Doctor Who 4.3 – Planet of the Ood

Back in 2008, my daughter was friendly with the family who lived behind us. They had a girl, Ruth, who was nine years old like she was. My kid asked whether Ruth could come watch Doctor Who with us. At the time – and keep reading, won’t you, as this will become a plot point in about three weeks – we watched the show five days after its UK transmission. We wouldn’t get same-day broadcast on BBC America until later on.

So that Thursday evening, Ruth’s mother asked what this program was and whether it was appropriate. I said that it was a sci-fi adventure made for a family audience, with no swearing or sex, and she okayed it. We had the usual gang of five or six friends and sat down to watch it. The mom drove her around to our house, because she didn’t want her kid walking down the hill.

Now, if you’ve seen “Planet of the Ood,” you’re probably remembering that there’s a gross-out moment toward the end when the guest star, Tim McInnerny, gets squicked and splattered and turned into one of the aliens and you are thinking to yourself “Wow, you picked a bad one to start a kid on.” But we didn’t get that far.

Several minutes earlier, about halfway through the episode, some men break out some machine guns and start shooting, and that’s when our houseguest yelled “I-I-I-I’M NOT ALLOWED TO WATCH THIIIIIIIISSS” and bolted upstairs. So I went up as well, and phoned her mom, and in the time it took the wide-eyed sprog to tell me “Those men had GUNS,” the mom had arrived and I apologized and she assured me no harm was done, and then I went downstairs to catch the gross-out special effect and said to myself that I’d dodged a bullet, because this timid child would have had nightmares for months if she’d seen that.

I never actually watched the segment I missed while I was upstairs that night before now. I don’t know why; I guess I figured I’d get around to it, and now I have. It’s a very good episode, helmed by the reliably excellent Graeme Harper, and it reminds me of the Pertwee serial “The Mutants” because it’s a world where the supposedly wonderful empire of Earth is built on the back of slavery and the oppression of native people. If the story has a flaw, it’s that it doesn’t push hard enough. It raises the point that we should question where our clothes come from, a subject we discusses with our son afterward, but it doesn’t want to make the audience too uncomfortable. I’m glad that it opened the door, but it should have broken it off its hinges.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.12 – Destiny

Another adventure teevee trope this season: the flashback episode. This time, Xena wraps up an incredibly impressive fight against a gang of stuntmen only to get most of her bones and internal organs smashed into a tree by a remarkably unlikely log trap. So while Gabrielle spends a few days dragging her to the only healer in the ancient world who can do anything about wounds this grievous, Xena remembers an incident from ten winters previously. Then, Not-Too-Ambitious Xena was a pirate, and she had a little tryst with Julius Caesar that didn’t end well for anybody except the fellow on his way to conquer the known world. Caesar is played by Karl Urban, who had a different part in an episode last season. Since he didn’t get upstaged by a waterfall this time, here’s what Urban looked like in 1997. Caesar appears in seven more episodes of Xena and one Hercules. I hope that they’re not all flashbacks and Xena gets a few present-day rematches with him.

It turns out that Gabrielle was a little late dragging Xena to the healer, and she dies on the acupuncture table. “Destiny” is the first part of what appears to be an arc of three episodes, the others set in the present as Xena’s spirit tries to return to her body. Our son has been growling ever more loudly about cliffhangers and multi-part stories, and wasn’t pleased that they didn’t resolve this one. I told him I’d make it up to him by watching the next Doctor Who two-parter the same evening. That made him about 2% less cranky.

Department S 1.2 – The Pied Piper of Hambledown

This one’s terrific. I enjoyed it a lot and it’s easily my favorite so far. It’s the one with the ghost village, where everybody has disappeared. It’s so reminiscent of a Doctor Who they did seven years later called “The Android Invasion” that I was expecting to see its writer credited. It’s actually written by Donald James, who of course was turning out lots of quality scripts for ITC in the late sixties. It’s a really entertaining mystery that kept me guessing, and I still hadn’t figured everything out by the end. About the only thing I could guess was that we’d see a couple of actors enter the story again after the script tried to tell us they weren’t important. But ITC typically didn’t hire people like Richard Vernon or Jeremy Young for single scenes.

Department S was in production at the same time as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), so I was expecting to see some locations and sets used between the two shows. This episode uses the village of Latimer and a pub called The Duke of Cumberland. The crew from Randall and Hopkirk was back here a few months later to shoot their installment “The Man From Nowhere”.

Doctor Who 4.2 – The Fires of Pompeii

Just in case we never get a Twelve-Ten teamup, this’ll do, I guess.

