Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Champions 1.15 – The Gilded Cage

Philip Broadley’s “The Gilded Cage” wasn’t one of our son’s favorite episodes of this show. There is very little action; it’s all psychological. Richard allows himself to get kidnapped to find out what this week’s criminal, played by John Carson, is up to. Unfortunately, he learns that he isn’t the hostage, a young woman played by Jennie Linden is, and if Richard won’t do as instructed, she’ll be killed. But in a very clever twist, she’s not nearly as helpless as either Richard or the criminal-of-the-week believe.

I enjoyed this a lot, but there was just a single superpowered punch thrown. Probably not an installment that our favorite seven year-old critic will want to revisit. That’s assuming he takes enough of a break from rewatching every Marvel movie for the umpteenth time to revisit anything else.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under champions

Barbary Coast 1.13 – The Dawson Marker

Well, here’s a pleasant surprise! The final episode of Barbary Coast was shown on January 9, 1976, meaning it was probably filmed in November or so. This was possibly Spencer Milligan’s first role since finishing the second season of Land of the Lost that summer. It’s not a large part – sadly, most of his roles until he retired were bit parts as toughs and heavies – but it’s impossible not to enjoy stories where one of the heroes replaces a villain in a secret meeting, only to have his identity blown. Even better, Barbary Coast went in for slightly more complex plotting than many adventure programs, and this complication, which could have been amusing enough on its own (see this fine episode of Buck Rogers for one satisfying example) turns into an even bigger mess.

There’s also this gag about the brass bell of a long disused school which guest star Udana Power ends up buying. Even if Barbary Coast had disappointed me, which it certainly didn’t, it was worth all thirteen episodes and the movie to get to that gag. Power didn’t make many television appearances in the seventies, but I note that like a couple of other actors on this show, she had appeared as a guest star the previous season in producer Cy Chermak’s prior show, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Sadly, Barbary Coast didn’t do well enough in the ratings to warrant any more episodes being ordered. It started the 1975-76 season on Monday nights, where it split the potential audience for lighthearted adventure shows with the David McCallum spy show The Invisible Man and both programs got clobbered by two top ten sitcoms on CBS: Rhoda and Phyllis. After episode seven, ABC made a curious decision and swapped Coast with another ratings-troubled show, a Jack Webb production called Mobile One, which had aired Friday nights at 8. There, the problem was on two networks: Sanford & Son on NBC at 8, and M*A*S*H on CBS at 8:30, but at least they weren’t splitting the audience potentially interested in an adventure show. ABC killed both Coast and Mobile One around November and they burned off their last episodes in January.

Westerns weren’t in vogue in 1975. Even the mighty Gunsmoke and The Virginian had ended by then. Coast was soon forgotten, not even serving as the butt of very many jokes. I’m very glad that I gave it a try, because I enjoyed every episode, and think that about three of them were completely terrific. Our son of course was pretty unimpressed. He liked this one, to the point of getting worried enough by the complications to temporarily leave the room with alacrity, and he liked episode ten, but overall he found this confusing and old hat, and greeted the news that we were watching the final episode of this show with a heavy sigh of “finally!”

I have assured him, however, that he is certain to love the next Western that we show him, starting in July. Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under barbary coast

Doctor Who: Time and the Rani (parts three and four)

Doctor Who tends to start out pretty strong and peter out as it goes, and boy, is the next adventure going to be proof of that. But “Time and the Rani” is one of the very small number of Who serials that leads with its weakest installment and gets progressively better. My favorite example of this is “Mawdryn Undead,” which opens with twenty-five of the stupidest minutes in the program’s history before turning into something incredibly imaginative and entertaining. “Time and the Rani” doesn’t manage that level of turnaround, but it definitely finishes stronger than it starts, with the broad slapstick replaced by a nearly convincing race against time, thanks largely to a new-to-the-series director, Andrew Morgan, who gives all this silliness an honest sense of urgency. It still suffers from too much Doctor Who dialogue – “don’t play the innocent,” “have a care” and so on – and Bonnie Langford screams way, way too much, but it’s a better story than its reputation suggests.

