You know, that hung together better than I remembered it. Alexei Sayle’s still the best thing about it, and it would have been a whole lot more wonderful with more of him blowing up Daleks with his concentrated beam of rock and roll, but I think it gelled for me a bit more this time, for some reason. Sayle’s sonic cannon was, of course, our son’s favorite part of the story. His eyes lit up and he had the biggest smile you can imagine on his face when that first Dalek exploded.
Actually, one reason I enjoyed this more than I have previously is that I used to really, really loathe a character played by Jenny Tomasin, and thought the actress did a rotten job. I was wrong. Her character is a really tough one for an actor to play; she’s meant to be much more pathetic than endearing, and foolishly duped by everybody around her. But apart from one snickeringly bad line reading in part one when she bellows “Find the intruders!” I think Tomasin played this role extremely well, which can’t have been easy when you’ve got an amazing actor like Clive Swift literally brushing you aside. I may have mentioned before that my time talking with and observing the actors at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta gave me a newfound understanding of what actors have to do to make their characters work at all. I’m always glad of the opportunity to reconsider the opinions I held when I was even more stupid than I am now.
But right behind Sayle, there’s William Gaunt underplaying his role of a disgraced assassin from a noble order, and Eleanor Bron, who’s magical in anything. I love how Gaunt’s character acts like he is in complete control of the situation in Davros’s lab, and responds to any obstacle without taking an extra breath, just communicating with his eyes and piercing stares. And Colin Baker and Terry Molloy get one of the better Doctor-Davros arguments – easily the first good one since “Genesis,” honestly – as they debate Davros’s latest sick scheme.
We won’t wait fifteen months until starting the next season of Doctor Who like us poor folk had to do in the eighties… in fact, we’ll be back for more adventures in time and space in about eleven days. But first, something else, like the other two shows that we’re watching, that I’ve never seen before… stay tuned!
I’ve never really enjoyed “Revelation of the Daleks,” which brings this disappointing season to an end, but I do enjoy just how weird it is. I mean, this is an extraordinarily weird 45 minutes. It barely has the Doctor or the Daleks in it. It’s mainly a bunch of Eric Saward characters alternately yelling at each other or mumbling underneath the incidental music, having their own adventure that doesn’t concern the Doctor at all. Parts of the story are sort of narrated by the wonderful comedian Alexei Sayle, playing an oddball DJ piping music and long-distance dedications to a city full of stiffs in suspended animation. I could have done with a whole lot more Alexei Sayle and a whole lot less of desperate double-acts arguing with each other.
Sayle’s role prompted me to pause, because it occurred to me that once again our son has no frame of reference for something I took for granted. We never listen to radio, so the world of Wolfman Jack or Casey Kasem is another planet he’s never heard of. They still have DJs on some stations, I think, but I’m at work when the local NPR / college radio hybrid gets to play music – Chattanooga is woefully short a WUOG or WSBF or WREK – so he doesn’t even get to hear college kids, never mind celebrities.
And of course, he didn’t recognize William Gaunt from The Champions as an assassin called Orcini. Say what you will about this weird story, it’s got a terrific cast that also includes Eleanor Bron and Clive Swift, who underplays the role of the funeral director amazingly well and is so entertaining. Terry Molloy is back as Davros, making him the first actor to play the role twice, and the story is directed by Graeme Harper, who had made the previous year’s “Caves of Androzani” look so good. He can’t save this one, but he fills it full of moments that are at least interesting. Next time, the Doctor will actually have something to do and I recall it becomes considerably more ordinary.
Now we’re traveling back to January 1977 and the first episode of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries, which ran – with a couple of alterations to its format and several cast changes – for three seasons on ABC. I only have vague memories of this show, but I remembered it being basic, kid-friendly stuff from Glen A. Larson, who wrote and directed this first episode, so I picked up the sets when I found them cheap a while back.
Despite proving his utter inability to recognize anybody – I mean, I flat-out told him that somebody he saw this morning in Barbary Coast is in this, and how many eight-foot tall dudes with a voice like gravel were in that show other than Richard Kiel – our son really enjoyed this. There’s lots of chasing around, on foot or on motorcycles, and most of the action is set around the silliest restaurant you’ve ever seen. It’s a very breezy and simple “mystery” for younger viewers. The Hardy Boys books were always for kids, and so is this.
Our heroes Frank and Joe are played by Parker Stevenson and teen idol Shaun Cassidy, and if the DVD packaging is accurate, we’ll be hearing at least two of Shaun’s pop hits in the weeks to come. Joy. Ed Gilbert plays their dad, a private detective, and Lisa Eilbacher, who we’ve seen a few times in Saturday morning shows from the era, is his secretary Callie. I think we’re meant to infer that Frank and Callie have goo-goo eyes for each other, but it’s kind of hard to tell. I didn’t think much of it, but some shows take a while to find their feet. I told our son that next time, we’d meet Nancy Drew, and he’s looking forward to that.
This morning’s episode was written by Howard Berk, who also wrote two of my favorite episodes of Columbo. It features guest stars Rosemary Forsyth and Lloyd Bochner, but, as the title gives away, it doesn’t feature Jesse James, though we’re meant to believe it does.
