Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dawn and Kerry Double for Trouble

Tammy 6 February - 20 March 1971

Unlike most Tammy serials, Dawn and Kerry Double for Trouble is character based, rather than plot based. By which I mean that there is no overarching plot, no long term goal to be reached.  Kerry and Dawn are just two friends who accidentally trip over Scooby Doo style plots every so often. They don't learn from it. They aren't changed by it. They just continue on until it's time for something else to happen to them. Their initial run is the shortest of Tammy's initial line up, but they return for a second adventure a few months later.

In an opening so clich├ęd that it would turn up as a parody in The Rocky Horror Show only a couple of years later, friends Dawn and Kerry are caught out in the rain and forced to seek shelter in the nearby spooky mansion Whispering Heights. They've barely had time to duck under the cover of the courtyard before they are accosted by a large unfriendly man and an old woman. These are Madam Sahl and Gerald. They will be our villains for this adventure.[1]

Why the two villains are wandering around in the rain is never explained, but perhaps they saw the girls approaching the house and decided to head them off into the exact place they wanted to keep them away from.

The rain lets up a bit so Dawn and Kerry leave, but before they've got far Kerry notices her purse has gone missing. In fact we can see it knocked out of her bag when the villainous guy was pushing her around earlier. Sneaking back to search for the purse, the two girls find a staircase leading down that they'd failed to notice before [2], and decide to nose around, because nothing gets the curiosity up like large unfriendly men pushing you around and monocle-wearing old women telling you to leave.

Downstairs the find a girl locked in a dungeon.They immediately manage to get themselves locked in with her[3], but are able to escape when the villains let the girl, Victoria, out to have dinner. The two sleuths run to the nearest police station for help, but when they return to the spooky mansion the villains deny ever having seen the girls, and perplexingly, so does Victoria.

As they leave, Victoria passes a note to Dawn[4] that reads:
I have done a dreadful thing that must not be known by the Police, and I owe everything to Madam Sahl for keeping my secret. Thanks for trying to help, but keep away from Whispering Heights - for your own sakes.


Dawn and Kerry immediately plan to return to Whispering Heights and so, for the sake of plot, walk twenty minutes back to the hotel run by Dawn's aunt Betty, where they are staying. Aunt Betty sets them to work, cleaning the place in preparation for two very distinguished looking visitors.[6] It's plot convenience theatre here, as we are informed that Mr and Mrs Courtney-Bingham are only staying at the hotel because their car broke down, and before the page is over Kerry has accidentally caused one of their suitcases to fly open revealing a photo of Victoria helpfully inscribed "To darling Mummy and Daddy".

Mr Courtney-Bingham bursts in for some reason, catching the two going through his luggage. Kerry tells him that his daughter is being held prisoner at Whispering Heights but despite all the evidence to the contrary, he denies having a daughter or ever having heard of the place that Aunt Betty is even at that moment phoning for a taxi, at his request, to take him to.

But it must be a very slow taxi or a very busy day for them, as it's only just arrived as Dawn and Kerry get to Wuthering Whispering Heights. They hide behind an open window to listen in but strangely the clear glass pane does not hide them very well and they are spotted almost immediately. Realising there's no way they'll be rid of the two pests until they tell them what's going on, Courtney-Bingham explains that Victoria's father was his best friend, and that Victoria never recovered from the death of her parents, acting strangely and even becoming violent. Dawn refuses to believe this, but after Victoria runs out of the room Madam Sahl follows her and as soon as she is out of sight, shouts for help.

Running to her aid, they find Madam Sahl at the bottom of the stairs with Victoria standing over her. Sahl claims that Victoria pushed her down the stairs but Victoria denies it, but then starts talking about the voices in her head.

It's raining again, and so Madam Sahl invites the interfering girls to stay for tea. But the weather only gets worse, and so, rather than phoning for a taxi to take them the couple of miles home, Madam Sahl insists they stay the night. But they are barely settled in their bedroom before a note is slipped under the door. The note reads:

Please come to the room at the top of the stairs - Urgent!


Ascending the stairs, they open the door to find only empty space. It's a sheer drop to the ground. Madam Sahl and Gerald appear behind them and explain that it once led to the east tower but that the staircase rotted away ages ago.[7] Kerry tells them about the note and they go and confront Victoria. Victoria agrees that it's her handwriting, but doesn't remember writing the note. Then Madam Sahl spots the key to the treacherous door beside Victoria's bed.

