Strangely, I was all set to talk about Skidoo tonight, but then Daniel and I actually watched the episode and so much more came up. Perhaps next time.
Of principal importance, this was the first episode in ages to have Daniel grumbling and mumbling at the villain. Mr. Freeze is doing two things at once: he’s kidnapped Miss Iceland from the Miss Galaxy competition, and, in a strange case of very peculiar science, intends to turn her into another freak like him, able only to live at 50 degrees below zero, by… um, slowly turning down the thermostat in her cell. I’m almost positive that won’t work. But Daniel thought the scheme was the most evil thing he’d ever heard of. He growled and hissed at the villain, and, toward the end, muttered “I HATE Mr. Freeze!”
The other thing Mr. Freeze is doing is manipulating the absurdly fickle Gotham public by hinting that Batman is taking bribes, and then staging a Batfight against two phonies in front of a crowd of millionaires at the Wayne Manor. The phonies put up a pathetic show and run away. Could the Dynamic Duo really be on the take?
It’s kind of surprising that an episode that really plays it straight ends with one of the all-time goofiest of the cliffhangers. Our heroes have tracked Mr. Freeze to the abandoned Frostie Freezie factory and end up stuck in… well, this thing:
Tonally, everything’s a complete mess when it ends on this kind of note. The story isn’t like the campy self-aware Liberace story, or the hilarious election satire, but a simple criminal caper that would have slotted easily into early season one. It even begins with something completely unexpected: Freeze attacks Gordon and O’Hara in the commissioner’s office, nearly killing them both. It’s all played straight, without a single joke or quip, and then it’s like somebody in the production team said “Hey! We forgot to do something ridiculous and silly this week,” and suddenly our heroes are being threatened to be turned into pineapple and lime Frostie Freezies.
This is the first of a few instances of new actors stepping in to play existing villains. I am not certain why George Sanders was not available, but – totally guessing – he might have been filming the Sonny and Cher movie Good Times and so the role went to the very famous film director Otto Preminger. The producers and the episode’s director, george waGGner (again with the awesome capitalization), elected to change Mr. Freeze’s appearance quite radically. When we first met Mr. Freeze (in episodes 7 and 8 of season one), he dressed in normal clothing at his temperature-controlled home, and in a helmeted “space suit” while outside. The effect was not unlike that of watching a Bond villain, and it made for one of my favorite episodes. Here, Mr. Freeze has blue skin and bushy orange eyebrows, and wears a spacesuit without the helmet everywhere. He’s constantly fiddling with his eyebrows, too.
Preminger’s performance became the standard for the character hereafter. The comic books and the 1970s Filmation TV cartoon based their Mr. Freeze on these episodes, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Batman & Robin. Except for the bushy orange eyebrows, anyway.