Monthly Archives: October 2018

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.7 – To Set a Deadly Fashion

Tony Williamson’s “To Set a Deadly Fashion” is less like The Avengers than it is Batman. Colin Jeavons plays the bad guy, and he’s about as highly-strung as your average Batvillain, not to mention just a little too self-consciously camp. In part that’s to be expected; he’s playing a fashion designer who pronounces “Roger” as “Roget,” when he’s not placing microphone – slash – anti-pacemaker “bombs” in the dresses of the wives of diplomats, only to have his skittish henchmen keep blowing them up.

As always, the Victorian values provide the most hilarious scenes. Adam decides to infiltrate the enemy’s headquarters while posing as a buyer for a large boutique in New Zealand, and arrives just as they’re beginning a show of the season’s newest swimwear. Poor Adam, coming from a time when showing off one’s ankles at the beach would cause a scandal, just about dies from embarrassment. Really, Adam, it’s only girls in bikinis. I don’t think the camera lingered on even a single libidinous ankle shot.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth‘s one of those movies that I’m reasonably certain everybody likes more than I do. I’ve seen chunks of it several times over the years, but today might be the first time I’ve watched the entire movie since it was released. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it doesn’t spark my imagination very much. I kept paying attention to the technical tricks and the way that sheepdog dashes across the rocks in the Bog of Eternal Stench. That must have been the best trained dog to ever tread the boards at Elstree Studios.

This is a movie for kids and ours just adored it, as his mother predicted. We often try to take him into a new film a little blind, so he doesn’t know what to expect, and so the first appearance of all the goblins waiting for Jennifer Connelly to word her wish correctly surprised the heck out of him. He smiled and laughed all the way through the film, loving the wonderful battle between the goblin army and all the rocks that Ludo summons the best.

David Bowie never appeared on The Muppet Show, but his performance of “Magic Dance” is a pretty good imitation of how such an event might have appeared. Labyrinth was made during what I might charitably call Bowie’s Crap Period, with five new songs strung between the tentpoles of his two weakest LPs not really providing a lot of reason to go check these out. “As the World Falls Down” is the best of the five by miles, and I’m kind of annoyed that I’ll have “Underground” stuck in my head for the next month.

But while musically, it’s a weak set of songs, it’s impossible to dislike Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King, Jareth. He may not be one of the screen’s great villains, but he’s a fun, mischievous character who plays by rules and logic that our heroine doesn’t find fair. I wonder about all the goblins in his kingdom. Were these all children that Jareth has stolen from other worlds?

Apparently Terry Jones rewrote his script sixty-eleven times to please Bowie and Jim Henson, and he later expressed some frustration that the final draft didn’t have a lot of what he enjoyed creating left in it. But a lot of it works, especially Jennifer Connelly’s believably heroic-but-overwhelmed character. I like how her bedroom contains posters of musicals, Escher prints, and the Judge Dredd role-playing game. Speaking of Escher, we got to remind our son of “Castrovalva” before the climactic scene in the “Relativity” staircase room. It must be said that Henson pulled off that illusion rather better than Doctor Who did. There’s also a repeat of the classic riddle about the two guards, one truthful and one a liar, that Who had done in “Pyramids of Mars.”

Incidentally, I’ve actually seen more of Hoggle in real life than in this movie. He lives just about an hour from here. The Hoggle puppet was lost in transit when Henson was doing a lecture tour, and the insurance paid off. Many years later, Hoggle, badly decaying from water damage, was found in a trunk that had been purchased in a big job lot by Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro AL. The puppet was restored by an expert in Wisconsin, Gary Sowatzka, in 2006, and he now occupies a place of pride in the giant store’s front lobby.

This kind of reminded us that we should head back to Scottsboro to shop and eat sometime soon, and say hello to Hoggle. We just won’t take any peaches from him.

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Doctor Who: Kinda (parts three and four)

“Kinda” is an incredibly dense and layered story, and one that offers more meaty parts for women than we had been seeing in Doctor Who in the late seventies. With Nyssa and Tegan both out of the action, the role of asking questions falls to one of the colonial inspectors, Dr. Todd, played by Nerys Hughes. She had co-starred in the sitcom The Liver Birds throughout the 1970s, another case of the producer looking for very recognizable faces from popular entertainment and casting them against type, as we saw with Stratford Johns in the previous story and will see with Michael Robbins in the next.

Hughes gets one of my favorite moments of the story. Since Dr. Todd is filling the companion role, she peppers the Doctor with questions until he actually comments on it. As soon as they run into one of the Kinda who can speak, it’s he who has all the questions, leading her to rib him on his own curiosity.

The evil Mara finally reveals itself at the end as a giant, colorful snake, which surprised and delighted our son. It’s one of those visual effects that has caused so much grumbling, but it honestly doesn’t look egregiously more fake or plastic than any other alien being from this era of the series to me. It seemed to convince our kid, who says that he enjoyed this story even more than “Four to Doomsday,” so the show’s definitely on a high for him right now.