Dawn is suspicious, and so once everyone has gone back to bed, she determines to confront Victoria in her bedroom in the cellar.[8] Victoria starts talking about hearing voices again, and right on cue, loud voices start booming into the room.
Dawn immediately traces the voices to a tape recorder hidden in a ventilation duct. She then investigates Madam Sahl's study and finds a blotting paper copy of the note that was left to them, along with Victoria's note book, which they deduce enabled Sahl to forge her handwriting.

The plot then becomes clear. Courtney-Bingham, who conveniently seems to have left the house despite the rain that kept Dawn and Kerry from leaving, is the administrator of Victoria's parents' estate, and Madam Sahl and Gerald are employed by him to run Whispering Towers and look after Victoria (and her trust fund) until she comes of age. With Victoria thought to be insane then they get to keep control forever.

Before Kerry and Dawn can escape to tell anyone, Madam Sahl and Gerald burst in and catch them. Gerald drags them off to throw them through the east wing door, but Dawn manages to hit him over the head and knock him out  with a conveniently placed morning star. The girls then go looking for Victoria, and split up so that Madam Sahl can catch Kerry alone and knock her out, and then lure Dawn up to the east wing door to push her through to her death.

But it turns out Kerry's head is far too hard to be stunned for long by a tap like that, and she yells a warning, causing Dawn to duck, and Madam Sahl to go flying through the door. But the murderous old woman manages to hang onto the ledge, and the girls pull her up. Plot convenience theatre then resumes as Mr Courtney-Bingham turns up again and brings in the police, and the villains confess all, wrapping up the story in half a page.

This last part is clearly rushed to finish off the story to make room for the upcoming merger with Sally. But even so, I'm not sure it would have run more than one more episode. It's just that the story is already so compressed that squeezing it down even further is painful. Particularly where Dawn and Kerry spot the returning Courthey-Bingham's car (which they can't have seen before to recognise) through the deadly doorway, which we have been told only a page earlier was a hundred foot drop, and also appears to be on the other side of the house.

Aside from that, the story is... okay, I guess. It's sub-Scooby Doo "We would have gotten away with it if not for you meddling kids!" fare. Written by Maureen Spurgeon (who also did Molly Mills), it does get horribly contrived in places, which is partly a function of the compression needed for a strip that only runs two pages per issue, but in some places it's just lazy, where the writer has stuff happen purely to fit the plot, without any effort to make it work as story. There are odd moments of humour that do work, but there's not enough of them to pull the story out of its ordinariness or offset its myriad problems.

The art by Giorgio Letteri is much, much better than the story deserves. It is clear and descriptive. When the story tells you that Dawn's purse has fallen out of her bag, you can go back a page and see it happen. When Victoria slips her a note, you see that detail in the picture. When the weather gets bad, you can see lightning through the window in the background. When the story says there's a hundred foot drop from the east wing door, you see a hundred foot drop from the east wing door. Which is a little unfortunate when a page later the art has to contrive to also show the front drive visible from the same door.

We will see more from Dawn and Kerry later, when they trip over another mystery.

1) These are so obviously the villains of the story that we can see it before we even know what the story is about. The old woman is even wearing a monocle. Nobody who was up to any good ever wore a monocle in British comics (not counting Jemima Carstairs, who wasn't technically in a comic). Even Richard O'Brien, when designing flamboyant costumes for his parody homage to 1950's SF and horror B movies stopped short of giving anyone a monocle.
2) even though they'd been so close to it that the purse is found halfway down the steps.
3) I'm not sure how that works, either, since they unbolted the door when they went in. And why did they go in anyway?
4) It is hard to tell them apart at times, but of the two, Dawn is the more sensible and Kerry the more impressionable and flighty.
5) This dreadful secret thing is never referred to again. It could refer to the voices or some other staged incident, but it seems awfully specific.
6) If she's waiting until after they've booked in to tidy up the place then I'm not sure the guests are going to be that impressed.
7) As did, apparently, the east tower, which is not visible in any of the panels featuring this door. And doesn't it let the rain in, being an internal door now having to do the job of an external door? Why hasn't it rotted away?
8) If this is the same cellar room she was locked in at the beginning of the story, you may recall that it was a plot point that not only was it bolted shut, it couldn't be opened from the inside even when the bolt wasn't on it, so how is Victoria supposed to have got out to leave the note? And if it's not, why is Victoria sleeping in a cellar?

1 comment:

  1. Georgio Letteri's artwork is gorgeous - I recognise his style from later Tammy stories. I read Tammy in 1973-76, so this story is a bit before my time. Shame the plot doesn't match the artwork! But I'm sure if I was reading this at age eleven in weekly instalments I wouldn't be too bothered by that :-)