Tag Archives: iain cuthbertson

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.16 – D for Destruction

In case you missed last time we watched an episode: if any readers have been disappointed or annoyed by the lack of photos to accompany these posts, I’ve got great news. The fab site Archive TV Musings has been writing about Adam Adamant Lives! with screencaps. So pop over there and enjoy his much longer posts and tell ’em that we sent you!

And speaking of great news, “D for Destruction” was lost for many years, one of the many victims of the BBC’s junking of old programs. A copy turned up in 2003, and while the picture quality is clearly not as good as the previous episodes we’ve enjoyed, it looks no worse than a VHS release might have looked in the mid-nineties. It’s so surprising that we should watch this relatively recent discovery today, because earlier this afternoon, the great people at Network confirmed a rumor we’ve been hearing, that two lost episodes of the sixties sitcom The Likely Lads (which co-starred Rodney Bewes, who we saw this month in “Resurrection of the Daleks“) have been recovered and will be released as bonus features on a new Blu-Ray release of the Likely Lads feature film.

When they announced Tony Williamson’s “D for Destruction” had been found, my interest in old TV was pretty low, and my stupidly large and cumbersome VHS collection was being whittled away in a series of moves from one suburb to another to another anyway. But once upon a time, that “M for Missing” in my old episode guide notebook was a real sore point because I’d read that Patrick Troughton was in this one. As it turns out, it’s a very small part, basically the Ministry Twit of the Week, only he’s a general, so it’s a Military Twit of the Week instead. Michael Sheard is also here, in an even smaller part, because the most important characters are played by Iain Cuthbertson and Michael Ripper.

The story’s about some strange goings-on and an unusual number of accidents in Adam’s old yeomanry regiment, the 51st. Since the army never actually cancelled his commission (is that the right term?) after he went missing in 1902, Colonel Adamant is asked to return to service and investigate. It’s a pretty good story, but it took our son a little work to understand what was happening. He was very restless at first, but a great scene where one of the corrupted soldiers corners Adam in the firing range got him sitting up straight and paying really close attention. There’s an even more action-packed finale than usual – and how Gerald Harper kept from dislocating his jaw when he low-tackles a guy on a concrete floor I have no idea – and it ends with a tremendously good gag about Georgie answering the phone and getting a big surprise. The audience was in on the joke: the criminals had just made their demands to Number 10, Downing Street.

“D for Destruction” was the last episode of the first series, but there was virtually no break behind the scenes at all as the production team began work on the next thirteen episodes. The show was only off the air for about two months before the new run started. Unfortunately, only two of these thirteen survive, but we’ll check one of them out later this weekend.

(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 7.21 – Thingumajig

A little-known fact about the final season of The Avengers is that they attempted to more effectively counter-program against Laugh-In on NBC by sending thieves to beautiful downtown Burbank to steal all of Jo Anne Worley’s clothes. You bet your bippy they did!

But seriously, we resume our look at The Avengers with the show’s final six episodes, and one which I’d never actually seen before tonight. If you think I’m eccentric, silly, and nitpicky in middle age, you should have known me in my twenties. I briefly went through this long phase where I deliberately didn’t watch one episode of every show I enjoyed, so that I’d have something to watch later on down the line, on a rainy day. Well, it’s rained in Tennessee all blasted week, so here we are with Terry Nation’s “Thingumajig,” and it was not really worth the thirty year wait.

On the other hand, while if I’d watched this by myself, I’d have noted Iain Cuthbertson and Edward Burnham, as well as Linda Thorson’s godawful clothes, and figured this was more evidence that whatever program Terry Nation actually wanted to write, it wasn’t The Avengers. This one’s about a strange, unknown thing creeping around an archaeological dig underneath a late-eleventh century church that kills people with electrical blasts. It’s not a bad hour of television, just an awfully dry one, without any of that Avengers sparkle.

But our kid just loved it. He wondered desperately what the thingumajig was, and was alternately hiding behind the sofa in mild fright or, fists clenched, on the floor in front of us enjoying the thrill as Tara battles a thingumajig in her flat. Sometimes Terry Nation judged his comedy perfectly for younger viewers. There’s this one quirky eccentric in the story who sweats profusely, has a bad cold, and is always cramming snuff up his nostrils. I’d have said the guy wasn’t even remotely funny, but our son chuckled all the time he was onscreen, and just howled with laughter when he accidentally destroys a cake that Tara’s made. So maybe watch this one with a kid; that seems to be for whom it was made!

