RIP Honor Blackman, 1925-2020

She guest starred in both Columbo and Doctor Who, and I honestly don’t believe that anybody other than Honor Blackman can claim that. She became internationally famous for her role as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, and before that, she was knocking stuntmen unconscious as Cathy Gale in the second and third series of The Avengers. She was an icon of the sixties and stayed busy as an actress for many years after that. Our condolences to her family and friends.

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord (parts eleven and twelve)

In the scene above, Honor Blackman’s character proves that she has never seen a horror film where the mad scientist thinks the monsters won’t attack her. Her character is seen reading Murder on the Orient Express earlier, so it’s not like the tropes of fiction are unknown to her. Then again, Orient Express is not a particularly long book, and the props department seems to have wrapped a dust jacket around one of those mammoth thousand-page James Michener novels, so maybe 20th Century fiction has mutated wildly by the year 2986 and she’s expecting the monsters to embrace their creator?

Last night, after our son condemned this whole adventure as lousy, he started playing one of the video games on his tablet, and something or other went wrong and he lost it completely, crying uncontrollably. He was exhausted, and hadn’t slept well the night before. On Sunday evening, we had come home late from a trip to the local observatory, and heaven only knows when he fell asleep. So by the time we watched Doctor Who on Monday, he was a mess, grouchy, and overtired.

Tanned, rested, and ready, he was more in the mood for the show tonight. He enjoyed seeing the recap of the end of part ten, when the Doctor sets off a fire alarm and sends a guard running so he could get past him, and told us “that’s my favorite part of this whole story!” Some of this was still a little over his head. He had trouble understanding why the scientist decided to destroy everybody (to keep the plant-monster Vervoids from reaching Earth), he grumbled that the bright red part of the Vervoid mask looked like a wool sweater, and the cliffhanger ending to part twelve landed with a thud. The Time Lords realize that by killing all the grown-in-a-lab Vervoids, the Doctor may have committed genocide, but I forgot to check to see whether our kid knew what that meant first. Well, he’s learned a new word.

I asked whether he enjoyed these two parts more than the previous two, and he agreed, but with a shrug. “It’s tolerable,” he decided, before going on at the lengths that a seven year-old can enjoy about how if he was going to either watch other Doctor Who stories or take money to watch ones he doesn’t want to see, he’d probably take the money, because he doesn’t like this one very much.

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord (parts nine and ten)

Tonight, our son let us know he’s like most of fandom and is not impressed by this epic-length storyline. He doesn’t like this segment of the story, because it’s too scary, “and I don’t like the other two DVDs of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord,’ either!” And that’s not true, because he laughed all the way through the last two episodes during all of King Yrcanos’s shouting, but the dreariness of these two has retroactively turned him against the rest.

Well, I may not care for the other two DVDs we’ve watched either, but they’re art compared to this chunk. It’s written by Pip and Jane Baker, and because they were seemingly incapable of giving any of their characters any kind of individual dialogue, everybody talks with the same voice, and it’s a voice that does crossword puzzles all day. Arthur Hewlett is here, briefly, and so is Honor Blackman, unfortunately, because she is playing to the rafters. Nobody wants to say anything bad about the actress who played Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, but she really is awful in this. Bizarrely, this story is set on a 30th Century cruise between planets, and the only passengers we see in this have speaking parts. The passenger lounge should be absolutely full of people, but I guess there just wasn’t any budget at all for even a single extra. It’s really, really noticeable.

Monday morning quarterbacking again, but if we must have had the whole season dealing with this one story, I really would have prefered if they dropped this dopey “here’s an adventure from my future” angle and just spent episodes nine through [spoiler!] dealing with the Valeyard and what he’s up to. That’s a plot that doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it needs, while this totally boring murder mystery drags on.

Joining the cast this time, it’s the odd situation of the Doctor introducing us to a companion that he has yet to meet. She’s called Melanie, and she’s played, to the abject horror of many SRS BSNSS fans in Britain, by Bonnie Langford. Most of the Who companions up to this point were played by unknowns near the beginning of their career, but Langford had a reputation. She had been a child star – I reminded our son that we saw her in Wombling Free – and was really successful in musical theater. She’d been playing Peter Pan when she was cast as Melanie. But a decade before Who, she had played an infamously bratty little girl in a popular series called Just William who was always shrieking that she would “thcweam and thcweam until she was thick.” I think she might have been similar to Angelica in the cartoon Rugrats.

