Tag Archives: cliffhanger

Doctor Who: The Invasion (part six)

I just wanted to note this time that the very memorable cliffhanger of the Cybermen coming down the steps with St. Paul’s Cathedral behind them would have been even better had they held the shot for about another five seconds, and had they somehow, some way, twisted somebody’s arm and got a high-end 35 mm camera to shoot it, instead of this grotty old 16 mm stuff. That’s the case with everything, I know, but this is such a neat and lovely scene, one of the iconic moments of Doctor Who‘s black and white years, and it’s over so quickly and you can’t help but wish it looked as good as it sounds.

On that note, the music for “The Invasion” was by a guy named Don Harper, and it’s really amazing. Harper played with Dave Brubeck when he wasn’t composing film and television scores, was a pioneer in electronic music, and his work has been sampled by the likes of Gorillaz and Danger Mouse. It’s so good that I honestly wish that he scored every Doctor Who story, except for the two that Geoffrey Burgon did.

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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part one)

This morning, we watched the TARDIS leave our universe for an opaque white void, for a really budget-conscious episode. From a production standpoint, it’s really fun. As you may recall, the previous story had been cut from six episodes to five, but all the actors and set designers and the like still had to be paid for all six. The lost episode was appended to “The Mind Robber” as a “prologue,” but it had to be made as cheaply as possible. That meant the script editor, Derrick Sherwin, had to write it himself rather than paying for a freelance teleplay, and the director, David Maloney, had only one extra speaking part (voiced off camera), blank and featureless flat walls and floor for the void outside the TARDIS, no music, and four robot costumes that somebody dug out of a closet.

The robots had actually been made about two years previously for an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s short story “Reason.” Retitled “The Prophet,” it was made for the BBC’s SF anthology Out of the Unknown in 1966. The BBC junked the tape, as they did all too often, but the surviving publicity photos show that the robots were black in that production. A lick of grey and white paint and some new polygon chest units and they were all set to scare the pants off children in a different show.

The tone in this episode is one of weird psychological menace, as some unseen force is tempting our heroes into the void. Our son was balled up under a blanket, whispering “this is too scary,” and crawling up into Mommy’s lap as the White Robots hypnotized Jamie and Zoe.

The cliffhanger is remembered as one of the all-time classics. The TARDIS is seen to break apart in the blackness of space, leaving Zoe and Jamie hanging onto the console as it slowly vanishes into… someplace. That sent our kid behind the sofa. We’ll see what happens next tomorrow morning…

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Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (part one)

I had been wondering whether, when the great big Martian Ice Warrior that some scientists find in the glacier starts to come back to life in the big base that’s about to be under siege, our son would think it was creepy enough to send him behind the sofa. It was! Just as the end credits started over this memorable cliffhanger, he stood up and gingerly walked behind us for safety. It didn’t faze him too much, but he announced “that was so scary when the monster started moving its arm! And instead of an arm, he had a claw!”

“The Ice Warriors” is the third serial from Doctor Who‘s fifth season, shown in November and December 1967. “The Abominable Snowmen,” the second, is largely missing. The story is by Brian Hayles, who had written two serials for William Hartnell’s Doctor, and many other TV episodes and films like Warlords of Atlantis, which I hope we’ll watch for this blog one day. (I need to land a copy!) It’s directed by Derek Martinus and includes in its cast three really big guest stars: Peter Barkworth, who was in between seasons of the successful ATV drama The Power Game, Peter Sallis, who would later co-star in a hundred seasons of the comedy Last of the Summer Wine, and Bernard Bresslaw, about whom more in another chapter.

Anybody interested in some really clever additional reading about Doctor Who should check out the first six volumes of About Time by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles, published by Mad Norwegian. The books really try to place Who in a contemporary cultural context, and the authors constantly come up with really interesting observations that I’d have never caught. Here’s a great one: Who fans tend to just think of this story as the first of four serials featuring the big Ice Warriors, but that’s not what this was at the time. The Martians that we meet are secondary to this story’s real plot, which is the dynamic between Barkworth’s character, an overworked scientist-bureaucrat, and Sallis’s character, a computer expert upon whom everyone and everything relies, but who stormed off six weeks ago to take his chances outside the base. Miles and Wood suggest that Barkworth was cast because of his work in The Power Game, which was the sort of human drama that producer Innes Lloyd really wanted to make. I may be watching the interplay of these characters more closely, and paying a little less attention to Bresslaw and the Ice Warriors this time around.

But also of great note: the hilarious exchange between Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling just before the cliffhanger. Because they’re in a 1967 vision of the future, everybody wears rubber costumes, and all the ladies are in miniskirts. Jamie starts talking about the fashion, to Victoria’s displeasure, and then cheekily wonders aloud whether his prim-and-proper friend might like to wear something like that. “We will now change the subject,” she replies.