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Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation (parts three and four)

Told you we’d see Timothy Bateson again in a couple of nights! Bateson plays one of the great little one-off Doctor Who characters, a little old man who the locals sneeringly call Binro the Heretic. Binro’s great crime has been measuring the space between the lights in the night sky and concluding that those are suns just like the one in Ribos’s sky. I love how they take time in episode three for a quiet little moment where the kinder of the two con artists lets Binro know that he isn’t wrong.

Other than Bateson, I’m afraid these two episodes have a few actors who really get on my nerves, but Iain Cuthbertson’s delightful repartee with Tom Baker makes up for it. And while our son was thrilled and frightened by more run-ins with the scary Shrivenzale monster in the catacombs beneath the city, he loved seeing K9 again, and really liked the Doctor and Cuthbertson’s character pulling fast ones on each other, and the Doctor getting away with the macguffin that Cuthbertson thought that he had pocketed.

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Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation (parts one and two)

Before we get started with tonight’s story, I always like to point out that the old Marvel UK has been doing a completely terrific Doctor Who comic since the late seventies. It’s had its ups and downs, but the run of Fourth Doctor stories is really incredibly fun. Almost all the episodes were drawn by Dave Gibbons, and the writers include Pat Mills, John Wagner, and Steve Moore. They’re available in two volumes from Panini, and they fit beautifully in the continuity right between “The Invasion of Time” and this story, so check them out.

Back to television, and we’re in the fall of 1978 for Doctor Who‘s sixteenth season. Graham Williams is still the producer and Anthony Read the script editor. New in the TARDIS is Mary Tamm as Romana, a young woman from the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey. Well, young-ish. She says she’s 140, and that the Doctor is lying about his age when he claims to be 746. He’s actually 749, she says.

This is the celebrated season where the Doctor and Romana search for a macguffin called the Key to Time across 26 episodes. The first adventure is my favorite of the six stories, an incredibly witty escapade written by Robert Holmes where our heroes stumble across two con artists pulling a scam on a disgraced, and easily offended, warlord. The lead criminal is played by Iain Cuthbertson, who seems like he’s having the time of his life. It’s set on a backwater planet where the superstitious locals haven’t yet discovered the telescope, and their relics are guarded by a savage, green monster that our son called a “multi-demon alien beast!”

I thought that our son might not enjoy this one because it’s too talky for him and doesn’t have any action scenes, but he surprised me by saying he isn’t enjoying it because it’s too scary! The green monster, which is called a Shrivenzale, is one of the program’s less impressive beasts, but its offscreen roaring and the worry it causes everybody has him convinced.

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Children of the Stones 1.7 – Full Circle

Regular readers may recall that last spring, I raved about a terrific book called Scarred for Life, which looks at the frightening and odd pop culture of the 1970s. The book hasn’t found a permanent home on any of our shelves because I’m still dipping in and out of the wonderful thing, and reading chapters I had set aside for rainy days. Since Acorn’s DVD of Children of the Stones has been sitting here waiting for my son to get old enough to watch it since we started this blog, I skipped that essay, coming back to it tonight after episode seven blew my mind.

The funny thing about hyperbole – and I say this as somebody prone to going way overboard myself, and often – is that if you read something that gets a breathless recommendation with any kind of skepticism in your eye, you’re bound to question it. I’d have questioned the love that the writers give to Stones if I hadn’t seen it, because they really shovel on the praise. But it’s earned! This is great television. It never talks down to the audience and it never gives simple answers to this very, very complicated problem.

Also, I love how the heroes apply real-world science in a sensible way, even when confronted with a problem whose background is one of ley line mumbo-jumbo. I like to see heroes who can disassemble a situation and look for the right way out of Hendrick’s trap. Adam and Matthew have been great characters to watch and cheer for.

And I love how they can’t win. The painting gives the clue of two people escaping from the circle, but first there’s the downright horrifying fate of the villagers, also foretold in the painting. Then there’s a twist which they learn the following morning. What happens at night is jawdropping. What happens in the morning is tragic.

