstairs Downstairs
  • Season: Series 5 (Season 5)
  • Episodes:  16
  • Discs:  5
  • Cast:  Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh, Angela Baddeley, David Langton, Simon Williams, Hannah Gordon, Christopher Beeny, Jenny Tomasin, Lesley-Anne Down, Jacqueline Tong
  • Network:  ITV (UK) – Granada

Series 5 of Upstairs Downstairs is longer (16 episodes) and much more episodic. The season tackles individual “topics” rather than focusing on a continuing story either upstairs or downstairs, and covers the entire time period from the end of World War I to 1930.

In one episode, James buys an airplane (an left over from the war) and takes his new step-mother, Virginia, for a spin – then the plane goes missing. As happens in the days before cell phones, they had gotten lost in the fog, and started to run out of fuel, but James lands the plane safely – then he couldn’t find a phone to tell anyone he and Virginia were OK, and by the way – Could someone come with a trailer and pick up the plane? The story is told entirely in Eaton Place.

Another story takes place during the general strike of 1925. Suddenly, we find out that Ruby (the somewhat dim, but not as dumb as she appears, kitchen maid) has an uncle who’s a coal miner. (A coal strike had started the general strike.) Hudson airs his extremely conservative, and uninformed views (calling the strikers “reds” out to ‘destroy the country” by “making war on the government”). When we meet Ruby’s uncle, who’s starving, he states that “every five hours boy or man dies in the mines, and we’re still finding the skeletons.” He also talks about the mine owners cutting already low wages, and that he can’t afford to feed his family on the new wages. Hudson throws the man out, and burns his newsletter that Edward, the Chauffeur had started to read.

Another episode about Ruby, has her getting into a tiff with Mrs. Bridges, and quitting, then getting a new job immediately as a maid-of-all-work (the phrase isn’t used, but when she describes her job, that’s precisely what it is) – since she had applied for the job of cook (only), being told to make the beds, scrub the front door, stoke and care for the fires, scrub the kitchen, in addition to cooking and cleaning was a case of the job she applied for not being the job she got. Her employer is also a right biddy – and a bully to boot. When Ruby sends a letter to Daisy, she tells Mrs. Bridges – who goes to see Ruby, discovers the situation is worse than the letters, takes her out of there and brings her back to Eaton Place.

Meanwhile, Mr., now, Lord Bellamy, has Virginia entertain a friend of his, Sir Guy Paynter, hoping to get some political advantage. Sir Guy is played deliciously and slimeily by Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great and Small, Harry Potter). Virginia becomes increasingly frustrated by his advances, and Lord Bellamy isn’t worried as he believes Sir Guy is gay. Eventually, Virginia turns Sir Guy down flat – as his mother is pressuring him to marry. Lord Bellamy has the last laugh, as he gets his political appointment when the PM (or was it the Admiralty?) anyway, when the politician receives a letter from Sir Guy recommended the appointment of anyone but Lord Bellamy – so he appoints Bellamy because, “he didn’t want someone in Sir Guy’s pocket.” Welcome to British politics!

Another episode takes place at a Scottish fishing lodge – with the weirdest game keeper and housekeeper ever! It’s somewhat scary and spooky – though Hudson comes to the rescue and figures things out.

Georgina has her own problems, falling in with a wild group of “Bright Young Things” who lead her in to a number of misadventures (and costing the Bellamys a footman). But when one wild night ends in Georgina striking and killing a farm worker with her car on a lonely rural road, she realises the party is over. She also finds a new man – Robert, the Marquis of Stockbridge.

James admits his love for Georgina (his much younger first cousin, and his father’s ward). She turns him down flat. James, heartbroken, goes to America (throughout the entire series, characters that leave the series “go to America”, which I found amusing and a bit non-specific). In the second to last episode, James, returns to England having made his fortune in the stock market. Unfortunately, it’s 1929 and he doesn’t take his money out of the stock market. James loses everything, including Rose’s nest egg (which James invests) from her Australian boyfriend in the war.

After losing everything, James fights with his father, tells Georgina he’s sorry he can’t pay for her wedding, and disappears in the night. The police arrive at Eaton Place to tell Virginia and Lord Bellamy, James committed suicide in a London hotel room.

