Monthly Archives: November 2018

Doctor Who: Snakedance (parts one and two)

Even while I’ve grumbled about the last two Doctor Who stories, our son has been loving this run of adventures, and really enjoys Peter Davison’s Doctor. So naturally, we get to my favorite Davison story and he’s utterly miserable. “Snakedance,” which was written by Christopher Bailey and directed by Fiona Cumming, features the return of the Mara and an early TV appearance by future sitcom megastar Martin Clunes as a bored young aristocrat. I think it’s a tremendously entertaining story that moves at a much faster pace than a typical Who adventure, but our son protests that it’s too creepy and too scary. It’s full of dark caves and possessions and Tegan acting malicious and evil.

Of course, another reason our son may be less than thrilled is because he saw right through a visual effect again. This doesn’t happen often, in part because he’s perfectly happy to suspend disbelief, but when it happens, he’s disappointed. In “Kinda,” the first story with the Mara, the creature manifests itself as a snake tattoo on its victims’ arms. In this story, the makeup and costume department evidently decided to save a little time and slap a big decal on the actors’ forearms rather than drawing and painting something. “That looks like a sticker,” he snorted.

I chose the picture above because “Snakedance” has a pretty unique point of view for the show: the Doctor comes across as an unhinged lunatic. Imagine the mayor of a big city working with the local archbishop to plan the annual Easter celebrations, and now dump in some loudmouthed nut in a cricket uniform bellowing that the ceremonies must be cancelled because Satan’s coming back. That’s kind of what the Doctor’s doing here, crashing dinner parties and yelling at everybody that the devil’s real before he gets dragged away by the cops. And the local dignitaries are perfectly reasonable and rational people; they’re not depicted as the typical meatheads who need to pay attention to our sensible hero. Hopefully the Doctor can take it down a notch so he can save the day. Maybe a night cooling off in the local jail’s drunk tank will help?

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The Avengers 7.23 – Requiem

Spoiler alert: When is a hospital not a hospital? When the villains are trying to get information from one of our heroes.

Like many episodes of The Avengers, time has blunted the “surprise” of “Requiem.” This is a plot that has been done many, many times since 1969. In fact, Terry Nation evidently enjoyed script-editing Brian Clemens’ story so much that he plundered elements of this hour as an episode of The Persuaders! about two years later, only it’s Roger Moore who wakes up in the fake hospital there instead of Linda Thorson. At least our heroine has the fine actor John Paul, a few months away from starring in Doomwatch, as her fake doctor.

Anyway, while this is again a story that won’t confound people who’ve watched much television already, our son took it all at face value, and when Tara starts realizing something was funny, he sat up straight and just had his little seven year-old mind blown. And he had such a hard time putting the pieces together at first. “There’s a hospital above Steed’s apartment?!” he bellowed. Seconds later, he added “Oh! Em! Gee! It’s a FAKE!” As always, it’s much more fun to see something like this through the eyes of a child.

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Buck Rogers 1.19 – Olympiad

I’m guessing that toward the end of Buck Rogers‘ first season, they started to run out of money. We haven’t seen any A-list guest stars in weeks, and not a frame of location filming. I thought that for an intergalactic Olympic games, they’d go rent the Rose Bowl, but no, it’s just a big gym.

We paused this one to explain the allegory to our son. The story concerns an athlete from the planet of Space Russia – I mean, Losseria – wanting to defect to Earth. He’s under constant guard and has a bomb in his brain, so his girlfriend, who is Space Nadia Comăneci, turns to Buck to help them. Well, the girlfriend rides a Space Bobsled and isn’t a Space Gymnast, but her home planet is effectively Space Romania, as these things go. The episode was first shown about two weeks after the United States laid down its boycott demands on Moscow, to get Soviet troops out of Afghanistan or lose international participation in the 1980 summer games, so it was a pretty timely allegory.

