Monthly Archives: October 2018

Young Indiana Jones 3.2 – Morocco, 1917

The Morocco installment is one of the hours made a couple of years after the show’s cancellation exclusively for home video. Jonathan Hales wrote it as a companion piece to the previous story, which required a little real-world continuity fudging, because Ernest Hemingway’s wounding in Italy actually happened almost a year after the writer Edith Wharton’s goodwill and charity tour of French Northern Africa. It was filmed around 1997 and released on VHS in 1999.

The story this time is that Indy has been assigned a cover story as a captain in the French Foreign Legion to find out who’s smuggling rifles to Bedouin rebels, and then he gets another cover story atop that as an escort to Mrs. Wharton as she visits the small city of Hidran, where the guns are supposed to be locked away securely, so none of the French garrison at the armory will suspect he’s there to find a traitor.

The episode is honestly terrific, with gunfights and a great bit of spying and deduction, and it ends with a fabulous swordfight that our son and I both loved. He was also really taken with the bit where the traitor tries to avoid getting called out in front of all the other suspects. There are secret tunnels and last-minute escapes… and a lot of talk, some of it about smooching, which he didn’t enjoy so much.

Edith Wharton is played by Clare Higgins, who I think I should have recognized. Wonderfully, Higgins had a small role in a film adaptation of Wharton’s novel The House of Mirth a few years after making this. The one actor I did recognize was David Haig, but it took me a minute to place him. He was in the first series of Cracker.

Edith Wharton would have been around 55 at the time of this adventure, and Indy just 18. They get very close and obviously have a connection, but it’s one they can’t act on, leading to a sad and inevitable farewell. There’s an unusual amount of continuity referencing previous episodes, because Edith asks Indy what a nice boy from New Jersey is doing in the French Foreign Legion, figuring that a broken heart must be involved, and opening his heart in a way even Indy himself grumbles is out of character, he spills his heartbreak over Nancy, Vicky, Mata Hari, and Giuletta to his new friend. I can’t help but love the way the name Mata Hari just sticks out of that sentence like it was on fire.

Great. Now I’m going to have “Ex-Girl Collection” by the Wrens stuck in my head for a week. Thanks a lot, Indy.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.5 – Allah is Not Always With You

In the previous installment, I talked about effective makeup jobs. There’s an effective one in this afternoon’s episode of Adam Adamant Lives! as well, kind of. You watch British television from the sixties, you figure you’re occasionally going to run into a few cases where they smeared some shoe polish on the white skin of the actors so they can pass as “foreign.” That’s just the unfortunate way of old television. I wish I could show you the sheikh from this episode, though. It’s that fine actor John Woodnutt, but even the man’s own mother wouldn’t have recognized him with the giant fake nose they stuck on him.

After seeing Woodnutt’s name in the credits, I zipped back for a second look. Our son described the imitation hooter as “wet plastic,” so that led into a discussion of using things like “big noses” and “squinty eyes” as racial identifiers. I feel it’s important to point these out as we go. They’re good tools for learning.

As for the rest of the episode, the only other point to cause any eye-rolling was the recurring use of the flashback to Adam getting suckered by Louise and The Face in the first installment whenever our hero gets thumped on the head. Our son is pretty sick of the flashback and got up to sit behind the sofa with an exasperated sigh when it happened again here. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining hour about criminals trying to get their hooks into the son of the ruler of NosuchArablandia. Dad’s in London for surgery and Junior’s got some gambling debts. John Hollis plays one of the criminals, and I thought that George Pastell was in it, but I was mistaken.

Speaking of recurring themes, this is the second episode in a row where Miss Jones embarrasses Adam by donning a racy costume for her undercover work and enjoys the experience of making him uncomfortable. I figure it’s a fine little comeuppance for him assuming she was a prostitute in the first episode, but the joke’s got about one more airing before it gets tired. Let’s see whether they put it to bed or run it into the ground.

