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Warlords of Atlantis (1978)

I remember watching Warlords of Atlantis about a hundred times when I was a kid, but I don’t quite remember all the endless walking, walking, walking around. It’s the fourth and final collaboration between director Kevin Connor and actor Doug McClure. Every summer from 1975-78, McClure flew to Europe and made another movie with rubber monsters, character actors, and lots of explosions. We’ve watched the other three for our blog already. Warlords of Atlantis is oddly not easily available in Region 1, but I picked up StudioCanal’s British DVD pretty cheap a while back.

Of the four, Warlords of Atlantis is a whole lot better than the previous year’s People That Time Forgot, but it’s not a particularly original piece of cinema. The screenplay by Brian Hayles has some interesting ideas – Martians have been living underwater for centuries and periodically kidnap the most intelligent humans they can find to further their goals of advancing our civilization through technology used in war – but the long core of the film is the heroes being captured, sitting around a cell until they realize a cruel and ignoble fate awaits them, and then escaping and going on a long, long road back home.

In the meantime, there are giant monsters, and some of them are pretty amusing. I do love the way that Connor and his visual effects team nearly perfected the art of a great big rubber claw to menace the actors while the rest of the beast is rear-projected into the background. Other effects, including a bit where stagehands fling some “flying fish” at our heroes, are a little less effective.

Shane Rimmer, who was left to twiddle his thumbs for most of People, has a meatier role in this story as the skipper of the Texas Rose. He’s been hired to bring this scientific expedition to the Bermuda Triangle in 1896 – of course they had to come to the Bermuda Triangle, it was the seventies – but when McClure and Peter Gilmore bring up a huge statue made from solid gold, he’ll have a mutiny on his hands from his greedy crew. John Ratzenberger, who would later find fame as Cliff in Cheers, is one of the evildoers.

Speaking of television, there’s even a wink at Doug McClure’s old series Barbary Coast, which I still think we might check out one of these days.

Our son has picked up an annoying habit of under-his-breath commentary, but he enjoyed the movie quite a lot, as he should. It’s certainly geared to the six-to-eleven bracket. When one of our heroes meets a gruesome end, he grumbled that the monster wasn’t eating fast enough and there was only room in its mouth for one person at a time. There are explosions and gunfights and desperate bids for freedom, and not one but two attacks from a super-intelligent mutant octopus, but the main thing our kid was worried about was whether Shane Rimmer’s cute Siamese cat would make it out okay.

Of all things, that reminded me of another movie from 1978, Jennifer, the horror film about the psychic snake-handling girl. The cat in that movie doesn’t make it out okay. I think we’ll skip that one…

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part six)

Well, that was certainly flawed, but that’s a much better story than its poor reputation suggests. Anybody who thinks it’s actually worse than “Death to the Daleks” is as wrong as it’s possible to be. Our son was laughing and cheering all throughout this episode as the Ice Warriors are routed. He really enjoyed this one, and says that after being a little confused in the middle of the story, he loved the ending. Like “Dinosaurs,” it certainly should have been a four-parter. I’m predisposed to enjoy anything with Ice Warriors, and from a structural standpoint, the story’s biggest problem is treading water until they show up. It does begin and end well.

Another problem is a cosmetic one. Marie mentioned how she was constantly distracted by the weird paint job on Commander Azaxyr’s helmet, and she’s right. It’s meant to suggest the mottled skin of his jaw, but she’s right: it looks like they had a light green plastic helmet and not enough dark green paint to give it a solid coat. Disbelief is never suspended long enough to stop thinking that.

And Peladon itself remains one of the least convincing alien environments in the history of the series. After ten episodes, we never saw any of the court officials that are mentioned, never visited a banquet hall, receiving room, private royal chambers, museums, public hall of worship, or saw any historical artifacts or paintings on the walls, or anything that says “this belongs to the planet” other than the small throne room, a private shrine, and a corridor or two. Most bafflingly, we never see an actual entrance to the citadel that the people of Peladon would actually use under regular conditions. The only way anybody moves from one environment – the castle – to the second one – the tunnels and mines – is through a secret entrance which, in the first story, the king didn’t believe existed.