Last year, when we watched that surprisingly good episode of Buck Rogers that guest starred Gary Coleman, I thought there might be a comparison. In the late eighties, there was a contingent of British Who fandom that desperately wanted the show to be taken more seriously – by the producers and by the public – and was exasperated by the show hiring sitcom stars and showbiz celebrities. I was reminded of how, when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes at the memory of Buck using the “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout” kid, and I think that Bonnie Langford hit a similar chord. Remember we’re just a year away from the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation at this point, and no matter how much people may like Wil Wheaton now, the news that there was going to be a kid genius on the show made people write angry screeds to the letters page of Starlog whining that the Enterprise didn’t need a Boxey Adama.

As for me, I had no idea who Bonnie Langford was, I still haven’t seen Just William, and as soon as Pip and Jane Baker stop writing her dialogue, I’m going to like Melanie just fine.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

We hadn’t sat down for a Sunday morning movie in a while, but today we picked back up with a fabulous one. Tom Hanks once said that Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film of all time, and I think Hanks knows movies more than I do. He may be right; it’s certainly very fun.

Our five year-old critic got squirmy in the middle, and when the traitor on board the Argo, played by Gary Raymond, revealed himself, he had no idea what the heck was going on. But to be fair, Douglas Wilmer’s evil king tapped Raymond to spy on Jason, the true heir to the throne of Thessaly, almost an hour previously and Raymond didn’t actually do anything nasty after that, so we can forgive him for being baffled by the swordfight.

We also needed to pause early on after realizing that our son had virtually no contact with Greek mythology prior to this, and didn’t know who these gods were. I think that Ares and Hephaestus are in an episode of Justice League Unlimited, but other than that, I don’t know that today’s popular culture really references these beings much anymore. Niall MacGinnis plays Zeus and Honor Blackman, in between her two seasons as Cathy Gale on The Avengers, plays Hera. The two of them take an interest in Jason after competing prophecies and prayers attract their attention.

I really like the way that the film addresses a desire to live in a world without the interference of gods. There’s an interesting bit where the Olympians consider the wisdom in striking down every heathen who blasphemes.

Also appearing in the movie are Todd Armstrong, who never had the career he deserved, as Jason, Nancy Kovack as the priestess Medea, Laurence Naismith, who would later manipulate The Persuaders to do his bidding, as the shipbuilder Argus, Nigel Green as a most unusual (but still very effective) Hercules, and Patrick Troughton – didn’t we just see him last night? – as a blind soothsayer. Our son didn’t recognize him, of course. Troughton was such a chameleon.

The movie’s directed by Don Chaffey, who mainly did television work, but also Pete’s Dragon for Disney, and it is one gorgeous, beautiful movie. It’s also a movie where the director knows when to back off and let Ray Harryhausen take over.

Wow. Okay, it’s true that jaded eyes can spot the difference in film stock whenever something magic is about to happen. This actually works against the beautiful modern restoration of this movie, with the blues in particular so vibrant that even in thirteen-degree January Chattanooga, we warmed up just looking at the sea and the sky. Nevertheless, the special effects are completely amazing for their day and remain astonishing.

I also love how all the stop-motion beasts in this movie have their own body language. The giant statue of Talos is slow and lumbering, the harpies are blurs of motion, the hydra’s heads and tail are each doing their own thing, and the seven (seven!!!!) skeletons who attack Jason, Phalerus, and Castor are unstoppable. Well, it’s possible they might have dispatched one of them.

Apart from his fit of mid-movie boredom, our son really enjoyed this film. He leapt out of his skin when the hydra showed up, started chewing on his security blanket when the skeletons attack, and might have swallowed the whole thing if Jason hadn’t made it out of that. He said that his favorite part of the film was when they use the golden fleece (or “golden cloak thing” in his words) to bring Medea back to life.

I dunno what my favorite part of the movie is. Possibly the skeletons. That animation is so darn good. Sure, they could do it on a computer now, but just imagine the work that went into matching all that up with the live-action footage. We’ll see a few more Harryhausen films down the line, but they might all be in this one’s long shadow. It’s a fantastic movie.