Ultraman 1.19 – Demons Rise Again

Here’s another episode that everybody remembers: the one with the red monster and the blue monster. The red one’s called Banila and he breathes fire, and the blue one’s called Aboras and he breathes a disintegrating foam. Our son was hugely entertained by the wrestling this time, and watched in awe with his head popping out from under a blanket.

He was also very talkative tonight, and that’s entirely his parents’ fault for setting a bad example. The opening moments see a strange capsule unearthed at a construction site, which is uncannily like the original TV version of Quatermass and the Pit, except the Science Patrol gets called in, rather than a bomb disposal squad. Between me muttering about Nigel Kneale and Marie mumbling about being more careful with rocket-shaped things dug up in cities, and making sure all the parts get found instead of just assuming the missing bit disintegrated after 900,000 years in the earth, we had him figuring that a little yammering would be okay tonight.

There’s another weird echo of another sci-fi story here, when a scientist speculates that the 900,000 year-old civilization that buried the capsule – with the monsters in liquid form – is the undersea kingdom of Mu. The fabled lost continent had features in many works of international fiction, and just three years before Ultraman was made, it was the setting for the villainous empire in the fabulous Toho film Atragon (Kaitei Gunkan), for which Eiji Tsubaraya’s company made the visual effects.

Photo credit: Ultraman Wiki

Space Academy 1.15 – Johnny Sunseed

Space Academy finished its run with another really good episode in which Gampu’s brother, Professor Sunseed, comes on an official visit. He’s an eccentric hillbilly with a parrot on his shoulder who has been tasked with some Federation inspection about whether the academy is worth keeping, and things don’t look good for the team since he hates technology, computers, and machines.

It’s got a “season finale” feel that seventies programs typically didn’t have, and also some great new miniature work. This is the only episode to show three Seekers in flight at once. All ends well, of course, and almost everybody gets a central part to the story, except Eric Greene, who kind of got squeezed out of this story. Our son really enjoyed this one, and said it was one of his favorite stories of the series.

This show was really a lot better than I ever knew. There were a few clunkers and disappointments, but the overall average was way better than I expected, and I bet a second season would have been even better. Of course, Space Academy didn’t come back for another season, although some of its sets and costumes would be back in the fall of 1978 for Jason of Star Command. We’ll be watching that a couple of months from now, so stay tuned.

As for the cast, it can safely be said that none of the young actors became superstars, though each of them had a few more interesting parts in their future. Most have retired from acting by now. Looking over IMDB, I don’t think that we’ll be seeing any of them again for this blog, but I genuinely enjoyed all their performances in this show. Jonathan Harris still had a few neat jobs in his future, and he was a regular fixture at sci-fi conventions in the eighties. He seemed to be in Atlanta every other month for years, entertaining giant crowds at Dixie Trek and the AFF and whatever other shows, frequently reunited with his Lost in Space co-stars Bill Mumy and Mark Goddard. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 87. He was a tremendous talent and an incredibly fun guy.

Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks (part two)

WOW! Episode one may have been interesting but slow, but this is downright amazing. As an animation, it’s still creepy and menacing and tense, with a fantastic cliffhanger ending. The original must have been one of the program’s greatest single episodes. Its destruction is a crime against art.

So… what’s up with it being destroyed in the first place? I can’t speak for British viewers of around my age, who grew up never expecting to see old programs like Doctor Who repeated, and probably responded to the news that lots of them didn’t exist anymore with an unsurprised shrug, but the usual response from Americans learning that big chunks of old British TV history just plain got wiped and are missing is one of utter bafflement. Since we grew up understanding that if a favorite show wasn’t being repeated now, it probably would be back again pretty soon, this just flat out did not make sense.

And yet it actually does, given the circumstances: the BBC, unlike American networks, functioned as a creator, distributor, and broadcaster, with a heck of a lot more time to fill each year than ours, who leave most of the daily schedule to their regional / local affiliates and just deliver news and two or three hours of prime time each night, programs made by studios and production houses. British viewers in the 1960s and 1970s expected nothing to be repeated; there was a cultural understanding that the BBC was supposed to produce and screen new programs. Repeats weren’t appreciated.

