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The Avengers 6.1 – Return of the Cybernauts

A quickish word before beginning: the DVDs, along with the books written about The Avengers in the 1980s, and the websites of today, all call the color Diana Rigg stories “season five” and the Linda Thorson stories “season six.” For a while in the 1990s, the pendulum of accurate research pointed the right way: the 24 Rigg stories were produced and transmitted in two separate batches, thus making seven seasons. The Thorson stories were produced in two separate batches and transmitted that way in the US, but shown as one long season in the UK.

Season five is the batch of 16 color episodes that we’ve already seen. These were made between September 1966 and April 1967, and shown between January and May 1967 in both the UK and the US.

Season six is made of the final eight Rigg episodes and the first seven Thorson episodes. These were made between June 1967 and March 1968, with a considerable… let’s call it a hiccup in production during about the last seven weeks of ’67, which we’ll discuss later. In the UK, the first eight of these were shown as the sixth season, from September to November 1967. All fifteen went out as one season in America from January to May 1968. I number them using their first broadcast date, whether in the US or the UK.

Season seven is made of the other 26 Thorson adventures. These were made over the course of a year, from the spring of 1968 to March 1969. The US and UK broadcasts of these both went from September 1968 to May 1969, with the US finishing first and the UK broadcasts including the seven previous Thorson stories dropped in at what seems like random intervals.

Yes, I know you don’t agree, so you don’t have to waste time trying to tell me.

Anyway, so September 1967 came around and The Avengers were back on British television with a big season premiere guest starring Peter Cushing and featuring, like the title says, the return of the Cybernauts, one of the very, very few antagonists to come back for a second engagement in this show. Really, it’s just them, Ambassador Brodny, and a group called Intercrime that nobody remembers.

Cushing plays Paul Beresford, the brother of Michael Gough’s Professor Armstrong from the first Cybernaut story, and he is just brilliant, smooth and debonair in every scene. Watch how Macnee and Rigg afford him the space to be the star villain. They share several scenes together because their characters don’t initially know he’s one of their diabolical masterminds, and they play off him. They’re the guests on The Paul Beresford Show. It’s amazingly good and generous acting to let Cushing lead his scenes.

The story, written by Philip Levene, is huge fun. It’s got lots of great location filming, and the Cybernaut – it’s just the one this time – gets to rampage through several scenes and break lots of people’s necks. Everybody gets great dialogue, and the villain’s deeply sadistic plan had our son extraordinarily worried for Mrs. Peel. He denied it, of course, but he hid his face and curled up in his mom’s lap when things look bleak and Peter Cushing is being incredibly evil at the end. But as much as he enjoyed the Cybernaut’s killer karate chops and the big climactic fight, his absolute favorite moment came in the tag scene, when Steed wires a toaster the wrong way and blasts two slices through Mrs. Peel’s ceiling. Kid laughed like a hyena.

Some other very good actors are in this story as well. Above, that’s the great Fulton Mackay along with Charles Tingwell, who we remember from the first series of Catweazle, as kidnapped scientists. Noel Coleman and Aimi MacDonald also have small roles. In yet another weird blog acting coincidence, we saw Michael Gough just last night in Young Indiana Jones, and he’s briefly in this story as well with some archive footage as Dr. Armstrong. That villain’s henchman, Benson, returned in this episode. He’s played by Frederick Jaeger, and we’ll see him tomorrow night in Doctor Who.

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Doctor Who and the Silurians (part three)

I wouldn’t be doing my job as a blogger if I didn’t note what an unpleasantly noisy story this is. The reptile-people – we’re still not on a species-name basis with them – gave Dr. Quinn a communications device last time. It’s the sound I’m going to hear when the world ends. It’s not only that it’s mixed so blasted loud that people on the moor can hear the thing from miles away, it’s so loud and aggravating that you can safely turn the sound down to about 1 and not miss a thing.

You certainly won’t miss the music. It’s the first of three serials scored by a musician named Carey Blyton. They’re all soundtracks of the damned, but this cacaphony is played with archaic instruments like crumhorns and ophicleides that all sound like womp-womp music from an old Fleischer cartoon.

