Tag Archives: evil supercomputers

MacGyver 2.1 – The Human Factor

Our son really likes MacGyver, and why shouldn’t he? It’s perfect for kids, with an inventive hero who doesn’t use guns and no real shocks or scares in the stories. Plus, his mom likes it, and he sure does like his mom, even if he somehow thinks that she has spent three years lying to him about how covering your face with a washcloth will keep shampoo out of your eyes, the blasted kid. So she and I have selected another ten episode run, this time from the second season.

“The Human Factor” is the only episode of this show I’d ever seen, and I wasn’t taken enough to watch it again. I tuned in for this one in the fall of 1986 (or possibly on a repeat) because somebody at the Atlanta Doctor Who club, Terminus TARDIS, had said that it was a tip of the hat to the show’s former producer Terry Nation and had little waist-high “Daleks” in it. They’re in the service of a supercomputer that’s lost its marbles and wants to kill Mac and guest star June Chadwick, who you may recall from V and This is Spinal Tap.

It’s fun to see the little drones with gun-eyes shooting lasers at our hero while the supercomputer is saying “Eliminate!” It’s a little less fun to see a garbage room with an acid bath beneath the floor, which opens when 280 pounds of weight piles up. Daleks and fake floors above pits of acid? This is meant to be a top security military base, but it seems to have been designed by a middle school boy in between Dungeons & Dragons evenings. At one point, Mac walks on a tightrope above a pressure-sensitive floor, and later there’s a corridor with a laser beam “gate,” and later still they sneak around in a ventilation shaft. I guess the budget must not have run to trained crocodiles with chainsaws, because that’s where this very, very silly episode was heading.

We asked our son whether the drones reminded him of anything. He shouted “Daleks!” Good. I’d have been worried if they didn’t.

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The Avengers 4.23 – The House That Jack Built

“The House That Jack Built” is one of the high points of season four. It isn’t even a shame that it turns from a weird, creepy house story into a tale about another sixties supercomputer, because it’s so good, and so visually interesting. It’s one of Brian Clemens’ most entertaining scripts for the show, and really shows off how resourceful Mrs. Peel is. I watched this one more easily than a dozen times in the eighties, and all the years away from it haven’t dampened my enthusiasm at all.

Our son thought this one was really weird. He’s probably still struggling with the idea of computers that fill rooms and are programmed to be evil. This world is even stranger to him than the pioneers in the desert that we watched this morning!

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Doctor Who: The Green Death (part six)

Getting the bad out of the way, this story features one of the all-time lousy special effects sequences, where Jon Pertwee and John Levene react to an allegedly menacing giant mosquito. But I think the big explosive climax at Global Chemicals, which is awesome, more than makes up for it, and besides, our son was completely thrilled by the big bug and didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Back in 1987 or whenever it was that WGTV started showing the Jon Pertwee serials, I surprised myself by getting a little tearful over Jo’s departure. Doctor Who wasn’t really known, then, for having emotional farewells. These days you can’t spend three episodes in the TARDIS without the universe ending over an overblown Murray Gold orchestral fanfare while somebody drops to their knees when it’s time to stop traveling. I guess since the same production team had just blown right pass Liz Shaw’s departure when the actress Caroline John left, they wanted to do right by Katy Manning.

Jo’s departure is really wonderful. She’s been falling head over heels for the scatterbrained Cliff Jones and happily accepts his fumbled marriage proposal and even though the Doctor knew in his hearts of hearts that she would be flying the coop before he went to Llanfairfach, he’s still devastated that she leaves him. The only time prior to this 1973 story where we saw the Doctor actually hurting that a companion has moved on was back in 1964, when he forced the issue and left his granddaughter Susan behind on future Earth to stay with David Campbell. Jo’s happiness is countered with a shot of the Doctor, sitting sadly by himself in his car. Quietly. Even when the end theme music starts, it does so at a very low volume, not wishing to intrude on the visuals. It’s really, really unlike any other departure in the whole of the series.

