Monthly Archives: March 2017

Ultraman 1.34 – Present from the Sky

We took a break from Ultraman, and I confess I wasn’t in a huge rush to resume it, but my son was really pleased by this incredibly silly comedy episode. It concerns a big ankylosaur-like creature called Skydon and the Science Patrol’s ill-fated attempts to send it into space.

Our heroes act more like the Keystone Kops in this episode than a crack team of super-investigators. They bumble, they come up with stupid ideas, they have an umbrella delivery service that involves sending somebody out in an airplane to drop bumbershoots to the streets below, and they celebrate with what the dubbing crew claims is ginger beer. Uh huh.

At one point, they strap a beanie propeller about the size of a fast food restaurant on the monster’s back and figure they’ve seen the last of it. Who makes beanie propellers that big? How many box tops of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs do you need to send in for one?

Our son really got into the silly spirit, hoping that the monster would spit giant exploding pickles instead of fire. It ends with a bird pooping on Ito’s forehead and he’ll be laughing about that for the next five minutes.

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Thunderbirds are Go 2.7 – Up from the Depths (part two)

Well, that was ridiculously fun. As Thunderbird 3 gets into a punch-up in outer space, our son was hopping up and down and applauding, and I don’t mind saying that even your cynical and jaded writer let out an exclamation of very pleasant surprise when Kayo finds somebody to put her boot into.

While admitting to being swept up in the edge-of-your-seat thrills, Mommy briefly questioned just how plausible the Mechanic’s crazy technology really is, even in the far-flung future of the 2060s. She did have a less Dr. Science point toward the end, though. The cameras in the original series lingered on all the guest vehicles long enough for kids to really get a grip on what they look like, and they certainly didn’t keep unfolding to reveal new weapons, gadgets, and telescoping arms. It’s probable that big things like the Crablogger in “Path of Destruction” will inspire far more drawings and Lego reconstructions than anything the Mechanic will build. But as for the visceral thrill of seeing these amazing events unfold, I think they do just fine.

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Thunderbirds are Go 2.6 – Up From the Depths (part one)

Years ago, Col. Jeff Tracy was forced to eject from the cockpit of the very first International Rescue craft, a prototype called TV-21, which should bring a smile. Today, a survey team finds its wreckage deep within the Marianas Trench, which is a heck of a coincidence…

Well, this story by Benjamin Townsend is just about the most amazing thing ever. Our son was punching the air as Gordon was being clever and inventive and saving the day. His latest little catchphrase is shouting “PERFECT!” for some reason. Not sure where he picked that up, actually.

Something happens in this episode that has never happened in any Thunderbirds before. We’ve seen International Rescue’s ships get damaged before, but not to this degree. We can’t wait for part two.

BONUS MATERIAL: Parker is kicking down doors and being awesome for Lady Penelope in this episode. I believe, therefore, that the good news that he received at Halifax Bank must have arrived later. You must see this delightful commercial from the team that animated those three half-hour episodes of the original series last year.

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Jason of Star Command 2.8 – Face to Face

There’s a charming bit in this episode when Jason says that all these caves look familiar. They’re the same caves that he and the Space Academy students have been walking around in for three seasons now. This one, however, has that lovely feature of walls that close in, which is the greatest thing ever when you’re a kid.

“Face to Face” threatens to be one of sci-fi TV’s many “Arena”/”Rules of Luton” stories, with our hero battling an alien enemy. But since seventies Saturday morning rules about violence would make that really, really dull, they quickly have to work together to survive since the planet they’re on is alive and wants to kill both of them. Our son enjoyed this story, and I got to be a good dad and remind him about the importance of working together. Much older than five, he’d see that as pretty cheesy, but it works for now.

BONUS MATERIAL! Sid Haig’s Dragos is barely in this episode, but this great actor gets the spotlight over at Comfort TV this week, with a look at some of his most memorable TV guest appearances. Go check it out!

