Ark II 1.8 – The Drought

Here’s another surprise. Jonathan Harris also makes a return appearance as Fagin, whom we met in the first episode. Daniel was briefly alarmed by this episode; it has a primitive tribe run by a witch doctor worshiping a cloudbusting rainmaker device. The goofy ceremonial mask, and threats to send our heroes into a cave of no return, gave him some brief chills, but he got through just fine.

Harris’s portrayal of Fagin as a dirty-faced and disheveled yokel with a comedy “rural” voice reminds me of Jon Pertwee’s Worzel Gummidge, and that certainly takes me back to the old days of tape trading. In an earlier installment, I’d mentioned that Ark II had been the subject of some serious disinformation because of magazines and books that spewed out a lot of baloney and lies. This made me really curious about the show, which I only occasionally saw on Sunday mornings. In the late seventies, CBS briefly programmed some of their older Saturday morning shows really early on Sundays, where we could be counted on to watch them while playing with Mego dolls and Hot Wheels cars, because the only other things actually on at that hour in Atlanta were old men in suits behind podiums.

So as we moved into the nineties and nobody had published any clear information on exactly how many episodes of this show there were, I was also big into VHS tape trading, and I’d like to think, inasmuch as there are good guys and bad guys in this copyright-avoiding world, I was one of the good guys. If I worked out a deal with somebody and needed to get them four tapes worth of stuff, I’d go buy four new TDK E-HG tapes, copy on SP using the gold connector cables, write down the contents on a little card inside each tape, and mail them promptly in padded envelopes.

But a good friend of mine was friends with this one guy in North Carolina, and that guy knew another guy who had lots and lots of absurdly rare stuff on tape, like Worzel Gummidge. Most of the details are long forgotten, but dealing with the guy was an unbelievable headache. As befits somebody who didn’t care how watchable or not his collection was, I’d get tapes from this guy which were clearly recycled. Whatever he sent was recorded on EP on an old BASF tape crammed in a Panasonic box, and either he’d hand-write the labels, crossing out what was written on them already, or not include any identifiers and force me to guess. But because the guy was the only source I could find for some of this old stuff like Worzel Gummidge, I just kept biting my lips and dealing with it for the better part of a year. I’d ask for four episodes of Worzel on SP, and he’d send four episodes on EP, plus eight episodes of some show I’d never heard of before.

After a couple of swaps, he actually sent me three tapes of stuff that I did not even ask for or want, and had the cheek to request some stuff from me in exchange. That was pretty much the limit, and I let him know I wasn’t interested in further swaps.

The very next letter he sent me, he wrote that he had just got in four episodes of Ark II, and that he knew from my wants list that I wanted some, and could we work out a trade? The answer would be no. Flatly and firmly, no. I’d rather go without seeing the show than deal with any more of his nonsense.

About sixteen years later, those BCI/Entertainment Rights people put the fifteen episodes of the show out on DVD in a package called Sci-Fi Box Set along with all fifteen episodes of Space Academy and all twenty-eight episodes of Jason of Star Command. I picked that up for seven dollars at a Half-Price Books in Kentucky, and I didn’t have to deal with the guy to get them.

We don’t plan to watch Worzel Gummidge for the blog, as the available DVDs are said to be of very poor quality and I’d rather not pay for them. I hope somebody remasters and reissues it soon, because it’s a charming and ridiculous show, terrific for under-tens. And we’ll be taking a short break from Ark II for a couple of weeks but should be back in the future before the end of September. Stay tuned for more from this century!

Thunderbirds are Go 1.23 – Chain of Command

Some things never change. Old show or new, the Mole is still my favorite Thunderbirds vehicle.

Daniel really enjoyed the revelation that Thunderbird 2 can electrify its hull! The Tracys need to activate this because they run afoul of a new colonel in charge of the Global Defense Force. This is something that really did, however, change between series. It instantly handles all the credibility questions that our changing world, with its heightened security, created about the original series: how in the world International Rescue operates. In this version, they have full permission and clearance to do so. It makes perfect sense and allows the show to just get on with it, occasionally using the GDF for a platform to launch stories.

This one, however, is honestly one of the weakest ones of the first batch. The grouchy new colonel is so broad-brush evil that he simply can’t be anybody other than (a) the Hood or (b) somebody in the Hood’s employ. Flip a coin; the answer is revealed in the episode’s final scene.

Isis 1.15 – Dreams of Flight

Huh. You get so used to Isis using magic that it was actually a little surprise to have her stop a runaway truck by just climbing in the cab and hitting the brakes.

Anyway, this was the last episode of the show’s first season, and the last one for Joanna Pang, who didn’t return when the show went back into production for the 1976 season. The guest villain – another misguided kid – was played by Paul Hinckley. Two seasons later, he would star opposite Lennie Weinrib in 1977’s Magic Mongo for Sid and Marty Krofft. These are his only credits on IMDB.

Ark II 1.7 – The Lottery

There’s a really neat and old-fashioned video effect on this episode that represents the Forbidden Zone, into which starving villagers who lose a rigged “lottery” are sent. Remember when you’d leave your Atari 2600 on after a game finished and it would cycle through a series of color negatives? This took me right back and had me ready to play a gang of Invisible Tank Pong.

You can see a Star Trek-lite feel to much of this series in the premise, if not always the execution. This one really comes close, though. Daniel said that it was “pretty cool,” but didn’t really get into it. He misread the name of the co-writer, Robert White, as “robot” and was probably disappointed that one didn’t show up. If the back of the DVD package can be believed, he’ll have something to cheer about before long.