However, Robert, the Marquis, returns and re-proposes to Georgina, telling her his parents now approve (after taking him on a grand tour – and away from Georgina). Georgina, however, is in a funk over James’ death (remember she had, had another man propose to her and then kill himself when she turned him down). Virginia solves the issue, creatively, but slightly illegally (she manages to accidentally invent money laundering – but it’s in a good cause.)

In the final episode, Georgina marries Robert in a grade style – and all goes well. Mr. Hudson finally marries Mrs. Bridges, and the two retire to a seaside cottage. Eaton Place is sold and all it’s contents are auctioned to pay James’ debts. Rose goes to live (and work for) the Bellamy’s at their smaller country estate. Daisy and Edward are hired by Georgina and Robert, with a cottage on their estate of their own, and Edward even gets a promotion to butler.  Ruby is taken in by Mrs. Bridges and Hudson, and she quietly remarks to Rose, “They’re old – and when they’re gone, I’ll have the place all to my self!”

The series ends with Rose in the empty Eaton Place, hearing the voices of other servants through the years, and she closes windows and takes a last look around. It was actually quite creepy to me – like the house was filled with ghosts. It reminded me of Sapphire and Steel as well as the Doctor Who audio play Chimes of Midnight from Big Finish. It was just, creepy.

Overall, Upstairs Downstairs was much slower paced, more episodic ( had less connected story lines), and had a smaller cast than Downton Abbey. But it was made in the 1970s, and was largely studio bound. But what Upstairs Downstairs did, and often did well, was contrast the lives of the Upper Crust upstairs and their servants downstairs. Sometimes this was very direct – Georgina spends £1,700.00 – £2,000.00 pounds on her wedding. Hudson and Mrs. Bridges spend practically nothing – getting married at the local registry office (which is like getting married at the court house or by a justice of the peace in the US). And both the Bellamy family and their servants have their problems. Upstairs Downstairs did portray being “In Service” as a noble profession, and often the only choice (or a better choice), for particularly women in service. However, the series didn’t shy away from showing people other than the Bellamys treating their servants horribly. And even the Bellamys fired pregnant maids and gay footmen.

Servants in Victorian and Edwardian England were not, as some seem to think, “the same as slaves”. For one thing – they were paid. True, not much, but what do you think a worker at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart makes as a wage? And live-in servants also received room, board, and fabric to make their uniforms. And, although Upstairs Downstairs, makes a big deal about servants needing “a reference” to get a new job, in the memoir, Below Stairs, the cook describes there were about a million ways to get around that, from having a friend write a phony reference to telling a potential new employer their previous one had died. (No, seriously, that apparently worked.) Servants also had mobility – both within a household and by moving to a better position in another household. Footmen became valets or under-butlers, then butler, and an ambitious butler could aim to be major domo of a larger household. Women started as scullery maids, and moved up to either kitchen maid then cook or housemaid, parlour maid, housekeeper. Lady’s maid was one of the highest levels of for a female servant, her main duties being to help her lady dress, and take care of her clothes, jewelry, gloves, shoes, and bedoir. The Nanny and the Governess were separate and often ‘neither above nor below’ spending all their time with the children, even meals. Once World War I began (for the UK in 1914) women began to work at other jobs outside the home for both the middle classes and servants. Though some noble (and upper class) women merely volunteered their time, others worked in paid labor. And, after the war, because the UK had lost an entire male generation, more women (regardless of class) were able to work in the 1920s, unlike in the US where women still were not allowed to work. Overall, it’s an excellent series, and I recommend it.

Upstairs Downstairs Series 4

  • Series Title:  Upstairs Downstairs
  • Season: Series 4 (Season 4)
  • Episodes:  13
  • Discs:  4
  • Cast:  Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh, Angela Baddeley, David Langton, Simon Williams, Christopher Beeny, Jenny Tomasin, Lesley-Anne Down, Meg Wynn Owen, Jacqueline Tong
  • Network:  ITV (UK) – Granada

Series Four of Upstairs Downstairs covers the First World War – the entire war. The season starts where the previous season at left off, in 1914, as the UK has declared war on Germany. James, who hadn’t adjusted well to leaving the army and working in the city the previous season, has already re-joined the army before war is even declared. Everyone is enthusiastic and happy, waving flags, singing patriotic British songs, and thinking the war will be over in six months. Young men rush to join up so they, “don’t miss it”.

