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Doctor Who: The King’s Demons (parts one and two)

Fans often ask what in the sam hill producer John Nathan-Turner was thinking, deciding that Doctor Who needed a robot companion. These fans often forget that they were ever kids. When I read that Radio Times / Starlog 20th Anniversary magazine back in 1984, I was incredibly anxious to meet Kamelion, and incredibly confused that while he’s listed right there on page 20 as a companion, he isn’t mentioned in the previews for any of the forthcoming adventures.

Our son quite liked the appearance of Kamelion as well. It distracted from the Master showing up again, to his growling disapproval. Kamelion came about when its designers showed the robot to Nathan-Turner, thinking that an appearance on Doctor Who might be good for business. Nathan-Turner kind of went a little overboard with enthusiasm and made the robot a companion. Unfortunately, the robot required too much time-intensive and laborious programming to be reliable for a seat-of-your-pants TV show with frequent last-minute script changes, and then its chief programmer was killed in a tragic accident at sea. So instead of having the robot transform into a guest star of the week until they could write it out, they just didn’t mention it in any way whatsoever until they could write it out. Kamelion is completely forgotten onscreen, although fan writers and novelists have made sure that the robot had many more adventures.

Actually, you know what Kamelion reminds me of? In 1991, the designers of a much bigger robot showed it to Universal, thinking that an appearance on some new TV show might be good for business. Universal then sold NBC on a two-hour pilot called Steel Justice, in which a cop magically brings his dead son’s toy robot to life, leading to a twenty-foot tall “robosaurus” breathing fire at bad guys. The big difference is that Kamelion is probably housed in somebody’s collection, while the “robosaurus” can probably be seen at a monster truck show near you next weekend. (Nobody believes me when I tell them this, because the robot is just so stupid, but the whole angle of magically animating your dead kid’s toys made parts of that film quite eerie and odd. Nevertheless, NBC didn’t buy a series. Can’t imagine why…)

“The King’s Demons,” which was the last Who adventure written by Terence Dudley, isn’t all that exciting, but it’s a simple and short story which has lots of swordfighting and a joust, and an interesting collection of guest stars. Gerald Flood plays the imposter King John and provides the voice of Kamelion. Isla Blair and Frank Windsor play the local barons who are caught in the Master’s plot. I enjoyed how Windsor and his Softly, Softly co-star Stratford Johns both showed up in The Avengers a few weeks apart in 1968. It’s not quite the same, but Johns had been in a Who in 1982 and Windsor popped in the following year.

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The Avengers 7.4 – Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?

The Avengers has dated less badly than many shows of its period, but the goofball depiction of a computer in such distress that it requires surgery – like “medical series” surgery, with clamps and forceps and masks – pretty much nails this down to the mercifully distant past. George / XR40 is an example of a visible trend in the late sixties making computers less threatening by making them silly.

We saw one of the stupidest examples when we watched Batman and practically every script that Charles Hoffman contributed had some dumb gag about the Batcomputer belching up spaghetti or something. This really isn’t much better. Maybe it could’ve been one throwaway gag in the closing tag scene. But Tony Williamson structures the entire episode around George’s surgery and brain transplant while our heroes take turns looking for a traitor and coming back to the operating room to ask “How is he, doctor?”

For the first time, The Avengers was ponderous. The only spark at all is Tara getting called in on her way to a fancy dress party and declining to change out of her cat costume and mask for the show’s first ten minutes.

Speaking of computers, there’s a reminder that language is always in flux at the very beginning and we see the word spelled as “computor” on a sign. That’s not a typo. Well into the 1960s, either spelling could be used, although I would say that by this time, a “computer” could also be used to refer to the human operator of a “computor” hardware. Some eggheads at Georgia Tech were still using “computor” in their dissertations as recently as 2001, although you really just can’t expect linguistic precision from a bunch of damn Yellow Jackets. (More here.)

On the human side, Frank Windsor, who was very well known at the time for his role of Detective Inspector John Watt in Z Cars and Softly Softly, is here as one of the traitors. It looks like this episode was made just a few weeks after production on Softly Softly‘s third series finished. Judy Parfitt and Arthur Cox also appear.

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