In large part this was because of an agreement with Equity, the British actors’ union, regarding fees for repeats. Equity’s leaders were understandably concerned but incredibly shortsighted, and envisioned a future where new TV drama simply was not made in favor of repeats, so, in most cases, any production could be repeated exactly once with no charge, but high royalties kicked in after that, and a third screening would end up costing the BBC more than a new show entirely.

So old shows didn’t get seen again at home, and after a few years in the catalog being sold to New Zealand, Nepal, and Nigeria, sales dried up and eventually the BBC found itself sitting on thousands of film reels and tapes, in an era before home video, which weren’t going to be repeated, and which weren’t selling to other countries anymore. It’s a huge shame that old shows got junked, but be practical. They couldn’t predict the future and they had new programs to make.

The BBC junked thousands of hours of material from dozens of series, as well as one-off plays, TV movies, music shows like Top of the Pops, sports, you name it, pretty much everything except the Queen’s coronation was eligible for destruction. The commercial companies followed suit: Southern junked dozens of episodes of Freewheelers, and Thames wiped the first two seasons of Ace of Wands. The Associated British Corporation deleted almost all of the first 26 Avengers episodes. Not a single episode of a “footballers’ wives” soap called United! exists – 147 episodes, gone forever.

Anyway, 130 episodes of Doctor Who – 130 of the first 253 episodes – were lost by the time junking stopped in 1978. In addition, the color versions of about thirty of the 128 Jon Pertwee episodes were unavailable / not of broadcast quality / missing outright when BBC / Lionheart started syndicating his era the “second time around” in the late 1980s – more on that a few months from now – but black and white copies were available.

At the time of writing, all of the lost Pertwee color episodes have been restored to color via a number of neat technical processes, and 40-odd of the missing black and white episodes have been recovered from film collectors or foreign TV stations or, in the case of “The Ice Warriors,” downright weird places. Four of the six “Ice Warriors” episodes were found in a BBC Enterprises building that was being packed up to move in 1988, and which had presumably been checked several times before they turned up a decade after they were noted as lost. (But for a really odd story with the added bonus of The Telephone Game, check out this account of two 1965 episodes showing up in some church or other. Possibly.)

The six parts of “The Power of the Daleks” are among 97 episodes of Who that don’t exist, but audio recordings all of them, thanks to enterprising fans like Graham Strong with good equipment, have survived. 13 of these 97 now exist in cartoon versions, and everybody keeps their fingers crossed that (a) more lost episodes will be recovered, and (b) sales for the animations are good enough to warrant continuing doing these for more stories. So do drop BBC America a line and thank them for ponying up some of the budget for this version. We’d love to see another old story animated next year!

Magic Mongo 1.8 – Huli’s Vacation

When The Krofft Supershow came back for its second season in 1977, there were a few changes. Two-thirds of the shows were different, and the hosts, Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, had a major makeover.

I always got the impression that the Kongs were many people’s least favorite part of the program – even as kids, few of my friends were at all interested – but I thought they were so much fun. I’d rank them second – a distant second, mind – behind Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem in that odd category of best fictional groups for children. They put out an album on Epic Records and everything. The original lineup was a five-piece: the Kaptain (Michael Lembeck), Superchick (Debra Clinger), Nashville (Louise DuArt), Turkey (Mickey McMeel), and Flatbush (Bert Sommer). They dressed in flashy, glam satin. For season two, Flatbush was dropped and they dressed in more subdued denim outfits – still seventies garish, but disco seventies, not Roy Wood glitter rock seventies. Neither the LP nor the single, “And I Never Dreamed,” charted, but the group appeared on all the Kroffts’ evening variety shows, like Donny & Marie.

