The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.16 – Bounty Hunters’ Convention

In the late 1980s, Ian Oglivy started showing up as a guest in American TV shows. He eventually moved to California and became the token British actor in just about every US show in the 1990s when Christopher Neame wasn’t available: Burke’s Law, JAG, Diagnosis: Murder. In tonight’s episode, he plays a stiff-upper-lipped bounty hunter who apparently used to be a policeman. Because of the limited way we Americans understand the Metropolitan Police, he just says something about Scotland Yard; that’s good enough.

The episode is a typical And Then There Were None story with a small hotel full of colorful bounty hunters, isolated on an island with no ship, being picked off one at a time. The mystery of the killer’s identity shouldn’t tax any adults in the audience. The real mystery is why nobody invited Crystal Hawks to the convention! Our son was only mildly thrilled by this one. It’s nowhere near silly and fun enough.

Neat deathtrap note: I’m confident that our son wouldn’t remember it, but at one point, one of the good guys is tied up behind a target so that one of his friends will unwittingly shoot him to death. I was reminded of the terrific and similar trap that was used as the cliffhanger when the Penguin once strung up Batman and Robin behind his shooting gallery. Hmmm. Wonder who’ll they cast as the Penguin if he ever shows up on Batwoman?

Batwoman 1.4 – Who are You?

This week’s villain is a D-lister called Magpie, who I probably only saw in the comics just once, thirty-odd years ago, when she was introduced. She was created by John Byrne and is a jewel thief who uses explosives. I liked how this version of the character uses 3-D printing to make her bombs. Her television version looks a lot less ridiculous than the one in the funnybooks.

I confess that Alice’s level of violence is enough to make me a little uncomfortable. This time a rival – and I’m simplifying this spectacularly because if you want episode recaps, I’m sure the AV Club will help – sends three thugs to try and muscle in on the villain, and one of them reports back to his boss missing a finger. The scene where he loses it is really visceral and awful, certainly not made with any eight year-old viewers in mind, and left us all wincing.

We’re the sort of parents who don’t object to the smoochy stuff – Kate spends a few morning minutes in bed with a cute girl she met last episode, but their relationship quickly hits the skids and is probably finished by the episode’s end because Kate has no idea how to tell convincing superhero fibs – but violence that intense and that personal is enough to make me cringe. They could have made the point much more effectively without being so graphic.

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.2 – Mental Apparition Disorder

Our son asked “Hey, is that one of the Doctors?” and the world smiled, or at least we did. Good to see him recognizing a favorite. Tom Baker starts a recurring role in this episode. He plays Wyvern, a “spirit guide” in Limbo who helps Marty get accustomed to the afterlife and learn his trade.

Baker’s part of a powerhouse cast this week. Hugh Laurie plays the villain, and in smaller parts, there’s Martin Clunes, Richard Todd, and Wanda Ventham. I should probably know these three from other roles than in eighties Who, but I’m like that. Another Who connection: it’s one of two episodes from this series to be directed by Rachel Talalay, who would later direct seven episodes in the Peter Capaldi years. Earlier, she’d directed the Tank Girl movie and she’s more recently been calling the shots on several of the CW’s superhero series.

“Mental Apparition Disorder” is a loose rewrite of a celebrated episode from the original run, “A Disturbing Case,” and that episode’s co-writers, Mike Pratt and Ian Wilson, get a credit at the end. They don’t spend nearly as much screen time on Marty impersonating the criminal hypnotist-psychiatrist in this version as in the original, and it isn’t as funny, but it involves a lot more hypnotized patients, so it has its own charm. Our son made the very disturbing observation that he even liked it better than the original, but in fairness, this one does include a lot more shouting. That said, an earlier scene where Marty tries to get the hypnotized Jeff’s attention by bellowing in his ear really is funny.

Doctor Who 1.10 – The Doctor Dances

A few years after this aired, call it 2008 or so, the BBC announced that Steven Moffat would be the next showrunner and lead writer of Doctor Who. His run would turn out to be occasionally quite controversial and often very disappointing to me, but I punched the air at the time because his annual story for the series was always a high point. I’m sure most everybody did. “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” is, like his next three stories, completely wonderful. It’s full of wit and imagination and very unique frights.