About Victoria: this story immediately follows the events of “The Abominable Snowmen,” which in turn seemed to closely follow “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” There seems to be some consensus that “Tomb” is set right after the story that introduced her, “The Evil of the Daleks.” I don’t buy it, and here’s why. Certainly “Tomb”s opening scene in the TARDIS is immediately after “Evil,” because the Doctor and Jamie are introducing her to the ship, but I think that there must be a gap before they join the expedition in “Tomb.” See, there’s a bit in part three where the Doctor asks Victoria whether she is happy with them. Not one single decent thing has happened to her in that hour of screen time. I like to suppose that they spent a few weeks traveling and not getting into danger, seeing some beautiful sights and actually having a great time before the poor orphan started getting guns shoved in her face and locked in weird closets. Otherwise she would have been more likely to reply “No, I am most certainly not,” you know?

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Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen (part two)

It’s one of the all-time great cliffhangers: the Cybermen have been awakened, and the foolish, villainous Eric Klieg is yelling at their leader, ranting about how they will obey him, and the leader grabs him by the arm and shoves him to the ground. Then, in a dispassionate electronic buzz, the leader says “YOU BELONG TO UZZZZ. YOU ZHALL BE LIKE UZZZZ.” It’s a brilliant moment.

And it was ever so slightly derailed tonight when our son curled his lip and announced “I couldn’t even understand what the Cyberman was saying!” I guess we’ll definitely have to have the subtitles on when we meet the Planner in season six…

To be perfectly fair, the moment was slightly spoiled some years ago when I worked in the insurance business. There is – or was – a broker in Columbus GA who handled some life and disability products, and who had a voice box installed. By chance it was tuned to precisely the same pitch and modulation and tone as the one that Peter Hawkins used to voice the Cybermen in this story. The man was constantly on the warpath about nitpicky, easily-corrected nothings that nevertheless drove him to threats of yanking business because, to give one petty example, a large package of policies once arrived at a group in three envelopes rather than two. One of my co-workers asked me what the heck his problem was, and I explained that the broker was, in fact, an emotionless cyborg from the ice tombs on Telos, here to harvest our organs and make us into creatures like him. After I said that, I got stuck with him. “Grant, what’s your extension? That Cyberman’s on line three!”

And yes, that’s right, Columbus GA. A Cyberman was working in the very city where Patrick Troughton died.

I forgot to mention yesterday that “The Tomb of the Cybermen” is the first of four Doctor Who stories to feature Cyril Shaps in a guest role. Shaps appeared in so many shows that I enjoy, like The Sweeney, Spyder’s Web, Department S, and The Saint. I really like how his character is constantly on the edge of total meltdown while his boss, Professor Parry, is so laid back and relaxed about their situation. They make a great double-act, and it’s a shame that Klieg guns him down.

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Batman 2.55 – Black Widow Strikes Again

So here’s the one and only scrap between the Dynamic Duo and Miss Max Black, Widow, who is played by Miss Tallulah Bankhead – that is how she’s credited onscreen, “Miss Tallulah Bankhead” – and it’s pretty awful and not as amusing as it thinks it is, other than a reference to a company called Black Widow Weeds Removal Service. In the 1920s and ’30s, Tallulah Bankhead, native of Huntsville AL, was probably among the most beautiful women on the planet, but years of boozing and smoking – legend held that she smoked two entire cartons a day – had done their work on her. By age 65, she looked three times that and sounded worse.

Really, the most interesting thing about this story from a world-building perspective is that it’s established that Black Widow is a villain from Gotham’s long-distant past. Commissioner Gordon remembers her, but tells Chief O’Hara that her last caper was before his time. And the most interesting thing from a “hey, I’m looking at old TV” perspective is that one of her henchmen, shown on the right in the picture above, is Michael Lane, who’d later play Frank on The Monster Squad, and that the teller, below, is Walker Edmiston.

Edmiston, of course, many people know of for his voiceover work. He did character voices for the Kroffts, for Hasbro, for Keebler, for everybody, before donning a costume and playing Enik on Land of the Lost. I’ve always been curious what he looked like without lots of makeup – he actually did an on-camera role on that show before he played Enik, but looked so odd that one of my cousins could have played that role and I wouldn’t recognize him or her – and so there you go, that’s Walker Edmiston.

Black Widow’s hideout is underneath an old house, and she has two lifelike dummies on the porch to shoo away any snoopers. When I was a kid, those old folks unnerved me incredibly. But Daniel watched the whole thing without incident until Black Widow traps our heroes in a web (of course) and unpacks two ginormous spiders about the size of softballs, which prompted a gasp and a desperate clutch of the security blanket. The props people didn’t even try to make these look alive or dangerous, but when you’re four, “realistic” isn’t the problem; it’s that they exist at all.

