Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 2.7 – Two Can Play That Game

I’m afraid the previous three episodes were really uneven, but Randall & Hopkirk went out on a high note written by Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson as a very cute tribute to The Avengers. It’s “Death at Bargain Prices” crossed with “The House That Jack Built” as Jeff and Jeannie are trapped in an escape-proof department store full of lethal traps. And just to add to the tips of the bowler, they brought along some mannequins that evoke the Autons from Doctor Who and dressed one of them like Steed.

Weirdly, in both the previous season ender, “A Man of Substance,” and this, Marty becomes incredibly petulant and selfish. This time, he has such a ridiculous and petty argument with Jeff that Limbo actually recalls him and dumps him in a seaside town where the very creepy ghosts of others who have fallen out with their chosen ones reside. Eleanor Bron and Roy Hudd play two of these sinister weirdies, who had our son even more riveted than the department store plot. I enjoyed both threads a lot, even if the twist to what’s going on in the shop will be obvious to anybody older than our kid.

My favorite moment of the experience, though, was the kid asking me to pause it to tell him where he’s seen Roy Hudd before. As it happens, I’ve double-checked and he’s never seen the actor in anything. I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen him twice myself. What I think happened is that early in the story, Jeff and Marty are watching a repeat of an old kids’ show with Hudd and an uncredited actor who plays his eventual chosen one, and our son didn’t quite make the connection that “Dicky Klein” is both the man in the silly popcorn slapstick while alive and the ghost stuck in the end of the pier show while dead.

I haven’t read much about this show’s background, but apparently the ratings were pretty good and some people were surprised that the BBC didn’t commission a third series. But one viewer who wouldn’t have watched a third series would be Marie, who gave up on this show partway through the first, finding Reeves and Mortimer like nails on a chalkboard. What a shame; I like everything I’ve seen them in, together or solo. I really like Vic Reeves as a singer. “Dizzy” is my favorite Wonder Stuff single, and if you want to hear a real surprise, find a copy of Twentieth Century Blues: The Songs Of Noel Coward, which is jam-packed with songs by performers I absolutely love – Bryan Ferry, Paul McCartney, Suede, Texas, Pet Shop Boys – and Reeves has the best song on it. Then go to YouTube and search for Bob telling his story about Chris Rea on Would I Lie to You?. I was still chuckling ten minutes later.

About ten years after Vic & Bob’s Randall & Hopkirk ended, the Syfy Channel was said to be developing an American version with Jane Espenson, who was then best known for her scripts for Buffy and Battlestar Galactica, in charge of production. It never made it to the pilot stage, but ten years on from that, who knows? I think the Vic & Bob version shows that you can approach a classic with a different perspective, and a different sensibility, and occasionally come up with something really interesting.

And just to underline how strange the passing of time feels, when I was in high school, I was hunting high and low for episodes of The Avengers, a show that was then twenty years old and felt like it came from a different era. Twenty years. That’s how old the Vic & Bob Randall & Hopkirk is today. It always feels like “only yesterday” when you actually lived it, doesn’t it?

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks (part two)

You know, that hung together better than I remembered it. Alexei Sayle’s still the best thing about it, and it would have been a whole lot more wonderful with more of him blowing up Daleks with his concentrated beam of rock and roll, but I think it gelled for me a bit more this time, for some reason. Sayle’s sonic cannon was, of course, our son’s favorite part of the story. His eyes lit up and he had the biggest smile you can imagine on his face when that first Dalek exploded.

Actually, one reason I enjoyed this more than I have previously is that I used to really, really loathe a character played by Jenny Tomasin, and thought the actress did a rotten job. I was wrong. Her character is a really tough one for an actor to play; she’s meant to be much more pathetic than endearing, and foolishly duped by everybody around her. But apart from one snickeringly bad line reading in part one when she bellows “Find the intruders!” I think Tomasin played this role extremely well, which can’t have been easy when you’ve got an amazing actor like Clive Swift literally brushing you aside. I may have mentioned before that my time talking with and observing the actors at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta gave me a newfound understanding of what actors have to do to make their characters work at all. I’m always glad of the opportunity to reconsider the opinions I held when I was even more stupid than I am now.

