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Doctor Who: Four To Doomsday (parts three and four)

I’m pleased to report that our son really, really liked this adventure. In fact, he was so thrilled that when the Doctor uses his cricket ball to give himself the momentum to drift backward through the vacuum of space to the TARDIS, he actually applauded. So we felt a little bad bursting the bubble and telling him just how utterly ridiculous the science in that scene was, but if we’re going to point out when television gets it wrong when it comes to social issues, we need to be consistent across the board and talk about bad science as well.

Speaking of social issues, there’s a remarkable part of this story where Adric swallows the villain’s rhetoric completely and thinks Monarch makes some very valuable points, pretty much like any other fourteen year-old idiot who starts hearing some claptrap on YouTube about how taxes are bad and falls down a hole. It’s certainly annoying, and it helped make everybody hate Adric when we were younger, but now I’m finding it’s really a fresh take on things to have a character too naive to know better. Incidentally, this story does support both Adric and Nyssa being young teenagers; they’re repeatedly called “children” throughout it.

But our son’s favorite part was the chaos that ensued when all the robots who represent different cultures on Earth being reprogrammed to have their recreational dances at the same time. He also loved Monarch getting smacked by his germs, remembering that Philip Locke’s character specified that even a small amount could reduce organic matter to the size of a grain of salt.

I’m glad he enjoyed the heck out of this story. I’ve never disliked it, but I’ve probably never enjoyed it as much as I did this time around. I think the creepy menace that comes out in the third episode is really well-timed and very effective, and I like the extra characterization paid to Tegan and Adric. Nyssa gets a few good moments, too, proving that for a fourteen or fifteen year-old, she’s incredibly well schooled in science and in philosophy. Yes, that was very entertaining. And the next one has always been among my favorites. I hope it holds up!

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Doctor Who: Four To Doomsday (parts one and two)

My abiding memory of Terence Dudley’s “Four to Doomsday” is that it’s incredibly slow. This time around, though, that’s revealed to be a good thing. There’s not an immediate threat or menace in this exploration of a giant spaceship four days from Earth, at least in the first half, anyway. It plays out in almost real time, as the Doctor and his companions explore the ship, which is controlled by Monarch of the planet Urbanka. Two other of his kind are on board, along with several representatives of ancient Earth cultures, and everybody’s lips are sealed about the past or the immediate future.

So it’s great television for a seven year-old who wants to chew on this for a bit. He says that he really likes this one, although the revelation that the friendly fellow from ancient Athens is a robot was a big surprise to him. I like how it plays out in a really enormous and believable space. The spaceship looks and feels completely gigantic, with lots of corridors and chambers.

Joining the regulars this time, there’s Philip Locke and Burt Kwouk as two of the old Earth refugees, but the guest cast is led by – of all people – Stratford Johns as Monarch, resplendent in his green, mottled skin. I reminded our son before we started that Johns had appeared in the great Avengers episode “Legacy of Death” doing a Sidney Greenstreet impression, and that our son certainly wouldn’t recognize him unless I pointed him out. Johns had played DI, and later Superintendent Charles Barlow in more than 200 episodes of four or five different, related series, for more than a decade, and even though he’d stayed real busy since the last of those shows ended and was always in demand, he still strikes me as unlikely for the role of a bipedal frog with a God complex. I mean, Johns is great, but imagine Karl Malden as Monarch. Like that.

Meanwhile, because this was actually the first story in production for season nineteen, everybody remembered that Tegan did not sign on to be a companion and wants to get to Heathrow Airport so she won’t lose her job on her first day. I really like the characterization. She doesn’t want to be here, she is terrified of getting fired. That’s how it should be. Except… while it’s been a few days for her, in Earth time, her aunt was just murdered a couple of hours ago. She even mentions this, but she’s only thinking about her job. Who’s she working with, Qantas? I don’t think that they’ve got the worst HR department on the planet. They will understand that the new girl’s aunt was murdered on the way to Heathrow. They’ll hold the job.

They maybe won’t quite understand that she was murdered by a space alien with a shrink ray, of course…

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The Avengers 4.3 – The Cybernauts

Fifty-two years later, the talk of transistors in “The Cybernauts” is incredibly dated. And the slow, slow revelation that the silent, powerful assassin is a karate-chopping robot, well, that’s the sort of thing contemporary TV establishes before the opening credits without blinking. You have to make allowances for older television; for many viewers then, this was an extraordinarily strange concept.

But if you can put your mind back to 1965, “The Cybernauts” is downright amazing. There’s a reason why ABC chose this episode to launch the program’s run in America. The story by Philip Levene is stylish and witty and has an incredibly palpable sense of danger and suspense. The investigation is straightforward and the characters are believably in the dark. This is a complicated and outre plan for 1965, and Steed and Mrs. Peel are written in a way that television protagonists typically aren’t anymore. They don’t have access to any additional information; they have to dig it all up, with the audience coming along for the ride. And sure, modern audiences will figure out that it’s a robot earlier than our heroes. I don’t think that most people in 1965-66 would.

Macnee and Rigg are helped this week by one of the most amazing guest casts of any British program of the period. Check out the names: Michael Gough and Frederick Jaeger as the villains, John Hollis as a karate dojo, and Bernard Horsfall, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, and Bert Kwouk as industrialists involved with the evil plot. Gough’s Dr. Armstrong is one of the all-time great Avengers villains, and that’s with a lot of competition to come.

Our son, meanwhile, claims that he hated it. He absolutely insists that he hated it. It was far too scary, he complains, and he never wants to see it again.

Then he went upstairs and started karate-chopping his pillow with big sound effects.

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