Monthly Archives: February 2019

Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma (parts three and four)

It’s not nice to kick a show when it’s down, but I swear the birdmen in this Doctor Who story look a whole lot like the chicken-people in that one unfortunate episode of Far Out Space Nuts that we watched a couple of years ago. You try to keep an open mind and a kind heart about these things, but there really isn’t anything good about this.

Worst of all, there’s a total disconnect between the story’s insistence to have twin boy geniuses whose mathematical equations can somehow change and alter actual space, and the story’s hear-it-to-believe-it scheme involving planets crashing into a sun, causing it to go supernova, which probably wouldn’t happen, and somehow not destroy a million eggs but send them on beeline courses – very, very, very fast – onto planets with breathable atmospheres for the slug-creatures inside to hatch and find food. No, none of that makes any sense. It’s by some measure the stupidest evil plan that any villain in Doctor Who ever came up with.

And yet, I can’t help but think that the twin kids must have been intended to have something more to do with this plot instead of being helpless kidnap victims. I just bet that somewhere along the line, in one draft or another, their mathematical super-genius was intended to plot courses for the eggs, through wormholes or black holes or something, so that the eggs would instantly land on appropriate worlds. It would still be insanely dumb, but at least one of the many flaws in Mestor’s wild scheme would have been addressed.

The kid liked it, anyway. He’s not feeling very good tonight and he went on to bed early, but he liked the Doctor being rude and loud. Colin Baker is definitely the best thing about this adventure.

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Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma (parts one and two)

One of the weirdest casting decisions in all of Doctor Who comes with the final serial in season 21. It stars Edwin Richfield, a then 63 year-old character actor with an expressive face and a fine voice, wrapped in an old thick carpet wearing a full-face mask and speaking with some of “Weird” Al Yankovic’s marbles in his mouth. Mestor is such a dopey villain, and the costume is as embarrassing as it ever gets on Who, and instead of throwing a bone of a part to some kid fresh out of drama school and hungry for work, they waste, and I mean waste, the great Edwin Richfield on it.

But the real casting news here is that Colin Baker takes over as the Sixth Doctor. A decade before, Baker had played the very memorable Paul Merroney for four series of The Brothers. This was a boardroom drama, and Merroney was apparently something like a proto-JR Ewing or Gordon Gekko, a greedy tycoon out to crush the little guys. I’ve never seen The Brothers myself; Kate O’Mara played a corporate rival for a few years on it, which makes me curious to try out the DVD sets from Simply Media one day.

So after a lot of theater work and some occasional guest appearances as villains in other programs – including a bad guy part in Who just a year and change earlier, in “Arc of Infinity” – Baker got the role of a lifetime, playing a hero at last.

We’re in the swamp of Doctor Who at this point. Baker, a heck of a great talent, and Nicola Bryant, an engaging and promising rising star, were lumbered with an aging show led by a producer who was ready to move on to pantomimes and variety shows, and a script editor who had lost interest in the lead character’s intelligence and desire to find solutions without violence. The show needed a fresh start and new blood behind the scenes very, very badly, and American fandom, in particular, has always had a mean eye toward the Colin Baker years.

And to be honest, for a long time, I didn’t like Baker’s Doctor at all. I didn’t get it. I was too teenage when he started, I thought the costume was embarrassing, and I hated the constant squabbling.

And then, around 2005, I watched this run with my older children, who were then about six and eight years old, and I got it. They loved this Doctor. They forgot about Peter Davison inside fifty minutes. They breezed right past the shocking scene where the sick and mentally addled Doctor actually attacks Peri, because everything else in this story was what they wanted to see from their Doctor. This guy is a perfect hero for children. He is bad-tempered and does not react well to anybody telling him to calm down, he is as loud as he wants to be and nobody tells him to hush. This is a Doctor who does not have to clean his room or take out the garbage. He has an acid tongue and devilish wit.