Bizarrely, the king didn’t know anything about the tunnels, but in this one, we learn there’s a whacking huge hole in the back of the throne room that connects with them! King Peladon never noticed a draft?

Somehow, though, Peladon caught fans’ imagination in a crazy way. I swear, once upon a time, there must have been more fanfic set on Peladon than any other planet in the show. I should know; I wrote one of them myself. I was fourteen or fifteen, it was called “The Attack on Peladon,” and it had the fourth Doctor and Leela in it. I struggled to have the Doctor explain his different face to Alpha Centauri, as did writer Gary Russell, whose professionally-published novel Legacy for Virgin Books’ New Adventures line covered the same Aggedor-Centauri-Ice Warriors footsteps as a hundred amateur stories.

Peladon was the last contribution to the series for writer Brian Hayles, who moved on to other screenwriting jobs after this adventure. One of his best known films is Warlords of Atlantis, which we plan to watch in 2018. And it’s also, strangely, the final appearance of the Ice Warriors for an extremely long time. They won’t trouble the next seven Doctors! They appeared in four serials over seven seasons. That’s tied with the Daleks for second place behind the Master. That’s partially the list-making kid in me coming out, but I mention it to illustrate how odd it was that they vanished from the show, even understanding that the program’s next two producers would turn out to be far less interested in revisiting old enemies than other people in that job. They went from reliably showing up every couple of years to almost totally forgotten.

We were spared a return visit in 1986. “The Trial of a Time Lord” replaced six stories that were in various stages of pre-production. One of these was a misbegotten mess called “Mission to Magnus,” and the Ice Warriors were one of at least three villains in it. The writer novelized his script for Target Books’ The Missing Episodes line in 1990. I only read it once, but wanted to throw it across the room. Another return visit, “Thin Ice,” was in the planning stages when Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989. The Warriors finally returned in 2013’s “Cold War,” and I enjoyed the heck out of that one. They deserved better than a thirty-nine year wait. We had comics and novels to tide us over, and Big Finish have made radio plays of those two cancelled stories along with a half-dozen or more other Ice Warrior adventures, but these guys should have been on TV.

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part five)

Television: they used to do things a little differently. The BBC announced Jon Pertwee’s departure the second week of February 1974, about when part five of this story was in production, the day that part five of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” was shown. One week later, 40 year-old Tom Baker was announced as the new Doctor. He’d be in the studio taping his regeneration scene on April 2, and began rehearsals for his debut adventure about a week later. Audiences got their first glimpse of the new Doctor’s face in the closing seconds of Pertwee’s final episode, shown on June 8. Baker’s first story would be held over to the next season. February announcement – June regeneration – December debut.

Fast forward forty-three years. Peter Capaldi announced he was leaving the show on January 30th of this year. Jodie Whittaker was revealed as the next Doctor more than five months later, on July 16. She filmed her half of the regeneration scene three days after that. The episode was shown on December 25th, and we’re not sure when series eleven will start, although there’s talk it will be September of next year. I will miss Capaldi and I am looking forward to Whittaker, but this twenty month process is for the birds.

I hope Whittaker plays the Doctor for a really long time – after all these “three series and a special” Doctors, I want her to beat Tom’s record – but whenever it’s time for the Fourteenth Doctor, whoever’s producing the show and managing the brand and acquiring corporate synergy for BBC/ESPN/Comcast/Warner Brothers/AT&T LLC (a wholly-owned subsidiary of GodCorp/Disney Inc. under license from NetAmazonFlix) should look back at the comparatively simple process of 1974 and conclude “That’s the right way.”

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part four)

Most film and TV people have to fake it a little, and make a handful of costumes represent dozens of characters. The problem here is that the BBC had three and a half Ice Warrior costumes. You see that fellow on the right? He’s the Bubblehead Warrior. That head had been sitting in storage since the Ice Warriors’ first appearance seven years previously. Now, you can’t tell the other three actors’ costumes apart, so any of those guys will do for any closeups, but the director keeps bringing the Bubblehead in for closeups in these last three parts. I don’t understand why Lennie Mayne did this. Don’t draw attention to the one that is a) the most distinctive and b) the most obviously crap. That seems like a simple enough plan!

