Monthly Archives: August 2018

Agent Carter 2.5 – The Atomic Job

An absolutely delightful little change of pace with tonight’s episode. The story, which revolves around an unofficial break-in at a top-security Roxxon facility to steal uranium rods, is light and frothy and full of silly sight gags and slapstick, and Peggy zapping an old adversary with a device that knocks out your short term memory. It’s played entirely for laughs, and then Peggy fights Whitney and it goes very, very dark in a hurry.

Our son sums it up thusly: “Whitney Frost has always been mean, but now that she’s got that zero matter in her, she’s really scary!”

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Chaka and Wolf Boy (1979) (allegedly)

A really quick-ish recap: The rarest Sid and Marty Krofft production is 1979’s Krofft Superstar Hour, which was hosted by the Bay City Rollers and co-written by a fellow I admire a great deal, Mark Evanier. The Hour comprised two shows-within-a-show, Horror Hotel and Lost Island, and unless you watched these episodes at the end of 1979, before NBC cancelled the Hour, then the only way you could have seen them is thanks to the bootlegging efforts of the Bay City Rollers’ fan base. Horror Hotel and Lost Island were never merchandised on coloring books or lunchboxes, they were never repeated, they were never syndicated. One, and only one, installment of Hotel has ever been released on home video, and we wrote about it in this post from last year.

So ten years after the Hour was axed, and with half-formed memories of the one Lost Island segment that I saw as a kid still bothering me, I often wondered what the heck that show was called, because I couldn’t remember. And one day in late 1989, I found the answer. It was called Chaka and Wolf Boy, apparently. Continue reading

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The Avengers 7.5 – False Witness

I enjoyed Jeremy Burnham’s “False Witness” much, much more tonight than I had previously. This might be because it was fun watching our son figure out that there was something in the milk. I’ve always thought it had a few good points in its favor, including some gorgeous location filming, a fun appearance by John Bennett as one of the villains, one of Mother’s most amusing traveling offices – a double-decker bus with an ad for “Mother’s Day” on the side” – and a delicious scene where Steed drives a suspected traitor out into some forest, orders him to get out and follow him, and then turns and gives the fellow one of the most beautiful punches ever thrown on TV. Still, it somehow never became a favorite.

Our son, however, had a ball. This story is perfect for seven year-olds. He was racing to figure out the clues the show presented, which certainly wouldn’t trouble any grown-ups watching. He knew that something was going on with the milk delivered by Dreemykreem Dairies, but couldn’t decide whether the milk was conventional poison or if it was going to explode. Finally he realized “It makes you lie!” and that was the most fun thing ever. Maybe that’s the “problem” with the episode. We’re all too old to enjoy what a delightful idea that is.

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MacGyver 4.1 – The Secret of Parker House

Back to 1988 and another ten episode best-of from the world of MacGyver. That year, just about every show’s fall debut was pushed back by five or six weeks by the Writer’s Guild of America strike. When everybody came to an agreement, it looked like the earliest that they could get the first new episode of MacGyver on the air was Monday, October 31st. I wonder whether that gave them the idea to do a haunted house story?

I had some fun at our son’s expense before we got started. I picked this one because it’s another to feature the wonderful Teri Hatcher as Penny Parker, and I knew, because Marie actually pulled it off the shelf to watch about a year ago, that it was set around an allegedly haunted house. So I asked our son whether he enjoys MacGyver so much because our hero is never in really serious danger, and because the show is never scary. He agreed on both counts, and then squirmed and hid behind his security blanket at all the goings-on. There are perfectly rational explanations for everything, up until the inevitable “maaaaaaaaybe there really is a ghost?” tag scene, anyway, but I think the producers had fun coming up with as many frights and cobwebs and things that go bump in the night as they could squeeze into the show’s first half.

