Tag Archives: edward burnham

The Avengers 7.21 – Thingumajig

A little-known fact about the final season of The Avengers is that they attempted to more effectively counter-program against Laugh-In on NBC by sending thieves to beautiful downtown Burbank to steal all of Jo Anne Worley’s clothes. You bet your bippy they did!

But seriously, we resume our look at The Avengers with the show’s final six episodes, and one which I’d never actually seen before tonight. If you think I’m eccentric, silly, and nitpicky in middle age, you should have known me in my twenties. I briefly went through this long phase where I deliberately didn’t watch one episode of every show I enjoyed, so that I’d have something to watch later on down the line, on a rainy day. Well, it’s rained in Tennessee all blasted week, so here we are with Terry Nation’s “Thingumajig,” and it was not really worth the thirty year wait.

On the other hand, while if I’d watched this by myself, I’d have noted Iain Cuthbertson and Edward Burnham, as well as Linda Thorson’s godawful clothes, and figured this was more evidence that whatever program Terry Nation actually wanted to write, it wasn’t The Avengers. This one’s about a strange, unknown thing creeping around an archaeological dig underneath a late-eleventh century church that kills people with electrical blasts. It’s not a bad hour of television, just an awfully dry one, without any of that Avengers sparkle.

But our kid just loved it. He wondered desperately what the thingumajig was, and was alternately hiding behind the sofa in mild fright or, fists clenched, on the floor in front of us enjoying the thrill as Tara battles a thingumajig in her flat. Sometimes Terry Nation judged his comedy perfectly for younger viewers. There’s this one quirky eccentric in the story who sweats profusely, has a bad cold, and is always cramming snuff up his nostrils. I’d have said the guy wasn’t even remotely funny, but our son chuckled all the time he was onscreen, and just howled with laughter when he accidentally destroys a cake that Tara’s made. So maybe watch this one with a kid; that seems to be for whom it was made!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The Avengers 5.2 – The Fear Merchants

A quarter of a century ago, when I was young and had stars in my eyes and wanted to be a television writer, I daydreamed of making a very off-key and off-kilter cop show called Department of Murder. I spent a lot of time devising characters and plots, and one thing I definitely wanted to do was bring back these villains: the Business Efficiency Bureau, a trio of psychologists and experts who can be hired to literally eliminate the competition. They do so by identifying phobias and driving business rivals out of their minds.

About the only thing you can say against Philip Levene’s “The Fear Merchants,” which introduced the baddies for what would sadly be their only appearance – The Avengers was rarely a show for return engagements – is that it needs one more bit of oomph to make their villainy work. When they learn one target has agoraphobia, they just dump him in Wembley Stadium and that’s it, he’s incapacitated permanently. The episode needed a fear gas or a some sort of mental programming to really push people over the edge once the villains work their efficiency magic to make the episode both a little more believable and sinister.

Otherwise, it’s just so fun! Our son needed a little help following this one, and he had no idea why I collapsed in laughter over one of the all-time great sight gags, where the camera is following somebody dressed like Steed, until Steed and Mrs. Peel come around a corner and it starts following them instead. He also didn’t understand that the Business Efficiency Bureau changes its business from a monthly retainer into a monthly blackmail payment. In his defense, not only is he still very young, but Levene’s script is delightfully subtle about how the hired firm suddenly becomes the dominant partner. But he absolutely loved the great fight that Steed has with Garfield Morgan, who’d later play DCI Haskins, Regan’s boss in The Sweeney. They brawl in a pit with a bulldozer teetering on the edge above them!

In the cast, Patrick Cargill, who we saw in last season’s “The Murder Market,” is the main villain, and the wonderful Brian Wilde is the businessman who bought a lot more trouble than he bargained for. In smaller parts as Wilde’s rivals, there are the familiar-to-us faces of Edward Burnham, Bernard Horsfall, and Andrew Keir, who would star in Quatermass and the Pit later the same year. Sadly, Annette Carell, who was a frequent guest star in British adventure shows of the period, passed away about nine months after this was shown.

