Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Avengers 4.4 – Death at Bargain Prices

Wow, I’d forgotten just how good “Death at Bargain Prices” is. It has a great reputation, and many fans say it’s one of the best episodes of the show, with good reason. It’s a terrific script by Brian Clemens, one of the great ones where we don’t know what the villains’ plans are at all and figure it all out along with our heroes. We know that the criminal scheme is based around a fancy department store, where Mrs. Peel is soon working undercover, but don’t quite know who among the staff are the real baddies or what they’re doing, or who can be trusted. The house detective could very easily turn out to be a villain, and we’re left wondering whether he will betray Mrs. Peel for a few minutes.

It all turns out to be agreeably grandiose, and climaxes with a dynamite fight scene that entertained our son almost as much as it did me. He really hooted when Steed deflects a dagger with a cricket bat into a dartboard, leading me to explain what a cricket bat is! Everything about this hour is incredibly impressive, especially the sets for the department store. The whole thing is about as flawless as it can be.

And there’s another batch of splendid guest stars! Maybe there’s not as many as last time, but heck, six is awfully hard to top. This week, Andre Morell, T.P. McKenna, and Allan Cuthberson, who’s practically typecast at this point in his career as a stuffy snob with a carnation in his buttonhole, all turn out to be villains, although I’m embarrassed to say that I somehow couldn’t place Morell, despite knowing him from at least six other films and TV episodes I could mention. This won’t be the only time that an actor who played Professor Quatermass appears in The Avengers, either; Andrew Keir is in a couple of the color episodes.

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The Bionic Woman 2.1 – The Return of Bigfoot (part two)

Happily, our son wasn’t horrified by tonight’s conclusion to this epic two-parter. How could he be? Jaime plays defense against Bigfoot in her two fights much more effectively than Steve does, and doesn’t get thrown like a rag doll against any power converters with exploding sparks everywhere. From the evidence provided by this show, the main strategy one should employ when fighting cyborg sasquatches is to fight them outside. Indoors, you get clobbered.

I tease, but this silly story is a downright masterpiece in writing for under-tens. It has Bigfoot and it has an erupting volcano. Our son was a little leery when we got started, and was really worried about Jaime at first, but then he realized that the villains had moved their headquarters underneath an inactive volcano. He’s savvy enough to realize that in adventure fiction, volcanoes rarely remain inactive for long.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 4.1 – The Return of Bigfoot (part one)

The pre-credits scene revealed that Bigfoot was back, and things looked good. Our son glowed. “He caused so much destruction last time! Don’t you remember all that destruction that he caused?!” But before the hour was up, things would fall apart.

So, famously, the 1976-77 season of the Bionic series opened with a very celebrated crossover, the seventies ABC equivalent of the annual Arrowverse get-together on the CW. The aliens who control Bigfoot have had an uprising, and a gang of them have stolen both the Sasquatch and their wonder drug, and are now pilfering top secret facilities to get the parts they need to build a force field. One of the aliens restores Steve’s memory, he tries to stop Bigfoot alone, fails, finally tells his co-stars, including Jaime, what’s going on, nobody believes him, and he makes another attempt as they go for the last isotope they need.

And Steve Austin gets his ass handed to him. It is a beatdown to remember.

But first, let’s look at just how forward-looking Kenneth Johnson’s story is. This episode is more than just simply crossing over the two shows with the extremely popular Bigfoot. It’s done with some really impressive guest casting. Severn Darden and Stefanie Powers are back from the first Bigfoot story, and they’ve brought Sandy Duncan along as a newly-introduced alien, and the leader of the villains is that omnipresent baddie of seventies teevee, John Saxon. That’s a great cast, and everybody is working hard to sell this silliness. I love the way that the plot of the story is simplicity itself, but explaining all this stuff about hidden aliens and time-dilation devices and Bigfoot is so convoluted and ridiculous that Steve looks completely crazy telling his friends about it. I really like Lindsay Wagner’s acting in this scene; her life is already unbelievable, but this tall tale is pushing it.

Our son was enjoying it even more than I was until that second fight. Again, you have to consider the time and the audience. Television superheroes suffer a lot worse these days with all sorts of blood and bruising, but for a seventies show, in the eyes of a six year old, this is horrifying. Bigfoot’s been amped up by John Saxon, and Steve doesn’t have a prayer. Andre the Giant did not return to the role; Ted Cassidy plays Bigfoot this time out, and he just makes mincemeat of our hero. It finally ends with Steve’s bionic legs being crushed underneath some huge thing or other, which made even me gasp, and that’s with me knowing the grievous injury that we’re going to see Jaime suffer in a few days’ time.

Our son couldn’t bear to watch. He left the room completely with his security blanket, and came back shaking. He was a mess. He curled up on the couch as Dr. Wells gave Steve less than 24 hours to live, and Steve whispered instructions to Jaime, to get help from the aliens. We did our best to assure him that Jaime will save the day. Man, I hope so…

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The Twilight Zone 1.6 – Escape Clause

In pretty sharp contrast to the most recent episode of The Avengers that we watched, which featured an element that your typical secret agent show had never seen before, here’s an episode of The Twilight Zone with a twist that I can’t imagine any adult in 1959 finding at all surprising. I picked this one for its guest appearance by David Wayne as a bored hypochondriac, but the real fun is seeing an actor called Thomas Gomez, who plays the Devil, under the name “Mr. Cadwallader,” with a mischievous sense of fun with all the dialogue that he’s been given.