So I like “The Fires of Pompeii” a lot, with the caveat that it does climax with an awful lot of people shouting “Noooooooo” and big bombastic music. But it’s so fun getting there, and I love the doom-laden scenes of the augur and the soothsayer presenting their mutual surprises about knowing a lot more about the Doctor and Donna than they should. It was delightful to see Peter Capaldi in Who; when this was first shown, I knew him from a few parts in the 1990s. The one I liked best was the adaptation of Iain Banks’ The Crow Road. I should probably pick up a new copy of that one of these days.

Karen Gillan’s here as well in a small role, making this unique as the only episode of Who to have both a future Doctor and a future companion in other parts in it. I told the kid that he’d seen Gillan in four movies already, but she was bald and blue. I was glad that he was able to figure it out!

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.7 – Intimate Stranger / 2.8 – Ten Little Warlords

Well, I thought that was cute. Xena followed up the “identical doubles” story with another classic, the bodyswap episode. But they kept it going for an additional week, I guess to give Lucy Lawless a vacation. And just to keep things fun, they also gave Kevin Smith a new role, kind of. Ares manages to lose his seat in Mount Olympus in between installments, so the villain gets to see what it’s like to have a hangover and feel pain.

“Intimate Stranger” is the better of the two, because it’s such fun to see Lawless and Hudson Leick play each other’s parts. They each do a simply fabulous job, though clearly Lawless gets to have more fun because she gets to be really rotten for a change. That’s part of why Ares and Callisto’s teamup feels like it came straight from Batman, since the actors playing the bad guys look like they’re having way more fun than our square and conflicted do-gooders.

It ends with Callisto stuck in the Underworld again, but somehow Xena returns to the land of the living in Callisto’s body. This left our son looking for logic, because it didn’t make sense to him. Ehhh, Greek gods, magic, just go with it, we said.

And so with a name like “Ten Little Warlords,” it won’t surprise you to learn, we get the Agatha Christie plot. It’s unclear how much time has passed on Earth, but there’s been chaos among the gods and with all his wheeling and dealing in the Underworld of Tartarus, Ares lost his sword to Sisyphus, rendering him human. Sisyphus has put together a competition on a remote island allegedly to find the warlord most worthy of becoming the new god of war. Xena and Ares strike up a truce, but he’s not as handy in a fight as he thinks, and eight ruffians, who think that she is Callisto, want them dead.

I thought this was a very fun pair of episodes, but my son was relieved when Ares restores Xena’s body in the end. The kid said he was about ready to suggest that Xena dye her Callisto-colored hair and start over in a new Xena costume. And why not? “Warrior… Princess… Tramp” showed that somebody out there is making custom Xena suits, even if they build the round killing thing from wood instead of indestructible magic steel!

The Bugaloos 1.11 and 1.12

In episode 11, Benita tries to start a rock festival to rival the one that Peter Platter is sponsoring, fails, and tries instead to choke out everybody in Tranquility Forest. I didn’t find much to write about with that one, but episode 12 is a lot sillier. It’s the second time that the show reused a set piece from the recently-wrapped Pufnstuf movie. The villains shrink the Bugaloos to use as live musicians in Benita’s broken music box. The show ends with the tables turned, as always, but there are lots of silly gags and puns about “small” along the way.

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

So for those of you who don’t know, Lupin III is the world’s greatest thief, and in The Castle of Cagliostro, he and his gun-totin’ buddy Jigen decide it’s time to do something about an international counterfeit operation that’s been going on for decades. They get involved with a runaway bride in a tiny European country and are in for the fight of their lives. I told our son that there would be hijinx and he said “Good. I love hijinx.” He found the experience completely satisfying.

Because it was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Cagliostro is probably most Americans’ first introduction to Lupin III. Some people have a tendency to want a starting point when they’re looking at a big media franchise, and Lupin, with a couple of hundred TV episodes and close to thirty films, is a pretty big one. Nobody ever asks where they should start with James Bond or Law & Order, though, do they? I wonder why that is.

Anyway, I’m far from an expert on the subject. I’ve probably only watched a combined ten hours of Lupin myself, and I don’t like the original comics by Monkey Punch at all. I like the heroic Lupin of Cagliostro; I think that the previous movie, Mystery of Mamo, which we’ll watch later this summer, might be the better of the two, but I like seeing Lupin not being a thief and a creep for long enough to play Robin Hood and save the first decent member of a centuries-old crime family.