Interestingly, Dr. Quinn is shaping up to be an interesting character, a sympathetic character who’s in way over his head, and then he goes and turns into a villain. He decides to hold the reptile-person that he’s rescued from the UNIT searchers as hostage until he shares some ancient technology. For this, the reptile-person kills him. The Doctor finds Quinn’s body at the cliffhanger, and, in a great moment that had our son hiding in terror, turns just as the reptile-person comes into the room behind him.

These three episodes were Fulton Mackay’s only involvement in Doctor Who, but the actor stayed incredibly busy and popular for many years. He starred in the very successful sitcom Porridge, and took the “Doc” part in the British version of Fraggle Rock. (The series had different human-interaction segments in different countries. In the UK, Gobo went to Mackay’s character’s lighthouse to collect postcards from his uncle Matt.) But Mackay leaving this story’s narrative leaves room for another big sitcom star of the seventies to take his place in the story…

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Doctor Who and the Silurians (part two)

This morning, I asked my son what he thought might be going on with the power losses in the base, and he had it all figured out. He decided that the dinosaur we saw in part one was chewing the power cables! So he was a little surprised to learn there are two adversaries in the caves: the big mean dinosaur and a race of intelligent reptile-people. This is just as well; I doubt even Doctor Who‘s producers could have padded my son’s idea of a plot out for seven weeks.

The director, Timothy Combe, made the celebrated decision to keep the reptile-people out of focus for as long as possible, and it really works incredibly well. Our son was fascinated by the heavy-breathing POV shots – “It has three eyes!” he shouted – and he was really frightened when the cornered creature attacks a farmer in his hay barn. It’s very effective.

This episode introduces the third captain for the Brig. We’d met Turner in “The Invasion” and Munro in “Spearhead.” His second-in-command this time is Hawkins, played by Paul Darrow. He’s best known for his role as Avon in Blake’s 7 and still commands a legion of fans in the UK and America. Hawkins doesn’t actually do much in this episode, but I really wish he’d have become the regular second banana in season eight.

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Doctor Who and the Silurians (part one)

Yesterday morning, we took our six year-old son to his first cave, a very, very safe and gentle experience called Fairyland Caverns at a local tourist attraction called Rock City. It’s atop Lookout Mountain, and, in that dopey-dad way, I said “Boy, I hope there aren’t any Sleestak in here,” and then hung back and, later, started hissing. “I know that’s you, Dad,” our son bellowed.

Fourteen years ago, our son’s older brother was also six and I took him to Rock City’s sister attraction, Ruby Falls, which is far, far below Rock City at the bottom of the mountain. In that dopey-dad way, I said to him “Boy, I hope there aren’t any Silurians in here,” and the kid started crying. I didn’t even need to shake my head around and growl “This is our planet! We were here before man!” Tears just flowed immediately.

Ruby Falls is on the calendar for a little later than age six for this boy, just in case that deep cave is too frightening. When the time comes, I still intend to hope aloud that there aren’t any Silurians in it.

Anyway, with Derrick Sherwin rushed off Doctor Who to help shore up Paul Temple, Barry Letts was moved over to become this show’s new producer. Everything was in chaos; even the format of the serial’s title “Doctor Who and…” was evidence that Letts, whose only previous Who experience had been directing “The Enemy of the World” two years before, had to hit the ground running. They promptly decided to use the 21 remaining episodes of the season to tell three large seven-part stories to save money on set and costume design.

Guest stars for the story include Peter Miles and Fulton Mackay, both of whom can safely be called much-loved character actors with credits as long as your arm. This is the first of three seventies Who serials for Miles, who made a career out of playing disagreeably intense but fascinating men with wolf-like smiles. And then there’s Norman Jones, who here plays a mostly-incompetent soldier working security at this research station. He’d been in the show before, in the largely-missing “Abominable Snowmen” in 1967, and would return as a really great villain in Tom Baker’s time.

We don’t know yet from part one what a Silurian is or what it looks like, but there’s definitely a really large dinosaur-like reptile in the caves beneath the research center. This didn’t frighten our son, but it certainly surprised him, and prompted much debate about what kind of dinosaur it might be.

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