When I read Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles’ About Time, I had a good belly laugh over an observation. Commander Azaxyr is stomping around in a helmet with only his square jaw visible, giving lines like “You forget, Doctor, I am your judge,” and “Must I remind you, Ambassador, here on Peladon, I am the law!” He’s like a proto-Judge Dredd! That’s exactly what I thought when I first saw this story on WGTV in 1986 or so, and I dashed off some fan art and mailed it to 2000 AD. I drew the commander, gave him a judge’s badge, and a word balloon that read “Here on Peladon-City One, I am the law!”

Last I checked, I was in the top five for having the most letters printed in 2000 AD, but I don’t have any art credits on the input page. I’m sure the Tharg of the time – probably Steve MacManus? – turned it down because it was a reference to a very obscure character who had been on TV for three weeks some twelve years previously and never repeated in Britain, and not because my art completely stinks. That’s the reason, right, Green Bonce?

This episode ends with the umpteenth swordfight we’ve watched recently. This time, Ralph Watson matches blades with Jon Pertwee, and, painfully obviously, Pertwee’s double Terry Walsh. It’s a good fight, but I felt the need to assure our son that in the real world, people just don’t get into swordfights anywhere near as often as they do on television. My wife added that she took fencing in college and so she’s had a few matches herself. I don’t think that’s quite the same, but maybe we should buy a nice blade for a wall decoration, just in case she needs to take it down and defend our home against fanatic miners, Hellfire Clubbers, or renegade Time Lords.

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (parts two and three)

I’ve got a theory about why “The Monster of Peladon” isn’t very highly regarded. Most of the six-part Pertwee stories are too long, as I keep saying. But most of them start strong and peter out as they go, unable to keep the momentum and padding parts four and five. But “Monster” has the problem of episodes two and three being the completely unnecessary ones.

The whole story is built up to the surprise reveal of the Ice Warriors at the end of the third part, so we’re going to get three episodes of Alan Bennion being entertaining – at least I remember him being entertaining – as Commander Azaxyr when we resume this story in a couple of days. But we could have been introduced to the refinery and Alpha Centauri phoning home for Federation troops in part one and shoved out alllllll this padding and had one lean, mean, awesome first episode instead.

As for the content of that padding, “Curse” had Geoffrey Toone as a believable obstacle to the protagonists, the high priest Hepesh. His replacement, Ortron, just seems to be an antagonist for no reason beyond putting audience sympathy with the miners. And because he has to be evil and obstinate for fully half the story and repeatedly block the Doctor, who spends most of episode three in Ortron’s dungeon, there’s absolutely no reason not to sympathize with the miners. The queen is so weak that she needs Sarah Jane to explain women’s lib to her – ah, 1974, never change – and as the plot reveals that the miners have moved some stolen Federation technology into position and have the power to destroy the Peladonian citadel, I’m not sure why we shouldn’t all be cheering them on.

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part one)

Weird aliens in the throne room? We must be back on Peladon! That’s Vega Nexos in the picture above, a mining engineer from a race of satyrs. Fifty years after the first Peladon adventure, Vega Nexos is working on Peladon with our old pal Alpha Centauri and an Earthman named Eckersley, played by Donald Gee. Vega Nexos is only in three scenes and gets killed before the seven minute mark of episode one, but the character was oddly included on some very popular Doctor Who merchandising in the 1970s, leading thousands of British kids to scratch their heads and wonder what the heck story this guy was in.

“The Monster of Peladon” is nobody’s favorite Pertwee adventure, but it starts well enough. Not content with reassembling costumes and sets from the original Peladon story, this one also brings back writer Brian Hayles and director Lennie Mayne. Mayne cast Rex Robinson, whom he’d used before and would use again in Who, in the role of the leader of the miners, and that’s where this episode’s conflict lies. Interestingly, the miners on Peladon are either a separate race or a separate caste, and are forbidden to enter that giant citadel on the mountain despite doing all the Federation’s dirty work.

So when a “spirit of Aggedor” starts materializing and murdering miners, there’s a revolution brewing. Last time out, the high priest was in league with the alien Arcturus. This time out, there’s a high priest who, just like his predecessor, doesn’t trust anybody and worships old gods, and a monarch, the daughter of the king we met last time, who has faith in the future. This is good, but it could have been better, or at least felt a great deal less like a retread, had their roles been reversed.

