The Ghosts of Motley Hall 3.0 – Phantomime

Well, if it’s Christmas and Alfred Marks is playing a genie, it must be time for a panto. This is a ridiculous and very funny episode with a resolution visible from space, but it’s done with such silly spirits that only the crankiest among us could possibly find fault. There are a few completely wonderful gags and a great complication. A teenage girl and her utterly rotten aunts have taking refuge in Motley after a car accident with the snow coming down in buckets. The girl can see all five ghosts and the djinn, but the mean old ladies can’t.

I’m not quite sure about the continuity of this show. I had been wondering during the second series why, if he’s meant to be the caretaker of the property, doesn’t Peter Sallis’s character actually clean up the place. He pays for a new roof at one point, but the floors are thick with dust and broken furniture and there are cobwebs everywhere. At the end of the series, as we saw last time, an incredibly rich man buys Motley, has the place cleaned up, and moves in, and then hands the property over to Sallis’s character in the end. Yet this episode sees the hall back in its decrepit state, with several years of clutter and garbage everywhere. I got curious and popped ahead to look at a couple of clips from series three and it’s all cobwebby and filthy. I wonder why.

That’s all from the Ghosts for now, because we like to rotate shows in and out to keep things fresh. We’ll be back in Motley Hall in September. Stay tuned!

Bigfoot and Wildboy 2.11 – Outlaw Bigfoot

Regular readers know that we mostly adhere to a no-bootlegs rule here – although we’re going to cheat in about three months – and I’ve already posted about the one and only episode of Bigfoot and Wildboy that’s ever made it to DVD back in 2016. But then I was rearranging the closet and stumbled upon my old VHS copy of three other episodes from the show’s second season. I bought it from the dearly missed Oxford Books on Atlanta’s Pharr Road in the mid-nineties.

Embassy Home Video, under the Children’s Treasures banner, released two volumes of several different Sid & Marty Krofft shows in 1988. Most of these sets contained the first four episodes of various shows, but Bigfoot and Wildboy got a really weird release. Embassy’s two tapes of this show skipped season one entirely – these were the sixteen episodes that co-starred Monica Ramirez and were each about 12 minutes long – and jumped to season two, with Yvonne Regalado. The first tape contained the first two installments, but the second has slightly edited copies of what appears to be episodes 11, 7, and 3, linked together into a 72-minute TV-movie.

(A misfiring synapse suggests to me that there was one other Krofft show that Embassy Video might have presented this way, with three linked-together episodes on the second volume. I may be wrong, but if I ever confirm that, I’ll edit this post.)

If our son, at age five, was a little small for such an outre program as this, at nine, he’s at the prime age. This is a dopey program for kids, and even though we’ve left the tech behind, he had a lot of fun with this. “I’m already tired of the slow motion,” he told me, which might provide a clue as to why he’s revisited several shows and movies we’ve watched together, but has let the eight seasons of Bionic action collect a little dust. Later on, the two villains use a laser to make the boulders that Bigfoot throws at them vanish. No ray on the film, and no explosion, because those cost money, they just edited the film to make the big rock disappear. “Okay, that is a stupid laser,” he snorted.

“Outlaw Bigfoot” concerns two villains played by a pair of omnipresent seventies TV villains, Sorrell Booke and John Milford. Taking advantage of the least competent armored car delivery guards in the world, Milford plants a recording of Wildboy yelling for help underneath the truck, so that Bigfoot will stop the truck, scare the guards off, and rip open the back door. Then the baddies can steal some plutonium once he leaves. Bigfoot himself is not as unbelievable as these dimwit guards. It’s perfect pablum for kids, and amusing silliness for those of us old enough to know better.