Guest stars included Eric Boles and his father Jim Boles, both of whom had pretty long resumes. Jim passed away the year after this was made; Eric still works occasionally. The villain is played by an Argentinian actor named Zitto Kazann who has shown up in small roles in darn near everything over a forty year career, from Ironside to Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. His only recurring role was in the Robert Blake priest drama Hell Town, which I bizarrely enjoyed when I was fourteen.

Thunderbirds are Go 1.22 – Designated Driver

A few chapters back, I wrote a bit about how great it is that the producers of Thunderbirds are Go tapped David Graham to return as Parker. It turns out that they also gave Sylvia Anderson another turn at the mic in this episode, which was originally broadcast three months before her death earlier this year.

Anderson plays Lady Penelope’s Great Aunt Sylvia, and she wears the same dress that Penelope wore back in episode 23. That’s one of several Easter eggs in the show, including a familiar tea pot and the original Rolls Royce design for what’s now called FAB Zero. There are probably a few more for people who know the props in the show better than we do.

This is a rare comedy episode, and it works really well. Daniel chuckled throughout most of it, and really loved a wacky mid-air rescue situation at the end. It was written by comedian David Baddiel and establishes that, in a radical departure from the original premise, Parker and Lady Penelope didn’t come late to International Rescue. In fact, Parker has taught all of the Tracy brothers how to drive, and it’s Alan’s turn. This was such fun.

Isis 1.14 – Scuba Duba

This episode of Isis guest stars Brian Byers, who was frequently seen in small roles in the 1970s as a hunky, good-looking young fellow. First he impulsively almost falls off a mountain because he didn’t check his rope, and a couple of days later he nearly drowns because he didn’t wait for a partner and didn’t check his scuba tank.

Daniel was really worried about the guy! He’s never liked innocents being put into serious danger in shows and tonight, he hid under his blanket for a couple of minutes. He has only just begun learning to swim and takes all our safety warnings very, very seriously. Seeing this clod ignore the rules might have hit home a little for him, which is good. So the moral-of-the-week does work, but I do wish we’d have a few more villains in this show.

Ark II 1.6 – The Mind Group

This was a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting recurring enemies in Ark II, but here’s Malachi Throne again making a return appearance as Warlord Brack.

Psychic powers and ESP were really popular in the seventies. This story is about three telepathic and telekinetic children who have been captured by Brack. With this diverse group of longhaired kids telepathically talking to each other, it’s impossible to watch this without thinking of The Tomorrow People, which was being made at the same time in England. None of them bend spoons like Uri Geller, but the oldest one does move the Ark II across a field with the power of his mind, which seemed to impress our son somewhat.

It is kind of interesting that the “magic” powers displayed by the villain two episodes ago were exposed as a fraud, but psychic powers are not. It was the seventies, man. We’re just lucky they didn’t end up in the Bermuda Triangle like so many other lost souls in that decade.

Thunderbirds are Go 1.21 – Comet Chasers

Okay, so hands up, who knew that Thunderbird 3 had a whacking great drill inside it to make for locked landings on comets? We didn’t.

Two really big bits of “brand new information” for you: first, I bought an external DVD drive for my laptop so that I can at last get screen caps for Region 2 programs, and second, our son, for the first time ever, announced that Thunderbirds are Go is “cooler” than the original. Now, mind, he’s five, and language is very fluid with him. For example, as Scott flies a pod into Halley’s Comet to rescue some dingbat trillionaire excitement junkie, our son declared that this was not cool at all, because he was worried for Scott’s safety. Then at the end, he clarified that it’s actually the load-in to Thunderbird 3 that’s cooler than the original. I actually half-agree with him on that point.

Isis 1.13 – Girl Driver

The previous season, they did a Shazam! where Butch Patrick is all whiny because some icky girl is trying to play sports. This season on Isis, the prospective auto club president is equally whiny because another icky girl can drive real well and work on engines. She’s played by Susan Lawrence, who would play B.J. in Dr. Shrinker the following season. Lawrence had a very short career in Hollywood, lasting only about six years, but she had several high-profile TV appearances before she retired.

My son was pretty sure that the girl would win the rally to prove she can be auto club president because the boy cheats. He watches a Nick Jr. cartoon called Blaze and the Monster Machines and that’s the plot of pretty much every single episode: one of the whiny, naughty cars cheats and loses, as he explained to me at hilarious length after we finished. I appreciate these shows trying to have a moral or two, but my son’s breathless, amusing recaps of Blaze’s last few adventures were a lot more entertaining than the original cartoons!.

Ark II 1.5 – The Balloon

A part of me is enjoying this blog experience for the fun of noting the credits of actors that we might not otherwise really know about. Guy Stockwell I know of, of course. The late brother of Dean Stockwell, Guy was omnipresent in the 1970s, guest-starring on just about everything. But I might never have noticed Christopher Juttner, who was twelve years old when he made in this episode. Juttner also had small parts in several other shows and movies from the period that we’ll be watching in the future. Looks like he only worked in Hollywood for about nine years, but he stayed pretty busy. And I certainly wouldn’t have noticed Del Monroe, because I don’t know anything about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – he played Kowalski and was in almost every episode – and he’s wearing a mask here.

This installment is about an isolated village that’s run by a xenophobic leader (Stockwell) who doesn’t want any help from anybody, even if they’re like the Ark II team and have a vaccine to help with an epidemic that’s ravaging his community. It’s the sort of story that will end whenever somebody in charge comes to his senses, which will happen with about four minutes before the end of the episode. The most interesting thing, though, is that Hollingsworth Morse, after years of working for the Kroffts and Filmation, finally got to pull off a big special effect sequence when Ark II’s heavy-duty laser is used to clear “fifty tons” of rock from a mountain pass. It’s certainly dated, but it looks about as good as this effect would have looked on even a higher-budgeted prime-time program in 1976. I guess we’ll have to look at some prime-time shows at some point soon to make sure.