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Doctor Who: The War Games (part ten)

At last this story ends, with a strange and sad coda that serves as the epilogue to the first six seasons of this series. This was the end of the black and white era of Doctor Who, with the Doctor finally explaining who he is and why he left his home. Because he was bored, really. All three of its stars were leaving, and the modified format, with the Doctor exiled to Earth in the present(ish) day, would see Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin’s ideas about a secondary supporting cast become the new norm, as the Doctor would defend our planet from extraterrestrial threats. The new lead actor would be Jon Pertwee, and he was announced to the press the week this episode was first shown in June 1969.

Our son was absolutely riveted by the Doctor’s sad farewells to Jamie and Zoe, returned to their own places with most of their memories cruelly wiped. But their fates aren’t as bleak as the War Lord. After giving Philip Madoc the chance for a downright frightening and bloodcurdling scream, the Time Lords wall off the Aliens’ homeworld with a time barrier, and then “dematerialize” him from time completely, as though he never existed. This depiction of the Time Lords as omniscient and all-powerful would be undone a little with pretty much every successive appearance, which is kind of why some of us think the series has used the Time Lords way, way too often.

Among the Time Lords – we only see three, plus a couple of technicians – are Bernard Horsfall, whom David Maloney had cast as Gulliver earlier in the season, and Clyde Pollitt. Both actors would later return to the show as Time Lords, Pollitt as the Chancellor in 1973’s “The Three Doctors” and Horsfall as Goth in 1976’s “Deadly Assassin.” I figure they’re the same characters in each story, myself. The other Time Lord here is played by Trevor Martin, who would later actually play the Doctor himself in a stage play that was mounted in London for four weeks in 1974.

Our boy piped up quite loudly when the War Lord was revealed, thinking we’d seen the last of him in the previous part, and gave a pleased laugh when he is removed from reality. He also clutched onto Mommy very tightly and was really sad to see Jamie and Zoe leave. Frazer Hines went on to join the initial cast of Emmerdale Farm, a soap drama produced by Yorkshire TV that kept him very busy for the next two decades. We’ll be seeing Wendy Padbury again in one of her next projects next month.

And as for the Doctor, Patrick Troughton remained one of the UK’s most beloved and respected character actors for the next eighteen years, with dozens of great appearances in film and TV, everything from heroes to second bananas to villains to creepy old guys. He died in March 1987 at a con in Columbus GA.

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Doctor Who: The War Games (part nine)

Back in the dawn of time, before the word “binge” was used to describe watching TV, “The War Games” was what we binged. Taking a break from the show after part eight just wasn’t done, never mind part nine, which is a terrific climax and huge fun, but also full of “what comes next” foreboding. I know quite well what comes next, but I’m going to be pacing the floor all day waiting to see it again.

The cliffhanger was a punch in the gut for our son, who thought the story was over – the story of the War Games is, at least – but there’s still more to come. He loved the fighting, and he certainly loved seeing the Security Chief and the War Chief each being shot down. Before he goes, incidentally, the Security Chief gets one of the all time great quotable Doctor Who lines, all together now, “What… a… styoopid… fool… YOU! ARE!”

The War Chief, you’ll note, does not regenerate. That’s because the concept of regeneration wouldn’t be introduced to the series for another five years, but that hasn’t stopped fanfic writers and novelists – including, to be fair, this episode’s co-writer Terrance Dicks – from giving the character another life or two, usually twisting logic to turn him into a previous incarnation of the Master. I love how writers always call him the War Chief as though that was his name before he left the Time Lords, and not a title given him by his Alien employers. Or maybe that was his name, and it was the best job interview ever.

The last of these baddies to go is the War Lord, who is last seen propping up a desk with his body posture suggesting that the arrival of the Time Lords is like the arrival of his luggage. Anybody who isn’t a fan of Philip Madoc’s acting isn’t a fan of acting, period. I’m going to give “The Brain of Morbius” another spin next week because I like him so much.

