Sapphire & Steel 1.3 and 1.4

So last night, after we watched the show and I’d written my customary yammer, I made the mistake of actually reminding our son of the nightmare we’d just watched, and then he had an awful time falling asleep. He was very, very worried about the corridor of time, and whether there were enough old books and things in his bedroom to serve as triggers for things outside time to reach in and take him. What makes it worse is that we have a two-story place, and he has the upstairs to himself. The intrusion in the first Sapphire & Steel serial takes place at the top of an old house…

Beautifully, episode four pauses for breath and a smile as Sapphire lets the children know that there are 127 beings like them, only twelve of them – “The Transuranics” – can, depending on who is telling the tale, either not be trusted or not be used where there is life. That leaves 115, and we only meet a couple of the others in the TV series. Val Pringle shows up as Lead, a huge man who likes home cooking. (Much later, Big Finish did three “seasons” of CD audio adventures and introduced Gold and Ruby as well.)

I love the way that Lead’s arrival brings things to a nice little bridge, where the characters can relax and so can the audience, charmed by the curiosity of Lead, who brings gossip from home, wherever that is, and mentions Jet, Copper, and Silver. But the chaos soon returns, leading to an unbelievably long cliffhanger. It’s about three solid minutes of doors opening and closing, howling winds, eerie noises, angry lights, and spectral figures as the beings locked in the room at the top of the stairs start flexing their muscles.

Our son was very, very freaked out and needed some extra hugs before bed tonight. He really didn’t like that door slamming open and closed!

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Sapphire & Steel 1.1 and 1.2

“Maybe Mommy will read you a nursery rhyme tonight?”

“NO.”

Sapphire & Steel is one of my all-time favorite television series, and our son wasn’t even a day old when I told him that sometime when he’s seven, I was going to scare the bejezus out of him with this thing. People who saw this when they were kids will speak of it in hushed tones. Grownups kind of run hot or cold. The very slow, deliberate, lo-fi pace and presentation will either draw you in and keep you enraptured or it will drive you nuts waiting for something to happen. This isn’t a sci-fi action show. These are ghost stories that unfold very, very slowly.

The show was an insanely popular hit in its day for something so downright weird. The third and fourth stories – there are six – ran in a midweek 8 pm slot in most of Britain’s ITV regions, paired with – of all things – the sitcom George & Mildred. I’ve never seen that program, but I have seen some of its American remake, The Ropers, and can’t imagine a weirder pairing of shows on any network in this country! But people tuned into Sapphire & Steel because – and there might be a bit of fan myth here – most of the show’s budget went into its two very popular stars, David McCallum and Joanna Lumley, and audiences were willing to watch them in anything.

Sapphire and Steel are operatives who are called in when there is a major problem with time. Perhaps they are aliens, or perhaps they are angels. We’re never really told. Their enemies are the beings and forces that exist at the beginning and ending of time and which spend all of “the present” trying to break in and take things… take people from our existence. For some people I’ve met, the lack of a solid “sci-fi” explanation drives them bonkers. I always say it isn’t necessary to know. This is a show to watch and engage with, and a show to enjoy the thrill of either being scared or choosing to be scared out of your wits by it.

My older kids… holy anna, about fifteen years ago, we watched the first 30 episodes one a night right before bed, and they insisted on sleeping with me almost every single evening. The girlchild was in tears more often than not. It was so fun – I mean, so bad – that at any given moment for weeks if everything was quiet, I could whisper-sing “Ring-a-ring-a-roses” and she’d scream bloody murder at me to stop it.

Now that he knows that this rhyme can conjure up some scarred and raggedy plague victim, our son’s not all that happy about it either. He hid, he balled up, he asked whether we had to watch a second episode because that torn-up zombie man might be in it, and he called it “TOO creepy.”

And it is. It’s magical.

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Eerie, Indiana 1.6 – Scariest Home Videos

In tonight’s brilliantly funny episode, Simon’s little brother manages to zap himself into a cheesy 1940s mummy movie, while simultaneously zapping the mummy into the real world. At least that’s what everybody initially thinks in Karl Schaefer’s delightful script. The mummy isn’t a mummy, it’s a long-suffering and long-dead actor, played by Tony Jay, who somehow found his afterlife consisting of an endless repeat of the same dopey film.

Our son completely loved it and howled with laughter at the midpoint revelations of what the heck is going on. Afterward, he told us how he’d love to zap himself into the original Godzilla. We asked why in the world he’d want to go someplace so remarkably unsafe. To ride Godzilla, of course. Why didn’t we think of that?

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.15 – The Village of Evil

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!

