Friday, 28 May 2010

The Unconscious Worlds of Jeff Randall

The television serial "Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)" by the ITC film corporation was aired between September 1969 and March 1970. It tells the story of a private investigators agency where one of the partners, Marty Hopkirk, is murdered in the 1st episode and returns as a ghost to persuade the other partner, Jeff Randall, to pursue his killers. Subsequently he is unable to return to his state of rest and over the next 25 episodes the two, alongside regular Jeannie Hopkirk - the dead Marty's wife, engage in cases from the mundane to the weird.

Anyone who has ever watched the entire series cannot help but to notice the narrative flaws and the bad stunt doubles but there is something else of interest. The number of head injuries the living Jeff Randall acquires that result in his blacking out. Most brain surgeons and doctors of note will concede that three incidents that result in unconsciousness should be a worry but Jeff Randall's fictionalized brain damage is worrying to the extreme.

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2. A Disturbing Case : Knockout

4. Never Trust a Ghost : Knockout

5. That's How Murder Snowballs : Knockout/Knockout/Knockout

6. Just for the Record : Knockout

14. Who Killed Cock Robin? : Knockout

15. The Man from Nowhere : Knockout

17. Somebody Just Walked Over My Grave : Knockout/Knockout

19. A Sentimental Journey : Knockout

24. Vendetta for a Dead Man : Knockout/Knockout

26. The Smile Behind the Veil : Knockout/Knockout

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Out of a total 26 episodes, an air time of 1,274 minutes, Jeff Randall is knocked unconscious 22 times. Some of the incidents are negligible but some are so serious as to render the possibility that the fictional character is so traumatized over the entire series that he has begun to hallucinate the ghost of his partner. As viewers we are informed that only he sees the ghost, and at times it is clear so do a few others, but these others tend to always involve the direct possibility of danger to Randall. Is it possible that the constant threat of injury and death, from the first murderous attempt on his life in the first episode, has provoked an existential schism in the way Randall perceives and experiences the external world.

From the initial episode there are certain indications that the script writers were aware of the problematic nature of the series. It is true that they stuck close to the parameters that are dictated by the expected audience view as regards the psychic world. From the moment of Marty's death, a deliberate hit and run, we are shown a man who appears to have a rather empty life. Jeff Randall returns to his lodgings alone, looking tired and emotionally bereft and it is at this point, that of sub-charged misery, that he receives a phone call from his late and departed partner. It is known that trauma, whether physical or emotional, can cause certain auditory/sensory hallucinations. There are numerous cases of the sightings of ghosts by relatives especially after the initial death. These can take varied forms from thinking you heard them calling your voice "like they use to" from another room or even imagining you have actually seen them.

The phone call from Marty sounds as if it comes from far away, and even though he has just returned from the funeral Randall's automatic reaction is one of familiarity and joy. This quickly subsides as reason comes to the fore and he decides someone is playing a trick on him. After several such calls Randall disconnects and falls asleep. During this ordinary unconscious state he experiences a form of somnambulism and is guided to the grave of his friend where the "ghost" magically appears sitting on the recently disturbed ground. There is no real shock on Randall's part and he accepts the situation all too readily, for his reason now dictates that he cannot dispute the evidence of his own eyes. The next scene we see is Randall awakening, surprised at where he is, and one must question whether we have seen a dream or a genuine psychic experience.

Most viewers would assume that it is just a TV programme and to take the view that the script writers intended us to suspect the viability of the discourse by using the art of whim and deception. But there are no accidents. If the script writer did not believe in an afterlife - and there are a few noticeable faults in the conception, particularly in Episode 24, where even Marty questions the knowing of what becomes of the falling jailbird - then he would negate any sense of the spiritual and reduce the credibility factor to zero. This is necessary because the guidelines for mixing religion and spiritualism are quite strict. There are, therefore, very few religious themes in the show and an absence of any religious depth. We are expected to accept the "ghost" as a result of his sudden and untimely death.

Jeff Randall's concussions vary from the semi-groggy to long hours of unconsciousness and are as a result of several forms of assault from a simple blow to the jaw to an assault with a blunt object on the back of the head. Several times he is shown recovering from this state and on one particular occasion actually looks as if he is suffering from the after effects of a real attack. The amount of injuries may obviously be put down to market demands but there could be another more subtle reason. Each time Randall is captured and locked up the script writers have to devise a form of communication whereby the ghost can rescue his material partner.

These rescue attempts take many forms. From the self-hypnotized psychiatrist through to the near-death operational patient and onto the psychic tea lady in the quaint English village. These are all to help suggest the physicality of the "ghost" and dissuade us from considering any other possibility except that the "ghost" is real though immaterial. If, and there are cases to prove the argument, trauma (both physical and emotional) is capable of projecting beyond the mental confines the seemingly real appearances of the dead, then is it not possible that the force of character - the will power - can affect others in the same way. Could Randall's brain damage and emotional lack of fixation produce elements of auto-suggestion and crowd hysteria.

There are several moments in the series that would demonstrate this argument to be in error. The psychiatrist is a point in question. He has no original contact with Randall but Marty tries to persuade his patients to get him to see Randall (who has temporarily been impersonated by a doppelganger). Now the psychiatrist would use his reason and learning if informed of the matter and ultimately refer to Jung's theory of synchronicity. The number of coincidences in the series are actually minute, and though some of the episodes are derivative, the main thrust of the show is about Randall's relationship with the ghost.

In episode 22 Randall is keen to resume a solo career and attempts to deter Marty from helping him but he cannot and as usual Marty has to rescue him. Even in episodes 4, 8, 10 and 17 the trust of both partners is called into question. Both consider the other to be in serious error as regard to the factual incidents of the case - this is peculiar for the "ghost" never really calls his position to the fore as a strength in any debate, and even in episode 8, the ghost's credibility leads Randall to consult a doctor on the ghost's health. There is a weird absence of trust and this I believe to be as a direct result of the continuous threats to Randall's well being and state of mind. He becomes comfortable with the ghost, reliant on him, and enters into a secret life which others would question as mentally unbalanced.

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