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Adam Adamant Lives! 2.13 – A Sinister Sort of Service

Well, they certainly didn’t go out with their strongest episode. The first sixteen of the episodes we watched were all really good, but Tony Williamson’s “A Sinister Sort of Service” was just kind of dull. The villain is played by T.P. McKenna, and he has an evil supercomputer. I got more of a giggle out of our son suggesting that instead of it being a real computer, there’s a little man inside typing everything out than anything that actually happened in the story! But they can’t all be winners, and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with Adam, Simms, and Miss Jones. It’s a very good little show, and I hope that another one or two of the missing twelve episodes turns up one of these days!

(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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The Avengers 7.12 – Killer

Time hasn’t been kind to “Killer.” Technology has advanced so much that the episode sticks out as nowhere near as timeless as most of The Avengers. Still, it remains a mostly very entertaining episode with a couple of caveats, and it’s clever enough to make me wish that I could have seen it in 1968, before we all knew that you can’t make an evil supercomputer self-destruct the way that TV kept showing us!

Here’s what I dislike the most: Steed’s fellow agents are idiots. Four of them get killed by the mysterious foreign agent Remak, who turns out to be an entire factory programmed to murder anybody who wanders down its corridors. But these agents are so stupid and so gullible that the villains could have found a much easier way than this. It’s no wonder Steed is the top secret agent in Britain if these are his co-workers.

On the other hand, these villains are great. I really enjoy situations where the bad guys have to change direction and improvise. As Steed and his partner, Forbes, get closer, and as they get a surprise visit from a blackmailer who’s onto them, the villains have to change their plans on the fly, and it’s incredibly engaging. Forbes, an agent recently transferred into Steed’s unit from another department, is played by Jennifer Croxton. She’s here because the episode was made while Linda Thorson had a week off, and I quite like her. She provides a nice change of pace. Maybe they could have given Thorson one more week off so we could have had a second Forbes adventure later in the season!

Anyway, while the mystery of Remak would certainly not tax any adult brain in this day and age, “Killer” remains a perfect puzzle for kids. Our son had no idea who Remak could possibly be to arrange all these bizarre killings, and it was a silly reminder of both the last episode of MacGyver we watched, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, to see Steed navigate Remak’s corridors of traps. The final revelation was a big surprise to him, and he was really excited by Forbes programming Remak to explode.

Well, “programming” is a bit strong. She just types the command and it obeys. TV writers in this era just had no idea how computers worked, did they?

Another oddball coincidence for anybody who’s counting: in the last episode of The Avengers, Mother has an office full of trendy inflatable furniture. I asked our son, “Do you remember in ‘Terror of the Autons’ how there was that inflatable chair that ate that guy?” And he nodded and said “Yeah!” Well, you know who plays one of the villains this time? Only Harry Towb, the guy who got eaten by that inflatable chair! 186 credits on IMDB, and he’ll always be the guy who got smothered by a black plastic chair to me.

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Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts five and six)

We finished up the Key to Time storyline/season this morning with what our son really believed is one of the most epic Doctor Who adventures ever. He completely loved this one, despite a few hissing villain roadblocks along the way. I also enjoyed this a lot more than I remembered, despite the interior of Shadow’s planet – slash – space station looking… well, it’s not so much that it’s fake, because lots of Doctor Who environments look fake. It’s that I kept expecting a bunch of kids to run in and start playing laser tag in it. It’s that kind of fake.

The best thing about it, though, is the introduction of Barry Jackson as a failed Time Lord called Drax. The character is just incredibly entertaining, and he and Tom Baker seem to have a great rapport. The Doctor, who apparently went by the name/designation “Theta Sigma” at the Time Lord academy and does not want to be reminded of it, asks Drax where he got the remarkable Souf Lundun accent and slang that he uses. Apparently, Drax was arrested (“got done”) in London some time back and spent ten years in stir. There’s absolutely no reason to nail this decade down to any given time period – I mean, Drax could be getting arrested right now in 2018 for all we know – but it amuses me to imagine that at the same time that the Doctor was exiled to Earth and fighting the Master, Drax was cooling his heels in HM Prison Brixton. Best moment of the whole story: Drax, on his way back to his TARDIS, telling the Doctor and Romana that he’s “done” a deal with the marshal of Atrios to provide reconstruction services for his planet, half an hour from now.

