Monthly Archives: January 2019

Sapphire & Steel 2.3 and 2.4

So the second Sapphire & Steel story is the one with the angry, resentful ghosts who are haunting a disused railway station and the old, crumbling hotel connected to it. It’s an expansive eight episodes long, set over the course of a single evening. Our strange protagonists meet an amateur ghost hunter who believes that he is engaged in important “psychical” research by quietly attempting to communicate with one or more restless spirits.

But there’s more than just the five ghosts here. There is also another force, a darkness, that is involved with them in some fashion, and that’s what brings Sapphire and Steel to Earth. Mr. Tully wants to help the ghosts somehow, but all that Sapphire and Steel want to do is convince them to accept their deaths and go.

Eight episodes may seem like a lot for a story with such a small setting and scale, but it’s actually just about perfect. The length of these serials really let the writer, P.J. Hammond, take the characters down different avenues, make mistakes, and proceed from poor assumptions. These aren’t omnipotent or omniscient characters; they make have strange powers and knowledge, but they’re just as confused as the audience as to the real nature of the threat, and that’s why I love watching this unfold. Add in a great performance by Gerald James as the lonely ghost hunter, brilliant set design, and some of the best lighting ever seen in a videotape program like this (take a bow, Jim Boyers, wherever you are), and it all adds up to a simple and very unsettling little masterpiece.

I’d love to see what happens next again right now, but even though these two parts were nowhere as terrifying and scary as the first two, our son definitely deserves a break. We’ll pick back up with this adventure in a few nights.

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Sapphire & Steel 2.1 and 2.2

So how scary is the Sapphire & Steel story about the haunted railway station? Our son put it like this: “I’d rather watch the scariest Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen than watch this! It’s scary in a terrible way!” Then he brandished his security blanket and his favorite plush dog, each of which had been squashed about flat in terror. “Bict and Doggie are always good about protecting me from things that are too scary. But not tonight, because Bict and Doggie were too scared!”

The scariest Doctor Who episode that he’s ever seen, by the way, is apparently “The Awakening.”

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Eerie, Indiana 1.8 – Heart on a Chain

Okay, sure, I could have actually illustrated this post with a photo from the actual plot of the story. “Heart on a Chain” is an old urban legend retold with an Eerie twist. Marshall and a buddy, Devon, both fall for the new girl in town. Her name’s Melanie, and she needs a heart transplant, and in a grisly turn of events, it’s Devon’s heart that she gets after he’s killed showing off on his skateboard.

The little love triangle is sweet and funny while it lasts, and Marshall’s family has too much fun at his expense when they realise he’s got a crush on somebody. That burnin’ love gets so hard to bear that when Marshall bumps into that guy from his paper route who looks like Elvis, sitting at the World o’ Stuff’s counter eating his weight in peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, he asks him for advice. The guy who looks like Elvis suggests that Marshall buy her a Cadillac…

“Heart on a Chain” was written by the show’s co-creator José Rivera and was the fourth story to be directed by Joe Dante, who had a ball with some quiet blink-and-you’ll-miss-them gags. There’s a tip of the hat to the original 1958 version of The Fly at one point, and a delightful little silhouette in the background of the local cemetery, which, to be fair, really does undercut the drama of the scene a little bit. But the most impressive thing about everybody’s work on this episode is that they sold the doomed romance so well that our son, probably for the first time ever, didn’t grimace and groan when anybody on screen smooches.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 2.2 – Black Echo

As we get to the two surviving episodes from the second season of Adam Adamant Lives!, I’m afraid the quality of the picture and the sound has fallen completely off a cliff. Worse, there’s one character who speaks in a rasping whisper, and we could make out maybe every fifteenth word: adamant, trap, pleasure, possibly empire. After we’d ejected the DVD, my wife mentioned there may be a subtitles option. There is; we watched it again. The word was indeed empire.