Dragonslayer (1981)

Since we brought Avengers: Endgame home, our son watched it in its entirety once. He’s seen the final 45 minutes about six more times. He wants to get to the good stuff, and who can blame him? I can’t swear to it, but that’s probably how I watched Dragonslayer when it arrived on HBO in 1982-ish. I’d seen the movie once or twice when it was released, but I didn’t remember much of the first two acts of this at all. What happens in Dragonslayer? I couldn’t have told you before this afternoon, other than Peter MacNicol fighting an amazing dragon in a big red cave.

Rewatching it, there is a little more to chew on for grownups. It may be one of those films where the special effects don’t really show up until the third act, but there are some interesting moments and good actors. The photography is gorgeous, the music is interesting, and John Hallam plays a very entertaining villain. It’s one of those movies with American leads and a supporting cast full of recognizable British actors like Emrys James, Ralph Richardson, and Ian McDiarmid, although strangely they picked completely unknown American leads, which isn’t usually the way movies like this were made.

I don’t think we can call this a huge success with our son, though. Yes, the dragon stuff went over very well, and there’s a downright stunning moment of absolute grossness where one of the dragon’s victims is being eaten by two dragon babies, which may well be the most gruesome, gory thing in any film that Disney had anything to do with. (They co-produced it with Paramount and distributed it outside North America.) But much like any kid would have done back in the day, this was a movie to squirm restlessly and get frustrated while the film coyly refuses to show the monster. The beast itself is a triumph of design and execution, but I don’t foresee this being a film that he’ll want to dust off and revisit any time soon, and if he does, it’ll just be the final act.

Stargate SG-1 3.10 – Forever in a Day

I’ve never done a deep dive into Stargate fandom and any essays about it, but revisiting “Forever in a Day,” I found myself wondering whether this episode, and the character of Sha’re generally, has attracted much comment from a feminist perspective. She suddenly strikes me as being somewhat problematic. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but I also misremembered the character as having appeared more than she did as well.

Sha’re first appeared in the Stargate film, where she is property to be given away. Recast, she returned in the first episode of the series, having been married to Daniel for about a year. Infamously, she gets the only nude rape scene in the series. Sure, arguably, the takeover of any human character by one of these alien bugs could be construed as a rape, but Sha’re is the only character whose possession is depicted as a sexual act. From there, the character appears twice more: once to have a baby, and once, here, to die. Her only purpose in the narrative is to drive the male character: first to find her, and, after her death, to follow a final message and begin a new search, for her child. Looking back on it, this really wasn’t right. Sha’re should have survived and been afforded some agency and a supporting role in the show.

I have read that “Forever in a Day” is very popular with some fans, and it’s easy to see why. I liked it more the first time around. Michael Shanks gets to play Daniel as grief-stricken but numb, unable to mourn, and the script’s imaginative use of dreams is very clever. I do think that from a broader continuity standpoint, there is a big flaw: they drop an important bombshell here which surely should have been mentioned earlier. This episode tells us that the hosts of Goa’uld are forbidden by System Lord law to have a child together, because the human offspring (a “harcesis”) will be born with all the knowledge of the alien bugs. This is a huge plot point that’s going to drive several episodes over the course of the next year and a half. So you think they’d have mentioned it when Sha’re actually had that baby last season. I guess the producers just hadn’t figured that part out when they made “Secrets.” I bet if they could, they’d have gone back and inserted a shot where Teal’c says “The child will be a harcesis. I am surprised that Apophis would do something so reckless.”

I think I made a mistake in telling our son about the popularity of “Forever in a Day.” From my blinkered perspective, getting around the problematic issue of Sha’re, it’s a good, imaginatively-crafted hour, but it leads with the only explosions and gunfights it wants to give us. The poor kid thought he was getting forty-five minutes of wall-to-wall shootouts, and he got an action-packed pre-credits scene followed by a long, slow meditation on loss. We bought him a wristwatch earlier today. Press one button and you get eight seconds of colored lights dancing around the watch face. He was restless enough to “accidentally” press the button a time or ten. Can’t really blame him, can you?

