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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.7 – To Set a Deadly Fashion

Tony Williamson’s “To Set a Deadly Fashion” is less like The Avengers than it is Batman. Colin Jeavons plays the bad guy, and he’s about as highly-strung as your average Batvillain, not to mention just a little too self-consciously camp. In part that’s to be expected; he’s playing a fashion designer who pronounces “Roger” as “Roget,” when he’s not placing microphone – slash – anti-pacemaker “bombs” in the dresses of the wives of diplomats, only to have his skittish henchmen keep blowing them up.

As always, the Victorian values provide the most hilarious scenes. Adam decides to infiltrate the enemy’s headquarters while posing as a buyer for a large boutique in New Zealand, and arrives just as they’re beginning a show of the season’s newest swimwear. Poor Adam, coming from a time when showing off one’s ankles at the beach would cause a scandal, just about dies from embarrassment. Really, Adam, it’s only girls in bikinis. I don’t think the camera lingered on even a single libidinous ankle shot.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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K9 and Company 1.1 – A Girl’s Best Friend

The only spinoff that made it to the screen during Doctor Who‘s first 26 years was this lone unsold pilot starring Elisabeth Sladen that aired as a Christmas special in 1981. It’s also the first occasion that the show ever gave some screen time to a former companion, as we catch up with Sarah Jane Smith, last seen in 1976’s “The Hand of Fear”.

According to this episode, the Doctor dropped K9 Mark Three off at Sarah Jane’s house in Croydon in 1978. He sat boxed up in an attic while Sarah was off being a journalist, and eventually the crate made its way to the large country house owned by Sarah’s Aunt Lavinia, just in time for Sarah to finally be in the same place as her gift and have a small adventure around some superstitious country folk still a-worshippin’ the “Black Arts” while people start disappearing, including her aunt’s science-obsessed ward Brendon.

(Incidentally, there’s no particular reason to think that the fourth Doctor dropped off a new K9 for his old friend somewhere in the space between “The Keeper of Traken” and “Logopolis,” but that doesn’t stop list-making fans from trying to crowbar it in right there. For all we know, the Doctor assembled Mark Two and Mark Three together, before he even met Romana. Or maybe the next Doctor built him.)

Anyway, despite the presence of notable actors like Bill Fraser and Colin Jeavons, the episode, written by Terence Dudley, has never engaged me much, but we had the actual target audience on the sofa between us, and our favorite seven year-old critic thought this was just fine. It may not be particularly thrilling, and it might lack menace or urgency, but the pace is just perfect for kids this age to chew on the mystery and consider who, other than Jeavons’ character and his leather-jacketed son, is in Hecate’s coven. Of course, he was most pleased with K9’s two action scenes.

The episode got some very respectable ratings – better than season 18 of the parent show, in fact – but there was some changeover of the muckity-mucks in charge at the BBC and more episodes weren’t commissioned. Elisabeth Sladen would have to wait another quarter-century to headline a Who spinoff, but she and K9 would be back in just a couple of years.

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Young Indiana Jones 2.14 – Prague, 1917

As changes of pace go, this one makes the Barcelona episode look deadly serious. It’s a comedy episode where Indy gets an assignment to wait in an apartment for a phone call that’s so important that the law of comedy mandates it will be a bust. Only the apartment’s phone is missing, leading our hero down three days of labyrinthine Czech bureaucracy that’s such a trial that only some assistance from a ministry clerk named Franz Kafka, played by Tim McInnerny, can help.

Before we got started, I gave our son a crash course in what “bureaucracy” is, but the humor in Indy’s weird situation was still way over his head. The middle of the episode was particularly bizarre to him. It’s a tip of the hat to both the original short novel of The Trial and to Orson Welles’ uncomfortable and unpleasant film adaptation from 1962. Fortunately, things devolve into wild physical humor, with filing cabinets crashing down endless staircases and runaway cannons knocking down phone poles. Most of it works, and my son and I both laughed a great deal during the mayhem. Some of it, centered around a dimwit called Colonel Clouseau played by Nickolas Grace, doesn’t come off nearly as well.

This episode was one of those made for ABC but was never shown in the United States. It’s set in August 1917, but as with the Petrograd installment, it was clearly made during a much colder month. There’s even snow on the ground in one establishing shot! There are a pair of shoulda-been-recognizable faces in the cast. Both Colin Jeavons and Bernard Bresslaw are here in parts so tiny they don’t even qualify as “spit and cough parts,” so I didn’t notice either of them at all, unfortunately.

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The Avengers 5.6 – The Winged Avenger

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the Batman show had a huge impact on popular media. It wasn’t just the rush of television series about superheroes, most of which were doomed to fail pretty quickly as the craze faded, but the influence of a bigger-than-life and often deliberate, camp, approach to action and adventure. American shows like Lost in Space, The Man From UNCLE, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea made the move from black and white to color pretty smoothly, but within a year, they were all getting really ridiculous, with unbelievable villains, deathtraps, monsters, and outrageous acting.