And it’s a real shame that this print is in such sore shape, because it’s amazing! This time, the Ministry Twit of the Week are a pair of bankers played by the wonderful Donald Eccles and Peter Bathurst, who I’m sure was also wonderful, but I only know him as that awful blowhard Chinn in “The Claws of Axos,” poor guy. They want Adam to confirm the identity of somebody claiming to be a Romanov, a Grand Duchess from Saint Petersburg who Adam knew in 1901 as a young lady and who is now 87 years old.

From time to time, people have suggested the BBC should remake Adam Adamant Lives!. I’m totally in favor of such a thing in principle, but tonight’s story is one that they couldn’t do in 2019. Back in ’66, there would have been a few people around the age of 87 who knew Adam from his past. Come to think of it, it’s kind of odd they didn’t hit on such a plot before now.

Now, I’d argue that there are a couple of magnificent twists in this story, but Marie figured one of them out instantly. The Grand Duchess is played by the excellent actress Gladys Cooper – I reminded our son of her knockout good episodes of The Twilight Zone – and her granddaughter by Judy Parfitt. They’re hiding a secret in the cellar so horrifying that it turned a deliveryman’s hair white. So there’s a lot going on in this adventure, and with a brilliant fight scene and one hell of a payoff at the end, it’s worth struggling through the muddy sound to appreciate.

(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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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

When I was a kid, there were a few elements of the Spider-Man world that aggravated me, in that little kid way, so much that I didn’t often buy Spider-Man’s comics. There was Aunt May, who somehow convinced herself that Peter was a sickly boy and was always in danger of getting the flu or something, and there was Flash Thompson, who seemed too stupid to be a believable irritant.

Part of me, today, thinks most of the comics had moved past them by the late seventies, when I might have been looking at the spinner rack in the drugstore for books to buy for 35 or 40 cents, but there were also so many Ditko and Romita reprints floating around that I never knew what I’d end up buying when I bought a Marvel comic. I was kind of a dumb kid in that regard. Well, in many regards. But it took me until middle school to realise that Batman and Batman’s Detective Comics were two separate books. Marvel was even more confusing to me at age eight.

And then there was the Vulture. Spider-Man seemed to have a rogues gallery full of the most pathetic menaces, and the Vulture was the dopiest of them all: an old guy with wings. In 1963, I understand now, Marvel didn’t have very many characters who could fly. But their universe grew, and this bozo, who should have been left behind as a one-off, somehow stuck around, pretending to be a threat.

So one of the reasons I enjoy Spider-Man: Homecoming so much, apart from it having such a beautifully crafted script that fits in so neatly to the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe and being so well cast, is that it effortlessly redeems all three of these characters. Flash Thompson is a jerk, but a smart guy who all Peter’s friends and classmates enjoy. The Vulture has motivation and alien technology to make him dangerous. And Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is the perfect mom – or aunt – for the modern age. Her worry that Peter might have been on the Staten Island Ferry, when we have no reason to think that Peter has ever ventured anywhere outside Queens before he met Tony Stark, is totally believable and true. Why didn’t Peter check himself in as safe on Facebook? Doesn’t he know May would be worried sick?

The whole film is full of delightful punctuations that make the experience a complete joy the second time around. I loved Donald Glover’s character advising Spider-Man that he really needs to get better with interrogations. I loved Michael Keaton’s face as he figures out who’s in his back seat. I loved Zendaya just being a harmless pest for no good reason. I loved Bokeem Woodbine – who was one of the best elements of the marvelous second season of Fargo – slowly figuring out his new weapons. I didn’t mind the product placement from Lego about another Disney property (corporate synergy!!). And it has the best post-credits scene of any Marvel movie. It’s a delightful, joyful movie, and one of the best in the series.

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Eerie, Indiana 1.7 – Just Say No Fun

I realize there’s not a lot of room in a twenty-five minute episode to tell a full story and catch every possible subplot, but this episode begins with Marshall and Simon on the run from Syndi, who vows revenge after they’ve played a practical joke on her, and there’s no payoff! Where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, “Just Say No Fun” features the rules-obsessed Nurse Nancy, a villain in horn-rimmed glasses played by Lucy Lee Flippin. The only defense against her conformity-hypnotizing machine is a pair of Groucho glasses, and fortunately Mr. Radford at the World o’ Stuff happens to have a pair allegedly molded from the nose of the master himself, which is a little unlikely!

