Prisoner Cell Block H, Volume 5 (UK release) contains episodes 129 thrugh 160 of the long running Australian drama. Cast your mind back to when Bea could fix everything, Judy was thin(ner), inmates were wearing old blue dungarees, Meg was still Mrs Jackson and Davo was in charge. And that’s where the episodes on this DVD release fit in.
Episode 129 kicks off with Doreen (Collette Mann) in a storeroom just about to be assaulted by factory worker, Vince Talbot (John Larking). The women are out on a work release program, sewing government uniforms in a local factory.
A few episodes in, Vince gets a nasty shock (literally) when Bea Smith (Val Lehman) takes Doreen’s place on the work release. Good old Bea, always looking out for her mates!
Following cancellation of the factory project, Vince’s former colleague Kay White (Sandy Gore), lures him to the prison with the promise of repaying an old debt. As he is leaving, a game of volleyball gets out of control and Vince gets a kicking.
Factory bookkeeper and gambling addict, Kay White, is a nasty piece of work both in and out of Wentworth. It doesn’t take long for the women to catch on and sabotage the outcome of her trial. Sentenced to five years in Wentworth, she continues to cause trouble, including selling drugs to Mouse (Jentah Sobott) and getting in a fight with Bea Smith. Kay finally gets her comeuppance in episode 146.
Episode 141 brings with it the arrival of drug smuggler. Tracey Morris (Sue Devine). ‘Innocent’, naive daddy’s girl, Tracey, brought with her lots of trouble, Judy (Betty Bobbitt) fell in love with her, Meg Jackson (Elspeth Ballantyne) got shot, a policewoman was killed and Tracey’s father, Bob (Anthony Hawkins), found himself a new wife.
Around this time, Vera Bennett realised how lonely she was, and after a poor attempt to hook herself a fella, she turns to alcohol. After going to work drunk and losing her keys, she resigned. Lucky for her, Mrs Davidson (Patsy King) is an old softy and let her keep her job.
Doreen has a pretty rubbish time in these episodes. She finds herself pregnant and divorced, then tries to hang herself. Shortly after, her release date comes through. Finally, some good news! The women throw her a farewell party and off she goes to live at her mum’s house.
Mrs Davidson had arranged a job for her in the children’s ward at Wentworth General Hospital. Nothing could go wrong. Until baby Elizabeth Latham is admitted and Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence) loudly announces to the ward that Doreen is an ex-con. It goes downhill from there, when Doreen takes Elizabeth home and hides her. She’s back with her friends within days.
Following a hot date (they went for a curry) with Jim Fletcher (Gerard Maguire), interior designer, Sarah Forrester (Diane Craig), kisses goodbye to her freedom. Turns out she is really prison escapee, Jackie Nolan, who got away from Barnhurst six years earlier. Erica Davidson obviously has a good memory for faces.
Other highlights, for me, include the surprise party for Lizzie Birdsworth’s (Sheila Florance) seventy-second birthday, the brief appearance of rubbish social worker, Agnes Forrester (Lois Ramsay), Judy’s escape and impersonation of a police officer, the return of Chrissie Latham (Amanda Muggleton) and appearances of several familiar faces, Paul Robinson, Dr Beverly Marshall (Jim Robinson’s second wife), Pam Willis, Harold Bishop (Neighbours) and Pippa from the caravan park (Home & Away).
As with all good things, this DVD box set comes to an end, and it does so with a cliffhanger. We leave the women in the middle of preparations for a pantomime (aka the famous tunnel escape) and the officers worrying about the arrival of Prison Inspector Stuart Gillespie (Wynn Roberts) .
Episode 160 even ends with a thump, and I’m not referring to the usual gate slam, but the sound of Bea Smith getting knocked out by a hidden assailant! Luckily, we won’t have to wait much longer for the next release. It’s scheduled for mid-February 2011.
Volume 5 covers 32 episodes and 24 hours of action packed Prisoner. Sadly, there are no extras included in this batch of DVDs, but there are plenty on the other volumes to make up for this.
The show itself has everything that you would want from a drama, murder, a car chase, violence, an extramarital affair and plenty of laughter and tears. If you can ignore the occasional dodgy acting and the highly reported wobbly sets, there is a lot more to the show.
It certainly does a good job of highlighting the problems faced by female prison inmates, the bullying, being locked away from their loved ones, and how vulnerable they are, both emotionally and physically. The subject matter tackled in many of the Prisoner episodes is no different to that of many modern drama shows.
Some of the scenes set away from the prison caused me to laugh out loud, but as these episodes were made in 1980, it’s understandable that not everything will stand the test of time.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip down memory lane. It served only to remind me of why I’ve loved the show for nearly 15 years.
Prisoner Cell Block H Volume 5 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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