And, as usual, our son came around in the end. His initial fear of the Rani’s monsters gave way to fascination – “they have an eye on each side of their head!” – and he agreed with me that one of the Doctor’s tricks, tripping a circuit with a length of wire, was worthy of MacGyver. This Doctor even carries a Swiss army knife like MacGyver does! Unfortunately, I don’t believe we ever see the knife again. Like the Doctor’s mangled quotations and aphorisms (“Time and tide melt the snowman”), which were quickly phased out, I think the knife was dropped after this appearance, which is a shame. I like Swiss army knives much more than sonic screwdrivers.

A couple of notable memories about this story: I knew a guy in Atlanta who flew to London, got himself a hotel room on September 7, 1987, set up a VHS camcorder on a tripod, and flew home the next day with a camera copy of episode one of this story. I think everybody pretended to like it more than they really did.

But before that, either the last week of February or the first week of March, 1987, I taped something that I thought would be really memorable and would make the rounds of a million tape traders: Sylvester McCoy’s debut appearance after being cast in the role, on WXIA’s Noonday show. I want to say it was a Friday, and a school holiday, and I was home in time to catch it.

This happened because at the time, BBC Enterprises had a big trailer touring the United States, showing off costumes and props and promoting the program in whatever market had a PBS station showing Who. McCoy got the part and flew to Atlanta with the producer, John Nathan-Turner, with a little Sylvester & Tweety lunchbox in tow, because the trailer was in Atlanta that week, on the grounds of Mercer University’s Doraville campus. Jon Pertwee was touring with the trailer at the time, which is probably why WXIA, which is Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, was sent a clip from Pertwee’s story “Colony in Space” to accompany the interview, but Pertwee got bumped for the new guy at the last minute.

I remember that the presenter was completely unfamiliar with Who, but she didn’t seem dismissive or condescending at all, but really interested. McCoy was charming and funny and Nathan-Turner was engaging and professional and cool, explaining their odd twenty-four year-old show to Noonday‘s audience. McCoy didn’t have very many anecdotes to share, because this was a seat of his pants thing if ever there was one. He was cast, flown to Atlanta, and then learning lines and getting a costume fitted. They were in a quarry pretending to be an alien planet the first week of April.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I used to trade VHS tapes. I made many dozens of swaps with people all over the US and a couple in the UK. I kept up a trade list with microscopic print that got to be about twenty pages, two columns, front and back, and about a thousand tapes over the decade-plus I swapped. That appearance by McCoy and JN-T was probably on the very first version of that list, hammered out on my folks’ typewriter, because it was on tape # 15 – the things you remember! – and every subsequent update.

I never copied it for anybody in a trade. Not once. Nobody asked for it. And eventually, of course, I threw out almost all of my VHS tapes, so it’s long gone. I wish I’d kept it. It would have made a fine bonus feature on the DVD, but even if the BBC couldn’t arrange clearance with WXIA to use it, it should be on YouTube and it doesn’t appear that it’s ever been uploaded there. So, sorry, world. If they do put out season 24 on Blu-ray and there’s a hole in the special features where that interview should be, shake your fist at me… and all those other traders in Who ephemera who shoulda asked me for a copy!

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: Time and the Rani (parts one and two)

It occurred to me this morning that in better circumstances, the Doctor and Mel and their two guest star friends could have captured the Rani as she returned to her lab at the end of part two, said their goodbyes, and got on with another story entirely. Everybody would have agreed that it was a remarkably lousy forty-five minutes of Doctor Who, but at least it would have only been forty-five minutes and not ninety.

“Time and the Rani” hasn’t lost any of its power to bewilder and amaze audiences who just can’t believe this mess ever got made, but it did at least have the excuse of being born under very weird circumstances. The producer had resigned and was metaphorically cleaning out his desk waiting for his next assignment somewhere else at the BBC when the higher-ups told him no, to go make fourteen more episodes of Doctor Who instead, with no staff, no scripts, and no lead actor. So he quickly asked the writing duo of Pip and Jane Baker, who could be relied upon when deadlines loomed to turn in something, no matter how unlistenable, to give him four episodes while he cast the new Doctor and then got a new script editor. His name is Andrew Cartmel, and I’ll come back to him in a few days.