1 Comment

Filed under avengers

Doctor Who: Robot (part four)

If you were to ask me, the boring old Mr. Grouchy Adult that I am, I’d say that “Robot” could have been safely wrapped up in three episodes. But that would rob our son of his favorite part of the serial. The Brigadier blasts the robot with the disintegrator gun, and, thanks to a little technobabble magic, the robot grows to giant size.

From the boring light of adulthood, this doesn’t look particularly convincing, and while director Christopher Barry does as good a job as can be expected, something shows up in shot after shot that destroys a grown-up’s suspension of disbelief. At the very least, it genuinely does look better than those dinosaurs from a few stories ago.

But our kid adored it. He shouted “Whoops!” when the robot started growing and it was all as convincing to him as Hollywood’s latest bit of CGI mayhem. After that mid-serial lull, he completely loved this story, and he believed in it, because he’s six and hasn’t become jaded by special effects. The new Doctor’s off to a fine start for him, and, with Lt. Harry Sullivan joining the Doctor and Sarah in the TARDIS, it’s time for Barry Letts to leave the role of producer to the new man in charge, Philip Hinchcliffe. And we’ll see what his take on the series will be this weekend.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: Robot (part three)

Beginning with the most important thing about tonight’s episode, our son was much, much happier with it. It’s full of action and explosions, and at the end, a tank shows up, which thrilled him to no end, as he knew instinctively that the tank would be disintegrated.

It’s also full of UNIT troops not using their brains very much. The villains and the robot escape from the SRS meeting because not one of the dozen or so soldiers thinks to shoot out their truck’s tires. Honestly, this story could have ended here and been a satisfying three-parter. All the business at the bunker is less entertaining than what’s come before. It’s never more entertaining than when the Doctor agrees with the Brigadier that only Great Britain could be trusted with international secrets, because the rest are all foreigners. That’s one of my favorite lines in the whole program.

Unfortunately, there’s a conclusion that will require some visual effects trickery, something not unlike what we saw in the story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” To make the joins a little less visible, if you take my meaning, the production team decided to mount this entire production on videotape. That way we won’t have the tank in part three (and the robot in part four) videotaped in the studio on a blue screen, and then chromakeyed into a 16mm film picture.

Part of me is glad that they learned from their earlier work, but another, bigger, part of me just loathes the look and feel of “outside broadcast” location video. This was only used sporadically until Doctor Who‘s last four seasons in the late eighties, when the whole program was taped. I’m absolutely fine with it in the studio, but sending those sorry camcorders on location just emphasizes the robot’s unreality to me. It’s a shame they couldn’t have taken both a film camera and an OB camera on location, videotaped the necessary bits for the visual effects team and filmed all the action stuff. It would have looked so much better.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: Robot (part two)

I’m afraid I spoke too soon when I said last time that this is a straightforward and simple adventure for six year-olds. This episode introduces the plot complication that the villains, Miss Winters and Mister Jellico, are members of a fascist fringe group called the Scientific Reform Society, and that just left our son behind completely. The scene where Sarah puts on her journalism hat and trendy seventies clothes and gets some information from them might as well have been delivered in pig Latin, because he didn’t get what was happening at all!

Actually, what he really needs to take from this scene is that the delightful thing about watching old television is that we can time travel back to the days when outfits like that were the in thing. Once they put a stop to Winters and Jellico, Sarah’s going to wear this outfit when she interviews Elton John before his Saturday night gig at the Rainbow.

After starting well, this one’s obviously cratering a bit for him. He loved part one, was thrilled by the sight of the giant robot, and the Doctor’s oddball rudeness, including going to sleep on his lab table, is really fun for him. But then we not only got all talky with people who didn’t make sense to him, but also the Doctor has a cliffhanger confrontation with the robot that really looks like it’s going very badly for him.