The young athletes from behind the Space Iron Curtain get awfully smoochy, but our son didn’t object too much. There were enough silly future sports to keep his attention, and he really enjoyed Buck beating up a couple of boxers who use sonic blasts from their gloves. As for the guest stars, they may not have been on the Hollywood A-list, but Paul Mantee, a regular “heavy” from the period, plays the number two bad guy. Judith Chapman, who’s been a regular on The Young and the Restless for the last thirteen years, plays Space Nadia.

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Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity (parts three and four)

By far the most interesting thing about “Arc of Infinity” is that all the location filming was done in Amsterdam in the summer of 1982. Unfortunately, the story feels like it tries its best to have as little to do with Holland as possible in favor of deeply boring political intrigue on the Doctor’s home planet. Most of this serial’s faults could have been overcome by setting the whole story on Earth. They could have, for instance, had Michael Gough’s gone-bad Time Lord working in league with some human criminal who lived in Amsterdam to bring Omega back.

Oh yes, Omega, by far the least interesting thing about “Arc of Infinity,” or at least the way it’s presented. Not content with recasting all the characters who were seen the last time we were on Gallifrey four years before, they also recast the villain, and gave him a costume which wasn’t a patch on the iconic original that we saw in “The Three Doctors” a decade previously. I don’t think Omega’s even been mentioned in the program since 1973, but the show is working under the assumption that everybody watching the program knows exactly who he is.

In fairness, “The Three Doctors” had been repeated by the BBC a little over a year earlier, but this is part of that sense of complacency I mentioned earlier today. A little over a year is a lifetime in little kid terms; we watched that story thirteen months ago and it took a good bit of poking for our seven year-old to recall that the second Doctor teamed up with the third in the first place, let alone who the villain was. It’s here that we really start getting evidence that the people making the program are doing so for an audience that’s already completely committed, buys all the books, reads all the magazines, and can tell you who all the recurring villains and characters are when they turn up.

Mind you, I’m not opposed at all to villains and characters making return visits. Now I do think there needs to be a “ground zero” every few years, like we’re experiencing with Jodie Whittaker’s run right now, which doesn’t relive past glories for several weeks and lets a new audience in. But I like old faces and foes. However, these either need to be done as subtle winks and Easter eggs, or they need to be done properly, with an honest attempt at reintroduction. I mean, at no point in this story’s narrative do they even explain who Omega is; they just figured that all seven million who watched this on its original broadcast knew already. This will get worse before it gets better.

For what it’s worth, while our son was confused by the villain, he really did enjoy the story, and thought it was very exciting and creepy. He took the revelation of the baddie with a shrug; what really confused him was a street scene where the regenerated Omega joins a small crowd around a draaiorgel barrel organ. He’d never seen anything like that and needed to be reminded that once upon a time, we didn’t have the option of listening to music on our phones!

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Buck Rogers 1.18 – Twiki is Missing

And while we’re on the subject of turkeys, here’s “Twiki is Missing.” The main guest star is actress Eddie Benton, and she’s the best thing about this hour, just like she was the best thing about the dopey 1979 movie The Shape of Things to Come.

But for a second opinion, our favorite seven year-old critic completely loved this adventure, which is built around a crime boss wanting to steal Twiki because he’s heard the gossip that the little robot “ambuquad” has developed imagination. It’s really one action scene after another, with space rescues, fistfights, and lots of running up and down lots of corridors. He was very emphatic that he liked this one much, much more than “Ardala Returns”, singling out a moment where Twiki topples a convenient stack of crates on top of a gunman.

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Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity (parts one and two)

For Thanksgiving, we’re watching this turkey! Gobble, gobble!

Season twenty’s where it all falls apart for me. There are still some terrific stories ahead in the next four seasons – they average about one classic a year – and some great moments here and there, but overall there’s a sense of… I guess complacency. There’s an overriding sense of “that’s good enough” in the scripting and the design and the direction.

That said, Johnny Byrne’s “Arc of Infinity” does have one nice moment in its first two parts (and I admit I cheated; the image above is from part three). There are two plots running parallel at first: a pair of young hitchhikers sleeping in an old crypt in Amsterdam, and the Doctor and Nyssa having a contest of technobabble and continuity in space. It looks like our heroes will be materializing in the Netherlands, and we hear the TARDIS sound effect… but it’s somebody else’s ship, apparently piloted by the weird turkey monster on the left in the picture above. I like the misdirection.