Earlier, in Los Angeles, Kate O’Mara’s year as a regular on Dynasty was coming to its conclusion, and the actress sensibly sent postcards to contacts with whom she’d worked recently to let them know she’d be back home and available soon. So Pip and Jane Baker got to write for their villainous character the Rani again, and continue to have everybody onscreen tell the audience how amazing she is. The script had to go through several drafts; the higher-ups reluctantly agreed to give Colin Baker one last story. He declined the offer, probably a lot more professionally than I would have done, meaning the story had to be rebuilt around a new Doctor’s debut, with all the attendant post-regeneration goofiness.

And as a debut, it’s not promising. Sylvester McCoy was then best known for some very weird fringe theater and some outrageous physical comedy on a children’s variety show called Tiswas. (Okay, “variety show” isn’t strictly accurate, but darned if I know what else to call it.) To my mind, he remains the most unlikely candidate to ever play the Doctor, but he’s always been among my favorites. McCoy does “quiet” brilliantly, and he does “funny” very, very well, but unfortunately most of what he does in “Time and the Rani” is vomit out the writers’ paragraphs of adjectives and synonyms. I think you can make a case that even by the end of the show’s run, the actor was still having trouble expressing real anger and fury, which contributes to his really unusual and off-kilter feel. The overall effect will become, if you’re willing to tilt your head a little, one of the most decidedly and successfully alien Doctors in the series, a character unsure of what emotions actually are, and how to express himself.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. At the start of things, “Time and the Rani” goes for wacky comedy for some dumb reason, which didn’t even resonate with our son. He liked this somewhat, but he wasn’t thrilled. He didn’t like the Rani at all, and when a big chunk of this story is built around Kate O’Mara dressed as Bonnie Langford, which doesn’t work for grownups and doesn’t entertain the seven year-old in the audience, something’s not clicking. He thought the Rani’s new monsters were “too scary,” but he did enjoy the bit where the Doctor picks out some new clothes – “He wore that already!” – and the physical comedy where the Doctor and Mel don’t know who each other are.

If our son did recognize Donald Pickering after seeing him a week ago, he didn’t let on. He also didn’t recognize Wanda Ventham, either, of course. He last saw her in Doctor Who almost a year ago, but her skin was golden in that story and yellow in this one. I wonder whether actors and agents have conversations that sound like “Doctor Who again? Will I be green this time?”

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

The Champions 1.14 – The Search

Some editor at Wikipedia said we’d see the submarine set again, and here it is in the next episode, in a story written by Dennis Spooner where a sub with four nuclear missiles gets stolen. Cutting every corner, they reused some of the same stock footage and some of the same miniature work as last time as well. I know that older shows were designed to have minimal continuity because television stations back in the “classic TV” days couldn’t be trusted to transmit these in any order other than random, but you’d think that they’d have spaced these out by more than seven days on the original broadcast! Patricia English, Joseph Furst, and John Woodvine are among the guest stars. At least none of these actors were in the previous episode.

I enjoyed watching this one because Spooner is more interested than the other writers in having our heroes talk about their powers and their limitations. Craig has a clairvoyant hunch that the stolen sub is docked at a German island called Heligoland, where a sea fortress and sub pens had been housed during World War Two. When it looks like he’s wrong, he and Sharron briefly discuss whether the flip side of their powers means that they can be far more wrong than usual. As it turns out, the sub is at Heligoland, but not at the pens.

Our kid enjoyed the more traditional fisticuffs and humor. Sharron kicks a gun out of one thug’s hand, Richard punches another guy out a window to his death on the street below, and Craig escapes captivity and prowls around the sub eating the ham sandwich that his jailer had brought him. You can tell that the main bad guy means business when he slaps the sandwich out of Craig’s mouth. What a creep!

Leave a comment

Filed under champions

Barbary Coast 1.12 – Mary Had More Than a Little

The previous episode of Barbary Coast took an uncharacteristically serious tone, but this one was back to its lighthearted and silly and very busy self. Judy Strangis guest stars as the daughter of one of Cash’s oldest friends, in town ostensibly looking for a new home and a job. Actually, she’s got a rough boyfriend in tow, played by Kaz Garas. Their basic plan, after Strangis shows off her card-shuffling skills, is for her to identify marks leaving her table for Garas to mug outside.