Well, after 13 consecutive episodes, we’ve had to skip one of the twelve that the BBC destroyed. “Ticket to Terror” is the only story missing from the show’s first series, and it’s the one that everybody who was around in the sixties remembers. It guest starred Max Adrian and had the burned-in-the-memory scene with a London Underground train with several hundred skeletons arriving in a station.

So that brings us to “The Village of Evil,” in which Adam is so outraged by discovering that a Satanic coven is operating in a small and quaint little town that actor Gerald Harper tries to outdo Adam West’s Batman in righteous, overacting fury. To be fair, Harper is always a little arch in the role – it calls for it – but man, does he ever go over the top this time.

Amazingly, this is the first episode where Adam and Simms succeed in keeping Georgie out of trouble and completely ignorant that he’s investigating anything. Unfortunately for Simms, he mainly accomplishes this by losing £6 to her in darts and cards, resulting in another of his cheeky limericks as he bemoans his bad luck. Speaking of sixties Batman, Adam gets trapped in a memorable coulda-been-a-cliffhanger moment with a combine harvester, and the whole shebang is done with flair and lots of wit that had our son cheering with the fights. The main bad guy’s comeuppance is telegraphed from space, but I’m fairly sure nobody saw the femme fatale’s grisly end coming.

(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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Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani (parts three and four)

I enjoy watching old Doctor Who in a vacuum, with my family not knowing what to expect, like the Doctor regenerating. It makes for some fun surprises. Our son was particularly blindsided, and says that he’ll miss this Doctor.

Me, I say there definitely should have been another way. Peter Davison has never been shy about expressing his frustrations making the show. He loved being the Doctor, but the experience of actually working on this show, particularly in his delay-plagued second season, was too frustrating to continue. Davison said that Patrick Troughton had advised him to not stay for more than three years up front, and I still think Troughton should’ve zipped it. Particularly with the original version of “Resurrection of the Daleks” canceled and the producer’s very disagreeable decision to give Colin Baker one story at the end of this season, Davison was already down eight episodes that he should have been able to make – ten if you count K-9 and Company, which was made with season nineteen’s budget. We should have had more.

I’ll come back to that “disagreeable decision” when we start watching the Sixth Doctor next month, but speaking of “Resurrection,” this is the second story this season where darn near every person in the thing dies. The only ones to make it out in one piece are Peri, the evil Miss (“Krau”) Timmin on the other planet, and that dude in part one who doesn’t have any lines but is seen on his way to blow up the North Core Copper Mines, and he was probably arrested in the sweep of Morgus’s businesses and sentenced to death. Unlike “Resurrection,” all these creeps had it coming. A great character actor named John Normington plays Morgus, and I just love his asides directly to the camera. These are meant to be very theatrical, but it’s almost like Morgus knows that we’re watching him!

Roy Holder, who had been Chas in the third series of Ace of Wands twelve years earlier, is one of the gun runners. I mentioned earlier the fun of watching the show with my family, who don’t know what to expect. Holder’s character is one of two who decide against joining their boss and Morgus in their last, desperate search for more of the rare McGuffin element. They say they have two kilos and that’s more than enough. So Morgus and their boss leave them to it. Marie quietly told our son “I think he made the sensible decision.” I smiled, knowing that “sensible” decision was seconds away from ending his life.

“Caves” is excellent, but it’s also so unpleasant that I can’t believe that Peri would have chosen to stick around had this been her first trip after “Planet of Fire.” Would you? I’d be saying “Take me home immediately” after this – particularly when the guy with whom I agreed to travel about a day previously sat up looking like Colin Baker and got snide with me – unless I’d spent a few weeks with less traumatic events first. So there are several novels and more than a dozen audio adventures with Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant, several of which also feature an additional companion from ancient Egypt called Erimem.

I don’t actually enjoy the audio adventures myself – I think that my problem is that I lack the imagination to see the worlds that they’re describing – but I love that there are so many to choose from for all the fans who enjoy them. The same is true for the next two Doctors, who also had their BBC runs truncated before they should have ended. At least Peter Davison got to end his Doctor’s TV run on a really high note, and got to leave when he was ready to go.

We’ll start watching Colin Baker’s run as Doctor Who in mid-February. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani (parts one and two)

Ask a hundred people which is their favorite Peter Davison Doctor Who story. Five will say “Kinda.” I’m one of the five who’ll say “Snakedance.” The other ninety will say it’s this one. Less the stragglers who’ll eventually pop in the comments and protest that it’s something else, of course.

“The Caves of Androzani” really is blisteringly good. It’s the first of two adventures in the eighties that Graeme Harper directed, and wow, did he ever know what he was doing. This looks amazing, and the great music by Roger Limb helps a lot, too. The direction is so good that Harper could have made even a mediocre story into a highlight, but this story isn’t mediocre. It’s the first Doctor Who script by Robert Holmes in five years. Man, was he ever missed.

