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Doctor Who: Meglos (parts three and four)

Our son came around and started enjoying this story as it went on. There’s a gunfight in episode three, and then the inevitable bit where Tom Baker gets to play both the Doctor and Meglos and the two have the contractually-obligated confrontation that all adventure television doubles stories need to have. Our son did, however, suffer the huge cheat of the villain’s base not actually exploding. The visual effects team did that rotten cheat that they sometimes do of turning up the lights and the contrast really fast so it simulates an explosion without actually blowing the model to pieces.

I think that “Meglos” would be the last time that Doctor Who would be quite this by-the-numbers for a little while. I think that the only real spark that the story has at all comes when Romana gets captured by the mercenaries and leads them around in circles, supposedly back to her ship as she’s been ordered. She feigns confusion caused by the planet’s anti-clockwise rotation and seems to be enjoying herself as she looks for an opportunity to turn the tables on the villains. Bill Fraser is also pretty amusing as the bad-tempered leader of the mercenaries, and these are high points in a story that doesn’t want to push any envelopes.

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Doctor Who: Meglos (parts one and two)

Our son has really enjoyed so many of the most recent Doctor Who stories that we’ve watched, so it was probably inevitable that we’d hit a turkey eventually. It’s one that lots of people agree is a turkey, so he’s in good company. The problem is that the planet of the story has a gigantic underground city powered by a huge artifact that nobody understands. The religious nutballs of the city believe it’s a gift from God and the eyes of disbelievers cannot be allowed to see it, and the scientists of the city think this is ridiculous and, since its power is fluctuating wildly after decades of steady flow, could we please just take some measurements of the thing before it spirals out of control and kills everyone?

So the nutballs argue with the sensible people, and the nutballs win every argument because they refuse to compromise an inch. The planet is ruled by a Mr. Make Everybody Happy type played by Edward Underdown, instead of by a Mr. Shut the Hell Up and Let Some People in There Who Know What They’re Doing type, which is what this planet badly needs. And so our son rolled his eyes at this shenanigans, because while he may not be able to spot an evil supercomputer until it’s practically on top of him (like last night), he knows that the nutballs are not going to win this argument.

I had been saying that the new production team for Doctor Who needed new blood. “Meglos” was the third story produced in season eighteen. The second story produced would be shown fourth, and it’s the only other one for the next four years to be written by a screenwriter from the show’s past. So “Meglos” is the first production with a new-to-the-show director and writers. The director is Terence Dudley, who had worked with the producer on the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, and the writers, John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, were discovered by the new script editor.

Unfortunately, the story they concocted is a very predictable bore. There’s a cactus-alien called Meglos who wants the artifact, and, because the Doctor is acting insanely out of character and sends a passing hello from space to his old friend Edward Underdown and gets invited to come help them with their technology issues, Meglos traps the Doctor, impersonates him, and goes to steal the artifact. It takes forty-some minutes to get to a point in the plot that probably could be done in under ten. Our son summed it up by saying “There’s just not a lot of action in this one, and I don’t like anybody in the city.”

Anyway, for all the new blood behind the scenes, this story’s full of veteran actors. Apart from Edward Underdown, the cast also includes Jacqueline Hill as the leader of the nutballs. She had played one of the show’s original companion characters, Barbara Wright, from 1963-65. And there’s comedy star Bill Fraser as one of Meglos’s mercenaries. Fraser was the best thing about the Avengers episode “Small Game for Big Hunters,” which I don’t enjoy very much. There are some forgettable younger players in the story, but it’s really dominated by these three older actors, and with the Doctor and Romana trapped in space for most of the show’s first half, it all adds up to a story that younger viewers just can’t appreciate. But it’s all so predictable and dull that older viewers can’t really appreciate it either.

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The Avengers 5.7 – The Living Dead

It’s not much of a downside, I’ll grant you, but one downside to planning ahead a couple of weeks for this blog is that I start overthinking about certain episodes, or I get the title stuck in my head, which will often get a song with the same name stuck in my head. So I’ve had Suede’s “The Living Dead” playing in my brain for weeks. There are worse fates, I guess. Still, I’ll be glad now that we’ve moved on, and hopefully the song’s been exorcised.

Well, our son really enjoyed this one. “The Living Dead” is a Brian Clemens script from a story by Anthony Marriott. This is the second time this season that somebody who’d worked with Gerry Anderson’s team got an idea going and Clemens finished it. Marriott was at the time working on the hugely successful detective series Public Eye for the Associated British Corporation. It does have a very off-kilter climax, though. He loved the tension as Steed stoically faces a firing squad while Mrs. Peel is beating the daylights out of three different people and rushing to the rescue. Then she mows nine people down with a machine gun! You certainly didn’t see very many women on TV in the sixties doing that!

“The Living Dead” is a good story, but not one of my favorites. There’s not quite enough wit and fun in it for my liking, but the only real flaw in the production is the same one that stood out in “The Hour That Never Was”. We’re shown a photo of a man who’s been dead for five years, and it’s a photo of actor Edward Underdown. If you guess that the character isn’t actually dead, you’re right! Other famous faces in the story include Pamela Ann Davy, Julian Glover, and Howard Marion-Crawford.

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