Just one more note, because I could certainly talk about this one all day, about the interesting lack of deaths in this adventure. The only confirmed death among the characters is that of the old, blind wise woman, Panna. Three of the colonists had vanished before the story opens, and it’s explained that opening a magical, mind-cleansing box that the Kinda use had driven them each mad. Considering that the end of the story sees the other two men from the expedition healed and relaxed, I’d like to think that the other three had thrown off their uniforms and been eating fruits and climbing mountains until the mental stress of the “wheel-turning” Mara had been exorcised and are making their way back to camp as our heroes depart. I think that makes the ending even nicer.

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Doctor Who: Kinda (parts one and two)

Because it’s one of my very favorite Doctor Who stories, I have watched Christopher Bailey’s “Kinda” something like thirty times, and I’m always noticing something new. For example, you recall just a couple of days ago, we spotted a fumble in an episode of Adam Adamant Lives! where an actress mistimed her offscreen dash and was caught by one of the cameras. Well, 18-odd minutes into episode two of “Kinda,” one of the camera operators mistimed his move and was caught by one of the other cameras. Look closely at the right side of the screen as Sanders returns to the dome and the airlock door is being raised. There’s a whacking great BBC camera slowly trying to glide out of sight. How’d I never notice that before?

Our son thinks that “Kinda” is incredibly creepy, with the “what’s in the box” cliffhanger of part two really making his hair stand on end, and he’s right. I love how the story focuses on the colonial party in the dome and the threat of the security officer. Bullied and sneered at by the rest of the expedition, he finally snaps and has a nervous breakdown. It’s one of the very rare and very frightening depictions of mental illness in Doctor Who. This guy is unhinged and incredibly dangerous, but he’s not the problem, and the focus on him is a terrific feint.

Outside the dome, Tegan has fallen asleep under a bank of wind chimes and has spent more than a day dreaming of some malicious guy in fancy dress. She’s awakened some mental force that identifies itself as a Mara. The peaceful people of the planet are mostly silent telepathics. Only a few wise women, like the duo we meet here, have “the power of voice.” We also meet Aris, a very unhappy and silent long-haired man whose brother has been taken captive by the colonials. Tegan wakes up with a snake tattoo on her arm, which you might think is evidence that Tegan shouldn’t pass out after a night with the Marines, and, in a brilliant acting performance by Janet Fielding, passes the tattoo across her arm to Aris’s. Suddenly he can laugh and talk. No good will come of this.

Incidentally, Sarah Sutton’s barely in this story. She’s only in parts one and four for a couple of minutes. That’s because the earliest plan for this season had been for seven four-part serials, and Sutton was contracted for 24 of the 28 episodes. The plan had been to write Nyssa out this year, but in part because Peter Davison correctly spotted that the Doctor and Nyssa have good chemistry together (he said, shrewdly), the producer was persuaded to keep her on, instead of writing her out in story six, whatever that one was to be. At the same time, the producer decided to use the budget for two of the episodes to make the K9 and Company pilot. All this meant that there wasn’t a way to accommodate Sutton without dropping her from most of one adventure, making this the first time that a companion got a couple of weeks off in the middle of a story since the Patrick Troughton years.

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Young Indiana Jones 3.3 – Istanbul, 1918

I kind of admire the way this episode, written by Rosemary Anne Sisson, throws you in at the deep end. In continuity terms, Indy’s been stationed in Istanbul under the identity of a Swedish journalist called Nils Andersson for something like five or six months. This is a proper trenchcoats-and-fedoras spy story, with Indy trying to determine which of six agents in his command is working for the Germans. Unfortunately, director Mike Newell gave it away far, far too early. It could have been a great, paranoid thriller, but when the audience knows more than the lead character, that’s kind of hard to manage.

The audience also knows that Indy’s latest romance won’t last. In Young Indiana Jones terms, it’s by far his longest relationship. He and an American girl named Molly, who works at an orphanage, get engaged, which kind of dooms her. Indy also has the gall to propose to her when she still thinks that he’s a Swede named Nils, which is more evidence for the “Indiana Jones is a complete jerk” argument. Nevertheless, her inevitable death is still a little bit tragic, unless you’re our favorite seven year-old critic. “Was that sad?” I asked him as she died in Indy’s arms. “Nope,” he said, unimpressed.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.6 – The Terribly Happy Embalmers

Last year, when we watched the terrific Avengers episode “A Touch of Brimstone”, I noted that Patrick Macnee had a terrific swordfight with Jeremy Young, and that I didn’t think that Young used a stunt double. Well, the villains in tonight’s Adam Adamant Lives! were played by John Le Mesurier and Jeremy Young, and I’m absolutely certain Young didn’t have a double. Young and Gerald Harper have an absolutely magnificent swordfight here, and under the unflattering eye of the BBC’s “taped-live” format, there wasn’t a chance for doubles to be used.

