A creepy railway station at night, a ghostly vision from the past. Classic Brit-horror ingredients in the Shadows episode, The Waiting Room. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES waits on platform one.
BROADCAST: 24 September 1975
STARRING: Jenny Agutter, Paul Henley, George Innes, Beth Harris
WRITER: Jon Watkins
DIRECTOR: Stan Woodward
Shadows: The Waiting Room Review
Having missed the last train home on a cold, stormy night, siblings Sue and Gerry (Agutter and Henley respectively) are forced to take shelter in the drab waiting room of a railway station while they begin a long wait for the 5:30am service.
The dust and cobweb-strewn place appears to have been untouched in many a year, but it is at least warm and, with no electricity the pair requisition an old oil lamp lying around for light. It doesn’t stay lit for long and, as it sputters into darkness a rail worker appears, surprised to find the pair sitting in the dark.
The railwayman checks the lamp and determines that the oil has run out and the wick needs trimming: “I requisitioned a new lamp weeks ago, ain’t turned up yet. Company won’t fit gaslight, not in a little place like this…”
“Gaslight?”, queries Gerry – after all, this is 1975, isn’t it? Untroubled, the master advises that the next train is due at 1:30, a revelation which sends Sue double-checking her timetable but the insistent gent refers to another train schedule on the wall, dated December 31st 1925…
Time-travel in various guises was proving a prevailing theme for the first series of Shadows, and as the reluctant siblings adjust to their situation, the fellow properly introduces himself as the relief fireman for the early train service and another passenger (Harris) enters the story, dressed in period garb and carrying her pet dog.
As the train arrives, Sue and Gerry make their excuses for not boarding and it’s a good call since, after the service departs, a telephone rings. Gerry answers, and a frantic voice pleads too late with him to stop the train, for a derailment is blocking the line…
The common British horror tropes of a creepy train station, the reliving of a past tragedy, interacting with ghosts… So far, so familiar but The Waiting Room transcends its obvious reference points for if the viewer is lulled into cosy complacency, a final twist in the present day pulls a nice double-switch on its protagonists and the audience, with a chilling but resigned air of inevitability hanging over its closing credits.
The Waiting Room was perhaps squandered in its afternoon slot, for this tale might be best enjoyed late on a winter’s night before bedtime, providing a perfect, gentle frisson before a not-so-good night’s sleep. Shadows had delivered another fine entry in an impressive opening run.
TRIVIA POINTS: Jon Watkins was primarily known for his work in sitcoms and was a key writer on Bless This House (1971-76) around this time. The Waiting Room might be regarded as something of a departure for him, although he would also pen a 1976 story for The Tomorrow People (1973-79), the four-part Into The Unknown.
One suspects that Jenny Agutter’s association with The Railway Children (both the 1968 BBC adaptation and the 1970 film) had some bearing on her casting here, and it’s a nicely disorientating touch to see her in a train-related tale with much darker undertones.