(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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Doctor Who: Castrovalva (parts three and four)

So here we see Anthony Ainley made up as “the Portreeve,” an old, learned man in the strange city of Castrovalva. The disguise worked. I paused in the end credits for part three, where Ainley is credited as “Neil Toynay,” and asked Marie whether she recognized the actor, and she didn’t. “So who is he?” our son asked. “Mom and I saw him the other night in Out of the Unknown,” I said, attempting one more clue. Unknown was a BBC anthology series that started as adaptations of proper, pipe-smoking sci-fi that evolved into original works of psychological horror and the supernatural by the end. What survived the BBC’s wiping is incredibly uneven and occasionally terrible, but almost always interesting to watch. My favorite is the 1966 adaptation of Frederik Pohl’s “Tunnel Under the World,” which is just eye-poppingly amazing. Ainley was the star of a 1971 story called “Welcome Home” which she and I watched Wednesday night. It is almost oppressively creepy, and he’s excellent in it.

So bravo to Ainley, the makeup team, and director Fiona Cumming for pulling it off. When he reveals himself to be the Master in part four, only one of the three people in this audience saw it coming. I honestly don’t remember whether I saw through the disguise when I first saw this in late 1984. I probably didn’t.

Castrovalva is a city on the top of a steep, rocky hill on a quiet and calm wooded planet that made us all want to hike and climb the rocks there. The city is populated by incredibly likable and kind people, one of them played by the fine character actor Michael Sheard, and the Doctor evidently hasn’t paid enough attention to 20th Century popular culture, because he doesn’t spot that the city is built like an MC Escher print, with all the staircases leading to the same place and sometimes upside down.

I’ve noted this little hole in the Doctor’s knowledge before, back when we learned that the Master is a King Crimson fan. I’ll tell you what was going on during the Third Doctor’s exile. He was taking Jo to the National Gallery, name-dropping all the artists he’s known, and telling ribald stories about Titian. Meanwhile, the Master was hanging out in record stores and head shops, seeing what pipe-smoking sci-fi readers were framing on their living room walls, and sneering about snobs who use words like “ribald.”

Our son was very pleased with this story, which was nice, because he’s been more patient than engaged with the last few things we’ve watched together. “I really liked this one,” he told us, singling out the part where one of the Castrovalvan people saves the day by swinging from a chandelier into the Master’s infernal machine. The Master shouts “My web!” when it happens, which is slightly comical. Then he tries to escape in his TARDIS, finds that he can’t use it to get out of the collapsing, recursive geography of Castrovalva, steps outside and bellows “My web!” again, which is more than just “slightly” comical.

So that’s it for Peter Davison’s first adventure. He makes a great team with Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, and Janet Fielding. The story is original, and certainly unlike anything we’ve seen on the show before. The dialogue’s sometimes clumsy, and Tegan must have grown up in a household full of pipe-smoking sci-fi readers, because she has accepted all of this with no confusion or complaint, but this is another very good example of what I was talking about with “The Leisure Hive” when I said that the program is trying to look and sound interesting and different. You really get the sense that everybody involved wants to make this show work.

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Doctor Who: Castrovalva (parts one and two)

Back to January 1982 and Peter Davison’s first story in Doctor Who. Davison gets to spend the first half hour stumbling around the corridors of the TARDIS, and the second half hour asleep and being carried around in a coffin. Nobody hates “Castrovalva,” but that’s because episodes three and four are incredibly clever and fun. If the entire thing was like the first two parts, things would have been different.

Season nineteen was recorded way out of order, first so that Davison would have a chance to get a handle on his character before going back and acting all erratic and weird in this one, and second so that the people behind the scenes could nail down exactly what this story was going to be. The story that was planned for Davison’s debut wasn’t working, so the producer commissioned Christopher H. Bidmead, who had been his script editor the previous year, to come up with this. As with Bidmead’s previous story, “Logopolis”, there’s too much technobabble in the script, and poor Sarah Sutton is forced to try and make something called “telebiogenesis” sound important. The quirky concept this time around is recursion, which, again, gets fun in the second half of the story.