A few minutes into watching this story, it suddenly occurred to me that our son has no idea who Jesse James is. I seem to remember mentioning before, ages ago, that Kids These Days have virtually no exposure to western lore. In the seventies, I would watch western repeats when there was nothing I liked better on, and I heard a fact here or there on the omnipresent commercials for those Time-Life books about gunslingers “with the look and feel of real hand-tooled leather.”
A quick check confirmed he didn’t know who Billy the Kid or John Wesley Harding were, either. He could tell you all sorts of facts about animals, because when he does want to watch TV, he’s mainly parked in front of one of the National Geographic channels watching sharks or something. The old west is confined to Dad’s Old Shows, although he does say that he enjoyed this one, too. It had a very fun bar fight.
“Timelash” is notorious for a very long bit of padding in the second episode. It was underrunning by about six minutes, so Eric Saward had to step in and write this really long interlude where the Doctor is trying to save the day, but Herbert, a stowaway from 1885, keeps interrupting him. Grown-up fans have always complained about the story stopping in its tracks for comedy, but never mind its bad reputation, because our son loved it. It’s just six minutes of the Doctor being incredibly bad tempered and growling. When Herbert reveals himself, the kid roared with laughter, knowing the Doctor would be furious. He enjoyed the whole adventure, but that scene was his favorite, so I guess that Saward knew what he was doing.
The story overall would probably never have been very good – this was clearly the season cheapie, with all the money spent jaunting to Spain for “The Two Doctors” – but it still strikes me as a massive missed opportunity. At its core, the plot is an interesting change from another story of vengeful psychopaths, and it’s one of the very first times that the show successfully used what would later be called “timey-wimey” stuff to advance the story. But it all sinks under a bunch of characters who might as well be named “Captain Exposition,” disinterested direction, and some really terrible guest performances, with Paul Darrow going for some award as the biggest ham on television that month.
We’re not out of the swamp yet, but it would be about 21 years before Doctor Who bored and annoyed me as much as this one. Things are about to get better.
Because he’s only seven and not yet jaded, our son rarely has a negative comment about a bad visual effect or a dated bit of production, but while he enjoyed some of this story a great deal – mainly whenever the Doctor was bellowing – he rolled his eyes at the prop of the Timelash. This is the oddball name for the entrance to a time corridor. It’s a tall wooden box full of Christmas tinsel. He said, “They could have done a better job with the Timelash. It looked like a photo booth full of black glitter glue.”
Eighties Who is full of anagrams. “Foamasi” is Mafiosa. “James Stoker” is Master’s joke. “Androgum” is gourmand. And “Timelash” is lame, this.
“This” is also an anagram.
“The Ghost Plane” is a fun globetrotting episode written by Donald James. It starts in the south China sea and jaunts everywhere from the Alps to Cambridge to Albania, taking in the same warehouse location that they’d used in “The Invisible Man.” The main guest star this time is Andrew Keir, and I think this must have been made a few months after Keir had filmed Quatermass and the Pit.
We only see the “ghost plane” itself in the opening scene. Somebody has arranged for a defunct idea that a British engineer had suggested to NATO to make its way to China, where a prototype is built and tested against four American jets. It’s a cute mix of stock footage and new model shots of the delta-winged plane. Oddly, I was actually thinking to myself that they should have knocked on Gerry Anderson’s door and hired his team to do the sequence when our son piped up and said “Hey! That plane looks like the Angels in Captain Scarlet!” I don’t think so myself, but I’m amused that he saw a connection. In fact, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was in production at the same time as this series.
The best scene in the story by a mile was a great sequence where Sharron is locked in a deep-freeze refrigeration unit at the bad guys’ warehouse and the trio use their telepathy to rally to her rescue. I really enjoyed that. I guess that especially in the wake of seeing Captain Marvel, we’d rather have seen Sharron kick the door down herself, but while the Champions are really strong, they’re not quite that strong!
That’s all for The Champions for now, as we put this fun show back on the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh, but we’ll pick back up with episode eleven in mid-April. Stay tuned!
It’s true that our son hasn’t been all that enthusiastic about this show, but tonight’s installment might have won him over a little. The plot was much more straightforward and easier for him to follow, plus it ended with both explosions and a swordfight. He was also predisposed to like it from the outset because our heroes are tracking down a pair of stolen jade cats, and he “just really likes cats!” I was glad to see that they reintroduced Cash Conover’s superstitions. Unlike our kid, he doesn’t like cats at all.
Lots of familiar-to-me faces in tonight’s cast. Eric Braeden plays the villain, and Len Lesser is a clerk at a sleazy motel. Mickey Morton has a small role as a soldier who’s losing big at Cash’s casino, and he gets to tower menacingly over Doug McClure. Weirdly, I mentioned last time that Bobbi Jordan wasn’t able to continue with this series owing to a prior commitment. Well, Sherry Jackson basically takes over her part as a different red-haired dealer at the casino… but she’s apparently only in this one episode. This is an amusing show, but it kind of needs a semi-regular female character.