The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.3-4 – The Day of the Clown (parts one and two)

If our son has any genuine fear of clowns, it’s news to us. Other than getting creeped out by the clowns in the Doctor Who serial “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” a year ago, he’s never said a word about them as far as we can recall. But he spent the first episode of this story muttering unhappily and letting out an occasional stage whimper as Bradley Walsh comes and goes in a flash of color and the blink of an eye. And speaking of eighties Doctor Who, this story, written again by the great Phil Ford, was directed by Michael Kerrigan, who had directed the serial “Battlefield” just a few months after “Greatest Show” had aired.

Apart from being a tremendously fun and creepy hour, with, admittedly, an incredibly convenient resolution, “The Day of the Clown” is a lovely little nexus point for the actors in the Who world. Walsh, of course, has played the companion Graham in the most recent two series of Who, and he got to work again with Anjli Mohindra in this year’s “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror.” Mohindra tells a hilarious anecdote about how Walsh did not recognize her under her space alien prosthetics and makeup which you should go and read, but in fairness to Walsh, I enjoyed her in the next several years of SJA very much and had no idea that was her as Queen Skithra either. And I just read now that Mohindra’s been dating Sacha Dhawan, the current Master, for the last few years. Small universe!

So yes, this is Anjli Mohindra’s first adventure as Rani Chandra, the new girl across the road from Sarah Jane. She’s fun and wonderful and if you remember how the Doctor Who forums in 2008 were all babbling about how the character was called Rani and you thought it was only silly grownups who wondered whether this Rani was the same as the Doctor’s old enemy the Rani, the name tripped up our son as well. “Did she say… Rani?” he asked, eyes wide. Had to pause for the confusion.

For what it’s worth, I like Rani Chandra just fine and am very, very glad this wasn’t some stunt of Russell T. Davies’s to drop a bombshell on Bannerman Road. But I am also just fine with one day the Rani escaping the Time War and regenerating herself into a sixteen year-old girl in a London suburb.

The Ghosts of Motley Hall 2.6 – Horoscope

Our son protested that the six episode seasons common to British comedy are far, far too short. His is a common complaint. “Horoscope” wrapped up the six-week run with guest star Brian Wilde as a parody of Howard Hughes called Stanford Hives. He can see three of the ghosts, although not Sir George, who most wants him to leave, and doesn’t make a business transaction without consulting his star charts. Previously, he lived in a lighthouse, until people found out where he was. He buys Motley Hall hoping that nobody will ever find him here, except his small live-in staff, who keep him informed of the positions of stars and planets, mainly so they can manipulate him.

I reminded our son that we’ve seen Howard Hughes analogues before, most recently in the Hardy Boys adventure “Arson and Old Lace.” It was the seventies, man. The kid enjoyed the episode, particularly when Sir George engages in guerrilla warfare to annoy him out of the house. You’d get aggravated as well if a ghost was pulling the blankets off you in the middle of the night!

But I really enjoyed the scene pictured above, where Bodkin convinces the grumpy old devil to live a little, and stop acting like Capricorns are supposed to. There’s no reason why Hives can’t be a Leo and have more fun. No, really, there’s no reason, Hives is an orphan and does not actually know his real birthday. Arthur English, not for the first time, is completely magical in the scene. I wasn’t familiar with him before we started looking at this show. He really was a great actor.

Stargate SG-1 3.9 -Rules of Engagement

We skipped over an episode I really dislike and landed on this story, which introduces a really neat problem. It’s sort of the SG-1 equivalent of those stories of Japanese pilots and soldiers holding out on Pacific islands throughout the 1950s and 1960s and refusing to surrender. Our heroes find a training camp where young soldiers, dressed in USAF SG-team fatigues, are waging war games against pretend Jaffa soldiers and everybody is using stun weapons.

They learn that these are slaves of Apophis, who eventually abandoned them and withdrew his forces but left them shooting it out while he battles against Heru’ur and Sokar. Previously, Apophis’s plan had been to send these “soldiers” to Earth as an invasion, but getting killed by Sokar put paid to that. So how do you convince a mob of heavily-armed acolytes that their all-powerful “god” is dead and they can go home, because they’re free?