Still, even though these first two parts are incredibly slow, they’re just so likable. It’s actually kind of refreshing to spend a full half hour episode letting the Doctor be weird and absent-minded and spend time on the strangeness of his regeneration crisis. Later on, the indulgence of “the Doctor gets to be WACKY when he regenerates” would grate, but I like it here. And the simple, slow pace was perfect for our son, who really enjoyed this. The pacing is perfect for younger viewers, with one problem at a time and a detailed, engaging solution to each new issue. That said, he did complain that the obstacles were ensuring that absolutely nobody was getting what they wanted. He even felt sorry for the Master after his traps were foiled, because surely if the heroes were miserable, then at least the villain could have a good day!

One point of bother, pointing the way toward future irritations, though: the Doctor has three companions all of a sudden, and they all apparently read a book about the show or something, because they all know what regeneration is. It’s an ugly case of the people making the program choosing to believe that everybody watching the program is well-versed in the lore and reads the preview articles in the TV section. And while it’s incredibly laudable that Tegan has decided to stay and help this strange man through his regeneration crisis instead of waving everybody off back into outer space, the script treats her as though she’d somehow taken the Doctor Who Companion Orientation and has signed on for a season or more. Later stories would remember that Tegan’s goal was to get back to Earth in the spring of 1981 and get to her stewardess job at Heathrow Airport. It’s not mentioned even once here!

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Young Indiana Jones 3.1 – Northern Italy, 1918

Back to Young Indiana Jones and the first story on the last DVD set, which was the second hour of the series directed by Bille August. I was a little concerned that our smoochy-stuff-hating seven year-old would not like this episode, but while it features plenty of wooing, there’s only a small amount of actual smooching. Our son rolled his eyes for a couple of minutes, but rapidly came around when we learn that Indy and some other fellow, a no-good rat, are courting the same young Italian lady. The competition escalates until the inevitable revelation that the rat is, of course, none other than the same man who’s been egging Indy on, his pal Ernest Hemingway. Then it stops being a competition and becomes war.

Our son enjoyed this a lot more than I honestly thought he would, thanks of course to the series of pranks and obstacles that Indy and Ernest throw in each other’s way. But there’s also a scene where the two rivals are forced to share a meal together with Giuletta’s family and, in foolhardy drives to impress her mother, they eat their combined weight in pasta and red sauce. I had to spare a thought for poor Sean Patrick Flanery and Jay Underwood, who plays Hemingway, and hoped that August got this scene in as few takes as possible. Remember the “that’s a spicy meatball” commercial for Alka-Seltzer? I sure did.

“It’s a good thing they didn’t invite me to dinner,” our kid told us, “because I would totally eat all that pasta.” He’s still at the age where he doesn’t need Alka-Seltzer.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.4 – The Sweet Smell of Disaster

There’s a charming naivete to “The Sweet Smell of Disaster.” This story is about an advertising firm whose managing director has killed a chemist to get the secret for an addictive scent. The euphoric effects slowly fade and leave people desperate for more. Having conquered the soap powder market with giveaway blue plastic flowers that are laced with the scent, leaving a population unaware they’ve become addicted, phase two involves taking over the government.

Yet the only people in on this scheme are the managing director and his advertising executive, played by Charles Tingwell and Adrienne Corri, and possibly a bodyguard. Two of their salesmen figure it out and are outraged. Firstly, isn’t phase two of this operation going to require a lot more people willingly signing on for it to work? And secondly, unfortunately, we live in a world where big businesses are run by monsters who are much, much more ruthless and awful than these two. Just in case you missed it, earlier this week, we learned that Facebook deliberately inflated reports on the reach and influence of video on its platform, which directly led to the loss of hundreds of media jobs. Tingwell’s soap company is still in the nursery compared to the 21st Century.

