MacGyver 5.1 and 5.2 – Legend of the Holy Rose (parts one and two)

Since our son really enjoys MacGyver, Marie and I picked eight more episodes to watch from the show’s fifth season. We’re still watching these deeply disappointing DVDs that look like their source for “digitally remastering” was a third-gen copy on a crappy BASF tape recorded on EP speed, but if you enjoy MacGyver, help is on the way. Season one was released on Blu-ray in October and the results are absolutely amazing. Seriously, look at this. I don’t care enough about the show to invest right now, but if you’re a fan, these new editions are a must.

And speaking of not caring… “Legend of the Holy Rose” was the two-part season premiere, shown across two weeks in September of 1989. Richard Dean Anderson needed a haircut in the worst possible way, but part two of this adventure isn’t bad at all. It’s a treasure hunt story, with Lise Cutter as yet another old friend of MacGyver’s that we’ve never heard of before. Interestingly, she’s also an old friend of Jack Dalton’s as well. Cutter went on to star in one of my favorite guilty pleasures when I was in my twenties, a CBS PI show called Dangerous Curves, but I picked this one because Christopher Neame plays the villain, and he’s great fun.

Part two is pretty good, but this really doesn’t start off very promisingly. After an amusing little throwback to the “opening gambits” from season one, things go on with Cutter’s deeply annoying character for ages, and then the producers pretend that they’re overseas in the “merrie olde England” variety of London. You may recall that in the mid-eighties, it was briefly fashionable for American dramas to do the obligatory episode set in the UK. Or maybe it wasn’t all that fashionable, because I can really only remember Magnum PI and Remington Steele actually going to the UK to make episodes. MacGyver didn’t have the budget to do this, but they tried pulling it off with some stock footage and two of the most screamingly, hilariously poor performances I can remember. This one actress wouldn’t have been less believable had she turned to the camera and shouted “It’s a jolly ‘oliday wiv you, Murry Poppins!”

But eventually, we get to another part of British Columbia that’s pretending to be a rural area in France for the last big treasure dig and it’s really entertaining. And part two has an incredibly novel and amusing resolution to a memorable cliffhanger where MacGyver’s chained up underneath a big “pit and the pendulum” machine in a chamber of horrors. You’d have thought the museum’s insurance agency would have told them they can’t have an actual giant axe swinging from the rafters. Our son was a little annoyed with us for making him wait about four hours between episodes, but the way MacGyver shut the axe down was clever enough that I think he forgave us.

Doctor Who: Shada (parts two through six)

My eyes are still popping out of my head. We picked up the story of “Shada” from where we left off last night, with the original cliffhanger to part one, and enjoyed this presentation so much more. I’ve always liked “Shada” and have watched the 1992 version several times. My only complaint about this edition is that it’s only available as a single feature that lasts two hours and eighteen minutes. I would have preferred they kept the original episodic structure.

All of the original “Shada” recording sessions and film material were retained, so the team who worked on this could go right back to scratch and restore everything as new. The result is absolutely beautiful. Seventies Doctor Who has never looked as good as this. The lengthy animated sections are rudimentary, but what really impressed me was the new model work. They didn’t have the budget in 1992 for the comparatively lavish space station Think Tank that’s seen here.

And yes, it’s a very good story. Not “City of Death” good, true, but had this been completed in 1979, everybody would have said it was the second best production of this troubled season. The Doctor’s initial confrontation with Skagra has always tickled me, and our son completely loved the bicycle chase, all the K9 action, and the mind-control fight of the climax. He thought it was “super exciting” and says that the monstrous Krargs were “awesome.” Then again, we’re clearly not doing our job as residents of Tennessee. During the bike chase, the Doctor races past a vocal group on a street corner singing “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Our son didn’t recognize the song! Sorry, Glenn Miller. I thought it was ubiquitous…

The restored and completed “Shada” will be released in North America in November. That’s all from Doctor Who for now, but we’ll start looking at season eighteen in about three weeks. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Shada (part one)

There may be one or six readers who visit us here at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time who don’t know about “Shada.” For them, briefly, the situation is that Douglas Adams wrote a six-part serial to wrap up his year as script editor for Doctor Who. Actors Denis Carey, Victoria Burgoyne, and Christopher Neame, among others, joined the cast and director Pennant Roberts in Cambridge in October 1979 for location filming. Then they returned to London for what should have been three studio recording sessions. They finished the first, rehearsed the second, and then a years-long dispute between the BBC and one of the technician unions blew up.

