Monthly Archives: May 2017

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death (part two)

I’m really impressed with the work of the Restoration Team on this episode. Rebuilding the lost color signal from these black and white prints is more than just neat new technology, it’s a real labor of love.

As for the content of the show, this is much as I remember it. There are lots of actors at Space Control reading numbers out loud from various consoles and a big map instead of special effects like a modern audience would demand. The episode is built around another big action centerpiece, as the troops led by the mysterious well-dressed man played by John Abineri attack the convoy that’s carrying the Recovery 7 capsule. The criminals use these strange “hair dryer” stun guns, technology that’s never again seen in the show.

It’s a fun scene, and I’m sure the stuntman enjoyed the challenge of making his fall from a helicopter look great, and our son certainly enjoyed it, but it’s all a bit pointless since the Doctor retakes the truck and delivers the capsule to Space Control. It’s really an example of that frequent “escape and run around just to get recaptured” padding, but it’s entertaining to watch as it’s unfolding.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death (part one)

Well, this is a huge treat to finally watch. “The Ambassadors of Death” is another of the Jon Pertwee serials that was syndicated in black and white because that was all that existed for a long time. I didn’t actually enjoy it very much when I first saw it in 1987-ish; I haven’t watched it at all – I haven’t owned a copy! – in twenty-five years. Actually, the first episode survived the wipings of the seventies and the BBC’s team did an amazing job making it look all DVD-presentable; I’m looking forward to seeing what magic they worked on the black-and-white material over the next week or so.

If you’ve been following along as we’ve watched Doctor Who, it should be obvious that 1969-70 was a madly chaotic time for the show. Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin had developed a format where the Doctor was exiled to earth a few years in the future, but this was reined in to something closer to the present day, and “The Ambassadors of Death” kind of falls in the crack. If this is set in the mid-eighties, then it means Britain started to develop an amazing space program in the early seventies. If this is set in 1970ish, then it means that they did so around 1958. This is just about the only time that the “present day” of Doctor Who is so far advanced of our own. Another example comes in the 2005 episode “The Christmas Invasion,” David Tennant’s first one, which is also about landing some astronauts on Mars for the very first time. You can’t embrace Who without embracing some contradictions.

Anyway, this uncertainty was one of a hundred problems behind the scenes. The original story, commissioned by Sherwin, was written by David Whitaker. He got the final credit, but the serial was completely rewritten and rebuilt. Part one was rewritten by Trevor Ray and the other episodes by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks. It was directed by Michael Ferguson and the impressive guest cast includes John Abineri and Michael Wisher, who would each appear in two future Who serials, and Ronald Allen, who had appeared as one of “The Dominators” in the previous season.

Episode one’s high point might come when the Brigadier leads his can’t-shoot-straight troops in a big battle against some armed and well-trained villains in an abandoned warehouse. Our son completely loved this fight scene, and to be sure, it is a great one. But I loved the Doctor’s amazing rudeness to Ronald Allen’s character. Allen is all louche and dismissive as the head of mission control, and the Doctor has absolutely no time to be polite or diplomatic to him. A lot of fun in the Pertwee years comes from watching him barely suffer fools.

But the other scene that our son loved was a brief comedy bit around the TARDIS console, when a faulty circuit keeps sending the Doctor and Liz a couple of seconds into the future, before the other has arrived. He got a really good laugh out of that. Incidentally, fanon has always suggested that the Doctor has unpacked the TARDIS console and taken it into an oddly nice-looking lab for repair – that’s what is specifically shown in the next adventure – but that’s not actually stated onscreen here, is it? Marie said “The Doctor’s changed the inside of the TARDIS,” and I wonder whether she might be just as right as anybody who says that room is the Doctor’s well-furnished and colorful workshop.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

The Six Million Dollar Man 2.6 – Straight on ’til Morning

Our son was really not completely taken with this slow and sad story about a family of extraterrestrials trapped on Earth. It’s certainly an intelligent script – it’s by D.C. Fontana, who did this sort of thing better than most – but it’s quite slow and surprisingly sad. A family of explorers crashes on our planet and finds that just the touch of human beings can kill them. Any humans, in return, suffer horrible radiation burns.

Only one of the group, played by Meg Foster, can speak. When her mother and father silently die after suffering for hours, it’s not done with any levity whatever. The Six Million Dollar Man is a pretty po-faced and humorless show anyway, but I’ve never seen it this bleak before. It then goes down an even darker road, when Oscar aims to imprison and study the survivor. It all ends well, of course, but the tone it employs following the plot really is surprisingly grim.

