Doctor Who: The Invasion (part seven)

This is such a strange segment of the story. The Cybermen aren’t in it, for starters. They only appear in the reprise of the previous episode. Frazer Hines and Edward Burnham are only in a single scene, in the set used at length in part six but only here for about one minute. I think this scene was taped along with part six so that the actors could still get a week off.

The central bit of drama is the Doctor trying to convince Vaughn that he’s in way over his head, and it’s Zoe who ends up proving him right. Over at a nearby air base, she immediately recalculates some surface-to-air missile coordinates and UNIT and the RAF shoot down the Cybermen’s incoming transport ships. So that “science machine” in Vaughn’s closet – actually called the “Cyber-Director” – ends the episode ending the alliance with Vaughn and announcing they’re going to destroy all life on earth.

Zoe is certainly amazing, but her timing might not have been perfect this time.

So it doesn’t seem like a lot actually happens in this episode, and some of it was certainly over our five year-old’s head. But there’s an ongoing, oppressive sense of worry and danger. When the Doctor goes down into the sewers to rush to Vaughn’s headquarters, our son realized that he didn’t have any of his security blankets handy – it almost hit eighty degrees today, in February!, so he wasn’t wrapped in any – and so he started chewing on his mother’s thumb because he was so afraid for the Doctor.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part six)

I just wanted to note this time that the very memorable cliffhanger of the Cybermen coming down the steps with St. Paul’s Cathedral behind them would have been even better had they held the shot for about another five seconds, and had they somehow, some way, twisted somebody’s arm and got a high-end 35 mm camera to shoot it, instead of this grotty old 16 mm stuff. That’s the case with everything, I know, but this is such a neat and lovely scene, one of the iconic moments of Doctor Who‘s black and white years, and it’s over so quickly and you can’t help but wish it looked as good as it sounds.

On that note, the music for “The Invasion” was by a guy named Don Harper, and it’s really amazing. Harper played with Dave Brubeck when he wasn’t composing film and television scores, was a pioneer in electronic music, and his work has been sampled by the likes of Gorillaz and Danger Mouse. It’s so good that I honestly wish that he scored every Doctor Who story, except for the two that Geoffrey Burgon did.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part five)

Now that we’ve got the Cybermen identified as the villains of the piece, it makes Tobias Vaughn an even more interesting character. He certainly seems to have all the angles, and fully plans some backups and contingencies to make certain that the Cybermen will honor their end of the bargain and make him master of earth after extracting the minerals that they claim they need. One of these contingencies is the device that Professor Watkins has built: it introduces emotions into Cybermen. The villains on Earth revive one just to test it out, and give the Cyberman a powerful dose of fear. It goes insane and climbs down into the sewers beneath London; that’s where the growing army is awaiting the signal to invade.

What Vaughn doesn’t know is that audiences of the day had the chance to see the Cybermen in action four times prior to this story. They’re real big about making deals that they have no intention of honoring. But then again, they’ve never dealt with anybody as ruthless as Vaughn before.

It ends with a great cliffhanger that sent our son behind the sofa again. I think this one might have been too talky for him to really understand that these strange circuits that the Doctor is finding inside unrelated pieces of IE tech are integral to the Cybermen’s plan. I’ll have to go over that again tomorrow night. But he certainly came alive when a policeman climbs down in the sewer after Jamie, Zoe, and Isobel, who’ve descended to get some photographic proof of the aliens. The policeman goes the wrong way and is immediately gunned down by Cybermen, and, down another corridor, our heroes have the maddened, yelling, fear-crazed Cyberman charging at them. “That was REAL SCARY!!” he bellowed.

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Thunderbirds are Go 2.1 – Earthbreaker

*jawdrop*

Thunderbirds are Go started its second season in October of last year. Amazon UK told me the DVD of the first thirteen episodes, which I preordered an eternity ago, would be here today. I told my son and you have never seen such excitement. Christmas wasn’t like this. I got home from work and he about exploded. “A BOX CAME! IT SAYS AMAZON ON IT! I THINK IT’S THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!”