And tonight, as I predicted, our son followed in their footsteps. After the awful scene where he chokes Peri – a poor decision at the time and one that has worn very badly in thirty-five years – our kid was smiling, laughing, and melodramatically facepalming at the Doctor’s antics. “He’s so unpredictable!” he shouted.

To be clear, “The Twin Dilemma” isn’t so much a mess as it is a catastrophe. It’s a dopey story full of terrible acting performances. Everybody rolls their eyes at the two bowl-hair kids playing the twins, but Dennis Chinnery, who plays their father, is even worse. Colin Baker can’t save the disaster, but if you watch this with a kid, and see what that kid is seeing, and loving, it’s entertaining in an honest and real way.

Although, as much as I enjoyed the experience of seeing our son grin and smile, the best part of tonight’s viewing was when Marie asked how long the Doctor wears that horrible jacket and I could only say “umm.”

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The Champions 1.4 – The Experiment

Tony Williamson’s “The Experiment” is one of the few episodes of The Champions to pit our three heroes against worthy adversaries. This was kind of the way of things in the sixties and seventies. Regular readers will recall that I would occasionally bemoan how most episodes of, say, The Six Million Dollar Man and the like would concern themselves more with counterfeiters in turtlenecks instead of having proper robot enemies and Bigfoot more often. So it is with The Champions, typically. These are good and entertaining spy stories, but the characters’ superhuman abilities just give them an occasional edge, and some very satisfying stunts, rather than a focus for the plot.

But in “The Experiment,” they run up against a quartet of characters whose reaction speed and fighting techniques have been artificially augmented. Remarkably, the villains in charge of the operation have been reading between the lines of the various secret agency secret reports and have figured out that Richard, Craig, and Sharron have superhuman skills and lure Sharron into their scheme under the guise of an experiment so they can study her speed and reaction first-hand. Their own boss never figures that out. So it builds to an exciting climax and a very good final fight scene that had our son hopping. It’s a really entertaining episode, probably my favorite of the fourteen that I originally had back in the tape trading days. More on that in a later post.

I’ve always thought that a great guest cast can elevate a good story, and this one’s just full of familiar faces. One of ITC’s regular Americans-at-Elstree, David Bauer, is the main villain, and he also has Robert James and Allan Cuthbertson in his employ. Jonathan Burn and none-more-posh Caroline Blakiston are two of the rival superhumans, and Nicholas Courtney has a small role as a doctor. There’s also a very familiar setting. Marie often says that she doesn’t recognize actors the way that I do, but she has an eye for places, and when Richard and Craig drive through the small village of Aldbury, she immediately spotted it as the location of a pair of Avengers episodes. Aldbury, Schmaldbury, everybody knows that town is Little Storping In-The-Swuff!

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The Feathered Serpent 2.5 and 2.6

The series concludes with its most blood-soaked installments yet. All three villains meet suitably grisly ends, two of the supporting cast get killed, and the makeup department gets to go overboard with blood and bruises because just about everybody else gets maimed. And this was a kids’ show. Man alive. I’ll defend Land of the Lost‘s crown as the greatest and most entertaining mindfreak for children on American television, and leagues superior to anything else we could watch in the seventies, but even at its most physically frightening – when characters are actually wounded (probably best seen in “The Search”) – it was never anywhere as gruesome or graphic as this.

But this wouldn’t have worked without the terrific acting and great performances throughout. Patrick Troughton’s at the top of his game as the villain, of course, especially when he loses his mind completely and convinces himself that he is no longer human, and his god “made flesh,” to use the cliche. I assured our son that when we see him next (in a little less than a month), he’ll be a hero again. But Brian Deacon and Granville Saxton were also really excellent in their roles, and this great script has so many twists and turns to keep everybody busy and while the outcome is never really in doubt, I spent a lot of time wondering exactly how the good guys were going to win.

That said, I think when I dust this off down the line for another screening, our kid won’t be joining me. I could see that he was riveted and paying attention while biting his lip, but when I asked whether there was anything about this that he liked, he replied “I liked it when Nasca didn’t survive!”