But right behind Sayle, there’s William Gaunt underplaying his role of a disgraced assassin from a noble order, and Eleanor Bron, who’s magical in anything. I love how Gaunt’s character acts like he is in complete control of the situation in Davros’s lab, and responds to any obstacle without taking an extra breath, just communicating with his eyes and piercing stares. And Colin Baker and Terry Molloy get one of the better Doctor-Davros arguments – easily the first good one since “Genesis,” honestly – as they debate Davros’s latest sick scheme.

We won’t wait fifteen months until starting the next season of Doctor Who like us poor folk had to do in the eighties… in fact, we’ll be back for more adventures in time and space in about eleven days. But first, something else, like the other two shows that we’re watching, that I’ve never seen before… stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks (part one)

I’ve never really enjoyed “Revelation of the Daleks,” which brings this disappointing season to an end, but I do enjoy just how weird it is. I mean, this is an extraordinarily weird 45 minutes. It barely has the Doctor or the Daleks in it. It’s mainly a bunch of Eric Saward characters alternately yelling at each other or mumbling underneath the incidental music, having their own adventure that doesn’t concern the Doctor at all. Parts of the story are sort of narrated by the wonderful comedian Alexei Sayle, playing an oddball DJ piping music and long-distance dedications to a city full of stiffs in suspended animation. I could have done with a whole lot more Alexei Sayle and a whole lot less of desperate double-acts arguing with each other.

Sayle’s role prompted me to pause, because it occurred to me that once again our son has no frame of reference for something I took for granted. We never listen to radio, so the world of Wolfman Jack or Casey Kasem is another planet he’s never heard of. They still have DJs on some stations, I think, but I’m at work when the local NPR / college radio hybrid gets to play music – Chattanooga is woefully short a WUOG or WSBF or WREK – so he doesn’t even get to hear college kids, never mind celebrities.

And of course, he didn’t recognize William Gaunt from The Champions as an assassin called Orcini. Say what you will about this weird story, it’s got a terrific cast that also includes Eleanor Bron and Clive Swift, who underplays the role of the funeral director amazingly well and is so entertaining. Terry Molloy is back as Davros, making him the first actor to play the role twice, and the story is directed by Graeme Harper, who had made the previous year’s “Caves of Androzani” look so good. He can’t save this one, but he fills it full of moments that are at least interesting. Next time, the Doctor will actually have something to do and I recall it becomes considerably more ordinary.

Doctor Who: City of Death (parts three and four)

The great big question, of course, is not whether the Doctor, Romana, and Duggan will save all of human history by defeating Scaroth on the shores of primeval Earth four hundred million years ago, but whether our son would come to his senses and enjoy this story. Happily, he did, and even conceded that the first half was also pretty exciting. Of course he enjoyed Duggan. Heroes in Doctor Who who just want to punch and thump their way through the narrative are pretty rare, so Duggan’s fists-first approach resulted in a few giggles. When Duggan observes “That’s a spaceship!” in part four, how could you not just love the guy?

But our son is also very clear that Scaroth is, somehow, one of the creepiest and scariest of all Who monsters. “He’s just got one eye, and no nose, and no mouth,” he told me with some urgency. He also loved/hated the part where Catherine Schell unrolls an old parchment to see that one of the green-skinned, one-eyed splinters of Scaroth was hanging out in ancient Egypt with Thoth and Horus and, presumably, Sutekh, and I could feel our son’s skin crawl across the sofa.

Part four also has the delightful cameo appearance of Eleanor Bron and John Cleese as a pair of art snobs critiquing the TARDIS, as they’ve mistaken it for an installation in a gallery. When it dematerializes, Bron, without a note of passion in her quiet voice, calls the installation “exquisite,” having no real idea what she’s seen. I love this bit. It certainly takes you out of the story to see John Cleese making a cameo, but it’s so funny that it’s impossible to object. The whole production’s like this. If there’s a flaw anywhere, who cares.