As for the shows they hosted, Magic Mongo replaced Dr. Shrinker with another batch of sixteen 15-minute episodes. Bigfoot & Wildboy replaced Electra Woman, with sixteen cliffhanging episodes that comprised eight stories. And Wonderbug was back, with six new installments and ten repeats from the first year. This season’s lineup was commemorated by Gold Key/Western in a comic book that ran for six issues over nine months, along with a second Kaptain Kool LP on Peter Pan, one of those audio adventure records that I adored as a kid in the days before home video.

Magic Mongo is absolutely lovable and ridiculous. It’s about an incompetent genie played by Lennie Weinrib. Mongo’s good guy master is Donald, who is played by Paul Hinckley, and his only other credit listed at IMDB is the last episode of Isis‘s first season.

Donald hangs out at the beach all the time with his two always-platonic girl buddies, sharp-tongued Lorraine, who is played by Helaine Lembeck, and Kristy, by Robin Dearden. Lembeck would later play Judy in Welcome Back, Kotter. Dearden, who wears a bikini in every single scene of this series, has had small roles in many shows like Magnum PI and TJ Hooker, along with one of the second season Bigfoot & Wildboy episodes. Constantly antagonizing the foursome: two leather-clad ne’er-do-wells, Ace and Duncey. Ace is played by Bart Braverman, who has been in a million things.

Daniel absolutely loved this episode, giggling through all the special effects and dumb jokes. We have to emphasize “dumb,” because, like most of the TV cartoons and comic books of the period, we have to believe that somehow the villains have access to disguises and a printing press to carry out their bizarrely complicated schemes. (I’m reminded of a very dumb comic book called Dial H for Hero, in which baddies would use atomic submarines and dozens of henchmen to rob the Littleville minor league ballpark of its gate receipts.)

Marie started having trouble suspending disbelief as soon as Ace and Duncey turned up in leather jackets on the beach, so the rest of this was twelve minutes of wincing. For any adult who didn’t love this as a kid, it’s probably a trial. But I always adored the stupid jokes, and Mongo not quite understanding what Donald wants him to do. This time out, he turns Lorraine into a Saint Bernard to track down the bad guys, and doesn’t understand that Donald means “money” when he asks for “bread.” I’m sure a binge of all sixteen episodes would be about fourteen too many, but one’s just fine.

So, here’s some trivia you did not know: Magic Mongo and Wonderbug are set in the same universe. Soon after they taped these sixteen episodes, Sid and Marty Krofft pitched ABC a prime-time sitcom – for families, not just children – in which Braverman’s character, Ace, runs a restaurant. Ace’s Diner wasn’t picked up, but they did tape a pilot, in which David Levy and John-Anthony Bailey’s Wonderbug characters, Barry and CC, also appear. The Kroffts also taped a pilot for another sitcom called Looking Good, starring Sheryl Lee Ralph. ABC passed on both, but ran the two pilots together with some more Kaptain Kool and the Kongs interstitials and special guests Sha Na Na as a summer prime-time special called The Krofft Comedy Hour in July 1978.

Ultraman 1.18 – The Brother From Another Planet

I have to say, I really prefer the episodes of Ultraman where they’re fighting an intelligent alien villain instead of some long-buried dinosaur. This week’s show introduces another menace who’d become a recurring foe throughout the many Ultra-world series, a Zarab. These aliens can hypnotize people and change shapes, and, under the guise of intergalactic brotherhood, they want to conquer us. There’s actually a plot point here that would be echoed five years later in a memorable Doctor Who serial, “The Claws of Axos,” where the selfish local government wishes to keep the alien technology for themselves instead of sharing it with the world as the alien actually wishes.

It probably shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this guy can also grow to a hundred feet tall for the climactic wrestling, but the episode throws a really wonderful curve. He first transforms into an evil version of Ultraman to smash the city. It’s not quite a perfect duplication, as he gets the eyes and shape of the head slightly wrong, but for a few minutes this had our son absolutely riveted and he was extremely excited by this fight.