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Eerie, Indiana 1.13 – Tornado Days

NBC originally ordered thirteen episodes of Eerie, Indiana. If they hadn’t extended the show with a late order for six more, then the series would have ended with this magnificently silly installment. Most right-thinking people agree that Eerie‘s eventual final episode would be as triumphant as a final episode can be, but had it ended here, I’d still argue in its favor. “Tornado Days” is incredibly fun and weird.

The story’s built around a local superstition that a tornado that tends to spring up every year like clockwork is in fact the same tornado. Its name is Old Bob. Further, local lore has it that Old Bob won’t actually strike Eerie if everybody attends the annual Tornado Day Picnic. But Marshall decides to buck the trend because he thinks it’s stupid. And because he’s been afraid of tornadoes since he saw The Wizard of Oz as a child.

But the superstition is true. Old Bob is alive, and Old Bob really gets pissed off by Marshall skipping out on his picnic. So when Matt Frewer, playing one of those roles that Matt Frewer was born to play, gets dumped into Eerie with a recording of Old Bob’s winds translated into speech, everybody’s in for a big surprise.

Everybody else in town gets ushered into the World o’ Stuff as the storm looms. This is the final appearance of Archie Hahn as Mr. Radford, and he gets a last gag with Sgt. Knight, wondering whether they might appease Old Bob by sacrificing Syndi! Fortunately, it doesn’t come to that.

Much to our son’s displeasure, we’re going to pause there for a few weeks to keep things fresh, but we’ll be back in Eerie, Indiana in April for the last six episodes. Stay tuned!

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The Champions 1.3 – Reply Box No 666

Tonight’s episode of The Champions was written by Philip Broadley, who had also written several episodes of ITC’s The Saint. Between that show and Danger Man, everybody at that production company got a lot of experience pretending that the backlot and the forests surrounding the studios at Elstree were every environment on the planet. Stock footage helped. Simon Templar was always vacationing in Montego Bay or someplace and the establishing shots sold the illusion that Roger Moore was really there.

They almost pulled it off with this Caribbean-set story. Unfortunately, there’s a massive difference between the circular leaves of the real trees encroaching on the real boat with the camera, and the big, plastic, triangular palm fronds that the stagehands are slapping against the fake boat where the actors are!

I kid, but this is a pretty fun story about our heroes stepping in to follow in the footsteps of a dead enemy agent. Our son had a surprising amount of trouble following it, though. He said that he enjoyed it, but he had lots of questions. The enemy spies never really announced their plans to the camera in the way of typical teevee bad guys, so the audience gets to piece the story together along with the heroes. Even Sharron’s super-hypnosis isn’t any help, because the villain she snares has his cover story too hard-wired into his subconscious!

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The Feathered Serpent 2.3 and 2.4

Things get worse, and worse, and worse. The coronation crowns of Chichen Itza are lost, the villains have captured Tozo, they’ve poisoned one of the city’s wells with a drug that causes madness, and the evil Nasca has enslaved the good, blind priest.

Our son retreated to the other sofa and curled his lip in a combination of frustration and fear. After several minutes, we asked “Are you afraid something bad is going to happen?”

And he summed up The Feathered Serpent by growling “Something bad always happens!”

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Eerie, Indiana 1.12 – Marshall’s Theory of Believability

There’s a delightful in-joke in this episode. A con artist calling himself Professor Zircon brings his traveling Museum of the Parabelievable to Eerie and boasts that among his other accomplishments, he has regularly appeared on The Tonight Show. It’s true that Johnny Carson did have a number of… well, let’s just call them flim-flam men on his program, Uri Geller possibly being the highest profile one. And Carson would give them enough rope to hang themselves. More often, Carson would invite James Randi on his show to debunk the claims of so-called psychics and magicians. Professor Zircon wouldn’t last five minutes against the Amazing Randi.

Naturally, Zircon has a con in mind for Eerie, a scheme involving some space junk crashing in the woods outside town. But the “professor” hadn’t reckoned on Eerie being a little more weird than he had in mind!

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