While Drax was sadly never seen again in the show, we do meet a new villain that will come back down the line: the Black Guardian. Valentine Dyall had a film career as long as your arm but was best known for his role hosting and narrating a radio series called Appointment with Fear. This anthology of horror stories ran for more than a decade on the BBC, and Dyall’s downright evil voice was known to pretty much every parent who sat down to watch this story in 1979, recognizing something terrifying from their own childhood.

So a couple of weeks ago, our son speculated that the third segment of the Key to Time could be a person. Today, we learned that the sixth segment was indeed a human being, which is how the Doctor unmasks the Black Guardian. At the end of the story, the Key is split into six parts again, hopefully leaving the poor Princess Astra to live her life in peace. Marie asked whether they’d ever need to turn a person into a Key segment again, and our son suggested that instead, one of the segments should disguise itself as “the worst tasting hot dog ever.” Well, if it sits around for decades waiting for somebody to come collect it, it probably would taste a little lousy.

So a couple of goodbyes to note this time. I’ve already noted that this was Dave Martin’s final script contribution. He did some more work in television but mainly wrote novels after this. He passed away in 2007. This was also Anthony Read’s final story as script editor. Douglas Adams had already been hired to replace him in the role, and apparently he worked on some of the rewrites of this adventure with Read. In that BBC way, we’ll see Adams commission Read to write a story in the next season.

Sadly, Mary Tamm decided to bow out with this story, and didn’t return to tape a farewell scene, which led to a pretty fun decision about what to do with the character of Romana. I don’t see that Tamm had any really major roles after this one, but she was regularly seen in guest parts on British television for the next thirty years and “gave good anecdote,” as they say, on the convention circuit. My older son met her in 2009 at a show in Atlanta that I didn’t attend, and came back with stars in his eyes. She died from cancer three years later at the horribly young age of 62.

We’ll take a short break from Doctor Who, but we’ll start season seventeen in August. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts three and four)

I’m enjoying this one much, much more than I did the last time I watched it. The Doctor’s first confrontation with his mysterious opponent, the Shadow, is full of great dialogue, and there’s a real sense that our heroes have an absurd amount of things to do, with one genuine obstacle after another. None of it feels like padding, and after the writers’ last two stories for the show the previous year (“The Invisible Enemy” and “Underworld”), neither of which I enjoyed, this feels like they’re back on form. This was Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s last Who serial as a team, although Baker would write a solo adventure in the next season, and Dave Martin would write a few of the tie-in books in the 1980s.

In fact, the only scenes in this story that are at all long-winded are the ones where K9 communicates with the Evil Supercomputer that runs the planet Zeos. There are lots of long pauses, sped-up tape computer noises, and sound effects. It kind of gets in the way of the slapstick. Tom Baker and guest star Davyd Harries get to hide from each other in weird corridors and be silly, which delighted our son and probably kept Baker amused at a point where he was losing interest and yelling at everybody. Good thing one of the other guest stars, Lalla Ward, was around to keep him smiling.

Our son really thought these two parts were incredibly exciting, especially when Atrios’s marshal launches his attack on Zeos, which will trigger a doomsday device in retaliation, like Dr. Strangelove. He was completely thrilled by this, but incredibly aggravated by the cliffhanger revelation that the Shadow has abducted K9 and put one of his little black control boxes on him. K9 now calls the Shadow his master! He was incensed, and refused to agree that this is a good adventure at all, just because that ending had him so riled.

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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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