And it didn’t disappoint. This season, we’ve got a brand-new villain with a ridiculously over-complicated arsenal of machinery and tech, and an unlimited line of credit from the Bank of Baddies. He’s called the Mechanic and he’s incredibly fun. It’s really neat seeing International Rescue stymied by gadgets outside Brains’ and EOS’ experience, and improvising. I can’t wait to see what the writers come up with for him next, and how he’s tied in with the Hood.

In her ongoing bid to appear in every television program made in the UK this decade, Jenna Coleman has a small role in this one. The people that our heroes have to rescue are often very amusing – Ned and his fool flower most of all – but I got a big laugh at the lengths Scott has to go through to get the driver out of the car stuck in the ravine this week. Add Kayo being awesome and the genuine sense of danger as we don’t know what the Mechanic can do, and this is twenty-two solid minutes of brilliance. Looks like we’ll be watching this through April, by which time I believe the next thirteen should be airing in the UK.

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Jason of Star Command 2.3 – Web of the Star Witch

We’re taking a short break from Doctor Who, since the current story is a long one. Tonight, our son got a terrific little fright in the third episode of Jason‘s second season when a hairy ape-alien – one of Tehor’s people we met in the previous installment – emerges from hiding inside the ship that they stole from Jason and Samantha. His blanket was over him like a shot!

We met Medusa, one of Dragos’s allies, a few weeks ago in chapters 11 and 12 of the original serial. She was originally played by Julie Newmar, but Francine York took over the part in this story, in which she doesn’t actually do much of anything. Despite a terrific title for this episode, it’s a bit dry.

We saw Francine York almost two years ago – have we really been doing this so long? – in the Bookworm story of Batman‘s first season. She had appeared in guest parts in just about everything in the thirteen years between Batman and Jason and had many more roles ahead of her, including playing Marilyn Monroe in a bizarre 1992 horror film called, alternately, Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars and/or Scream Your Head Off. She passed away last month at the age of 80.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part four)

It’s a shame that all of the lost 97 episodes of Doctor Who were junked and will probably never be seen again, but part four of “The Invasion” is particularly painful. Part four is the last of the missing episodes that have been animated. The animation team did a great job, but Douglas Camfield, one of the best action directors working in British television in the sixties and seventies, staged this rescue scene from the tenth floor of a building using a helicopter and a rope ladder and, knowing Camfield, that must have looked downright amazing.

Five further episodes beyond this point are missing, all from Patrick Troughton’s next-to-last serial, “The Space Pirates.” Season six of Doctor Who was not a big international seller, so we’re very fortunate that 37 of the season’s 44 episodes were retained in the UK. It’s a consensus among fans who study this subject that these last seven are among the least likely to ever be found.

The episode ends with the revelation that Vaughn’s alien allies are in fact the Cybermen. A couple of thoughts here: the BBC actually led the promotion for this serial at the beginning of November 1968 with the news that this was a Cyberman story, and yet one doesn’t appear on-camera until the 23rd, and aren’t actually named. I wonder whether the kids of the time were pestering their parents, asking “Where are the Cybermen, Daddy?” for weeks. I had thought not to spoil their return and surprise our son, but the joke was on me. He didn’t recognize it. Admittedly, the Cybermen’s design has been somewhat modified since he saw them in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” in December, but so much for that handlebar head being iconic.

Bet if it were a Yeti, he’d remember…

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Treasure of Matecumbe (1976)

Over the last several months of writing this blog, I’ve been cross-checking actor and director credits in IMDB while also searching around for new ideas for films to watch together. If I’d ever heard of Disney’s Treasure of Matecumbe before last year, it’s news to me. Definitely one of the company’s lesser-known features, it’s a quite good family adventure film, a search for gold in 1870s America.

As befits a movie that’s flown under the radar, it’s also the victim of some considerable misinformation. It was released on DVD in 2008 under the Wonderful World of Disney label, and a few sites have stated that this was made for that long-running TV anthology. It turns out that it was not. I did one last little double-check and bit of research before writing this, thank heaven, and ran into this article at TCM, written by a friend-of-a-friend, Nathaniel Thompson, which explains that it did get a theatrical release in the US. A little more checking and it seems it debuted on July 9th of 1976, and showed up on the TV series a good eighteen months later, where it must have been edited by about fifteen minutes, because this is a packed movie, very nearly two full hours.