I’m glad that he recovered. This episode actually had a little extra work for me, which I feared would spoil the illusion too much. See, whichever voice actor did the Zarab’s voice – Peter Fernandez, Jack Grimes, and Corrine Orr are usually credited, but individual parts are not listed – conspired to speak with a mouth full of marbles to sound all alien and weird. We could not understand anything he said. We had to give up and put on the subtitles and watch again. Then, since my boy is still a beginning reader, I had to play the role of the Zarab from the script on the screen.

The English language dub is not quite precise, as Fernandez and his team rewrote it to simplify some things and better match the movements of the actors’ mouths. So throughout, I would play the role of the alien and have a “conversation” with Fernandez as Captain Mura or Hayata, but at some points, I was actually answering questions that our heroes did not really ask, since they’d gone so far off the Japanese script!

One last point: as you see in the picture above, Captain Mura did admit in the previous episode that Hoshino is clearly more qualified to fight giant monsters and aliens than any of them and has made him a full member of the Science Patrol. (Okay, that’s me going off the original script!) Hoshino has an orange uniform and helmet of his own. No word yet as to whether he also has a gun and a light-duty blue Amway suit.

Space Academy 1.14 – Star Legend

“That was very silly and it was very scary!” That’s the announcement from our five year-old critic tonight. There’s honestly the gem of a really good story in this episode. A thousand years ago, a Captain Rampo was lost in the “Alderan Triangle” of space, and his ghost ship is occasionally spotted, warning people away. It turns out he’s been alive all this time, fighting off an energy-draining vapor.

Unfortunately, he’s warning people away with spooky voices and Halloween masks for some Saturday morning reason. Well, it worked here. Our son was under a blanket for several minutes and almost – almost – had to hide behind the sofa. In the end, Rampo, played by Howard Morris, has Loki sitting on his lap and he’s telling him wacky stories about the lollipop trees of the Red Galaxy. Well, this is for kids, dear readers.

We’ve seen Howard “Howie” Morris a few times here at the blog. He had played the Red Baron in Ghost Busters for Filmation a couple of years previously, and he’d later play Sivana in Legends of the Super Heroes. He was mainly a voice actor, and did hundreds of cartoons over a forty-plus year career, including Atom Ant, and Jughead, Big Moose, and Dilton in Filmation’s various Archie series.

Wonderbug 1.5 – The Maltese Gooneybird

“Dad,” our son said, “this is not real. Dune buggies don’t have eyes.”

Of course it’s real. You just saw it.

“And cars don’t fly. This isn’t real.”

It is real, you just watched it.

“And cars and dune buggies don’t go by themselves.”

You just saw Wonderbug do it.

*deep exhalation*

Well, did you like it?

“YES! It was funny!”

I was going to mention that Wonderbug was the third new installment of The Krofft Supershow and that it starred David Levy, John Anthony Bailey, and Carol Anne Seflinger, with Frank Welker doing the spit-n-sputtin’ voices of Schlepcar and Wonderbug. I would have also mentioned that they did sixteen episodes in the first season and that, unusually, it came back for a second go-around with six new installments in 1977. But as cute and silly as Wonderbug is, my son’s attempt at sanity and common sense is even more amusing.

Ultraman 1.17 – Passport to Infinity

This episode is really fun. Two explorers, one of them with the terrific name “Sir Yesterday,” dig up a matching pair of meteorites, one blue and one red. They are sentient, and have powers to warp space and time. There’s lots of really neat camera tricks, weird lenses, and all sorts of fun as they start screwing with the floor plans of the Science Patrol headquarters. One room is upside down, with the characters walking in to the ceiling, and a staircase suddenly warps outside and leads to nowhere.

Given the first sixteen episodes, you’d think that once the meteorites merge and grow into a giant rubber thing it’s going to get less interesting, but the producers continued to have fun with the resulting monster’s warp power, teleporting jets into the ground and tanks into the sky. The episode is unpredictable and very amusing.