I gave our son a quick potted history of the gentleman thief trope, and how the original character of Arsène Lupin was created by Maurice Leblanc in the 1900s, amid a wave of similar characters created by Simon Boothby and EW Hornung. In the 1960s, the trope resurfaced in film and TV (The Pink Panther, Topkapi, It Takes a Thief), and Monkey Punch seemed to create his comics as a reaction to those. Punch’s thief was well-dressed, but certainly no gentleman. His Lupin III, allegedly the grandson of Leblanc’s original, was a protagonist but not a hero. He got toned down massively for television, and tamed further still for some of the features.

So while Cagliostro might be the tamest version of them all – it certainly has that reputation, anyway – it’s still a hugely fun ride, full of car chases and underwater brawls, slapstick violence and real bullets, intricate schemes and hilarious improvisations. Everybody enjoyed the movie hugely and I’m looking forward to the next couple of films that we’ll see later in the year.

Department S 1.1 – The Man in the Elegant Room

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I imagine many of the screencaps I’ll use to illustrate Department S will feature Peter Wyngarde and a pretty guest star, in this case Juliet Harmer from Adam Adamant Lives!.

So anyway, we started a few days ago with the first episode that is typically broadcast, but “The Man in the Elegant Room,” written by Terry Nation, was the first one they produced, and it’s a somewhat better introduction to the characters. It’s not perfect on that front, because this was made in an era when TV series were made to be shown in any order whatsoever, so I still ended up pausing the episode to explain to our son that this Mark Caine dude they keep mentioning is the fictional superspy who stars in Jason King’s celebrated paperbacks.

But overall, he agreed that this was far less confusing, even though the plot is, delightfully, a real headscratcher. A real estate agent shows off one of his warehouse properties, only to find that in the five months since he last inspected it, somebody has built a full-size mockup of an elegant room inside. And trapped behind bars in this room, there’s a dead woman and a young man who is so disturbed he can barely speak anymore. Jason reasons that the room must be a replica of a room in a real home somewhere in London, and it’s been designed to plan a robbery. But they find the home and the owner, played by Stratford Johns, shows them that the only thing in his room worth stealing is a small amount of jewelry in the wall safe.

Overall, I thought this was much better than “Six Days” and should have been the first one shown. It kept us guessing for a good while and ends with a satisfactory shootout. I was amused to see Stratford Johns in this because I believe this was made in April of 1968, meaning he was at work on “Legacy of Death”, another Terry Nation script, this time for The Avengers, just a few weeks later.

Doctor Who 4.1 – Partners in Crime

My favorite Doctor Who season? Maybe it’s seven, maybe it’s fourteen, maybe it’s twenty-five. Might be series four though. There are about ten minutes of this series I have actually never seen before – I’ll tell you why later this week when I see them for the first time – but I love almost everything else. There are a couple of bits in “The Doctor’s Daughter” that annoy the heck out of me, but otherwise this is a program that, even when its lead was at his most smug and the plots were at their silliest, executed its plans with confidence and style, and in series four, they nailed it every time. Doctor Who has been great in many of the years that followed, and occasionally quite excellent, but it’s never been as consistently wonderful, week-to-week, since it was in this run.

Tennant’s on fire, Russell T. Davies is on fire, and Catherine Tate’s here. For years, I’d tell anybody who listened that my favorite companions were either Benny Summerfield or Roz Forrester. And then Donna Noble dropped all her luggage and her hat box in the TARDIS. I enjoy them together so much.

I mentioned earlier this month that our son had us buy him some Who toys with his birthday money. One of the sets came with two little Adipose which look like they’ll be the easiest things in the world to lose. Between the Adipose smiling and waving at everybody and the Doctor and Donna’s beautiful mimed conversation from either side of a room, he enjoyed the daylights out of this one. It’s a great kid-friendly opener with plenty for jaded grownups like me to love as well.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.6 – Warrior… Princess… Tramp

Most adventure teevee shows feel that they have to do the identical doubles episode eventually, but darned if “Warrior… Princess… Tramp” isn’t one of the most entertaining and hilarious ones I’ve ever seen. We skipped the installment from season one that introduces Xena’s doppelganger, the prissy Princess Diana. This one adds a third, a mostly incompetent nobody who gets press-ganged into posing as Xena in a bid to kill Diana’s father. It’s played for laughs and every gag hits the bullseye.

Like all these doubles stories, you have to gloss over the identical dresses and identical Xena costumes and just enjoy the ride, as poor Meg manages to get her sword caught in the ceiling, and even poorer Joxer learns the hard way that one of the women likes to kiss him but certainly not the other two. Best bit: Diana posing as Xena and realizing too late that she has no idea what that round killing thing of Xena’s is called.