Tag Archives: bob baker

Into the Labyrinth 3.1 – Lazlo / 3.2 – Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde

Now it’s back to 1982, and never mind the low budget, in the eyes of a kid, Into the Labyrinth is “a crazy show where anything can happen.” This time out, people get turned into dogs, shrunk, and zapped in the rear with magical bolts. There are swordfights and Victorian-age floozies and all the usual mayhem. Bob Baker wrote the first episode and Robert Holmes wrote the second. This time, the music is full of womp-womps and cues that say “comedy.” Honestly, they should have gone the whole hog. I started pretending there was a laugh track and enjoyed it more.

The plot this time is that one of the kids – HTV wisely figured there was really no need to pay for three leads when one would do – gets pulled into a parallel time track called Delta Time which runs through our world’s fiction. There, he meets a fast-talking time traveller and small fry magic user called Lazlo, and he’s got another macguffin that the evil witch Belor covets. So in episode one, they battle with Long John Silver and in episode two, Lazlo becomes Dr. Jekyll and Belor takes over his alter ego’s gang as “Fanny Hyde.”

I was surprised by that turn of events, actually. Lazlo is played by an actor named Chris Harris, who was very well known for his stage work in the UK, both highfalutin’ and pantomime. The second sentence of his Wikipedia entry says that he was a pantomime dame, so when I saw the title of the second installment, I expected him to don drag as Mrs. Hyde. So while our kid enjoyed the two episodes enormously, and was both thrilled and amused, the only surprise that they had for me was that they didn’t stick Harris in a dress.

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King of the Castle 1.6 and 1.7

“Do we have to watch both parts tonight?” our son asked.

“Best to get it over with,” I replied.

Honestly, for all that’s visually interesting about King of the Castle from a technical standpoint, this really wasn’t very good. Talfryn Thomas was fun to watch, and while my heart sank as the usually reliable Fulton Mackay and Milton Johns’ characters reentered the story, at least Johns’ Frankenstein character “speaks” with a bizarre electronic howl.

But the main problem is that the hero of the story is such an unsympathetic drip. He gets pronounced “snivelling, whimpering” at one point in part seven and I said “yes.” He finally, and not at all surprisingly, exercises some self-confidence and control when he returns to the real world at the end. Then one of the ways they illustrate his newfound grownupness is by having him bin a big stack of Hotspur comics and a Howard the Duck # 5. The heathen.

Our son enjoyed parts three and four, kind of enjoyed part five, and pretty much hated the last two. Roland becomes the King of the Castle at the end of part five, spends part six demanding everybody conform to his rules and makes enemies of them all, and spends most of part seven in some oddball courtroom drama that plays like experimental theater before going home. He tried to avoid admitting that he was just plain bored by calling it “creepy,” but he really had nothing at all to say about it and is glad that it was over.

So no, that certainly wasn’t the best serial that HTV made in the seventies. I wish that The Georgian House existed in full. I bet that one was great!

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King of the Castle 1.5

I’ve teased HTV’s later serial Into the Labyrinth for redressing the same set every week, but at its core, that’s an imaginative and clever use of their very limited resources. King of the Castle is doing the same trick with a two-story set with a large central area and a mezzanine above and around it. It’s done service as the Frankenstein lab, the love witch’s lair, the kitchen, and now the central foyer of a medieval castle. We’ll look at the last two episodes later in the week, and I’m curious what they’ll do next.

Our son was pretty impatient with this one at first, but once it moves into that set for a pretty impressive swordfight, he really started to get into it. He doesn’t like it as much as he likes Labyrinth, but it’s got a few fun surprises.

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King of the Castle 1.3 and 1.4

Marie gave up on this serial after the unbelievable awfulness of episode two, so she’s not going to believe this, but this has become a much, much more interesting production without Fulton Mackay’s overacting. In episode three, young Roland deals with a beautiful witch who schemes to shrink him and add him to a collection of captive children, and in episode four, he is trapped in a steamy scullery with several disheveled children under the thumb of a guard who screams “work makes you free!” at them and forces them to do repetitive, meaningless chores.

It’s not quite as visually bizarre as the second part, which makes it less interesting for me, but the special effects crew pulled off an impressive-for-the-1977-tech trick of shrinking the kid, trapping him under a crystal ball, and then having him walk the globe off a table. After the Frankenstein horrors and the bullying of the first two parts, this has become a more conventional adventure story, and, much like Into the Labyrinth, it’s pitched just right at eight year-olds. Our kid really got into Roland’s escape from the love witch, and hissed “yes!” as he got to a safe spot in the wall.