A fun little casting note: I picked seven of the ten episodes we’re watching just by breezing through IMDB and picking out familiar names. Teri Hatcher was good enough for me. I’d watch her in anything, honestly. So since I wasn’t paying attention beyond her, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ray Young – Bigfoot himself! – in the opening credits. “Is there a real big guy in this episode?” I asked Marie. “Like, seven feet tall big?” And while I firmly believe that actors should receive proper credit, it’s a bit of a giveaway when you’re waiting for Ray Young to show up and the TV show is trying to keep you guessing as to who might be in the haunted house with our heroes. (The worst example ever is when you watch a Law & Order: Criminal Intent from about the middle of the run and the credits read that Olivia D’Abo is guest starring, spoiling that whatever’s going on this week, Nicole Wallace is behind it. That drives me mad.)

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Agent Carter 2.4 – Smoke and Mirrors

I am completely loving Whitney Frost, the villain of this piece. Our son briefly found her situation engaging as well. In this episode, she orders a cage of white rats from the lab, and he was delighted to see them. Of course, she’s using them for experimenting on her strange power, which disintegrates and absorbs her targets and makes the brilliantly black scar on her face grow. Frost wears her hair in a Veronica Lake ‘do, so she’s able to hide it for a time, but by the end of the episode, there aren’t any more rats, and she’s been forced to reveal her power to her husband to get rid of a threat, and the scar has reached down to her chin. Our son wasn’t quite as pleased to realize what that empty cage meant.

And he’s drawing connections between Frost and Dr. Wilkes, who was blasted by the zero matter explosion but with a very different result: he’s intangible. Not sure how he’s able to stand up and not sink through the floor, but, you know, comic book science. Anyway, Wilkes can’t touch anything, doesn’t feel the need to eat, and can’t sleep. After several days awake, he’s starting to hallucinate, as any of us probably would, but he’s having particular hallucinations of zero matter coming through walls and blackboards. Our son is sure that something very bad is going to happen with these two characters, and perhaps when they meet again, there will be an explosion.

I was mistaken, but I thought for sure his favorite bits would be the ones where Peggy and Jarvis kidnap their informant with the help of a powerful tranquilizer. Between Jarvis getting a jab of the same stuff and their captive waking up in the trunk of their getaway car while Chief Sousa’s there to hear the shouting, it’s a complete mess. Nice to see that every once in a while Practically Perfect Peggy has a situation more in line with what Larry, Moe, and Curly would come up with.

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The Avengers 7.4 – Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?

The Avengers has dated less badly than many shows of its period, but the goofball depiction of a computer in such distress that it requires surgery – like “medical series” surgery, with clamps and forceps and masks – pretty much nails this down to the mercifully distant past. George / XR40 is an example of a visible trend in the late sixties making computers less threatening by making them silly.

We saw one of the stupidest examples when we watched Batman and practically every script that Charles Hoffman contributed had some dumb gag about the Batcomputer belching up spaghetti or something. This really isn’t much better. Maybe it could’ve been one throwaway gag in the closing tag scene. But Tony Williamson structures the entire episode around George’s surgery and brain transplant while our heroes take turns looking for a traitor and coming back to the operating room to ask “How is he, doctor?”

For the first time, The Avengers was ponderous. The only spark at all is Tara getting called in on her way to a fancy dress party and declining to change out of her cat costume and mask for the show’s first ten minutes.

Speaking of computers, there’s a reminder that language is always in flux at the very beginning and we see the word spelled as “computor” on a sign. That’s not a typo. Well into the 1960s, either spelling could be used, although I would say that by this time, a “computer” could also be used to refer to the human operator of a “computor” hardware. Some eggheads at Georgia Tech were still using “computor” in their dissertations as recently as 2001, although you really just can’t expect linguistic precision from a bunch of damn Yellow Jackets. (More here.)

On the human side, Frank Windsor, who was very well known at the time for his role of Detective Inspector John Watt in Z Cars and Softly Softly, is here as one of the traitors. It looks like this episode was made just a few weeks after production on Softly Softly‘s third series finished. Judy Parfitt and Arthur Cox also appear.

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Doctor Who: Shada (parts two through six)

My eyes are still popping out of my head. We picked up the story of “Shada” from where we left off last night, with the original cliffhanger to part one, and enjoyed this presentation so much more. I’ve always liked “Shada” and have watched the 1992 version several times. My only complaint about this edition is that it’s only available as a single feature that lasts two hours and eighteen minutes. I would have preferred they kept the original episodic structure.