This season of Upstairs Downstairs cleverly covers as many aspects of World War I as they can. Hudson, ever patriotic and distrusting of “foreigners” – becomes even more prejudiced, and subscribes to propaganda magazines. When Hazel, James’s wife, finds out – she’s livid and reads him the riot act. Hudson also attempts to join up several times and is rejected for his age (only 35) and “ill health” (he wears reading glasses). He, then, instead becomes a “special constable”, basically, special police. In a very strong episode, Mrs. Bridges is getting bread from a local bakery she’s used for years. The man who owns the bakery is second-generation German and a British citizen, but speaks with a German accent, as does his wife. While Hudson and the constables are protecting some building that doesn’t need protecting, a gang of “patriotic” British people, attack, vandalize, and burn down the German’s bakery. He shows up at Eaton Place with his family, including young children. The servants try to help, but in the end the baker’s wife is upset (understandably) at what happened, and even the normally happy-go-lucky baker is angry at Hudson, because he felt that the special constables should have protected his store. And remember, he may have German roots – but he’s a loyal British citizen.

Meanwhile, Ruby, the somewhat dim kitchen-maid, quits her job in service and gets a job working in a munitions plant, where she can make more money – and do her own patriotic duty (Ruby explains, “They say any woman who goes out to work is doing the same duty as a man who goes to war because it frees the man to join up instead of work.” She’s quoting a newspaper.) Ruby is absent from several episodes, but finally returns when her plant is blown-up in a zeppelin raid. Ruby gets re-hired as kitchen maid. However, in another episode when a bomb explodes very near Eaton Place, damaging the windows and the drawing room, Ruby becomes quite hysterical – obviously flashing back to being in a building that was bombed.

Daisy and Edward, marry, and then Edward goes off to war. He is injured and invalided home, suffering from severe shell shock (PTSD). He’s sent back again, but survives, and is eventually given an honorable discharge. At the end of the season, they both give notice and decide to make their own way in the world.

Meanwhile, though Daisy had talked of getting a part-time job (in addition to her duties as maid) as a omnibus “conductorette”, it’s Rose who actually does it – even though when Daisy had discussed the idea, Rose pooh-poohed her. Rose continues to work at Eaton Place, and does part-time shifts as “conductorette”. (Similar to Hudson, who works both as butler and as special constable.) She runs into her once-intended Australian, Gregory, again. He’s in the Anzac’s (Australia and New Zealand corps). Running into him again, Rose realises that she made a mistake in giving him up. They get engaged again, with plans to marry after the war. Naturally, he’s killed. However, in the last episode of the season, Rose discovers she’s inherited a large amount of money from Gregory.

Georgina quickly joins up to be a nurse in London, and even though she has a few missteps, the sister in charge sees something in her and asks if she’d be willing to go to France as a nurse. Georgina had always wanted to be a real nurse helping soldiers – not merely changing sheets, and helping women in the local hospital, so she readily agrees. She turns out to be a extremely successful nurse.

James comes home on leave and complains about, well, just about everything. Hazel then uses her influence to get him posted to a safer post in the behind-the-lines officers station. James is not pleased about this. Hazel, trying to please him, then has him transferred back to the front. Eventually, James is reported missing presumed dead. However, he turns up in Georgina’s hospital, severely wounded and in shock. Hazel decides he should recover at home, and hires a private ambulance and nurse to bring him back to England. Both James and MP Richard Bellamy don’t approve, pretty much for the same reason – they don’t want to unfairly use their influence for personal reasons. Hazel gets what she wants. James does recover at home, but becomes increasingly sullen, depressed, and begins to show signs of shell shock, himself.

Richard Bellamy meets a war widow, Virginia Hamilton, and despite the two not liking each other at all at first – they fall in love and marry towards the end of the season. Virginia has two children from her first marriage. She had three, but her oldest son is killed in the war. Richard is also elevated to the Peerage and made a Lord. This is both an honor, and a way of kicking him out of Conservative Politics (as a Lord, he has the right to sit in the House of Lords – therefore he can no longer be an MP). Richard, though elected as a Tory (Conservative Party) through the influence of his wife’s family, had often held more middle-of-the-road and Liberal (as in the British Liberal Party) views, and had “crossed the line” when voting to follow his conscience. Needless to say, in earlier seasons of the show, his wife, her family, and even his lawyer did not approve. (Among Mr. Bellamy’s “liberal” stances – supporting universal free education, and Home Rule for Ireland. The Conservative response was, and I quote the show, “What do the poor need education for? All it will do it teach them what they don’t have.” What stuck-up nonsense.)