Incidentally, there’s a fantastic extra on the DVD called Global Conspiracy? in which Mark Gatiss, in the guise of BBC reporter Terry Scanlon, looks back at the strange goings-on in 1970s Llanfairfach. It’s incredibly funny and full of in-jokes. This “documentary” explains that Jo and Cliff divorced in the 1980s. Happily, this was retconned in a 2010 episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures which notes that the couple are still married and had lots of kids.

Katy Manning didn’t become the star that she should have become after Doctor Who, but she did have a few memorable roles, including the comedy film Eskimo Nell and the one episode of the BBC’s Target that anyone remembers. Before she moved to Australia, she did a celebrated pinup session with a prop Dalek that served much the same function for teen fans in the eighties that Karen Gillan’s appearance in the movie Not Another Happy Ending does these days, I think.

Uniquely, Manning also portrays a second ongoing character in the Doctor Who mythology. Iris Wildthyme is a character in spinoff novels and audio plays who might be a Time Lord and might be the Doctor’s old girlfriend, and, in a postmodern way, is used to suggest that many of the Doctor’s so-called adventures are actually just rewritten versions of her own exploits. Her TARDIS is smaller on the inside, which never fails to make me smile. Iris was created by Paul Magrs, who has written many of her adventures. Manning has played Iris off and on since 2002.

That’s all from Doctor Who for now, but stay tuned! We’ll start watching season eleven later this month!

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Doctor Who: The Green Death (part five)

Our son is quite bemused by BOSS, the room-filling supercomputer. Can you blame him? I can remember that techno-phobia of the time all too well; it took my dad more than a decade to trust a top-loading VCR, so a computer wasn’t going to arrive in my family’s house for many, many years. So this seems really strange and silly to a kid who has been playing puzzle games on his tablet since he was really, really small. How can computers be evil? This isn’t one of the “great ones” for him because the maggots are gross and scary and now he’s worried about Cliff Jones, who’s been infected by a maggot, but at least it has explosions.

Captain Yates gets brainwashed by BOSS in this episode, and his mind freed by the Doctor, using the blue sapphire from Metebelis Three. Interestingly, this develops into important plot points in the next season. The Doctor doesn’t get brainwashed himself; he’s put up with far more advanced mind probes and the like than anything that even the top-of-the-line Earthlings can build. I think that the headset that he’s wearing also shows up in the next season along with the blue crystal and actor John Dearth, who is doing such a good job as the voice of BOSS.

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Doctor Who: The Green Death (part four)

So Yates and Benton are finally back in action in this episode. Yates is undercover as a man from the ministry, and Benton is leading the UNIT troops shooting at the maggots with their thick, “chitinous” armor-plated shells. You’ll note that now that almost all of the guest actors playing villagers have either been killed or have otherwise left the story, there’s room in the budget for Richard Franklin and John Levene!

The big plot development this time is the surprise that the BOSS is a seventies evil supercomputer. This cliffhanger revelation kind of baffled our son. Prior to this, though, he was really enjoying this one. There are explosions and gunfire and monsters, and the Doctor gets to disguise himself as a milkman with a thick mustache and then as a cleaning lady. He didn’t actually recognize him as the milkman, so effective was his costume in the eyes of a six year-old, but he saw right through that second disguise and had a good laugh over it. So there’s two things from the seventies you never see on television these days: room-filling supercomputers with wall-to-wall reel-to-reel tape decks, and dressing as old ladies to get laughs. Well, there’s Monty Python’s last concert film, I suppose.

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The Bionic Woman 2.14 – Doomsday is Tomorrow (part two)

Well, the most important thing is that our son enjoyed the second episode more than he did the first. “I LOVED that episode,” he said, before adding “but part one was…” and he stuck out his tongue. The peanut gallery has spoken.

The second most important thing is that “Doomsday is Tomorrow” really entertained me as well. You could argue there’s a disagreeable cop-out near the end, but there are also a lot of completely unexpected twists and turns. Pretty much the whole thing is Lindsay Wagner stomping through some big industrial complex – I dunno where this was filmed, but if Disney showed up a year later to make the second Witch Mountain movie, I wouldn’t be surprised – arguing with the disembodied voice of ALEX 7000, pledging that the next round of defenses will surely kill her, so she should stop now. And yet Wagner is so good, and the plot keeps throwing surprises at us as ALEX improvises new ways to stop her, that this never feels like a low-budget way to do two episodes with a small cast. It feels like the end of the world.