I enjoy episodes that force the heroes to think way outside the box. To be fair, some of this is handled really conveniently, and it ends too suddenly for my liking. The biggest flaw is that a critical part of the setup is that one of their units, SG-11, has been MIA for months, and that’s the sort of thing they really should have addressed previously, instead of in passing as the situation unfolds. But putting too much in an hour’s better than padding out something that’s too slight, isn’t it?

The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.1-2 – The Last Sontaran (parts one and two)

And now back to 2008, where we get to read between the lines and realize that when the Daleks stole the planet Earth the last time we saw the Doctor, they unwittingly took with them a pissed off Sontaran who’d been grouchily repairing his ship since the destruction of General Staal’s fleet. This one’s called Commander Kaagh and he’s a fun, fun villain. Our son likes the Sontarans, but he’s been confusing them at first glance with the Judoon every time. I think that’s why they decided to give Sontarans blue armor in the modern age, but it apparently doesn’t help as much as a grownup might think.

Phil Ford’s story really feels like what I was talking about with Stargate earlier this week. They’ve got some woods, an old relay station, an alien and two speaking parts, and they made wonders from it. There really is a lot of running back and forth, but it’s done with lots of action, a baddie who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his laser rifle, and one of Doctor Who‘s finest “thumped in the back of the neck” resolutions. Maybe Kaagh can’t shoot straight because the injury that left him that scar messed up his depth perception?

And so this is a farewell to the original SJA team. Actress Yasmin Paige decided to focus on her education, so this was Maria’s final story. I like the character who replaces her, but it always seems a shame that she left so soon since Maria was the original audience identification figure. But honestly, the program, which was good from the beginning, gets even better from here.

The Ghosts of Motley Hall 2.5 – Ghost of a Chance

In tonight’s amusing episode, Peter Sallis’s character gets trapped inside the hall. The ghosts don’t have the tools to free him. Four of the five can’t leave the building, and Matt can only go as far as the gate, so how can they get help for him?

Our son quietly offered a couple of riffs, reflecting his familiarity with Richard Carpenter’s scripts for this and for Catweazle. Sallis brings his bicycle into the hall and our son whispered “What is this two wheeled beast?” A second quiet zinger – at least he’s quiet – and I reminded him that the ghosts are familiar with modern transport; they can see out the windows. “I know,” he said, eyes rolling, “I’m trying to make a joke.” Parents!

Stargate SG-1 3.7 – Deadman Switch

I enjoyed “Deadman Switch” the first time around, and then I started thinking about it from a production standpoint and admired it even more. It’s a good enough story – SG-1 gets captured by a bounty hunter played by Sam J. Jones and press-ganged into helping him hunt down a dangerous enemy – but they did it so remarkably efficiently that I didn’t even notice the comparative lack of props, sets, visual effects or speaking parts when I first saw it.

So tonight, I laid it out for our son before we got started and pointed out that a typical Stargate installment has about six or seven speaking parts outside the main cast, plus costumed extras. Sam Jones, the star of Flash Gordon and lots of movies about tough guys with machine guns, almost certainly charged a bit more per day than many of the actors in British Columbia, so you hire him for an episode with only two additional speaking parts. And since the story’s tight enough, full of cat-and-mouse attempts to get the upper hand on the bounty hunter and moral arguments about how he could be fighting against the Goa’uld instead of working for them, viewers won’t miss the crowds we usually see in this show.

Our son still needed to have some of these cost-savers underlined as we talked about it afterward. For example, he swore there were two escape pods at the end. The narrative says that there are two, but they only took one prop to the location, and he didn’t catch it until I rewound, paused on the sight of one pod, and asked him again. I admire the producers’ ability to make an inexpensive episode and keep anybody from noticing. That they did it with an entertaining story is just icing on the cake.