Series Four moves through the years of the war – dealing with a number of issues: shortages, hoarding, rationing, women working outside the home (many for the first time; others servants who found a way to make more money), zeppelin raids, bombings in London, men coming home physically disabled, men dying, soldiers with shell shock (which was an old term for what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and even women developing the same (Ruby is also clearly suffering from PTSD after being caught in a factory that was bombed). It also shows the subtle changes in attitude from 1914 when everyone was gung-ho and happy, to 1917 and even early 1918 when people felt like they were losing.

The armistice finally comes in November of 1918, and in the final episode of the season. However, Eaton Place is still not free from tragedy, as Hazel succumbs to Spanish Flu.

Upstairs, Downstairs Series 3

  • Series Title:  Upstairs Downstairs
  • Season: Series 3 (Season 3)
  • Episodes:  13
  • Discs:  4
  • Cast:  Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh, Angela Baddeley, David Langton, Simon Williams, Christopher Beeny, Jenny Tomasin, Lesley-Anne Down, Meg Wynn Owen
  • Network:  ITV (UK) – Granada

The third season of Upstairs Downstairs  moves very quickly, despite storylines which most would consider depressing. The first episode features Lady Marjorie planning a trip to New York to join her daughter, Elizabeth, before they all travel to Canada. At the very end of the episode, we see the name of the steamship she will travel on – the Titanic. In the next episode, the family has heard of the sinking of the Titanic, Everyone assumes that Mrs. Bellamy and her maid, Roberts, have drowned. Richard even receives official notice of their deaths. Roberts arrives in the middle of the night, tells them she was separated from “her ladyship”, but she was able to get into a lifeboat. She, however, has also “gone mad” from the trauma. Meanwhile, Richard is working on a political biography, and has employed a secretary to type his manuscript. Hazel becomes invaluable to the household.

With Lady Marjorie gone, and Elizabeth mentioned as “living in America” but never shown, Upstairs Downstairs changes focus to those who are left. Richard, is suddenly without money, because with his wife dead he no longer has access to her money. It even looks like he may have to leave the family’s beloved Eaton Place. James, as Marjorie’s son, however, inherits £50,000 as does his sister in the U.S. He makes an arrangement to buy out the lease and Richard, essentially lives as his boarder. James also falls for Hazel, and they marry despite some difficulties.

Rose, meanwhile, shows her sensitive side – when the former footman, Alfred, shows up at the door, soaked to the skin, cold, and starving, she takes him in and hides him in a storage room off the kitchen, passing him off as a “pigeon” when Hudson inquires about the noise. Unfortunately, the story he’s told her about “losing his job”, isn’t quite the truth. He’s wanted by the police for murdering his master. At first he claims to be innocent, then he takes Edward hostage, and admits he did the crime in a fit of passion. Rose talks him down and he’s arrested.

Rose also gets to fall in love – meeting an Australian by chance, and engaging in an whirlwind romance – the kind she’d often criticised other maids for having. When the Australian, whom she’s only known for a matter of days proposes, she accepts him. However, when she gets to the docks to join him on his ship to Australia, she balks and literally can’t go through with it. Rose returns to Eaton Place.

Meanwhile, Richard Bellamy takes in Georgina as his ward. She’s the step-daughter of “Uncle Hugo”, Richard’s brother, who also died on the Titanic. James becomes smitten with his “step-cousin”, as his own marriage to Hazel begins to fall apart after her miscarriage.

In the final episode of the season, Britain enters World War I – and it sets up what will probably be the focus of the following season.

So, this one season actually covers the same historical period as the first couple of seasons of Downton Abbey, which starts it’s first episode with the sinking of the Titanic, and it’s second season focuses on World War I.