The cast were locked out of the studio, it didn’t get resolved in time for other productions on the calendar, the actors’ time-sensitive contracts expired, and the show was formally axed shortly afterward. Adams and the program’s producer, Graham Williams, got to end their time on Who with a story that was cancelled. Some of the film footage was used as “new” material four years later in “The Five Doctors,” and even more of the script was used as “new” material in Adams’ 1987 novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. He also used the climax of “City of Death,” which I always thought was a bit cheeky of him.

In 1992, BBC Video released a “best that could be done” version of “Shada,” with a small budget for some visual effects and editing. It was overseen by the show’s last producer, John Nathan-Turner, and featured music by Keff McCulloch, who evidently didn’t actually watch the visuals that he was scoring, along with an introduction and linking narration by Tom Baker, kind of sort of in character but also wearing a pretty nice suit. This version later made its way to DVD in a three-disc set with a boatload of extras and the fab, feature-length documentary More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS. Tonight, we sat down to enjoy the first twenty-ish minutes of this story in its 1992 incarnation.

And enjoy’s the right word. For ages, with only a fan-assembled compilation of the footage making the bootleg rounds to view, one school of thought in the eighties said that “Shada” was a lost classic, that it was the epic we should have got. Other, much grouchier people pointed out that the two previous “epic” six-part serials that Graham Williams had produced were “The Invasion of Time” and “The Armageddon Factor,” neither of which blew anybody’s mind, and really, why should anybody expect this would have been all that different from “The Horns of Nimon,” which should have been the story that led into “Shada,” and not the season finale it became.

Simple. “City of Death” was, after all, very, very different from “The Horns of Nimon.”

I think that “Shada” is completely wonderful. It’s by leagues the best evidence we’ve got that Pennant Roberts had such a good reputation as a director, because the location work in Cambridge is just fantastic, and the scenes set in Professor Chronotis’s oddball shambles of a room in Cambridge’s St. Cedd’s College are delightful. Not very much happens in part one, but it’s very witty and very fun to watch, and I love Christopher Neame stomping around Cambridge in his sci-fi villain costume and not attracting anybody’s attention. The bit about the inhuman babbling of undergraduates always slays me, and there’s better still to come.

At least I think there is. I haven’t actually seen what comes next. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow morning.

MacGyver 1.12 – Deathlock

Everybody remembers that one episode of McMillan & Wife where they’re trapped in the house with a big pest control bag. This is the MacGyver equivalent, where Mac, his boss Pete (who had been introduced in episode eleven), and guest-star-with-an-obvious secret Wendy Schaal are trapped in what was supposed to be an agency safe house in Los Angeles. Our son wasn’t as pleased with this adventure, written by Stephen Kandel, as the others that we’ve seen. I think his main objection is that MacGyver spends too much time smooching the guest star.

The villain, Quayle, is played by Christopher Neame, a British actor who I believe had only recently moved to America. To me, he’s best known for playing the incredibly entertaining villain Skagra in the never-completed-for-years Doctor Who story “Shada,” but he has a list of credits a mile deep. It looks like Neame will return as different characters later in this series. Shame; Quayle might have made a good recurring baddie.

The opening gambit this time features the most shameless overuse of repurposed footage so far. This time, they pilfered whacking great chunks from the bridge sequence in Funeral in Berlin and cut to some shots of Mac in the casket. I didn’t time it, but I bet three-quarters of that scene is culled from the movie.