Again, we had to pause to explain the narrative a little bit. Newly immortal, David Wayne’s character becomes a thrill-seeker arranging accidents and then collecting thousands in insurance money. Sometimes, we watch the story unfold with a little smile before remembering that there’s a six year-old in the audience. “So… this probably doesn’t make any sense at all to you, does it?” Still, he understood enough to see what a mess Wayne had got himself into with the devil, and facepalmed admirably when the inevitable problem came crashing down, which is delicious for younger viewers if obvious to their parents. The sentence the court passes on this immortal character for the crime of murdering his wife is, of course, life imprisonment.

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Dougal and the Blue Cat (1970)

We watched Dougal and the Blue Cat, a stop-motion film made in 1970 on the strength of the incredibly successful TV series The Magic Roundabout. This was a children’s series made in France and exported all around Europe. It became a cult favorite with kids and adults in the UK for good reason. It’s simple, charming, and Eric Thompson’s scripts are full of winking little gags for any grownups in the audience. Each little five minute episode is delightfully cute and if you don’t smile all through any given short, you may have a hole in your soul.

However, what works brilliantly in five minutes somehow pales when told in eighty. For the grownups, anyway. Our son was so captivated and charmed by this movie that it would be churlish not to recommend it for any under-eights in your own home. It’s certainly better than darn near any modern computer-animated cartoon, and even if your kid won’t quite understand that references to Blue Peter are actually gags, there’s enough fun here to keep them amused and not frightened.

Honestly, any movie that involves Zebedee losing his magic mustache to the machinations of a wicked cat called Buxton who thinks he’s the king and schemes to turn the garden blue can’t be called a bad movie. Just not really one I enjoyed, surprisingly. But the kid did, and that’s what counts.

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The Avengers 4.3 – The Cybernauts

Fifty-two years later, the talk of transistors in “The Cybernauts” is incredibly dated. And the slow, slow revelation that the silent, powerful assassin is a karate-chopping robot, well, that’s the sort of thing contemporary TV establishes before the opening credits without blinking. You have to make allowances for older television; for many viewers then, this was an extraordinarily strange concept.

But if you can put your mind back to 1965, “The Cybernauts” is downright amazing. There’s a reason why ABC chose this episode to launch the program’s run in America. The story by Philip Levene is stylish and witty and has an incredibly palpable sense of danger and suspense. The investigation is straightforward and the characters are believably in the dark. This is a complicated and outre plan for 1965, and Steed and Mrs. Peel are written in a way that television protagonists typically aren’t anymore. They don’t have access to any additional information; they have to dig it all up, with the audience coming along for the ride. And sure, modern audiences will figure out that it’s a robot earlier than our heroes. I don’t think that most people in 1965-66 would.

Macnee and Rigg are helped this week by one of the most amazing guest casts of any British program of the period. Check out the names: Michael Gough and Frederick Jaeger as the villains, John Hollis as a karate dojo, and Bernard Horsfall, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, and Bert Kwouk as industrialists involved with the evil plot. Gough’s Dr. Armstrong is one of the all-time great Avengers villains, and that’s with a lot of competition to come.

Our son, meanwhile, claims that he hated it. He absolutely insists that he hated it. It was far too scary, he complains, and he never wants to see it again.

Then he went upstairs and started karate-chopping his pillow with big sound effects.

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Ace of Wands: The Beautiful People (part four)

Ace of Wands ended its run with an episode that’s pretty frustrating for all the answers it doesn’t give. Roger Fulton, in The Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction, had described this story as featuring a “bizarre alien plot,” but that’s not really accurate. Presumably, but not definitively, “Mama” and “Papa” are the two computers that the sleeping Jay, Emm, and Dee have plugged themselves into, and presumably their mansion is possibly a disguised alien ship, but we never learn what the plot actually is. Perhaps an alien presence or force decided to fill the three beautiful villains’ minds with knowledge and their bodies with augmented strength, but we never learn why.

But the real frustration is how badly structured the last half hour is. It ends with Chas destroying the two supercomputers, but it feels like there’s a scene missing after that. A long one. With explanations and/or a confrontation. This has been described as an unresolved cliffhanger, but did they really have those in 1972? Was “The Beautiful People” serial intended to have a fifth episode open the fourth series of Ace of Wands? That doesn’t seem very likely, does it?

What’s certainly true is that the cast and crew had expected to come back for a fourth series, and that’s why there isn’t a satisfactory end for the characters. Perhaps if they had known that this was the end, this half-hour could have been structured a little better, with less time spent with Chas planting the booby trap at the jumble sale, and less film footage of driving around several hours from Essex – good thing Tarot and friends filled the gas tank before they left! – so that at least we could get a final smile and walkoff for our heroes, if not a good resolution to this story.

Apparently the powers that be at Thames TV chose to pass on a fourth series of Ace of Wands in favor of a promising proposal from writer Roger Price for a show called The Tomorrow People. Those saps. As if there weren’t enough reasons to dislike that dopey program already, it deprived us of more stories from this much, much better series!

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Ace of Wands: The Beautiful People (part three)

I’m really loving how our heroes still don’t know just how demented and mysterious their opponents are. Tarot has determined that Emm, the sister played by Vivien Heilbron, is potentially the weakest of the three, the weak link that they can exploit. But they don’t know that Emm is probably the most sadistic and dangerous one, and plots to steal the secrets of psychic powers from Tarot’s mind, whatever the cost to him, in order to watch people die as they bring down airliners from a distance.

This still doesn’t get us any closer to understand who the beautiful people are. “Who are these people?” I asked our son at the ad break. “Mean robots,” he said, confidently. “They’ve been programmed to be super mean!” Is he right? We’ll find out tomorrow when we watch the series’ final episode.

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