RIP Peter Miles, 1928-2018

We’re very sorry to hear that actor Peter Miles has died. A familiar face from 1970s British television, he was the unforgettable Nyder, loyal subordinate to Davros in the Doctor Who serial “Genesis of the Daleks.” He also appeared in two other Who serials, and had memorable parts in programs from the period such as Paul Temple, Blake’s 7, The Sandbaggers, and The Sweeney. He was a fine actor, very watchable in every part he played. Our condolences to his friends and family.

The Twilight Zone 3.5 – A Game of Pool

Time once again to take a journey into The Twilight Zone. For season three, I’ve picked eleven episodes. These include my all-time favorite story from the series, a classic that I’ve never actually seen, and several, like this one, which have really great actors in them. George Clayton Johnson’s “A Game of Pool” may have been commissioned as a lower-priced entry to shore up the budget. It only has two sets, one fellow offscreen to make some of the trick pool shots, and two speaking parts.

The speaking parts, however, go to a pair of incredibly great actors: Jonathan Winters and Jack Klugman. Winters plays Fats Brown, who died fifteen years ago but has a legend that haunts Klugman’s Jesse Cardiff. The poor man is very good, but he’s chosen to live his life in Fats’s town, in Fats’s pool hall, where he can’t win anything without being compared to Fats. Because I’m stupid, I supposed he must really like the chili dogs in this pool hall, otherwise he could get out of Chicago and play someplace where they’ve never heard of Fats. It took me a second to realize that wouldn’t work. Somebody else’s legend would always precede him.

Our son probably started getting incredibly skeptical when he figured out that’s all this episode was going to be: one high-stakes game of pool between two tense men, one of them dead but with a long shadow. He was pretty restless, and he also didn’t understand the ending at all. I admired the end for its quite elegant simplicity; it didn’t need to hammer the point home, except perhaps to six year-olds, it was telegraphed ahead of time and the whole theme of living up to a legend made it an inevitable conclusion given the rules of this world and its depiction of an afterlife.

As for me, I was more satisfied by Winters’ excellent performance than by the script. I’m so used to seeing Winters in comic parts that the intelligent and nuanced character he played here was a real treat. A later production of The Twilight Zone remade this story in 1989, with Maury Chaykin (Nero Wolfe) as Fats. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.

Thunderbirds are Go 2.15 – Power Play

I’m afraid I have to say that I wasn’t all that thrilled by Rob Hoegee’s “Power Play.” That’s okay. Our son was crazy about it. The Mechanic and the Hood butt heads again, this time over a power source for “Project Sentinel.” They’d worked on it together, but now the Mechanic plans to carry it out by himself. The baddies squabble while our heroes try to keep a hydroelectric dam from bursting. Just not a lot in this one to appeal to grownups, I guess, but he was in heaven.

Thunderbirds are Go 2.14 – Volcano!

Earlier this evening, my son did the same thing he did about a year ago when Amazon UK sent the DVD of part one of Thunderbirds are Go‘s second series. Part two arrived today and he had the package in hand, knowing what was in it. He met me at the door, because he wanted that box opened immediately.

Because I’m ridiculous when it comes to scheduling, I’d calendared all this stuff we’re going to watch together over the next several months and wasn’t expecting this set until April, when something I’ve preordered ships, and then Amazon said I could have it early. Weird timing; these twelve episodes, along with an additional one that’s been omitted from the package, just debuted on Amazon Prime in the US this past weekend. I asked myself: do I want to stick to my meticulous and borderline insane spreadsheet of TV to watch, or do I want to make my kid happy? Blasted youngun wins out again.

Here we go with “Volcano!,” written by Benjamin Townsend. These episodes ran from September to December of last year, and this one’s mainly a solo outing for Brains, with his loyal robot Max. Mark Gatiss guest stars as Professor Quentin Questa, who’s convinced that a volcano in Iceland is finally going to erupt after several years of false predictions, and forces Brains to check it out by way of a scientist honor code called Newton’s Fourth Law.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Thunderbirds if Questa was wrong, and so Thunderbird 2 gets to bring two Moles for twice the drilling fun to vent some escape shafts. The present-day multi-use machines are smaller, you certainly couldn’t fit two of the giant Moles from the original series in Thunderbird 2’s cargo pod. Moles and lava: two of my son’s favorite things.

It really has been a heck of a long time between batches of episodes. They’re already promoting the third series in the UK, or at least the first thirteen episodes from it. It’s great that we’ve got so much of this show to enjoy, and we’ll sprinkle these twelve here and there in our rotation over the next couple of months.

Sky 1.4 – What Dread Hand

Man alive, this thing took a sharp turn into completely creepy tonight. Sky spends the entire episode in the intensive care unit of the local hospital after Goodchild’s last attack, but Mother Earth’s agent isn’t done with the visitor from space yet. No, because Mother Earth’s manifestation is out to give every young viewer watching this nightmares forever, the dude uses his mental powers to persuade everyone in the hospital to get an operating theater ready. Can you imagine being a kid with a fear of hospitals and watching this horror show? Mother Earth is going to literally carve out this “infection” from space by operating on Sky’s brain!