The Avengers navigated the bombastic change with a lot more grace than the show’s American counterparts, but they still took the time during this larger-than-life period to parody Batman with this very silly and very fun story by writer Richard Harris about a comic book character – “superhero” doesn’t seem quite right – who has come to life. The Winged Avenger looks like Hawkman wearing a Captain Harlock costume and, while his creators squabble over whether it’s the writer or the artist who is the real genius, their creation stalks the night murdering ruthless businessmen.

“Comic books” like we know them in America didn’t really exist in the UK at the time. Frank Bellamy, who provided the Winged Avenger illustrations, was at the time best known for painting the Thunderbirds strip in TV Century 21, but he’d worked on other large-format anthology “papers” like the Eagle and Look and Learn for more than a decade. There’s a clue in how the script refers to the character as the star of a “picture strip,” which was the typical term in the UK at the time, but the prop comics shown in the episode are American-style, with the Winged Avenger the star of his own 32-page book instead of appearing weekly as a two-page story. Also, the studio setup, with the creators hiring costumed models to pose for the art, is a lot more like what Frank Hampson pioneered for Dan Dare in the Eagle than any shoestring-budget American funnybook company in the sixties.

(For what it’s worth, at this time the actual Batman comic was most commonly seen in the UK by way of hardback annuals that reprinted American issues, while the popular 1960s daily newspaper strip was reformatted and appeared weekly on two pages of Smash! throughout 1967-68.)

And all this silliness ends with a very fun pop art climax that sees Steed walloping the Winged Avenger with great big panel boards that read POW! SPLAT! and BAM! Our son enjoyed this episode, and was repeating the costumed menace’s trademark line “Eee-URP!” whenever possible, but in the same way he somehow didn’t connect Wallace and Gromit’s launch sequence as a parody of Thunderbirds, he took this at face value and didn’t see it as a wink at Batman at all, just a great fight scene on its own accord. It’s so fascinating how he processes these things.

Anyway, here’s Nigel Green with a falcon and a gun. It turns out to not be really relevant to the story, but he looks fantastic with them, doesn’t he? Other familiar faces in the episode include Neil Hallett, Colin Jeavons, and Donald Pickering. Part of the episode was filmed at the absolutely beautiful Stanmore Hall near Birmingham. Some exteriors for “From Venus With Love” were shot here as well. It’s a mammoth, majestic building with incredible stone work, and then the studio interiors are so flimsy that the fake staircase that the actors climb wobbles like it’s made of cardboard!

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The Avengers 4.21 – A Touch of Brimstone

Yes, I know, you were expecting a picture of Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Instead, here’s a picture of every man in Christendom upon seeing Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Enjoy!

The story goes that ABC declined to show this episode because of the Queen of Sin’s costume, along with the climactic fight with Peter Wyngarde, in which he starts lashing at her with a whip. I’ve contended all along that this episode wasn’t going to get shown on national American television before we got that far. There’s a scene with Wyngarde and Carol Cleveland pawing each other in bed, for starters, in an era when 99% of married couples on American TV had separate, single beds. (Gomez and Morticia Addams were the only exception I can think of, and while they were television’s most passionate couple, you may recall that they only ever kissed while standing up!)

Then we get to the “do what thou wilt being the whole of the law” ethos of the Hellfire Club and their incredibly bawdy parties, with drinking and “wenching.” They worship evil and women exist only as vessels for (sexual) pleasure. Writer Brian Clemens was pushing an envelope here.

There simply weren’t enough weeks in the calendar for ABC to show all 26 episodes from season four before they went all-color in the first week of September of 1966, so some of them weren’t going to be shown. “A Touch of Brimstone” was allegedly rejected on content grounds, and, that content spoken of in whispers, it immediately made the rounds of bootleg film prints. Some independent stations around the country bought the black and white package for local broadcasts, and some are said to have edited out most of the whipping scene. In short order, this episode became quite notorious. When I was a video trader in the mid-to-late eighties, you would occasionally see this one in lists and catalogs with notations like RARE AND UNCUT!!

At some point in the seventies, comic writer Chris Claremont landed a copy. He loved peppering his scripts with in-jokes from British film and TV, and, in 1980, reintroduced the Hellfire Club as characters in The Uncanny X-Men. One of the members looks like Peter Wyngarde as his later character, Jason King, and the evil women in their order wear variations on the Queen of Sin costume. In their 18th Century formal wear and their lingerie, they’ve been pestering the heroes of the Marvel Universe ever since, and were seen as the baddies in the 2011 film X-Men: First Class. (Though perhaps my favorite Claremont in-joke was using the Hobbs End tube station from the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit as a location for an issue of an X-Men spinoff comic.)

Our son didn’t understand this much at all, mercifully. It started with the great promise of bad guys who use exploding cigars, sneezing powder, whoopie cushions, and collapsing chairs, and then deteriorated into a lot of dumb men yelling and spilling their ale while smooching women in old-fashioned clothes. At least we can agree that Patrick Macnee, Jeremy Young, and their stunt doubles had a completely amazing swordfight. I’m not sure that Young even had a double. Colin Jeavons and Robert Cawdron are also in this one. Along with Wyngarde and Cleveland, it’s a great cast for a terrific episode: ABC’s audience in 1966 may or may not have been scandalized, but they definitely missed out.

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