But this plan goes up in smoke when the corrupt police chief, noting the increase in street crimes and people getting clobbered outside the Golden Gate, figures that Cash is himself in on it. This leads Jeff Cable to do a little snooping and not only does he identify the secret boyfriend, but following him in one of his disguises, he stumbles upon a much more meticulous and careful crime than a hotheaded tough like him could possibly plan…

I thought this one was terrific, but it required quite a few pauses for explanations. Our son was very attentive and inquisitive, starting with the opening scene. The camera breezes past a map on the wall of the Transpacific Shipping Company showing North America in the center. He’d never seen a map like that before and asked me to wind it back and explain it because “it looks backward!” (Of course, it makes perfect sense that a shipping company in San Francisco would want to show direct routes to Asia, which you can’t easily do on a map with North America on the far left.) But this is a very visual episode, with quite a lot of information provided through knowing glances and nods, and the camera tracking what characters see without spoken explanations. And Cable’s two disguises were so convincing that he had absolutely no idea who either character was!

Interestingly, this is the very last credit that IMDB shows for the veteran writer Winston Miller, who’d been working for films and television since the 1920s. He co-wrote the original Dick Tracy serial for Republic in 1937, contributed dozens of scripts for westerns and cop shows, and worked as a producer on The Virginian for a couple of years. Heck of a good script to retire on, I’d say. He died about twenty years later.

Leave a comment

Filed under barbary coast

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.14 – Mystery of the Solid Gold Kicker

The other night, our son told us that he gives The Hardy Boys two thumbs up, and Nancy Drew one-and-a-half thumbs up. Then we ran into this segment, which left him confused and bored. He didn’t enjoy this at all. I got a kick out of seeing so many future stars early in their career, including Terry Kiser, Martin Kove, and most obviously Mark Harmon, who’s coming up on an astonishing 379 episodes of NCIS. I had no idea that show has been going so long. Harmon was just a few months away from being cast in his first starring role, in the long-forgotten Jack Webb show Sam, about a police dog and his handler. Bigger and better things were in his future, including the miniseries Goliath Awaits, which we would totally watch for this blog if it were available.

In the last episode of The Hardy Boys, I noted that the director and editors did an exemplary job making stock footage mesh with a carnival and parade, but I can’t say the same about this effort. Harmon plays the kicker for undefeated Overton State University, who play their games at the Not-Fooling-Anybody Rose Bowl, and their uniforms are a little more bright red than the University of Oklahoma’s crimson. Yes, they pulled in lots of old stock footage of Oklahoma playing a couple of other teams, and then the poor director – Andy Sidaris, who would later make all those movies where Playboy models fire bazookas at ninjas in Hawaii – tried to match this beat up footage that looks like it was the first color broadcast of anything, at twilight, with the new material of actors in their bright red and about twenty extras in the stands at high noon in Pasadena.

At least they got a legend to call Overton’s games. They brought in Howard Cosell to do the play-by-play. Honestly, I tease about the production, but the story’s a pretty good one, where gamblers convince Overton’s kicker that he’s killed a girl in order to blackmail him into throwing a game. But the highlight is watching and listening to Cosell doing his shtick and talking his pretentious piffle. (Read more about Cosell at this great post last year at Classic TV Sports. There was nobody like him!)

That wraps up the first season of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries. There were a couple that I didn’t enjoy much, but overall this was better than I expected! We’ll watch season two a few months down the road, probably starting in late July. Stay tuned!

1 Comment

Filed under hardy boys / nancy drew

The Champions 1.13 – Twelve Hours

So that’s Mike Pratt in the photo above with William Gaunt. I told our son that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mike Pratt starting in a little less than a month, hint hint.

“Twelve Hours,” written by Donald James, takes place on a crippled submarine that’s running out of oxygen. The boat was sabotaged in order to kill off a visiting head of state who’s on board. It’s mostly a skeleton crew of civilian engineers, and tensions are running high because the pumping would rock the submarine, and it needs to stay perfectly still so that Sharron can operate on the grievously wounded president.

This one required a lot of interruptions to explain everything from naval terminology to “the bends” to a scene where the engineers draw for the ace of spades to select a killer to end the operation so they can get to work. Not a lot of action for our favorite seven year-old critic to chew on, but they built a gloriously good set for the submarine, which Wikipedia tells me we’ll see again a couple of times.

Leave a comment

Filed under champions