I was going to mention in the previous entry that it introduced John Barrowman as the recurring character of Captain Jack Harkness, before I decided to be a monster, anyway. I was also going to mention that it introduced us to Moffat’s signature resolution of the solution being hidden in plain sight, which is almost always very satisfying. These two episodes are just pure gold. I almost wish that series one had ended right here and that they’d taken a few months off before continuing, because this has been a completely splendid run of the series.

Apart from the visual shocks and scares of part one, our son had been upset because he didn’t know who the villain was. So he was smiling when he commented “There wasn’t a villain at all, just nanogenes that made an oops!” He also noted last night that every story so far had been set either on Earth or on a space station just above it. I thought that was very observant of him; the show wouldn’t properly get out of orbit until midway through the next series.

Doctor Who 1.9 – The Empty Child

I’ve just discovered a terrific way to annoy everybody in the house!

What you need to do is, around about 1996, buy an old 1940s gas mask from Hodges Army & Navy Store in Marietta GA for a Golden Age Sandman costume. Hold on to the gas mask for 23 years. After you watch “The Empty Child,” Steven Moffat’s first proper TV episode of Who, with the lights out, pop behind the sofa, don the mask and raise your head over the back of the couch to ask your petrified eight year-old “Are you my mummy?”

A few moments, some tears, some hugs, and an apology or three later, our son, who cannot stand giant rats, heights, speed, collard greens, the concept of whitewater rafting, hot sauce, mustard, or children wearing gas masks, explained that he “would eat a turkey mustard hot sauce apple tofu sandwich if it would give me a memory wipe of this episode.”

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.15 – A.K.A. Kansas

The most delightful revelation in this episode is that Lord Bowler has been spending his many bounties quite sensibly, and has a nice home and butler in a good part of San Francisco. He collects crystal and china. The least delightful revelation in this episode is that Dixie Cousins was once married to a member of John Bly’s gang, and he isn’t quite over her. And there’s the return of Rita Avnet from episode 11, and she isn’t quite over Socrates.

This episode was co-written by Carlton Cuse, John McNamara, and Brad Kern, and finally, inevitably, has Brisco’s occasional claim that he’s really a gunslinger named Kansas Wiley Stafford come back to bite him in the rear. This comes to a hilarious conclusion as Brisco tries talking his way out of trouble, but Bowler has a much more effective way out.

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.1 – Drop Dead

“I bet that’ll be good,” I said, twenty years ago when I heard they were making this. I hadn’t seen much of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s comedy, but I had landed about eight episodes of their demented and hilarious game show Shooting Stars a few years earlier, toward the end of my VHS tape trading days, and laughed myself stupid. If, like most people in the US, you’ve never seen Shooting Stars, you’re missing out. Any time I see the name “Daws” anywhere, I don’t think “Butler,” I think Vic and Bob screaming bloody murder at Matt Lucas, dressed like a baby called George Daws and ignoring them.

So anyway, I had heard that the two comedians were doing a remake of the classic Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and traditionalists cringed and wept. There are probably still eight or nine people on bashing their keyboards in horror. Charlie Higson, who’d been writing for as well as performing small parts in Reeves and Mortimer’s various programs throughout the nineties, produced and co-wrote most of the episodes. The BBC commissioned two short series made by Working Title which aired in 2000 and 2001, and our heroes, who are played sort-of straight with a few gags, are joined by Emilia Fox as Jeannie and by a host of recognizable faces. The first episode alone has Charles Dance, David Tennant, and Mark Gatiss, and I understand we’ll be meeting a very interesting recurring character pretty soon.

I thought it was good, if not groundbreaking. This Randall and Hopkirk are typical late nineties lads. They’ve got a PlayStation in the office, and nobody should find that surprising. This Jeannie is far more resourceful than the original, and she and Marty hadn’t tied the knot yet. In this version, Marty is killed the night before their wedding.