It strikes me that seeing the Doctor in physical jeopardy and about to get beaten up isn’t a very common turn of events in the show. Another incident was the end of part three of “The Three Doctors.” He was also very, very aggravated when Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was getting thrown around Omega’s “mind palace” by the villain’s weird pig-faced champion. Revealing a monster or a Dalek or a giant robot is a thrill, but seeing the hero get pummeled is emphatically not.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: Robot (part one)

At the end of 1974, Tom Baker’s first episode of Doctor Who first aired. Writer Terrance Dicks believed that this should be a simple and straightforward adventure story for audiences to get used to the new lead actor, and he seems to have absolutely nailed how to hook any six year-olds in the crowd. Our kid loved this. There are no politics and no complicated “life in the seventies was like this” distractions about communes or meditation centers. There’s just a big stomping robot stealing the ingredients for a top secret disintegrator gun. Along the way, the Doctor checks himself out of the sick bay, frustrates UNIT’s medical officer, and tries on some new clothes. There’s not a six year-old on the planet who wouldn’t enjoy this.

Behind the scenes, this is a time of massive change. “Robot” was videotaped at the end of the same production block as Jon Pertwee’s last stories, making it the final story for Barry Letts as producer. He’ll be back in different capacities down the line, though. It’s the first story for Robert Holmes, who had written several memorable stories previously, as the script editor, but the previous script editor is still around! Terrance Dicks kind of shamelessly told the new boy that there was a BBC tradition that incoming script editors were expected to promptly commission a script from their predecessor. This way, while Dicks was no longer on the BBC payroll, he could still net some quick freelance work before his next assignment. The director is Christopher Barry, the veteran who had helmed several Who serials already, including Patrick Troughton’s first story.

Onscreen, UNIT, represented again by Nicholas Courtney and John Levene, has a new member, a naval medical officer called Harry Sullivan, played by Ian Marter. He had been up for the role of Captain Yates four years previously, and was cast because the original ideas for a new Doctor had been for an older and less active leading man. Famously, Richard Hearne and Fulton Mackay had been offered the part, but both of them turned it down – in Mackay’s case, because a sitcom pilot he’d done, Porridge, had been picked up as a series – and it went to Tom Baker, then forty years old and not getting nearly as much acting work as he should have had. His agent couldn’t find him anything after he’d filmed The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in the summer of ’73 and he was working with a construction crew in London to make ends meet while the movie was in theaters. The glamour of showbiz, folks.

And of course Elisabeth Sladen is back as Sarah Jane. This is one of the few times that we get to see her working as a journalist, and unknowingly – because, again, this is a simple story for the young viewers to easily manage – working the other end of the disintegrator gun angle. UNIT and the Doctor are looking into the thefts and she’s working on a story about the thieves, leading up to a memorable cliffhanger when the great big robot looms over her. We don’t see the robot in full just yet, which our son loved. He said that he now knows what its feet, hands, and head look like, and now he just needs to see the body and legs!

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Invasion (part seven)

This is such a strange segment of the story. The Cybermen aren’t in it, for starters. They only appear in the reprise of the previous episode. Frazer Hines and Edward Burnham are only in a single scene, in the set used at length in part six but only here for about one minute. I think this scene was taped along with part six so that the actors could still get a week off.

The central bit of drama is the Doctor trying to convince Vaughn that he’s in way over his head, and it’s Zoe who ends up proving him right. Over at a nearby air base, she immediately recalculates some surface-to-air missile coordinates and UNIT and the RAF shoot down the Cybermen’s incoming transport ships. So that “science machine” in Vaughn’s closet – actually called the “Cyber-Director” – ends the episode ending the alliance with Vaughn and announcing they’re going to destroy all life on earth.

Zoe is certainly amazing, but her timing might not have been perfect this time.

So it doesn’t seem like a lot actually happens in this episode, and some of it was certainly over our five year-old’s head. But there’s an ongoing, oppressive sense of worry and danger. When the Doctor goes down into the sewers to rush to Vaughn’s headquarters, our son realized that he didn’t have any of his security blankets handy – it almost hit eighty degrees today, in February!, so he wasn’t wrapped in any – and so he started chewing on his mother’s thumb because he was so afraid for the Doctor.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who