Our son got seriously worried during a scene where Adam and Miss Jones creep around the company’s boardroom in the dark, and while some of this sailed over his head, he enjoyed it, particularly when our heroes and the two villains have a fight in a room overfilled with foaming soap bubbles. That divide between scenes shot on videotape and film spoiled the surprise for me, I’m afraid. I’ve watched enough British television from the sixties to know that when a corridor that we’ve seen on videotape a few times is suddenly on film, that means that this scene was shot separate from the rest, remounted in a different studio where the BBC’s foam machine could roar into action.

(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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Buck Rogers 1.12 – Escape From Wedded Bliss

At last, we hit an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century that our son didn’t enjoy. I figured the gunfights and the one-on-one arena brawl between Buck and Tigerman would have made up for all the smoochy stuff, but no. Ardala’s back in town and she only has bedroom eyes for Buck, and he just couldn’t wait for this one to end. Ardala’s a whole new kind of evil for our son: she makes Buck smooch her! This time the plot is literally “Buck Rogers will marry Ardala or else Ardala destroys the Earth.” He couldn’t stand it.

Behind the scenes, H.B. Haggerty takes over the role of Tigerman from this episode, and Michael Ansara is the second Killer Kane. There’s also more disco dancing, this time with roller skates. Frankly, the only reason to watch this one is to see Pamela Hensley parade around in six or seven very revealing Bob Mackie-esque dresses.

And for the second night in a row, we end on a turkey, as Buck Rogers goes back on the shelf for a few weeks’ break to keep things fresh. But we’ll be back in the 25th Century in November, so stay tuned!

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The Avengers 7.20 – Homicide and Old Lace

A couple of oddball coincidences tonight: that’s the star of Adam Adamant Lives!, Gerald Harper, in color tonight as one of the guest stars in tonight’s episode of The Avengers. It also features the late Edward Brayshaw as one of the villains, and today (October 18) would have been his 85th birthday. Both of these fine actors, not to mention Donald Pickering, another notable name, had the misfortune of appearing in what’s by miles the worst episode of this show.

To recap, toward the end of 1967, John Bryce had been assigned to produce The Avengers, and under his watch, three episodes were at least started: “Invasion of the Earthmen”, “Invitation to a Killing,” which became “Have Guns – Will Haggle”, and a story written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks. It was called “The Great Great Britain Crime” and featured the return of an organization previously seen in season two’s “Intercrime.”

“The Great Great Britain Crime” was judged to be too far gone, too much of a lost cause, to save even with reshoots. But with deadlines looming, poor decisions were made, and, more than a year later, a good chunk of the episode was repurposed. “Homicide and Old Lace” is that most unfortunate beast: a clip show. There are fights and shootouts from five or six other color Avengers episodes, and the story is given an intrusive and very, very annoying framing sequence. Mother is recounting the adventure to two elderly aunts, who constantly interrupt and interject and ask questions and recap everything we’ve seen before.

It’s painful to watch. Even with only about twenty-five or so minutes of visuals from “Crime” to play with, the producers undermined even those by having Mother narrate over some the footage, obscuring the original dialogue. There’s inappropriate “Perils of Pauline” music, and even at least one comedy sound effect. At places, this doesn’t seem desperate so much as vindictive, like Brian Clemens decided to stick the knife in for Bryce daring to work on his show.

There’s a pace and look and, in particular, a color scheme that’s unique to what we can see of “The Great Great Britain Crime” and “Invitation to a Killing.” I’m fascinated by the road that the Associated British Corporation didn’t take. I wish these two episodes existed in full so we could compare them to the transmitted versions. I’m certain that “The Great Great Britain Crime” was lousy; nothing that was used here convinces me otherwise, but at the same time, I’m equally certain that there’s no way in the universe that the original production was anywhere as tedious and aggravating as “Homicide and Old Lace.” Sadly, the originals are believed to have been destroyed all those years ago.

And we’ll end on that sour note for now, and put The Avengers back on the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh. We’ll return to this series in November for the final six episodes of its original run, but stay tuned! There’s lots more to watch and talk about!

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