Our son was behind the sofa. Was he ever behind the sofa. “This is TOTALLY the opposite of good,” he told us. “Goodchild’s name is totally wrong! He’s not a child and he’s totally not good! He is the opposite of good!”

I’m enjoying the daylights out of this, and I think he’s loving being scared, but the little dude’s earned some R & R and a couple of days’ break from the intensity.

Sky 1.3 – Goodchild

This didn’t start off promising. I knew episode three wasn’t going to live up to this morning and afternoon; we watched Iron Man 2 here and then went to see Black Panther, which was very good, at the Regal. Our son’s been pretty wild today with all the spectacle and excitement, and tonight we settled in for a forty-three year old slow burner.

And indeed the opening scene had him completely lost. David Jackson, a familiar face on British television in the seventies who is probably best known as Gan in Blake’s 7, plays a police sergeant getting statements from the kids and their parents, trying to find out which social service or remand home that Sky has left. There’s also the matter of Major Briggs accusing Sky of assaulting him, but there’s not a mark on him. Our son asked to pause it and I needed to completely recap everything. I think the storytelling is clear, but to older viewers. Our son’s unfamiliar with any sort of police procedure and didn’t know what was happening. When Sky puts the whammy on the sergeant – a “these are not the droids you’re looking for” Jedi mind trick a couple of years early – it really had him confused.

Then Goodchild turns up. This is the character played by Robert Eddison, a manifestation of Earth’s resistance to Sky. Everything about him just oozes menace and malice in a way that not even Mickey Rourke or Michael B. Jordan, in their roles as Marvel villains, could manage. The music is an interesting clue. Most of the incidental music, which is by Eric Wetherell, is played on traditional instruments, but Goodchild is accompanied by a harsh synthesizer score. It sounds uncannily like the incidental music that Dudley Simpson had composed for “Terror of the Autons” to accompany the Master’s first arrival on Earth.

Because he’s six, our son squirms a lot. Feet are occasionally in the air. But tonight, he was shooting finger guns at Goodchild, before the character had actually done anything other than glare at Robert Speight’s character. We told him to sit down and he sat still, mouth tight and eyes wide. After the episode finished, I wondered why he was shooting at the TV, worrying that he was fed up with this odd show. No, he just didn’t like that man. “He’s going to hurt Sky.”

“Are you worried about Sky?” I asked. “I’m not worried, I’m scared for him,” he replied.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

So the third Marvel Universe movie… it’s kind of underwhelming, isn’t it? I think I’d honestly have preferred a six episode TV series with Tony Stark wheeling and dealing and saving his own life without any superhero stuff in it. The superhero stuff here just isn’t all that interesting. Mickey Rourke is the villain this time, an odd gestalt of two comic book characters, Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo. It’s a very odd performance, even for Rourke, who has a reputation for being a little eccentric. The screen certainly doesn’t come to life when he’s on it.

When Tony’s being rude to the Senate Committee, on the other hand, the movie’s absolutely full of life. When he and Pepper Potts keep talking at the same time, it’s almost magical. I absolutely love watching Robert Downey Jr. and Gwenyth Paltrow together. They have such great chemistry. And when Black Widow does her thing and takes out eight or nine guards while Happy works very hard to pummel one, that’s pretty wonderful, too. But Tony and James Rhodes, now played by Don Cheadle, have the big climax together against a small army of armored drone robots, and it’s one of the most dull conclusions to any of these movies. There’s no sense of awe this time out, just punctuations to the actors having a better movie in their civilian guises.

I admit that this post is pretty underwhelming, too. This just isn’t a very inspiring movie to me, really. All of the plot complications were completely over our son’s head, in part because he was too excited to pay attention. This is a big day for him. We got up a little early to watch this, and then take an hour for him to exercise and spend some energy while I hammer this out, and we’ll be on our way to see Black Panther in about thirty minutes. Two Marvel movies in one day? He’s died and gone to heaven or something. He just interrupted playing the Hulk smashing zombies to interrupt me with a hug.

So he’s received a quick recap of the apparently relevant events in Captain America: Civil War, but I’m not sure he’ll need it. He just wants to see costumed people ripping cars in half. The whys and wherefores aren’t all that important at age six.

Honestly, in this movie, I’m kind of happier watching the costumed people argue in doughnut shops.

There’s this completely strange subplot to the movie where Tony is dying because the radiation from his arc reactor eats through the palladium core. But Nick Fury gives him a hint that there may be other elements, which works out because Tony’s father built a giant clue about a new element into the… wait for it… grounds plan of the 1974 Stark Expo park. So he synthesizes this new element with a makeshift supercollider and then gets all better. I realize that superhero origin stories are often tortuous, but that’s pretty silly.