All of the original “Shada” recording sessions and film material were retained, so the team who worked on this could go right back to scratch and restore everything as new. The result is absolutely beautiful. Seventies Doctor Who has never looked as good as this. The lengthy animated sections are rudimentary, but what really impressed me was the new model work. They didn’t have the budget in 1992 for the comparatively lavish space station Think Tank that’s seen here.

And yes, it’s a very good story. Not “City of Death” good, true, but had this been completed in 1979, everybody would have said it was the second best production of this troubled season. The Doctor’s initial confrontation with Skagra has always tickled me, and our son completely loved the bicycle chase, all the K9 action, and the mind-control fight of the climax. He thought it was “super exciting” and says that the monstrous Krargs were “awesome.” Then again, we’re clearly not doing our job as residents of Tennessee. During the bike chase, the Doctor races past a vocal group on a street corner singing “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Our son didn’t recognize the song! Sorry, Glenn Miller. I thought it was ubiquitous…

The restored and completed “Shada” will be released in North America in November. That’s all from Doctor Who for now, but we’ll start looking at season eighteen in about three weeks. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: Shada (part one)

There may be one or six readers who visit us here at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time who don’t know about “Shada.” For them, briefly, the situation is that Douglas Adams wrote a six-part serial to wrap up his year as script editor for Doctor Who. Actors Denis Carey, Victoria Burgoyne, and Christopher Neame, among others, joined the cast and director Pennant Roberts in Cambridge in October 1979 for location filming. Then they returned to London for what should have been three studio recording sessions. They finished the first, rehearsed the second, and then a years-long dispute between the BBC and one of the technician unions blew up.

The cast were locked out of the studio, it didn’t get resolved in time for other productions on the calendar, the actors’ time-sensitive contracts expired, and the show was formally axed shortly afterward. Adams and the program’s producer, Graham Williams, got to end their time on Who with a story that was cancelled. Some of the film footage was used as “new” material four years later in “The Five Doctors,” and even more of the script was used as “new” material in Adams’ 1987 novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. He also used with the climax of “City of Death,” which I always thought was a bit cheeky of him.

In 1992, BBC Video released a “best that could be done” version of “Shada,” with a small budget for some visual effects and editing. It was overseen by the show’s last producer, John Nathan-Turner, and featured music by Keff McCulloch, who evidently didn’t actually watch the visuals that he was scoring, along with an introduction and linking narration by Tom Baker, kind of sort of in character but also wearing a pretty nice suit. This version later made its way to DVD in a three-disc set with a boatload of extras and the fab, feature-length documentary More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS. Tonight, we sat down to enjoy the first twenty-ish minutes of this story in its 1992 incarnation.

And enjoy’s the right word. For ages, with only a fan-assembled compilation of the footage making the bootleg rounds to view, one school of thought in the eighties said that “Shada” was a lost classic, that it was the epic we should have got. Other, much grouchier people pointed out that the two previous “epic” six-part serials that Graham Williams had produced were “The Invasion of Time” and “The Armageddon Factor,” neither of which blew anybody’s mind, and really, why should anybody expect this would have been all that different from “The Horns of Nimon,” which should have been the story that led into “Shada,” and not the season finale it became.

Simple. “City of Death” was, after all, very, very different from “The Horns of Nimon.”

I think that “Shada” is completely wonderful. It’s by leagues the best evidence we’ve got that Pennant Roberts had such a good reputation as a director, because the location work in Cambridge is just fantastic, and the scenes set in Professor Chronotis’s oddball shambles of a room in Cambridge’s St. Cedd’s College are delightful. Not very much happens in part one, but it’s very witty and very fun to watch, and I love Christopher Neame stomping around Cambridge in his sci-fi villain costume and not attracting anybody’s attention. The bit about the inhuman babbling of undergraduates always slays me, and there’s better still to come.

At least I think there is. I haven’t actually seen what comes next. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow morning.

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