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Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon (part four)

Happily, the frighteners that the monsters put on our son over the last two sessions wore off for the all-action finale of this story. He really enjoyed the sword fight, which features about a dozen men. It’s honestly not shot particularly well – though in fairness, it must be amazingly difficult to choreograph so many people in a three-camera studio videotape situation – but the action is pretty impressive.

Perhaps less impressive, from his perspective, is the mushiness between Jo and King Peladon, the first of a few fellows that Jo meets on her travels to get her heart a-flutter. Katy Manning and David Troughton have a very nice chemistry together, and I really enjoy her performance as the king tries to persuade her to stay with him. The best little scene, however, is when the two Ice Warriors silently menace Alpha Centauri into changing its vote, and the weird eyeball alien lowers its eye sadly and raises three of its tentacles. Pretty terrific body language for such a ridiculous and ungainly costume!

“The Curse of Peladon” is certainly a well-paced script, even if I really think that the story badly needs to actually see the court officials that it mentions in passing. Sometimes you see people moan that Doctor Who needed more money spent on it, but that’s usually from the perspective of viewers who don’t like the special effects. This is a story where I wish the budget had run to bigger sets and more speaking parts. It’s not great Who, but it’s an entertaining little adventure.

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Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon (parts two and three)

Like a lot of classic Who, “The Curse of Peladon” aims far above its limitations. One of these is the simplicity of the sets. Sure, they look like nice corridors, and they’re actually lit well, which certainly wasn’t always the case in the videotape era, but they insist on looking like the throne room and the delegates’ conference rooms are separated by about twenty feet. A major part of the script involves Hepesh keeping knowledge about a network of subterranean tunnels and secret passages from the king. Twice, the story has the opportunity to change direction completely if King Peladon will just walk down the hall and check out the Doctor’s claim that there are hidden doors in the place. Frankly, everything here would make a whole heck of a lot more sense if he did that. Even if the writer, Brian Hayles, were to insist that the entrance is about a mile’s walk away, then the king should still want to do that. Since the designer and director don’t convince me that the entrance isn’t as far away as the man’s own bedroom, it’s even more ridiculous.

The other thing is with the aliens. Now, if you’re six, all these weird beasties are unbelievably effective. Our son has told us that this is one of the scariest Doctor Who stories ever, because it’s not only got a hairy monster who lives under the citadel, but all these freaky alien delegates: the Ice Warriors, Alpha Centauri, and Arcturus. From modern eyes, the delegates are all remarkably garish and plastic, colored in bright Sherwin-Williams green and yellow. About Time contrasts their artificial green with the deep blues and purples of the Peladonian court clothes and calls the result, not unreasonably, “glam rock.” Like “The Claws of Axos” the year before, this is television for British viewers in 1972 who’ve bought their first color television set and want to see something they’ve never seen before. Everything here looks like Roy Wood and Mott the Hoople on Top of the Pops, and the next story is going to look comparatively restrained, but it will sound like Roxy Music’s first album.

I said above that the corridors are lit well, but the monsters aren’t. Arcturus’s tank has a big reflective surface behind his wet globe which shows blue-white strobes from the lights, as does the back of the Ice Warrior’s shell, emphasizing the materials and the paint used to construct it in a spotlight. The result from modern grownup eyes is a constant punch in the ol’ suspension of disbelief gene. (Similarly, there’s a story in season fourteen set in a primitive hut without electricity and I just can’t stop staring at the studio lights reflecting off one actor’s bald head.) But the grownups in 1972 who’d made the investment in a color set had never seen anything like this before, and apparently found the visuals incredibly compelling. And the kids in the audience, once they’d peeked out from behind the sofa to see the Doctor scratching the hairy monster behind the ears, they’re every bit as convinced.

Gah. I like this story, honestly I do, but when the Doctor’s telling the king and Hepesh that he’s been scratching the royal monster behind the ears and Hepesh is yelling “Sacrilege,” any intelligent king would turn to his high priest and say “We are amazed that you, of all people, do not wish to verify this remarkable claim. We would see this supposed animal and these caves for ourselves. Lead the way, Doctor.”

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