It’s curious how our schedule worked out. I certainly didn’t initially plan to run this episode of this show right before we watch a Doctor Who about spacemen whose touch can kill. We’ll see what he thinks of that next time.

Leave a comment

Filed under six million dollar man

RIP Sir Roger Moore, 1927-2017

We lost one of the greats today.

Normally when someone passes away, you pick a photo of just the someone. But while Roger Moore was terrific in everything, I think he was at his best when he wasn’t completely dominating the screen. You watch some episodes of The Saint and you’ll see him stealing every shot. That’s to be expected. Simon Templar is a larger-than-life celebrity character and you expect him to talk circles around everybody. All of the guest stars knew to get out of Roger Moore’s way.

But when you watch him in The Persuaders!, which my wife and I have been enjoying for the last couple of months, you can appreciate just how fabulous an actor Moore was. Lord Brett Sinclair is a celebrity as well, but he was brought up with a proper education, the right manners, and reserve. Moore dominates when his character needs to be the hero and the center of the scene, but he’s otherwise more effortlessly and naturally gracious toward his co-stars Tony Curtis and Laurence Naismith, and to all the guests in each episode, allowing everybody to shine.

In short, Moore was a much bigger talent than a lot of wags were ever willing to credit him, thinking of him first as a luvvie showbiz celebrity attending gala events with royalty, and secondly as an actor. But he was one of the greats, from his iconic roles as James Bond and Simon Templar to his incredibly memorable performances as Lord Sinclair, Beau Maverick, Rufus ffolkes, and that ruthless bastard in The Wild Geese. His memoir, My Word is My Bond, is one of the most entertaining autobiographies I’ve ever read, and it contains lots of background about his work with UNICEF, for which he served as an ambassador for nearly thirty years.

Our condolences to Moore’s family and friends, and we join the world in having a martini this evening, shaken, not stirred.

5 Comments

Filed under goodbye

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.15 – The Dinosaur Show

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how it took me until adulthood to warm to Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. When I was a kid, I didn’t enjoy it, and when I was in middle school – at the height of puffed-up, super-important, hyper-serious preteen stupidity – I really, really couldn’t stand this show. I would watch everything else in the syndicated Krofft Super Stars lineup in the afternoons, but when it was an episode of Sigmund, I’d suffer through it with all the blinkered lunacy of a touchy twelve year-old. (See also this earlier post about me flipping out over an episode of Batman at that age.)

(Incidentally, as po-faced, angry, easily embarrassed, and humorless as I was at twelve, I didn’t have nuthin’ on my older son when he turned twelve. He once went apoplectic when he heard Toho was making a new Godzilla movie, because the previous one had been called Godzilla: Final Wars, and that meant it was supposed to be the last one.)

Anyway, one day when I was twelve, furious, and stupid, I was probably set to start grumbling about how this stupid show would be improved if the sea monsters would eat Zelda when suddenly a caveman called Ook and his pet talking dinosaur, Unk-Unk, showed up after “a million years” of hibernation and kicked the Ooze family out of their caves, which was all wrong because everybody knows cavemen and dinosaurs didn’t live together and the dinosaurs were from 65,000,000 years ago, not 1,000,000. The writers, Fred Fox and Seaman Jacobs, were doing this deliberately to enrage me.

But honestly, the thing that infuriated me the most was Ook. Middle school maniac me could not understand why they would make a big fake puppet suit for the caveman when they could have just dressed an actor in a bear skin. That would be more “realistic,” I probably said before reading another adventure of Mack Bolan or some other pulp hero who would murder everybody in the Mafia, but would do so “realistically” by describing the caliber of his machine guns in lurid detail.

But that’s actually a good question. Why is Ook a mascot costume instead of an actor in a wig and makeup? Did the Kroffts build him for a minor league baseball team or something? The Culver City Cavemen, maybe? Or is it possible that these two were created for another TV series and “The Dinosaur Show” is a backdoor pilot for a program that was never made?

Whichever the case, I imagine that Ook and Unk-Unk were probably pressed into service waving at kids at the LaBrea Tar Pits or supermarket openings in southern California for a couple of years after this. I don’t think Ook was ever seen on television again; the Unk-Unk costume appeared at least once more, nine months later when the Kroffts produced the ridiculous NBC Saturday Morning Preview Revue, hosted by Little Jimmy Osmond.