“Androzani” features some of Holmes’s effortless world-building, but this one’s a little different from the planets and cultures he’d designed in the past. There is no wit, and there aren’t any heroes. We only see the horrible people: an army of brutal military thugs, the corrupt politicians and businessmen bankrolling them, a team of bloodthirsty gun runners, and the criminal who controls the rare substance they all want: spectrox, which can extend or even double the life spans of humanoids. They are all terrible. And they are all going to get what’s coming to them.

A lot of people will tell you that this story is perfect except for a dopey, fake, and honestly quite unnecessary monster in the middle of it. Typically, the monster – it’s called a Magma Beast – is by far our son’s favorite part of it. Since he likes good guys and never villains, there isn’t anybody in this story, other than the Doctor and Peri, for him to cheer on. So the Magma Beast is perfectly placed to keep his interest!

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Eerie, Indiana 1.5 – The Broken Record

The fifth episode of Eerie, Indiana was preempted by NBC at the last minute across most of the country. It was there in the newspapers that morning – you can check October 13, 1991 yourself at all sorts of sites – but I think that the football game ran late and it was skipped.

Conventional wisdom has it that the episode wasn’t screened for more than two years, when it showed up on a repeat run on the Disney Channel, which then led some well-meaning fans to call it the program’s nineteenth and final episode, which then led the good people at Fabulous Films, who put out the DVD, to stick it on the third disk instead of where it belonged. But conventional wisdom isn’t always accurate. There were video traders in 1992 who had copies of this episode. The big name blowhard trader that I mentioned back in this post? He had a copy. He claimed that it did air on one or two of the NBC affiliate stations, which is where the VHS copies that made the rounds came from.

Well, I’d never seen it before tonight, anyway. “The Broken Record,” written by the show’s co-creator José Rivera, was inspired by the Satanic panic of the eighties and the mad parental fear that heavy metal records had subliminal messages in them. As it turns out, the Pitbull Surfers – who are two weeks away from playing an allegedly history-making show in Indianapolis – do have a subliminal backwards message in their LP, but it’s not at all what the stressed-out dad in this adventure thinks it is. Tom Everett, who’s made a career of playing high-ranking government officials and military officers, plays the high-strung father in this episode, and I was struck by how unlike Mark Metcalf in the Twisted Sister videos he was.

Our son enjoyed some rather obnoxiously loud belly laughs over things that he found funnier than anybody else did, especially an accident on Main Street involving a stolen milk truck. He was also guffawing over bits that made me chuckle, without understanding what was actually funny about them. There’s a classic running gag about Simon being so out of tune with Eerie’s rock-loving teens that he’s singing Carpenters songs while they’re headbanging. You be yourself, Simon. Thurston Moore says the Carpenters are all right, and he’d know.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.13 – The League of Uncharitable Ladies

Our son caught a not-even-24-hours bug and went home from school yesterday. Today he’s fully recovered, but I had to take a day to stay with him before he can get back to class. So he’s rewatched both Guardians of the Galaxy movies – I didn’t write about Vol. 2 because I strangely found myself not really enjoying it the second time around – and then we popped back in time for another episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, which my boy really liked.

“The League of Uncharitable Ladies” is mildly famous for being one of the earliest professional jobs for Ridley Scott as a director. He’d worked at the BBC for a few years, and unsurprisingly the corporation managed to wipe several of his TV episodes, including the other Adamant installments that he did in season two.

There’s a massive hole in this one’s plot, which ended up bothering me for most of the hour. There have been a number of mysterious deaths of important diplomats, and nobody can find the connection. It’s that all of the ones who were married have wives who are members of the same club, devoted to peace.

This is perhaps a little predictably male of me, but just as the story subverts the possibilities of an all-woman crew bent on evil by having a man running things from behind the scenes (an Avengers episode from earlier that year had much the same problem), I was more interested in the few male guest stars. The only woman in the cast that I recognized was Geraldine Moffat, but I spotted both John Carson and Gerald Sim. Carson’s role as the master villain hiding in plain sight as a servant is obvious from space, but there is a neat twist about the motive that I didn’t see coming.

But is there anything here that predicts Ridley Scott’s later cinematic success? I wouldn’t say so, but some of the film work in the opening, which sees the camera following a man across St. James’s Park, is first-rate, and he did coax some very good performances from his actors. I really enjoyed the somewhat dark flirtation between Moffat’s character and Adam, which, in a first, doesn’t end with Adam getting conked on the head. In fact, he sees the betrayal coming and avoids it! Good, our hero is learning! He doesn’t get to slay the criminal this time, either. It’s always nice to break from the traditional tropes.

(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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