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The Goodies 9.3 – Football Crazy

Our son can sit still for an hour of old black and white television, but he sure doesn’t care about watching sports. We’ve gone to a couple of football games – gridiron, because I’m with him where soccer’s concerned – and drove up to Knoxville to see some hockey last month, and he’d rather do anything else. So I paused the Goodies’ third LWT episode to explain what football hooliganism was, and I might as well have said there are fans mad to the point of violence about macrame or vacuum cleaning, because he can’t envision anybody caring that much about anything so tedious.

The analogy had already formed before the episode went in precisely that direction. As Tim, the new police commissioner in charge of crowd control at stadiums, bans all but a single fan from either team from attending matches, hooliganism spreads to the next most likely target: the ballet. None of what happened next made any sense at all to him, but it involved lots of men in silly costumes dancing while rioting crowds of twerps in scarves threw toilet paper at them, so he enjoyed the heck out of it.

I thought it pretty weak myself, but there’s a hysterical scene at the ballet’s halftime back in the studio, where they roped in three actual sportscasters to give their thoughts on the state of play. I’ve no idea who the men were, but since 99% of sportscasters are the same the world over, and have been since these were shown in 1982, it’s a gag anybody can appreciate. I’m pretty sure the Pythons had been doing it a decade earlier, too, but still.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.16 – D for Destruction

In case you missed last time we watched an episode: if any readers have been disappointed or annoyed by the lack of photos to accompany these posts, I’ve got great news. The fab site Archive TV Musings has been writing about Adam Adamant Lives! with screencaps. So pop over there and enjoy his much longer posts and tell ’em that we sent you!

And speaking of great news, “D for Destruction” was lost for many years, one of the many victims of the BBC’s junking of old programs. A copy turned up in 2003, and while the picture quality is clearly not as good as the previous episodes we’ve enjoyed, it looks no worse than a VHS release might have looked in the mid-nineties. It’s so surprising that we should watch this relatively recent discovery today, because earlier this afternoon, the great people at Network confirmed a rumor we’ve been hearing, that two lost episodes of the sixties sitcom The Likely Lads (which co-starred Rodney Bewes, who we saw this month in “Resurrection of the Daleks“) have been recovered and will be released as bonus features on a new Blu-Ray release of the Likely Lads feature film.

When they announced Tony Williamson’s “D for Destruction” had been found, my interest in old TV was pretty low, and my stupidly large and cumbersome VHS collection was being whittled away in a series of moves from one suburb to another to another anyway. But once upon a time, that “M for Missing” in my old episode guide notebook was a real sore point because I’d read that Patrick Troughton was in this one. As it turns out, it’s a very small part, basically the Ministry Twit of the Week, only he’s a general, so it’s a Military Twit of the Week instead. Michael Sheard is also here, in an even smaller part, because the most important characters are played by Iain Cuthbertson and Michael Ripper.

The story’s about some strange goings-on and an unusual number of accidents in Adam’s old yeomanry regiment, the 51st. Since the army never actually cancelled his commission (is that the right term?) after he went missing in 1902, Colonel Adamant is asked to return to service and investigate. It’s a pretty good story, but it took our son a little work to understand what was happening. He was very restless at first, but a great scene where one of the corrupted soldiers corners Adam in the firing range got him sitting up straight and paying really close attention. There’s an even more action-packed finale than usual – and how Gerald Harper kept from dislocating his jaw when he low-tackles a guy on a concrete floor I have no idea – and it ends with a tremendously good gag about Georgie answering the phone and getting a big surprise. The audience was in on the joke: the criminals had just made their demands to Number 10, Downing Street.

“D for Destruction” was the last episode of the first series, but there was virtually no break behind the scenes at all as the production team began work on the next thirteen episodes. The show was only off the air for about two months before the new run started. Unfortunately, only two of these thirteen survive, but we’ll check one of them out later this weekend.

(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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