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King of the Castle 1.1 and 1.2

Back now to 1977, for a seven-part serial made by HTV which our son calls “absolutely scary” and his mother calls “actively painful.” King of the Castle was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who had made the fantastic Sky for HTV two years previously and, like Sky, it really should have made it to Nickelodeon’s Third Eye anthology. It’s a freaky, supernatural and very weird story. I don’t agree with either my wife or my son about it so far. I think it’s very peculiar and odd, and even though it’s lining up to climax with a “gasp! it was all… a dream!” ending, I’m curious to see where it’s going before it gets there.

At least it starts out well enough. King of the Castle stars Philip Da Costa as the son of a saxophone player who’s got a scholarship to a local, exclusive school, although he’d rather read comics – the props department mocked up a Mummy’s Tomb cover and pasted it atop a seventies Marvel UK title but didn’t bother to dress the back of the magazine and its ads for other Marvel comics – and keep a low profile. His family’s moved to the top floor of a ten-story apartment building and the elevator’s out of order and a tough teen called Ripper has his gang of bullies ready to cause trouble on the staircases. Providing support are some generally very reliable character actors, including Milton Johns, Fulton Mackay, and Talfryn Thomas.

Interestingly, episode one is almost entirely filmed on location on 16mm film. It’s only right at the end when our young hero backs into the out-of-order elevator and it plummets to lower levels that the videotape starts. Up to this point, our son had watched with a mix of sympathy and frustration – our kid has always hated bullies on TV and movies – and the instant the world changed into a creepy dungeon with cobwebs, bizarre sound effects, and overlay on top of overlay on top of overlay as the guy running the video mixer loses his mind, he got incredibly scared and hid.

No pictures will convey how weird this looks. I imagine most of our readers are familiar enough with the sort of image-atop-image visuals of seventies videotape, whether you can picture the blue-screen worlds of Sid and Marty Krofft or, most precisely, the alien ship/environment in Doctor Who‘s “Claws of Axos,” which was also written by Baker and Martin. Now take that look and go nuts. In part two, Da Costa and Talfryn Thomas, now playing a different character with a similar set of keys, navigate through cramped environments with lots of curtains or obstacles to block a clear shot, like an amusement park haunted house, but then other elements are chromakeyed on top of those, and other visuals on top of those. By the time we get to the Frankenstein castle where Mackay’s otherworld character lives, they’re keying lava lamp blobs on top of erlenmeyer flasks full of green food coloring and then keying firecracker sparks on top of those.

But I’ll grant my wife one point: it’s one thing to suffer through a bad performance from an otherwise unknown actor – take Mordred in “Battlefield,” please – but seeing a really good actor like Fulton Mackay go so over the top in this wretched performance really is painful. At least he’s doing it on a downright weird set and there’s lots of other things to look at. Like Milton Johns’ Frankenstein monster in a Ronald McDonald wig. Really.

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Into the Labyrinth 2.1 – The Calling / 2.2 – Treason

The blog was feeling a little ITC-heavy, but while adults can certainly see the difference between those filmed series and HTV’s cramped videotape show from the early eighties, our son is every bit as thrilled and excited by Into the Labyrinth as anything else we watch. This time out, the immortal wizard Rothgo recalls his three young friends for more trips in time because the witch Balor has created a counter to his powerful magical Macguffin. Episode one ends with the Nidus conveniently split into five segments so they can pick up one apiece in episodes two through six.

As we discussed previously, the first series of Into the Labyrinth was shown in the United States on Nickelodeon’s The Third Eye anthology. Series two and three were never purchased by the US. Did it air in Canada, I wonder? Well, kids missed out, because this is full of fights and fisticuffs and magical powers and villains turning into bats. While the grownups cringed at what must surely be the fakest fake bat in the long and storied history of fake bats, our favorite eight year-old critic had no problem at all with it.

Episode one is twenty-five minutes of hit-the-ground-running mayhem set in Asgard. Episode two was a bit long-winded for him – in 1606, Rothgo is incarnated as Guy Fawkes, and his long, long, long secret discussion with the king did not make a lick of sense to him and went on forever – but it had some special effects and surprises eventually. Actually, the nicest surprise was the first installment opening with some location work around some stone circle or other. Unfortunately everything else is in that redressed cave set, but for a couple of minutes, it looked pleasingly different.