The turkey monster is called an Ergon, and at no point in this story does it ever move convincingly enough to fool anybody into thinking that it’s an alien monster that grew up knowing how to move its own muscles. It moves like an underpaid actor wearing fifty pounds of latex, flippers, and a tall floppy hat.

At least there’s Amsterdam, and some other notable actors, all probably also underpaid. Janet Fielding is back as Tegan, conveniently reentering the Netherlands part of the plot while the Doctor and Nyssa get to do breathtakingly boring outer space stuff on Gallifrey. Last time we were stuck here, in “The Invasion of Time”, we had a completely different set of actors as Borusa, the High Council, the Castellan (Commissioner Gordon), and the commander (Chief O’Hara). This time, a future star of the show, Colin Baker, is playing Chief O’Hara, and Paul Jerricho, who will be back in a few stories to deliver one of the all-time great bad Doctor Who line readings, is Gordon. On the High Council, there’s Elspet Gray, who was the clueless mom in the second series of Catweazle, and starred-in-everything cult TV legend Michael Gough as an old friend we’ve never heard of before.

There are five suspects in the mystery of who on Gallifrey has betrayed the Doctor. Four of them either don’t like the Doctor very much or are generally indifferent to him. One is played by an internationally recognizable actor who greets our hero with smiles and phrases like “My dear Doctor!” and is trying ever so hard to keep our hero from being executed. I wonder who the traitor could possibly be.

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The Avengers 7.22 – My Wildest Dream

Hooray, Linda Thorson’s back to her spring 1968 hairstyle tonight… because weirdly, this was one of the first stories made for the final production run, if not the very first, but for some reason it was held back in both the UK and US until nearly the end of the series. It first aired in America in January 1969 and in various ITV regions in Britain three months after that.

I’ve never read why it was kept on the shelf for so long. It was director Robert Fuest’s first episode of the show, working from a Philip Levene script, and it’s visually thrilling, inventive, and clever. The script’s not at all bad, and I love how we’re given new surprises about the villains at regular intervals. Familiar faces Peter Vaughan and Philip Madoc have good parts… it’s a fine episode of The Avengers, and deserved to be shown off earlier. It’s not as though the producers could possibly have been able to predict that they’d need an episode this good to bring a little spice to the program’s final run of ten or so subpar hours.

Following our discussion two nights ago about recurring villains, I asked our son whether one of the reasons he enjoys The Avengers is that the bad guys never come back to bother our heroes, and he emphatically agreed. Except for the Cybernauts, I added. “Yeah, but those are robots, and they ALWAYS come back,” he grumbled. But overall he enjoyed this one quite a bit.

His mother added that tonight’s episode also had some very good fight scenes and he agreed. Linda Thorson and Tom Kempinksi, and their doubles, have a downright brutal one in a room filled with colored glass in small frames. You can tell that they made this one before deciding that Tara King is an expert fighter, because she tries desperately to escape, rather than beat her opponent. The Tara of “Take Me to Your Leader” would have stood her ground and clobbered the guy!

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The Goodies 9.1 – Snow White 2

Now all of The Goodies is available on DVD. Network has released their big set of all eight series that were made for the BBC, but because I’m contrary, and cheap, I picked up their ninth and final series from Network’s recent “Bonkers” sale. Seven episodes made for LWT in 1981 at about 40p apiece. Well, the sale’s over, and it’s back to £8.40 now, and I seriously hope the other six episodes are better than the first one.

“Snow White 2” is just a half-hour of slapstick with a pantomime theme. If you’re seven, and love the sped-up film bits most, then this is a classic, because there aren’t any comparatively slow studio parts with dialogue jokes, just mayhem on 16mm. David Rappaport’s in it – looks like he was a recurring guest player in year nine – and our son just howled through it. Afraid I thought this one was incredibly tedious, but we’ll look at another episode toward the end of the year.

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