The young stars of the film are Johnny Doran, who had impressed me very much in that “explaining death to kids” episode of Isis, and Billy “Pop” Atmore, who was a regular on The Mickey Mouse Club. Among the grown-ups, a really impressive cast including Robert Foxworth, Joan Hackett, Peter Ustinov, and Vic Morrow. I was very amused by one little cameo. I’ve been noting how certain directors keep coming back to use actors again, and Rex Holman shows up for thirty seconds as an informer in New Orleans. Eight years before, this film’s director, Vincent McEveety, had used him as Morgan Earp in the one Star Trek episode I actually enjoy, “Spectre of the Gun.”

Like many of Disney’s travel movies, this one has an episodic feel to it, and about halfway through, there’s a musical interlude when the party docks at a river landing where the menfolk haven’t seen any women in heaven knows how long. I love watching movies with my son for many reasons, but a big one is that he will often appreciate something that I never could without him. If I were reviewing movies that I watch on my own, I’d grumble that this bluegrass hoedown is completely superfluous to the story and unnecessary. But it turns out that it’s perfectly timed and very welcome. He was up on his feet and dancing along and when, inevitably, people get dunked in the river, he was roaring with laughter.

This isn’t a movie with very much levity and precious little of Disney’s seventies slapstick. In fact, Morrow’s character is far more realistically evil and cruel than your typical Disney antagonist, and guns down a man early in the story. There’s even a quite surprising scene where a character is rescued from being lynched by the Klan, which I certainly didn’t expect to see in a Disney movie. And the ending has a very surprising undercurrent. I don’t think children will really understand just how grim it actually is, but this certainly isn’t Keenan Wynn getting hoist on his own petard by a Volkswagen. So when the opportunities for laughs did come, we appreciated them.

I was really impressed by the production, which took the actors on location in Kentucky, Florida, and California, and subjected them to swamps and lashing rain. There are some obvious stunt doubles and stock footage and animated swarms of insects and painfully poor rear-screen projection, but they really did throw millions of gallons of water on big name actors and stick them on boats in the Everglades. You’ll watch this and think it’s a huge shame that they only captured half the dialogue shots on location and filled in the rest in the studio.

Anyway, Ustinov plays a traveling medicine show “doctor,” and his small river boat gets blown up, which our son strangely insists was the scariest part of the movie despite looking to the grown-ups like nothing at all consequential. Then the climax, in which Morrow and his henchmen square off against an angry Everglades tribe, had him cheering and loving it, while I gulped, knowing the grisly fate that awaited the villains. You can never tell with kids, which is part of what makes this so fun. Five-nearly-six might have been a little young for this movie, but he has seen a lot of films and action-adventure TV and might be a little more mature than many viewers his age, so if you’re thinking about showing it to your own kids, bear that in mind. I’m glad that we watched it and he certainly enjoyed it.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part three)

As I’ve already written quite a lot about this serial and part three doesn’t honestly advance the story very much, let’s just pause and note just how very good Douglas Camfield’s direction is, and how entertaining Kevin Stoney and Peter Halliday are as the villains Vaughn and Packer. Tobias Vaughn is just a great, great villain. He’s finding all of this extraordinarily entertaining and amusing, and believes himself completely in control of the situation. This was the second time that Camfield cast Stoney in a Doctor Who serial. Camfield also cast him in a 1973 episode of the Thames TV police drama Van der Valk.

Packer seems to be a pretty good example of “the Peter Principle.” He must have been an efficient soldier or guard, once, but he’s promoted above his level of competency, and can’t quite balance his petulant bullying with the fear that his boss is going to fire him. When Vaughn does lose patience with Packer, it’s actually a little scary, because Kevin Stoney takes the character straight from “amused disdain” to “bellowing with fury.” They’re a great, and very real, double-act.

Of note in the cast this week: this is Edward Burnham’s first appearance in the series, as the imprisoned Watkins. He made a career of playing doctors, professors, Parliamentary under-secretaries, and the like. But we don’t get to see his niece or Zoe this week, as they’re being kept prisoner elsewhere, giving those actresses a week off. John Levene isn’t seen onscreen this episode, but he does radio in, so we do hear him.

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