Incidentally, here’s a frightening thought. If Ook and Unk-Unk did have a Saturday morning show picked up for the fall of 1974, then the Kroffts might not have had the resources to produce Land of the Lost. Good Lord, imagine a world without that show and seventeen episodes of these two characters instead.

And having said that… it’s a good thing we didn’t wait until our son is twelve and ridiculous to show him this. He absolutely adored it, laughed like a hyena the whole way through, and says that he loves this episode as much as the second one, the one with all the neighborhood dogs, and wouldn’t mind seeing more of Ook and Unk-Unk. There’s something to be said for actually watching a program when you’re in the target audience age.

Leave a comment

Filed under krofft, sigmund and the sea monsters

Doctor Who and the Silurians (part seven)

Our son really enjoyed the ending of this story, as well he should. It’s a great climax, with the Silurians chased back into hibernation by a runaway nuclear reactor, and then the Brigadier – possibly acting under orders from the Ministry – destroys their base completely while the Doctor’s back is turned. Over the next few years, the Brigadier will become more of a second banana than an independent character with his own motives and agenda. When people talk about the “UNIT Family” that will emerge, it’s a family without a place for a character like this more ruthless military man.

There are two farewells in this episode. First, it’s a darn shame that Paul Darrow’s Captain Hawkins gets third-eyed by a Silurian. I believe we’re meant to assume that he is killed; he’s never mentioned again and his fate is not specifically disclosed. In a perfect world, Hawkins would take a few months to recover and become a regular in the following season instead of the new character of Yates. I’m not saying this because Hawkins is a particularly interesting character, but because Paul Darrow is such an interesting actor. I highly recommend his many fans check out the BBC’s 1973 adaptation of Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise. He’s terrific in that.

But perhaps more sadly, it’s goodbye to Jon Pertwee’s forearms and his snake tattoo. After this, Barry Letts made certain that the Doctor would never again be seen either nude or in short sleeves, so that Pertwee’s tattoo, a trophy from his days in the navy, would stay covered up. I understand that there’s a fan theory to explain how, when the Time Lords changed the Doctor’s appearance, he got that tattoo as well as a new face. Well, of course there is.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who and the Silurians (part six)

The guest cast starts getting whittled down pretty massively by this point. The Silurians’ plague claimed Major Baker in the previous episode. This time, both Geoffrey Palmer’s and Peter Miles’ characters die from it. I enjoyed the location filming, which was done in late 1969 around Marylebone train station in London, and sees lots of commuters succumbing to the virus after Palmer’s character senselessly takes a train back to his ministry office despite what he’d learned in the previous episode.

Our son was very attentive this morning, and that’s a little surprising considering how very measured and slow this episode is. The scenes of the Doctor and Liz working in the lab are quite long; you can’t imagine modern television spending so much time on quiet scenes of characters mixing drugs and testing them on blood samples under a microscope. They really work; Jon Pertwee and Caroline John really sold just how heavy and critical their work is.

Still, a little levity was needed after such a dark half-hour. Having received a fright when the Silurians attack the Doctor to stop the spread of the cure he’s found, he’s kicking back in front of the TV with something much lighter now: Disney’s cartoon Robin Hood.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who and the Silurians (part five)

Another reason I think that Carey Blyton’s music for this story is the second worst in all of Doctor Who – his score for “Death to the Daleks” is even lousier – is that it completely and totally undermines the drama in a critical scene.

Here’s the situation: some of the regulars get to be bored in the conference room waiting for news from the caves, while the Brigadier, Captain Hawkins, and some men wait in a trap, and the Doctor negotiates for peace with the Silurians’ old leader. Meanwhile, a young and hotheaded Silurian decides to just infect Major Baker with a virulent plague that the Silurians used, hundreds of millions of years ago, to wipe out apes, and let him go.

The scenes of Norman Jones being cornered by the shadowy, clawed reptile-people are incredibly well-shot, especially for Doctor Who, where the unflattering and harsh studio lighting and unforgiving videotape often show off all the cracks and flaws. This should have been a scene that, like the occasional attacks in caves from Sleestak in Land of the Lost, would have had our son hiding behind the sofa.

But it isn’t, because the music in the scene tells the audience “this is a comedy.” Timothy Combe has the actors standing in menacing shadow preparing to give children nightmares, and the music is some clown with an oboe playing Yakety Sax. Our son laughed and laughed. We talked afterward about what was happening, in case the threat of the plague went over his head – it kind of did – but it was that stupid music. Nothing’s a threat with music like that.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who