Into the Labyrinth 3.7 – Excalibur

In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that they waited this long to do a King Arthur story. When you’ve got a witch and wizard who are timejumping around into other people’s bodies, what better hosts are there than Morgaine Le Fay and Merlin? Regular guest star Ewen Solon is back in this one as Arthur, with Barry Jackson as Bedivere.

This is going to sound really, really nebulous and reaching, but something must’ve been in the water in the early eighties. King Arthur stuff has always been popular, but it feels like there was more Avalon than usual in all sorts of media – comics, records, movies – between 1981-83. This episode fits right in somehow, and while Into the Labyrinth‘s low-budget low-tech world has often seemed like an out-of-time throwback to the mid-seventies, this last half-hour just felt sort of perfectly in time with the rest of the early eighties media landscape.

At any rate, my son and I were glad that he got the crash course in Excalibur stuff before we watched the Doctor Who story “Battlefield” a couple of months ago, because this wouldn’t have made very much sense to him otherwise. He particularly enjoyed Merlin getting entombed in a stone and having itching powder dumped in his beard, and of course seeing Belor finally vanquished for good.

They didn’t make any more Into the Labyrinth beyond this. I think it had really run its course and they were doing the same thing every installment anyway. But while it had only limited charm for this grownup, our son enjoyed it a heck of a lot, so I’m very glad that I picked it up.

The New Avengers 1.7 – To Catch a Rat

A couple of real blasts from the past in tonight’s episode of The New Avengers. This one, famously, features the return of actor Ian Hendry, who had been the original star of the program back in 1961. Hendry isn’t playing his original character, Dr. Keel, but instead is playing an old sleeper spy who’s come in from the cold to finish a score with some old adversaries, one of whom is played by Barry Jackson, who had betrayed him in East Germany. The other person returning to the show after fifteen years is writer Terence Feely, who had last contributed scripts back when Hendry was playing Dr. Keel in the original season!

This is just me moaning, but there’s a part of me that sees a missed opportunity here. As great as it is to see Ian Hendry, who was an excellent actor, I kind of wish that they’d cast somebody who played a spy in some sixties show – Edward Woodward or Patrick McGoohan – as Gunner in this story, and asked Hendry to come back in a different story as Dr. Keel. Hendry and Patrick Macnee barely even get any screen time together, just one scene right at the end, with Hendry’s character losing consciousness and hardly in any shape to banter.

Despite the moan, this one’s a really entertaining traditional spy thriller, with no fantastic elements at all, and I was pleased that it kept our son completely hooked. He was playing really close attention and enjoyed this one a lot. Sure, his favorite scene was Purdey finding a weird and wonderful distraction to get out of a potentially embarrassing situation with two church ladies arranging flowers, but he enjoyed the whole show.

Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts five and six)

We finished up the Key to Time storyline/season this morning with what our son really believed is one of the most epic Doctor Who adventures ever. He completely loved this one, despite a few hissing villain roadblocks along the way. I also enjoyed this a lot more than I remembered, despite the interior of Shadow’s planet – slash – space station looking… well, it’s not so much that it’s fake, because lots of Doctor Who environments look fake. It’s that I kept expecting a bunch of kids to run in and start playing laser tag in it. It’s that kind of fake.

The best thing about it, though, is the introduction of Barry Jackson as a failed Time Lord called Drax. The character is just incredibly entertaining, and he and Tom Baker seem to have a great rapport. The Doctor, who apparently went by the name/designation “Theta Sigma” at the Time Lord academy and does not want to be reminded of it, asks Drax where he got the remarkable Souf Lundun accent and slang that he uses. Apparently, Drax was arrested (“got done”) in London some time back and spent ten years in stir. There’s absolutely no reason to nail this decade down to any given time period – I mean, Drax could be getting arrested right now in 2018 for all we know – but it amuses me to imagine that at the same time that the Doctor was exiled to Earth and fighting the Master, Drax was cooling his heels in HM Prison Brixton. Best moment of the whole story: Drax, on his way back to his TARDIS, telling the Doctor and Romana that he’s “done” a deal with the marshal of Atrios to provide reconstruction services for his planet, half an hour from now.

While Drax was sadly never seen again in the show, we do meet a new villain that will come back down the line: the Black Guardian. Valentine Dyall had a film career as long as your arm but was best known for his role hosting and narrating a radio series called Appointment with Fear. This anthology of horror stories ran for more than a decade on the BBC, and Dyall’s downright evil voice was known to pretty much every parent who sat down to watch this story in 1979, recognizing something terrifying from their own childhood.

So a couple of weeks ago, our son speculated that the third segment of the Key to Time could be a person. Today, we learned that the sixth segment was indeed a human being, which is how the Doctor unmasks the Black Guardian. At the end of the story, the Key is split into six parts again, hopefully leaving the poor Princess Astra to live her life in peace. Marie asked whether they’d ever need to turn a person into a Key segment again, and our son suggested that instead, one of the segments should disguise itself as “the worst tasting hot dog ever.” Well, if it sits around for decades waiting for somebody to come collect it, it probably would taste a little lousy.

So a couple of goodbyes to note this time. I’ve already noted that this was Dave Martin’s final script contribution. He did some more work in television but mainly wrote novels after this. He passed away in 2007. This was also Anthony Read’s final story as script editor. Douglas Adams had already been hired to replace him in the role, and apparently he worked on some of the rewrites of this adventure with Read. In that BBC way, we’ll see Adams commission Read to write a story in the next season.

Sadly, Mary Tamm decided to bow out with this story, and didn’t return to tape a farewell scene, which led to a pretty fun decision about what to do with the character of Romana. I don’t see that Tamm had any really major roles after this one, but she was regularly seen in guest parts on British television for the next thirty years and “gave good anecdote,” as they say, on the convention circuit. My older son met her in 2009 at a show in Atlanta that I didn’t attend, and came back with stars in his eyes. She died from cancer three years later at the horribly young age of 62.

We’ll take a short break from Doctor Who, but we’ll start season seventeen in August. Stay tuned!