(It’s very unflattering this week, in fact. Shortly before the fight, an actress, Ilona Rodgers, has to dash off the set for a quick costume change and one of the cameras is unfortunately positioned to catch her running away.)

Anyway, “Brimstone” had also been written by Brian Clemens, and it was made about six months before this was. I wonder whether, when Clemens pitched this story to the team at the BBC, he said something like “And I think there could be a part for an expert fencer, just in case Jeremy Young’s free to play him…”

Actually, now that I look closely at things, you remember that Three Musketeers series that I mentioned last month, the one with BRIAN BLESSED as Porthos and Jeremy Brett as D’Artagnan? Jeremy Young played Athos. So yeah, the guy definitely knew how to use a sword. You can’t be a Musketeer without one!

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com

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Doctor Who: Four To Doomsday (parts three and four)

I’m pleased to report that our son really, really liked this adventure. In fact, he was so thrilled that when the Doctor uses his cricket ball to give himself the momentum to drift backward through the vacuum of space to the TARDIS, he actually applauded. So we felt a little bad bursting the bubble and telling him just how utterly ridiculous the science in that scene was, but if we’re going to point out when television gets it wrong when it comes to social issues, we need to be consistent across the board and talk about bad science as well.

Speaking of social issues, there’s a remarkable part of this story where Adric swallows the villain’s rhetoric completely and thinks Monarch makes some very valuable points, pretty much like any other fourteen year-old idiot who starts hearing some claptrap on YouTube about how taxes are bad and falls down a hole. It’s certainly annoying, and it helped make everybody hate Adric when we were younger, but now I’m finding it’s really a fresh take on things to have a character too naive to know better. Incidentally, this story does support both Adric and Nyssa being young teenagers; they’re repeatedly called “children” throughout it.

But our son’s favorite part was the chaos that ensued when all the robots who represent different cultures on Earth being reprogrammed to have their recreational dances at the same time. He also loved Monarch getting smacked by his germs, remembering that Philip Locke’s character specified that even a small amount could reduce organic matter to the size of a grain of salt.

I’m glad he enjoyed the heck out of this story. I’ve never disliked it, but I’ve probably never enjoyed it as much as I did this time around. I think the creepy menace that comes out in the third episode is really well-timed and very effective, and I like the extra characterization paid to Tegan and Adric. Nyssa gets a few good moments, too, proving that for a fourteen or fifteen year-old, she’s incredibly well schooled in science and in philosophy. Yes, that was very entertaining. And the next one has always been among my favorites. I hope it holds up!

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Doctor Who: Four To Doomsday (parts one and two)

My abiding memory of Terence Dudley’s “Four to Doomsday” is that it’s incredibly slow. This time around, though, that’s revealed to be a good thing. There’s not an immediate threat or menace in this exploration of a giant spaceship four days from Earth, at least in the first half, anyway. It plays out in almost real time, as the Doctor and his companions explore the ship, which is controlled by Monarch of the planet Urbanka. Two other of his kind are on board, along with several representatives of ancient Earth cultures, and everybody’s lips are sealed about the past or the immediate future.

So it’s great television for a seven year-old who wants to chew on this for a bit. He says that he really likes this one, although the revelation that the friendly fellow from ancient Athens is a robot was a big surprise to him. I like how it plays out in a really enormous and believable space. The spaceship looks and feels completely gigantic, with lots of corridors and chambers.

Joining the regulars this time, there’s Philip Locke and Burt Kwouk as two of the old Earth refugees, but the guest cast is led by – of all people – Stratford Johns as Monarch, resplendent in his green, mottled skin. I reminded our son before we started that Johns had appeared in the great Avengers episode “Legacy of Death” doing a Sidney Greenstreet impression, and that our son certainly wouldn’t recognize him unless I pointed him out. Johns had played DI, and later Superintendent Charles Barlow in more than 200 episodes of four or five different, related series, for more than a decade, and even though he’d stayed real busy since the last of those shows ended and was always in demand, he still strikes me as unlikely for the role of a bipedal frog with a God complex. I mean, Johns is great, but imagine Karl Malden as Monarch. Like that.

Meanwhile, because this was actually the first story in production for season nineteen, everybody remembered that Tegan did not sign on to be a companion and wants to get to Heathrow Airport so she won’t lose her job on her first day. I really like the characterization. She doesn’t want to be here, she is terrified of getting fired. That’s how it should be. Except… while it’s been a few days for her, in Earth time, her aunt was just murdered a couple of hours ago. She even mentions this, but she’s only thinking about her job. Who’s she working with, Qantas? I don’t think that they’ve got the worst HR department on the planet. They will understand that the new girl’s aunt was murdered on the way to Heathrow. They’ll hold the job.

They maybe won’t quite understand that she was murdered by a space alien with a shrink ray, of course…

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