Kenneth O’Brien has a whole lot less to do in the second part than I had thought, and Lew Ayres is only here briefly, having recorded his messages of doom to humanity before he died in part one. This is as close to a solo turn for a program’s protagonist as it got in the seventies, and it’s a genuine pleasure. I’m very glad that I picked this one.

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The Bionic Woman 2.13 – Doomsday is Tomorrow (part one)

He’s enjoyed the last few things that we’ve watched despite some worrying monsters and menace, but our son didn’t like part one of this story at all. I thought it was surprisingly good, miles better than that business with the police academy. “Doomsday is Tomorrow” was written, produced, and directed by Kenneth Johnson, and concerns a dying scientist and his seventies evil supercomputer triggering a Dr. Strangelove-style doomsday device, which will destroy all life on earth six hours after anybody, anywhere, ever triggers a nuclear device in the atmosphere.

The trouble is that just as soon as he reveals his threat and proves to a team of international scientists that he’s not bluffing, some middle eastern nogoodniks from Nosuchlandia decide this is a plot by the superpowers to stop their hydrogen bomb program and start a countdown. Jaime, teamed with a Soviet agent and electronics expert, has to race against time to penetrate more than six miles of artillery, lasers, and a minefield – that’s the second minefield we watched today! – to get back to the complex.

The problem with our son is that while, as a six year-old, he certainly loves lasers and explosions, he really, really didn’t like seeing Jaime so close to danger. He was so worried about her as she ran through the artillery barrage that it colored everything else!

Meanwhile, I did want to note that the scientist is played by Lew Ayres, who was a guest star in everything in the sixties and seventies, especially everything that Universal made. I remember him as a Nazi hunter working on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig in an early Route 66. Jaime’s unplanned partner is played by Kenneth O’Brien, another regular guest star actor of the day, and who we saw a year ago in an episode of Ark II. The evil supercomputer, ALEX, is voiced by Guerin Barry. Looks like two years later, he’d play another computer voice in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It was the seventies. Computers only spoke with men’s voices then, but things eventually changed didn’t they, Siri?

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Ace of Wands: The Beautiful People (part four)

Ace of Wands ended its run with an episode that’s pretty frustrating for all the answers it doesn’t give. Roger Fulton, in The Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction, had described this story as featuring a “bizarre alien plot,” but that’s not really accurate. Presumably, but not definitively, “Mama” and “Papa” are the two computers that the sleeping Jay, Emm, and Dee have plugged themselves into, and presumably their mansion is possibly a disguised alien ship, but we never learn what the plot actually is. Perhaps an alien presence or force decided to fill the three beautiful villains’ minds with knowledge and their bodies with augmented strength, but we never learn why.

But the real frustration is how badly structured the last half hour is. It ends with Chas destroying the two supercomputers, but it feels like there’s a scene missing after that. A long one. With explanations and/or a confrontation. This has been described as an unresolved cliffhanger, but did they really have those in 1972? Was “The Beautiful People” serial intended to have a fifth episode open the fourth series of Ace of Wands? That doesn’t seem very likely, does it?

What’s certainly true is that the cast and crew had expected to come back for a fourth series, and that’s why there isn’t a satisfactory end for the characters. Perhaps if they had known that this was the end, this half-hour could have been structured a little better, with less time spent with Chas planting the booby trap at the jumble sale, and less film footage of driving around several hours from Essex – good thing Tarot and friends filled the gas tank before they left! – so that at least we could get a final smile and walkoff for our heroes, if not a good resolution to this story.

Apparently the powers that be at Thames TV chose to pass on a fourth series of Ace of Wands in favor of a promising proposal from writer Roger Price for a show called The Tomorrow People. Those saps. As if there weren’t enough reasons to dislike that dopey program already, it deprived us of more stories from this much, much better series!

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