Today’s episode of Randall & Hopkirk is a delightfully silly tribute to The Wicker Man, with George Baker in the Christopher Lee role and a whole lot less sex. Literally, that’s the point of the story. It’s a fun inversion of the original story, where everything happens in service to the island’s ancient laws about fertility, because everything happens in this episode to try to stop all that wretched and ghastly fertility.
I wrote a lot for the blog earlier, so here I’ll just add that Reeves and Mortimer’s years on stage sharpened their timing so perfectly that they pulled off one of the funniest gags I’ve seen in ages. It’s a bit where Vic gets Bob to say the wrong thing at the wrong moment and it builds and builds as flawlessly as “duck season / rabbit season / duck season.” If I ever had the chance to see them do that live, they probably would have had to call an ambulance for me. Also, Jeff wins a scrap with two – two! – opponents. Admittedly, these poor fellows were hobbled by the local brew messing with their chemical levels, but somewhere in heaven, Mike Pratt must be pleased that his successor managed that. Jeannie takes one out as well. If Jeff wasn’t there, of course, she’d have clobbered all three.
This story is even better than I remembered it. There are unethical scientists and forbidden knowledge, and, in a very nice change, no villain at all. It’s just ordinary and badly flawed people in a bad situation without the resources or imagination to change it. “Full Circle” drops in some surprises and curve balls, and while some of these are telegraphed, the actors are so good that they don’t give any tells. I like how George Baker just casually mentions that it will take generations to get their ship up and moving again, as though of course the wise, travelling Doctor knows all about how people just naturally spend a century or more getting spacecraft ready. Our son really enjoyed it, as well. This has all the ingredients for a perfect story for under-tens, with enough for grown-ups to appreciate, too.
A few words about the music and opening credits: conventional wisdom has always grumbled that the neon tube logo, the starfield credits, and the 1980 arrangement of the theme tune are all combine to make the program’s weakest and least imaginative titles. I’ve always agreed. It’s a science fiction show, so “stars” is the theme, yeah? But darned if our kid doesn’t completely love them and has started dancing – at least, he claims it’s dancing – to the music. The incidental music within the show’s a different matter. Most of it is composed by Paddy Kingsland or Peter Howell at this stage and I have always really enjoyed it. Kingsland will end up letting me down badly with one score in a couple of years, but I really like how he introduces recurring motifs and even incorporates the Who theme into the background music in a couple of places. Everybody loves the musician Dudley Simpson for all the great work that he did in the seventies, but at least so far, it really seems like John Nathan-Turner was right to move on. The music is fresh and new, and especially with the much more energetic direction by the newcomers, the show is looking and feeling like it has more life in it than it had over the previous few years.
I really enjoy it when our son reacts with such enthusiasm over Doctor Who‘s cliffhangers. Part one of “Full Circle” ends with the beasts-of-the-month, some Black Lagoon creatures called Marshmen, waking up and rising out of a mist-covered lake. Our son spent the recap behind the sofa. Then the second episode ends with some whacking huge spiders – some hilariously unconvincing tourist trap haunted house spiders with light bulb eyes and giant teeth, but spiders nonetheless – hatching from a pile of what everybody thought were ordinary watermelons that the locals call riverfruit. The kid was shocked. “That nutritious fruit is eggs for spiders!”
“Full Circle” is an entertaining adventure that’s aged extremely well. It was the first professional story by a young writer named Andrew Smith, and it’s the first Who serial to be directed by Peter Grimwade, who is by leagues the most interesting and influential director of the early eighties. It also features the first appearance of Adric, a new character who seems to be about fourteen years old, played by nineteen year-old Matthew Waterhouse. The casting of actors who are unmistakably older than their young characters is going to be a hallmark of eighties Who, unfortunately.
As for the older actors, there’s George Baker as a father torn between devotion and his new duties. We’ve seen Baker as the Beefeater in the first episode of The Goodies. He may have been best known at the time for his regular role in the BBC’s celebrated I, Claudius, though he was also the screen’s first Inspector Alleyn, in a series of Ngaio Marsh adaptations made for New Zealand television. Later, he’d play Wexford in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries for years. Plus there’s James “No, what a stooopid fool YOU ARE” Bree as the leader of this strange community.
Our son has definitely twigged that something weird is going on in this community. Every fifty or so years, a large settlement around a non-functioning “Starliner” retreats inside and seals the ship because the air outside is said to become toxic during “Mistfall.” The citizens make repairs and talk about a great embarkation to return them to their ancestors’ home planet. But the Doctor and K9 know the air is perfectly breathable, and after he breaks into the Starliner, with a young, grunting Marshman scurrying behind him, he starts people questioning why the society’s rulers are so keen to keep everybody locked indoors for years.
I think the combination of scary monsters, scary spiders, and lying bureaucrats has him especially interested to see what will happen next. I asked whether this story is better than “Meglos,” and he happily agreed. There’s certainly a lot to like here.
Back to 1970 tonight and the very first episode of The Goodies, which I’d never seen before, and once again I am forced to do the parent-gritting-teeth bit because I’m showing this to my five year-old and Bill Oddie somehow conspired to put a picture of a topless girl on the screen. What a naughty man. I’m working under the idea that just not commenting or drawing any attention at all to anything slightly racy is the best idea. That, and remembering these little bits of bawdy business so that when he’s eight or nine and has a friend over and asks “Hey, Dad, can I show my friend The Goodies,” I’ll know what to say to avoid a tricky conversation with another parent.
Of course, saying that, it’s more likely that if he does want to tell his pals about this show, they’ll probably be sharing videos on YouTube to each others’ tablets or whatever and bypass me entirely. Groan. I do remember, at least, not to show him the episode “The End.” That one’s got a blackface gag – Oddie again – that I once showed my older kids and had a whole lot of ‘splaining to do.
Mommy missed the episode due to work and asked him what the episode was about. “It’s about a burglar who stole… (beat) the crown jewels! There was also a horse chase! There was a burglar on a horse and the Goodies were trying to get that horse!”
Somewhat lost in that description is that the Goodies were hired on their very first case by a mysterious man in the Tower of London played by the great George Baker to find out who was stealing the beefeaters’ beef. The culprit is none other than Prince Charles and a “by appointment” associate burglar, the first of dozens of cheeky references to the royals across the Goodies’ run of nine series. There’s the usual filmed shenanigans and slapstick that had him howling.
It culminates in a genuinely surprising bit of first light location filming, where the “Charles” on horseback escapes with our heroes, dressed as beefeaters, right behind him. They run right up to the gates of the real Buckingham Palace, with all the moxie of guerrilla film making. I wonder whether the BBC sent Her Majesty’s secretary a note asking the Palace guards to kindly ignore any tomfoolery taking place in the road that morning.