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Into the Labyrinth 1.1 – Rothgo / 1.2 – The Circle

Into the Labyrinth was a popular adventure series for children that ran for three series in 1981 and 1982. It was made for the HTV network and produced by Patrick Dromgoole, who had worked behind the scenes on a few other neat programs that we’ve watched for the blog: Children of the Stones, The Clifton House Mystery, and Sky. We’ve got another one of his HTV kid shows on the agenda for later in the summer, but sadly one that I really wanted to see, The Georgian House, is only partially available. Four of its seven episodes are missing.

So what’s this one about? Well, in the present day, three kids find a weakened old wizard trapped in a cave. His name is Rothgo and he explains that another wizard has separated him from his source of power, an object called the Nidus. Rothgo conjures up a labyrinth that will send the children to various points in history to try and find the Nidus, but the other wizard, who is a woman named Balor, is already at work in each time zone to, all together now, deny them the Nidus.

I first read about this series in Roger Fulton’s Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction and thought it sounded interesting, particularly as several notable writers, including Bob Baker, worked on it. He did the pilot, and Andrew Payne wrote the second part. Later I learned that these first seven episodes made their way to America and were shown in rotation with Children of the Stones and three other serials on Nickelodeon’s The Third Eye, about which more another time. Later still, I learned that even among low budget shows, Into the Labyrinth has a reputation for being made for no freaking money whatsoever. What budget there was must have gone to pay for the actors playing the wizards, Ron Moody and Pamela Salem. There’s cheap, and there’s Sid and Marty Krofft are making four shows for three networks cheap, and then there’s Into the Labyrinth, which uses precisely one large redressed set across two episodes, and doesn’t even find room for any other speaking parts in the first.

I tease, but so far, this hasn’t really thrilled me. It’s early hours, and I suspect there’s better to come, but Ron Moody is incredibly unsympathetic for the supposed good guy of the piece, those kids should have bolted for the hills and not looked back, and defeating the challenge of the druid episode was too easy. Our kid liked it a little more than I did, but he wasn’t thrilled either. The visuals had him sighing “That looks fake” early on, and he pronounced “Well, I guess this is the cliffhanger” with about the same enthusiasm as reaching the halfway point on a very long car trip. Happily, episode two fared better. He liked a magical duel between the wizards on an “astral plane,” and the surprising magical comeuppance of their druid foe had him guffawing.

I had compared this show’s format, and how we’ll watch it, to The Feathered Serpent, as it is three serials that we’ll watch with several weeks break between each one. An hour or so later, I asked what he thought and he said “I like it a lot better than The Feathered Serpent!” I don’t even begin to agree, but he’s the target audience and we’ll take his word for it. More from the past in a few days.

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Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden (parts three and four)

It’s not often that the climax of a Doctor Who undermines everything to quite the degree this one does. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice to have a Bob Baker script that doesn’t fall apart after episode one. This one waits until the fourth. But even before we get there, we have to contend with the Mandrels, who don’t rank on anybody’s list of favorite Who beasts. Some newspaper critic back in ’79 called them refugees from The Muppet Show, and he’s right. Tom Baker could have played this scene with Sweetums and Doglion, plus a laugh track, and it wouldn’t have looked any sillier.

Then there’s one of Tom’s most ill-advised ad-libs. You get used to Tom overacting and doing whatever he wants for a laugh in this period of the show, because it usually works at least a little. And so we get to the infamous incident where, offscreen, he’s being attacked by a Mandrel and bellows “My fingers, my arms… my everything!” and emerges with his clothes in tatters. It did get a big smile from our seven year-old son, who enjoyed the mayhem, but it completely undermined the simple moment just ninety-some seconds later when he just quietly says “Go away” to the villain. You can’t play the same page as both a pantomime and as a serious drama. The bigger will always overpower the smaller, which helps to explain why this story is so poorly regarded.

The villain doesn’t help matters much. I’m not sure whether it’s Lewis Fiander’s silly attempt at a German accent or his silly Roger McGuinn granny glasses that undermines the character more.

I think you can see a little more of Douglas Adams in this serial than in the previous one. The concept of two spaceships warping into each other and occupying the same space is a pleasantly high-SF idea, and the two customs officers who start complicating the story at the end of part two are bureaucracy-obsessed cousins of Shooty and Bang-Bang from Hitch-Hiker’s Guide. (They’re also the spiritual ancestors of the Caretakers in the 1987 serial “Paradise Towers,” I think.)

But credit where it’s due: this was Bob Baker’s last contribution to Doctor Who after writing or co-writing eight serials over ten seasons. Among other credits after this, he co-created Into the Labyrinth for HTV and wrote a few episodes of the long-running cop show Bergerac before finding his biggest success as writer for the Wallace & Gromit films.

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