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Doctor Who: The War Games (part eight)

“Time Lords?!” our son exclaimed. I was very glad that he caught it. It’s in part eight of this story that it’s explicitly stated that the Doctor is a Time Lord. Then the Doctor and the War Chief get a private conversation and it’s spine-tingling. I love how the Doctor’s first words to his opponent are “I have nothing to say to you,” which is not even remotely our hero’s standard operating practice. He is really, really upset about meeting another of his kind.

Also amazing: the War Chief tells the audience for the first time that the Doctor stole his TARDIS, and he makes what may be the first reference to the look of the original Doctor in more than two years. The War Chief says “You’ve changed your appearance, but I know who you are.” It’s kind of become media lore that Sydney Newman and Innes Lloyd “saved” the show in 1966 by inventing the concept of regeneration, but that’s not true at all. As we’ll see over the next two episodes, that “cheating death” idea is still years away.

Anyway, their conversation just has me absolutely riveted because it’s so well done. Neither calls the other by name, and neither makes concessions to the audience by over-explaining. It’s incredibly well-written material. Edward Brayshaw is entertaining, but Patrick Troughton is doing something very new. The Doctor’s not acting with what we can see in hindsight is a mask for the benefit of his companions, his human adversaries, or his alien enemies. The Doctor we know and love is a little artificial. It’s fascinating to reconsider this episode in light of the conversation between Missy and Clara in the 2015 episode “The Magician’s Apprentice.”

This builds to a cliffhanger where it appears the Doctor has betrayed his friends and the trapped human soldiers by joining the Aliens. Sure, we grownups know better, but this concerned me as I wrote yesterday evening’s post. Last night, I reminded my son of the Batman episode “Not Yet He Ain’t,” which absolutely horrified him when he saw it, despite a pause to explain it and reassurances that Batman and the police were pretending that the heroes had gone bad and had to be shot dead. Adults might forget that this sense of betrayal can rock a young viewer. I didn’t want him to be so shocked by a cunning plan and a heroic double-cross that it upset him too greatly. I’m glad I took the time; he’s wondering what the Doctor has up his sleeve instead of worrying.

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Doctor Who: The War Games (parts six and seven)

Resuming this epic Doctor Who adventure with its next two episodes, we saw our son dive behind the sofa twice tonight, with each cliffhanger. Part six ends with the Aliens’ space-time capsule being fiddled with to have its internal dimensions shrink. No longer bigger on the inside, it threatens to crush our heroes. This very nearly brought our son to tears, and he stomped away and threw his beloved security blanket “Bict” at the sofa. Part seven ends with the Doctor abducted by the villains, and he didn’t see that at all, hidden as he was. He bolted as soon as he heard the sound of the SIDRAT’s engines. Man, part eight’s cliffhanger is going to have him livid.

Now there’s a word. I love how these villains are written to use words that they’d know and the audience wouldn’t and the script doesn’t stop to explain things because there aren’t any heroes present to ask what they’re talking about. That will come later. So they call their capsules SIDRATs, which is, of course, TARDIS spelled backward. A decade later, this story’s co-writer Malcolm Hulke novelized the adventure for Target Books, and explained that SIDRAT is an anagram for Space and Inter-time Dimensional Robot All-purpose Transporter.

Another thing that they say, just as casual as anything, is “Time Lord.” Right there at the beginning of part six, the Security Chief tells his scientist buddy that the War Chief is a Time Lord, a phrase that this series has never uttered before. That’s not followed up in these two episodes.

So on the villain front, the Aliens’ battlefield generals Von Weich and Smythe are both killed in these episodes, but Philip Madoc, who last appeared in this series as a character in “The Krotons” just four months previously, arrives as the Aliens’ leader the War Lord. He’s so beatnik that you expect him to tell his squabbling Security Chief and War Chief “Cool it, Daddio.” I love how these villains are constantly at each other’s throats.

One important acting note tonight: making what I believe was his TV speaking debut in the small role of Private Moore in part six was the star’s son, David Troughton. He’s had a fun and busy career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and more than a hundred television roles over nearly fifty years, and would later appear in this show opposite both Jon Pertwee and David Tennant, thirty-six years apart.

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