So while the first episode didn’t rise anywhere near the original at its best, our son adored it and had some great laughs, and I found a lot to enjoy as well. I think Higson must have had a ball writing the script and filling it with moments where the audience gets to ask “Is THIS it? Is this where Marty dies?” only to fake us out about four times. Anybody who doesn’t smile when Vic raises his arms in imitation of Kenneth Cope, only to not get run over, has a heart three sizes too small.

Doctor Who 1.8 – Father’s Day

“Father’s Day” is the first of surprisingly few TV episodes of Doctor Who written by Paul Cornell. He’d written several incredibly entertaining Who novels for Virgin and the BBC, but he only contributed two stories to the television series. I wonder why.

Anyway, this is a really effective story that retains its power to leave otherwise hard-hearted grownups drying their eyes and choking back sobs. Our son, however, was so completely fascinated by what was happening with time in this story, including the driver caught in a time loop, eternally trying to run over Rose’s father one day in November 1987, and the strange beasts that entered reality as a result of history changing, that he didn’t have any tears to spare. He likened the monsters to “white blood cells,” which seems kind of right.

I think there are two really powerful reasons this story works so well and is so darn effective in making audiences bite their lips. First, I will occasionally grumble that Murray Gold’s music can get both bombastic and intrusive from time to time, but when he was on fire, he was perfect. “Father’s Day” might be his best score in ten series.

Second, Shaun Dingwall plays Rose’s father, and his is one of the best guest performances in the program’s history. He does more silently in this episode than everybody else does speaking. That’s not to dismiss anybody else’s performances – Camille Coduri darn near steals the whole episode when 1987-Jackie, hitting really close to home, chews out her no-good so-and-so “Del Boy” of a husband – but watching Dingwall as his character figures out what has happened, and that Rose is lying to him about his future, is just breathtaking.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.14 – Mail Order Brides

And now back to the 1890s, much to our son’s delight, and the second half of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. He chuckled and laughed all through this story, in which Brisco and Bowler track down their foes the Swill Brothers in their second and last appearance. We’d seen them before in the story “No Man’s Land,” also co-written by Tom Chehak. The Swills have stolen three mail order brides’ dowries, for no other reason than to be ornery, while they really have their eyes on a prize bull donated by the King of Spain to the city of Madrid, California. The Swills are probably too stupid to steal the million dollar bull, but not so stupid that they won’t cause an international incident.

I had a soft spot for “Mail Order Brides” when it first aired because one of the women is played by Elizabeth Barondes. Earlier in the fall 1993 season, she had been cast as Lucy Lane in Lois & Clark, but either the network or the producers – never sure who – decided against keeping the character around, and so she was unceremoniously dumped after three episodes. I thought that was a shame at the time and was glad to see her finding guest work quickly.

The strangest thing about this episode is that Barondes’s character is wearing a bright red skirt, and when the Swills are trying to steal the bull, one of them grumbles about needing to find a red blanket or cloth. They’re totally setting this up to have the bull chase her, but it doesn’t happen. The charging bull does, however, find its way into “Ye Olde China Shoppe,” and we thought our son was going to pass out from laughing.

Batwoman 1.3 – Down Down Down

Better. This show badly needed another villain. Proving that time marches on, it really, really seems like just yesterday that some pals with whom I used to game in Atlanta were telling me about this completely amazing year-long epic that introduced a major new Batvillain called Hush, played here – without the supervillain name – by Gabriel Mann. Yesterday. That story started seventeen years ago. I never read it myself, but fans really like the character, and I’m glad they’re going to dip into Batman’s rogues gallery. Alice is already boring me.

Does Batwoman, in the comic books, have much of her own collection of rogues yet? On TV, The Flash used to do a fine job bringing in several other villains for one-offs and recurring threats while the season’s Big Bad made occasional appearances; I’m glad it looks like they’re ready to do the same here.

The climactic fight this time features Kate in her proper costume at last. I like the believable way the story addressed the huge baggage and expectations that came with Kate impersonating Batman, with Hush – who had, with the apparent offscreen help of the Riddler, deduced Bruce’s identity – demanding that Bruce show himself now that Batman seemed to be back. So with a little things-happen-very-fast-on-TV magic, Kate puts some color on the super-kevlar suit to show Gotham that Batman isn’t back; she’s her own person.