Oddly, you’d think that a great big rubber meteorite isn’t the sort of thing that you could make a returning character out of, but according to the merchandising people, its name is Bullton and it came back for a rematch forty years later in one of the many sequel TV series, this one with the tortuous name of Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle. Those of you interested in purchasing toys of Ultraman and the monsters will probably find this thing collecting dust on toy store shelves.

And for those of you watching for more evidence that Hoshino has more brains and moxie than all the grownups, it’s he who tells everybody that putting the two meteorites together is a very bad idea. Ito spends two scenes with a bucket on his head. Captain Mura’s got the wrong guy on the payroll.

The People That Time Forgot (1977)

There’s a bit about fifty minutes into The People That Time Forgot where the heroes are being led on horseback toward a fairly good matte composite of what’s clearly a drawing of a city that looks like a bunch of giant skulls. Now, up to that point, this has been a perfectly good adventure film with dinosaurs and cavemen, with lots of great location filming in Spain. Then they go into the drawing and it’s all a laughably obvious set at Pinewood, with a volcano that’s not so much “lava” as it is “lava lamp,” and for the final twenty minutes, the ground keeps exploding and makes little Rick Wakeman keyboard noises along with the booming. Few films fall so far, so fast, as this one.

It’s not so much a sequel to The Land That Time Forgot as it is its inverse. That film starts with a half-hour of power struggles about the U-boat before it gets to the mysterious continent of Caprona. This one begins in the icy waters of that huge island, and within six minutes, the “amphib” seaplane bringing our four heroes inland is getting divebombed by a pterodactyl. And it’s a good pterodactyl, too. The winged dinosaur in the original film was probably that movie’s weakest part, a big inanimate prop swung around on a crane with huge, thick wires. This one is a proper puppet with a moving jaw. It’s Kevin Connor and Amicus Productions letting us know they’ve learned from some of that movie’s mistakes. Shame the company folded once the picture was finished; after twenty years as the chief British rival to Hammer in the world of horror and science fiction, they closed down and The People That Time Forgot was released through American International and MGM.

Dinosaurs are a much smaller part of the action in this one. It’s set a few years after the original. Doug McClure’s character, Beau Tyler, had last been seen throwing a “message in a bottle” into the seas of Caprona containing specimens and a detailed account of events. So a childhood buddy, played by Patrick Wayne, comes to the rescue, financed by a British newspaper. The niece of the paper’s owner is played by Sarah Douglas, best known as Ursa in Superman II. Also along, a scientist played by Thorley Walters and a mechanic, Shane Rimmer. And they’re all eclipsed by blues singer Dana Gillespie and her barely-there cavegirl costume.

Incidentally, before this movie, I knew Gillespie best as part of David Bowie’s glam-era retinue. She was part of the gang that appeared on the John Peel show in ’71 to promote Hunky Dory, and she sung a downright terrific rendition of “Andy Warhol.” So see, I’m not nearly as focused on her breasts as this movie’s cinematographer was.

So anyway, this chugs along as a perfectly good seventies adventure film, punctuated by better special effects and an ongoing competition between Wayne and Rimmer to see who can say “hell” and “damn” the most. Gillespie’s cavegirl character, Ajur, leads the heroes to the tribe called the Nargas that had abducted Tyler a few months before. The Nargas are wearing quasi-samurai armor for some reason. I was rolling around some kind of explanation – maybe a Japanese ship crashed here in the 1600s or something – and then we get to the drawing of Skull City and things get interminable.

The Nargas leader is played by the huge Milton Reid, who was usually holding axes and standing next to big gongs without his shirt on in lots of these sorts of movies. There’s a volcano god and of course the ladies have to be sacrificed, because this is, in fact, this sort of movie. The menfolk, including Doug McClure, who finally shows up without saying either “hell” or “damn,” rescue everybody, get out of the Pinewood set and back to Spain and have the big climactic gunfight while the ground explodes making “peee-sssshewww!” noises. Climax achieved, the film still has twenty minutes to go.