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Batman 2.49 – Catwoman Goes to College

So of course, happy tender moments like the one shown here never last. Robin rushes in and spoils Batman and Catwoman’s milkshake date with the news that the police are after our hero! Stanley Adams, whom we saw a couple of months ago in a Ghost Busters episode, and who would get to have his pair of iconic guest star roles in Star Trek and in Lost in Space in the next TV season, has this very oddball guest part as Captain Courageous, an officer on exchange from Los Angeles who has never heard of Batman, and arrests him because twenty eyewitnesses saw him rob a supermarket.

This is all part of Catwoman’s plan, of course, to get him out of the way while she leads a student riot, and slips away in the confusion to steal some jewels. Things don’t go quite as planned, there’s a Batfight, and the episode ends with our heroes tied up in a giant coffee cup on a motorized billboard, with sulfuric acid about to be poured over them.

So yes, this is a suddenly silly installment for Catwoman, and it has one of the funniest moments in the series, when Bruce Wayne knows that the Batphone is about to ring, and just pauses with his hand above the receiver. I had to pause the DVD from laughing.

Daniel was in little mood for any of this tomfoolery, especially Batman and Catwoman sharing a milkshake. The boy just cannot stand the mushy stuff.

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Batman 2.47 – The Joker’s Last Laugh

Can we get a round of applause for that car? Holy anna, what a car! It has a Rolls-Royce grill and ornament! The car was originally built by George Barris for the 1966 Elvis movie Easy Come, Easy Go, and modified for use here. It will make at least one more appearance in this series, in a season three episode. The car has since been de-Jokerified and returned to its original construction for the Elvis movie, and you can see some museum photos of it at Driving Line.

We have no real idea what the Joker’s plan in this episode is so far. Apparently he wants to use robots and counterfeit money to find the Batcave, but this plan gets derailed when his first effort to find it fumbles, and then Bruce Wayne, acting as though he’s bankrupt and about to be jailed for embezzling from his foundation, stumbles into the Joker’s hideout, desperate to use his printing press. So whatever the Joker was going to do next, it’s on hold.

There’s a really cute moment here when Batman knows that the Joker is following him back to the Batcave – Batman has one of the deactivated robots in the trunk – and he activates a fake beacon that instead leads the Joker to a small scale model of the Batcave entrance, labeled and everything. Underneath the model is a note reading “Laugh, criminals, laugh!”

Daniel hated the cliffhanger to this episode. He never likes it when Robin’s in danger, but this time, Robin has to fight alone, because Bruce Wayne is pretending to be on the Joker’s side. This was an amazingly poor plan. Bruce tries to reason with the Joker, saying he was willing to become a counterfeiter, but not a murderer, to no avail. Daniel did a really good job sitting still tonight, but he knew those robots were dangerous and did not like the idea of Robin fighting without help from Batman!

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Batman 2.38 – The Joker’s Hard Times

Cesar Romero always looked like he was having the time of his life as the Joker. As part two of this story goes on and the Joker’s crimes get ever more ridiculous, it just looks like he’s having so much fun. At one point, he steals a police car and starts giving out fake sightings of the truck that everybody is looking for. This wasn’t part of his plan, just some improvised chaos. I understand that the modern, bloodthirsty depiction of the character has fans, but this guy’s the real Joker.

This episode ends with the very surprise twist that it is not yet finished. For the first time, the formula gets the big changeup of a third episode. I have thought for years that the producers might have intended to sell compilation films of the three-part adventures as movies in Europe and Central and South America, like MGM did with all those Man from UNCLE movies, and as Fox would do with The Green Hornet after Bruce Lee died, but I’ve never actually seen any evidence that these actually happened.

This part concludes with one of the most surprising cliffhangers in the whole series: somehow, the Joker has got his hands on a gigantic man-eating clam, and drops Batman, Robin, and the traitorous Terry Moore into its tank.

The other theory that’s been temporarily sidelined is that giant clam prop might have come from an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I can’t find any evidence for that, but what I don’t know about Voyage would fill a huge, huge book. In the third season, however, a costume from an episode of Lost in Space did get repainted and recycled for this series.

Last night, I mentioned that it had been quite some time since Daniel got frightened by one of the cliffhangers. He’d been hissing and growling at the Joker all through the episode, while also paying close attention and being very well behaved, but that giant clam just did him in. He grabbed his security blanket and raced behind the sofa, horrified, and only popped his head up for a split second to see that the beast had gobbled Robin. We didn’t mention the clam again this evening.

Actually, now that I type it, he did hide his head under his blanket to avoid looking at an earlier scene where Terry Moore, all soft-focus and goo-goo eyes, got all romantic and mushy with the Caped Crusader. Yuck, that’s even worse than giant clams!

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