Now the Hulk has chainsaws and saws for ultimate power. He’s honestly coming up with something more interesting than what we just watched. I wonder whether Downey and Paltrow are available?

Sky 1.1 – Burning Bright / 1.2 – Juganet

Last month, as we looked at the fabulous Children of the Stones, I briefly mentioned that there were a few other paranormal children’s serials making the rounds in the 1970s. A few of these turned up in the United States on Nickelodeon’s anthology series The Third Eye. Several which sound like they could have fit right in to that collection, such as Raven and King of the Castle, sound tantalizingly interesting.

Sky also didn’t make it to North America as far as I can tell, and I’m telling you: we missed out. We watched the first two episodes this evening and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I think my wife activated her “oh look, videotape interiors and 16mm film exteriors again” force field, and our son kept it at arm’s length because it’s remarkably creepy and strange. That’s okay. I like it enough for all of us.

Sky is a seven-part serial written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin for the HTV network, and shown in April and May of 1975, right alongside the last couple of Doctor Who stories that we watched. If David Bowie’s lyric about making way for Homo superior had inspired sixty-eleven television programs in that decade, then here’s its colleague. Sky is the Starman waiting in the sky who thinks he’ll blow our minds. He’s played by Marc Harrison and he’s from a different time or different dimension and very much out of place here. He needs to access something called a Juganet, a circular machine which helps travelers “cross over,” and he’s running out of time to find it.

From the instant Sky arrives on Earth, the planet retaliates against him. Sky is in constant danger from howling winds, swaying trees, roots that try to strangle him, and episode two ends with the planet forming a humanoid figure, a sinister-looking adult known as Goodchild played by Robert Eddison, in the forest to prepare a new attack. Sky is assisted by three teenagers, played by Stuart Lock, Cherrald Butterfield, and Robert Speight. Jack Watson, who showed up as the grown-up character in some similar SF/paranormal productions from the time like The Changes and The Georgian House, plays Speight’s father.

I think that so far, we’re off to a terrific start. To hear people talk about it – and it has a fantastic writeup in the essential Scarred for Life that had me ordering this DVD the same week as reading about it – Sky is just an unforgettable production full of freaky, eerie imagery and incidents that will stick with us for a while. I’m anxious to see what will happen in episode three… but we’ll watch something tomorrow morning a little more explosive to keep our son cheering before we creep him out with the next installment.

Catweazle 2.12 – The Magic Circle

Today’s episode really felt like marking time before they wrap up the series. They reintroduce the fact that Lord and Lady Collingford aren’t as wealthy as they appear, and that there’s meant to be hidden treasure on their property somewhere. Catweazle learns that something is trapping him in 1971, and he can’t use water to travel through time. And all the family catches a glimpse of the wizard for the first time. Since I haven’t used a photo to illustrate the supporting cast for this series, here they are!

Our son was so looking forward to this morning’s episode that he started humming the theme tune in anticipation. I wasn’t all that taken with this one, but he completely adored it. Part of the shenanigans involves a huge mob of cyclists racing around the village and everybody else on bikes chasing each other getting caught up in their lanes. I think that when you’re a kid, the sight of Peter Butterworth on a bicycle in his long johns swatting people with his hat because they won’t let him turn around is bound to be much, much funnier. And that’s fine, this is a children’s show and I’m so happy that he loves it.

MacGyver 1.22 – The Assassin

We had a conference with our son’s teacher this week. He’s doing well in everything, but his reading comprehension is needing some work. It occurred to me that if we can get him to narrow down the plot of what we’ve just watched into a couple of sentences, that would probably help him understand what he should be doing with chapter books as well.

He had something of a grasp on “The Assassin,” written by James Schmerer, but an important part of it eluded him. He thought that this was about a group of “assassinators,” because the dude, shown above escaping from custody in a scene that seems oddly like the later escape of Dr. Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, wears different disguises, like all good assassinators do. I enjoyed this more than the last few episodes we’ve watched, especially the terrific fistfight in a watchmakers’ shop, and our son thought it was mostly good, even if the number of bad guys had him stumped.

Tonight’s episode was a quick substitution. I’d intended to watch “A Prisoner of Conscience” because it has Marvin Kaplan and Jane Merrow in it, but I accidentally noticed the plot description on the DVD. It’s about MacGyver trying to escape from a mental institution, apparently, and we weren’t happy about showing our son that. “The Assassin” does have another familiar face, Corinne Bohrer, who has guest starred in everything but is probably best known as Veronica Mars’s mother, Lianne. Bohrer was back on TV last month as the Trickster’s sidekick, the wannabe villain Prank, in The Flash. I run hot and cold on the CW’s superhero shows, but I do adore their sense of history. Bohrer had played Prank alongside Mark Hamill’s original Trickster on the 1990-91 version of The Flash as well.

That’s all from MacGyver for now, but we’ve already picked out some highlights from season two and will be watching those in April, so stay tuned!