Marie’s theory is that the production company brought all the explosives they could carry to Spain, and by golly, they weren’t going to finish this movie until they’d set off every one of them. At one point they get cornered in a cave by a small four-legged dinosaur with a rocky, armored carapace and the camera keeps showing us the trembling roof and stalactites. An eternity later, one of them finally falls and impales the beast. Then there are more explosions and Shane Rimmer yells at the airplane’s engine to start. Apparently Caprona is alive and, unhappy that the wrong body fell into its volcano – well, given the choice of Reid or Gillespie, who can blame it? – it’s trying to keep them all from leaving. Nevertheless, it is all astonishingly fast-forwardable.

So, over to our five year-old critic, who was very excited by all the action, babbled at the evilness of the bad guys, and hid his head under his blanket during an unintentionally hilarious bit where the heroes are trying to rush through a narrow tunnel with monster heads lunging from the walls at them. I kept imagining the monsters on the other side of the wall standing at awkward angles trying to fit their necks through the hole, somehow figuring that this was a sensible way to find food. Anyway, he said that the best part of the movie was the airplane having the dogfight with the pterodactyl. I actually agree with that almost completely. That was the best part of the movie that didn’t have Dana Gillespie almost naked in it.

Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks (part one)

Well, that was… interesting.

So, tonight was Daniel’s introduction to Doctor Who and we began with one of the slowest ones. I’d been planning to start him with “The Tomb of the Cybermen” next month, which was his big brother’s first look at the show back in 2002 or so, but then the BBC went and announced this animated reconstruction of a lost serial, the one that introduced Patrick Troughton in the role and was first shown fifty years ago. So we sat down to watch it, and it was interesting and slow. Thankfully, he enjoyed it. I was really worrying whether he would.

I really didn’t know what to expect. “The Power of the Daleks” is one of a handful of black and white serials about which I really don’t know much. I’ve never cared for the telesnap reconstructions or listening to the audios of the missing stories, and nor have I absorbed novelisations or even detailed episode synopses for a few of these stories, so this one, like “The Savages” and “The Space Pirates,” is almost completely unknown to me.

And so what I didn’t know is that the lengthy opening scene really must have relied a lot on the body language of the actors, Troughton, and, playing his two companions Polly and Ben, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze. With silent seconds passing like glaciers and these drawings standing motionless on the screen, it’s very far from exciting.

I think there must have been a decision to have the animators adhere closely to the original camera script. A few years ago, the BBC released a 1964 serial, “The Reign of Terror,” with cartoon versions of the two missing parts of the story. That animation was almost exciting and modern, with lots of cuts and fast editing. I thought that was very interesting, but there was a lot of pushback against it from fandom since it was so unlike the visual pacing of the rest of the story.

It’s a shame because this must have been a thrilling moment of mystery to 1966’s audience. Most of the lore of Who and its changing lead actors came long after this episode. The Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, weren’t named for another three years, the planet Gallifrey and the word “regeneration” came five years after that, and the “I can do this twelve times” limitation was added a full decade after he did it the first time. So this strange moment of a new actor looking around the TARDIS and digging in the toybox was, in 1966, utterly bizarre, but it falls completely flat as animation. This should have been a scene of weird, mysterious magic, and not drawings standing still.

Unsurprisingly, our son was quite restless after about ten minutes of such slow and quiet television, and as we reach the planet Vulcan (no, not that one) and meet a colony full of drawings of middle-aged British actors in pajamas, he wasn’t all that interested. Opening the inner compartment of the capsule and meeting the seemingly dead and dormant Daleks finally got his attention, and he pronounced the show, in the end, “creepy and cool” and he’s looking forward to part two.

He did ask why we couldn’t go ahead and watch the next part tomorrow instead of waiting a week. Well, just as soon as the DVD gets here (it’s released in the UK on Monday), we’ll start watching a day at a time, but for now, we’ll wait for BBC America.

If you’re wondering why the heck this is a cartoon, and what I mean by “lost serial,” stay tuned. I’ll explain why there are missing episodes in next week’s post.