This past weekend, BBC-America played the entire mini-series of 'House Of Cards' throughout the day. This was most likely done to cash in on the new, Americanized version which is now available for streaming via Netflix, starring Kevin Spacey in the role of Frank Underwood. (Frank is based on Francis Urquhart, played by Ian Richardson, who starred in the original 'House Of Cards', as well as its two sequels - 'To Play The King' and 'The Final Cut'.)
I realize that 'House Of Cards' is now 23 years old (and it shows in the computer technology used throughout the mini-series!) However, as it was my first time seeing it, there may still be others out there who have yet to watch this brilliant satire on politics. Therefore let these opening paragraphs serve as your spoiler alert should I let spill any details that should have remained hush hush and on the Q.T.......
As I watched the mini-series unfurl, and reveled in the performance by Ian Richardson as the snake-like manipulator Urquhart, I mourned the loss of this series to the main Toobworld, Earth Prime-Time. It wasn't so much because of this opening salvo in the Urquhart trilogy - even though for most of the episodes there was a fictional British Prime Minister succeeding Margaret Thatcher (Henry Collingridge) rather than John Major as happened in the real world and should have been reflected in Toobworld (as is the case with American presidents.) And Collingridge was going to be succeeded by Francis Urquhart.
But by the second series, Prime Minister Urquhart was going to spar with the King of England. God bless the old frump, but the Queen still rules Brittania to this day, and Prince Charles still awaits in the wings. And the King of the second series isn't necessarily supposed to be Charles. He's only referred to as "the King", and is played by Michael Kitchen (Foyle of 'Foyle's War') who doesn't even make a go at impersonating the jug-eared Heir Apparent.
As far as I'm concerned, Kitchen was playing the British sovereign of an alternate TV dimension.
I have yet to see 'To Play The King', but I sense that somehow Urquhart emerges victorious in that head to uneasy head that wears the crown confrontation with the King, to the detriment of His Majesty's mortality. (By 'The Final Cut' there is a new player in the game - listed in the credits as "the Young King".)
Definitely not the stuff of Earth Prime-Time......
But it seemed such a shame to lose Francis Urquhart, Mr. Grey Poupon himself, to an alternate - and therefore, little visited - TV dimension, when he could be such a jewel in the crown for the main Toobworld. After all, Urquhart stands in the pantheon of ten greatest TV villains of all Time - up there with Dr. Loveless, J.R. Ewing, the Riddler, the Master and Khan Noonian Singh.
And so it was during my brisk walk back from the subway this morning that I decided Toobworld would not lose such a great character because of outside elements that would otherwise prove too Zonk-heavy for inclusion in Earth Prime-Time.
However, it did mean Toobworld would have to share his presence......
Basically the only thing that stood in the way for Urquhart to be considered a member of the main Toobworld was Henry Collingridge and then Urquhart himself as the Prime Minister. But the real world was reflected in having Margaret Thatcher as the previous Prime Minister, and references to her Majesty the Queen as the monarch at Buckingham Palace. Although she is never referred to by name, only as "She", I think it's safe to assume that it could - and should! - be Elizabeth II. It was the same situation in 'The West Wing', even though that classic series had a fictional succession of American Presidents going back to just after Richard M. Nixon.
So here's my claim - 'House Of Cards' takes place in the main Toobworld, with 'To Play The King' and 'The Final Cut' continuing the story of Urquhart's counterpart in an alternate TV dimension. That Urquhart's storyline would be the same as what happened in 'House Of Cards', but it can be assumed that the Queen in that dimension is not Elizabeth II, leading to a King who is not Charles.
We've seen this situation play out in the past, where a TV show begins in the main Toobworld, but ends up being the version to be found in some other TV dimension:
- 'Alias Smith And Jones'
- 'The Doris Day Show' (about five different TV dimensions in all!)
- 'The Dead Zone'
- 'Stargate SG-1'
- From 'That's So Raven' to 'Cory In The House'
There's still the niggling problem of both Collingridge and Urquhart as the Prime Minister in a world which should reflect those positions as held in the real world.
Still, it has been 23 years since the mini-series first aired. And maybe it's the Ugly American in me, but somehow I don't think the position of British Prime Minister should remain as inflexible even in the past as would be the case for the line of succession of the POTUS. (After all, I want to find a way to keep Harriet Jones of 'Doctor Who' in that office as well.) Collingridge, in the grand scheme of things, really wasn't in office at Number 10 Downing Street for very long. With Urquhart's manipulations, he probably only lasted out the year.
And as for Urquhart?
Remember when I said at the beginning of this post that there would be spoilers? If you haven't seen 'House Of Cards', maybe you should leave antechamber now.....
At the end of 'House Of Cards', reporter Mattie Storrin finally sorted it out that all along she had been used by Urquhart to further his own ends and destroy his enemies and rivals in the Press. She found this out too late of course - for even though they had become lovers, the soon-to-be Prime Minister now saw her as a liability to his ambitions. Without the slightest moment of hesitation, "Daddy" scooped her up and tossed her off the roof of the House of Parliament. She fell to her death, smashing in the roof of a car parked below.
Urquhart immediately began rehearsing what he would say upon being greeted by the police and the Press once he got back downstairs. But little did he know that there was one vital detail he had overlooked - as she always did, Matty had her tape recorder running in her purse to catch her conversation with her lover. We saw a hand reach down and pick up that recorder, which still had the recording light on.
I don't know how this might have been addressed in the beginning of 'To Play The King', but Toobworld Central has already declared that mini-series to be a continuation in another TV dimension.
Since we no longer see the main Toobworld version of Chief Whip Francis Urquhart, I think it's safe to say the back-bencher never became the Earth Prime-Time Prime Minister. That recording was like the manuscript of memoirs left behind in the jail cell by Louis Mazzini in "Kind Hearts And Coronets" or Rorschach's journal mailed to that third-rate newspaper in "The Watchmen". That recording would prove to be Urquhart's undoing.
As was the case with the too abrupt endings for 'Coronet Blue' and 'Now And Again', what happened is left to speculation. (Remember, we're ignoring 'To Play The King' and 'The Final Cut' as they belong to a different dimension.)
|DCI Tennyson at the scene of Mattie Storrin's death?|
Personally, I think Mattie Storrin's tape recording would find its way to DCI Jane Tennyson of the Met. The timeline works - Thatcher steps down in November of 1990, Henry Collingridge serves for about a year, Jane Tennyson is in charge of her squad by the Spring of 1991. The death of Mattie Storrin could have happened while the weather was still warm, a possibility in November, I think? But if need be, we could stretch out Henry Collingridge's tenure in office to the Spring of 1992 and still be within the 18 month time-span between the first and second series for 'Prime Suspect', which is where I think the arrest of Urquhart by DCI Tennyson would land on the Toobworld timeline.
And with his arrest, Francis Urquhart would become just a momentary blip on the political radar in Great Britain. John Major would finally emerge to take the role he was destined to play, only a year and a half later than he did in the real world. (He would still finish up his term in office at the same time as he did in the Trueniverse, in 1997.)
And this way, the main Toobworld gets to keep a version of Francis Urquhart, only without the ending to his career which he was expecting......