Upstairs, Downstairs Series 2

  • Series Title:  Upstairs Downstairs
  • Season: Series 2 (Season 2)
  • Episodes:  13
  • Discs:  4
  • Cast:  Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh, Angela Baddeley, David Langton, Simon Williams, Rachel Gurney, Christopher Beeny, Nicola Pagett, Pauline Collins< Jenny Tomasin, John  Alderton
  • Network:  ITV (UK) – Granada

The second season of Upstairs, Downstairs focuses on the Bellamy family, and the “family” downstairs of their servants.  Now married, Elizabeth finds that life with Lawrence (Ian Ogilvy) wasn’t what she expected. He has no desire to have a physical relationship with her, and when his failings become a problem, he arranges for her to have an affair with his publisher. Elizabeth does as he wants, but decides the entire situation is intolerable and returns home – but discovers she cannot get a divorce. She has the other man’s child, and lives separate from Lawrence. Almost immediately she meets and has a torrid affair with Julius Karekin – an Armenian. However, Julius turns out to be a social climber who uses her to raise his own social position and then dumps her.

James, meanwhile, has his own issues – he has an affair with Sarah, the former house under parlour maid, who has left the household to pursue a career on the stage.  When Sarah becomes pregnant, Lady Marjorie and Richard are not amused. Sarah is packed off to Southwold (Lady Marjorie’s father’s country estate) and James is sent to India as a captain in the Life Guards. Sarah, never one to leave well enough alone, returns to 165 Eaton place when her baby is due – arriving on the same evening that King Edward dines with the Bellamy’s at their house.  Sarah survives the birth, but her and James’ baby dies.

Later, Sarah and the new chauffeur, Thomas Watkins, have an affair – when Sarah becomes pregnant again, Lady Marjorie decides that it’s too much and prepares to sack the maid. However, Sarah and Thomas have a plan – Sarah tells an elaborate story of a strange man taking advantage of her, and Thomas offers to marry her to make her “respectable”. Lady Marjorie has a fit, and forbids the marriage, telling Thomas to think of his career – even though Richard had given them “permission” to marry. In the end, Thomas and Sarah leave, and Richard even gives them the money for Thomas to start his own garage business. It’s Ruby, the simple kitchen maid, who is the only one who realises that there was no “mystery man” and Thomas was the father of Sarah’s child all along. Thomas and Sarah spin off into their own series.

Series 2 avoids the controversy and social comment of the first series, and focuses on the Bellamy family and their servants. But Upstairs, Downstairs continues to show historical attitudes that are really quite shocking to a modern audience – such as the racism and class-ism. Even, Hudson, the stalwart butler, seems not only happy with his lot, but protests any movement towards modernity, especially in social attitudes.

Two episodes are of note, besides the previously mentioned episode of the king coming to dinner while Sarah has and loses her baby. The first has to do with the suffragettes. Elizabeth, befriends one of the leaders of the suffragettes, and agrees to not only let them meet in the Bellamy household, but to attack a MP who lives nearby. Rose objects to not only Elizabeth’s actions, but to women voting. However, when she goes to prevent the suffragettes violent attack – she is arrested along with the middle-class women who had organized the attack. Where Elizabeth is released right away after paying a fine – Rose and the other women are not only put in prison – they are force-fed. The brutality, and horror of what happened, is just awful. It is important to remember just what these women endured so that women could have the right to vote.

The second is a study in contrasts – when both Mr. Bellamy’s brother, Hugo, and Hudson’s brother come to visit. Hugo has inherited his family’s wealth and his position, and is a hopeless snob, bully, and basically a terrible person. But Hudson’s brother, a self-made man, and engineer, who is literally building the Empire, by constructing many bridges and such – is a kind, gentle man. Hudson, however, feels somewhat inadequate, decides he must impress his brother and his family – so he puts them up in an expensive hotel, and takes them to expensive meals. The contrasts between the two men, and their relationships was very well-done and I enjoyed the episode a lot. Besides, Gordon Jackson is just wonderful as Hudson, the butler, and he gets to really shine in the story.

Overall, Series 2, feels much more like the Upstairs, Downstairs I remember – and the suffragette episode is one I clearly remember watching when I originally saw the show. I highly recommend the series.

One warning – I have the 40th Anniversary Edition on DVD, and I watched the making of special and Simon Williams and Alfred Shaughnessy interview on this DVD – both are filled with spoilers for the rest of the series. If you have not seen Upstairs, Downstairs before, do not watch any of the extra features until you have watched the entire series. In addition, the interview of Simon Williams and Alfred Shaughnessy takes place outside and the sound is abysmal. I had to use the close captioning/subtitle feature to have any idea what Simon was saying, as he seems to have either lost or turned off his mike halfway through the interview – it’s really an awful presentation.