I enjoyed the devil out of this. I shouldn’t have waited twenty-eight years to see the blasted thing since reading about it. We’ve got another of these spooky seventies British kids’ serials on the agenda to watch late next month – not, sadly, another Third Eye presentation – and if it’s a tenth as good as Children of the Stones, I’ll be pleased.

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Children of the Stones 1.6 – Squaring the Circle

Our son says that he’s enjoying this story, and I’ve no reason to doubt him. He’s not shy about telling us when he doesn’t! During our recent three days off due to what was allegedly snow somewhere up a nearby mountain, I put on The Shape of Things to Come for a second spin, and he was pretty emphatic he never wants to see it again. Me neither, in fact.

But he is oddly incurious. During parts five and six, we finally see Iain Cuthbertson acting more like a traditional villain, some actual person that our heroes oppose instead of a chain of supernatural events. We still don’t know the specifics, but he’s the baddie, and so we can pose more direct questions: do you think Matthew and Adam will stop him? Can they rescue Sandra? He’s not all that concerned. This is a story in which to get swept up and carried away, and we’ll see how it ends next time.

One thing he did note was “Hey, I saw a funny green and black flash there.” As some of these screencaps suggest, the presentation on Acorn Media’s Region 1 DVD hasn’t really been reconstructed or restored. I’m not sure that HTV had the greatest technical facilities when this was first made in the fall of 1976. The master tapes definitely show their age. They don’t look as bad as many of the 1970s Sid and Marty Krofft videotape programs look, but it’s kind of a humbling thought just how close we’re getting to losing a lot of the television from this period entirely. Most American drama from the 1970s was made on 35mm film, and the more successful and demanded shows have been restored already. But the lousy quality of this, and the Krofft series, makes me wonder about the videotape comedy shows that didn’t succeed and were quickly canceled. Has anybody in any archive anywhere checked on The Waverly Wonders or On the Rocks or Hot l Baltimore lately to see whether the tapes even play?

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Children of the Stones 1.5 – Charmed Circle

Hey, John Woodnutt shows up in this one! He plays Iain Cuthbertson’s character’s butler.

There’s a television trope that I have always hated, where the hero goes to fetch authorities after the discovery of a body, and when they get back, the body has vanished. It aggravated me particularly this time, because Adam goes to get help… and the other characters who could have stayed behind, where Dai’s body was, went back to the museum. About which, I was incorrect last time. Dai wasn’t crushed; Adam believes that he had a heart attack.

But there’s still something going on with time. That clay amulet that Dai had been using, and which had shattered, has only three shards remaining. The other three shards were unearthed years before, along with the skeleton of the man who had been crushed and killed centuries ago.

And we finally have a better understanding of what’s turning all of the villagers into the “happy day” zombies. Everyone who dines with Hendrick, as Margaret and Sandra do this time, get to experience a white light from space coming into his house at a precise second… this is so creepy and so entertaining, and whatever Hendrick is up to, I love the way that Iain Cuthbertson plays him so formally and makes him seem so ordinary. He’s a great villain.

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Children of the Stones 1.4 – Narrowing Circle

Well, I am just incredibly pleased with this story. It’s magnificently creepy and cerebral, and, sadly, a little above our son’s head. Because we don’t know what is destroying the identities of the villagers, because we can’t say “It’s Azal, last of the Dæmons, turning everybody into ‘Happy Day’ zombies,” I think that he’s not sure that there’s a threat, just a series of weird occurrences. He says that this is weird, and then realization that this really is menacing comes after we go over the episode with him.

The midpoint of the story, for the original commercial break, is downright chilling, with Freddie Jones’ tramp character, Dai, huddled before a fire, clutching his clay amulet, terrified of something. And this leads into the revelation that there’s apparently a time travel component to the story as well. Centuries ago, one of the stones fell over and crushed a man, who was buried underneath it for the many, many years it took to unearth his skeleton. It’s now part of the village museum. Dai realizes, before any of the others do, that Kevin Lyle and his father – the 50th and 51st residents of the village – have been taken over. His amulet cracks and he flees.

The kids catch sight of Dai on a hill, but when they get to the top, they see only another giant stone on the plain below them. Sandra’s mother assures them there can’t be a stone there, and when they all go to look again, there’s only Dai’s crushed and dead body. Did a stone travel through time to repeat the events of centuries before?

I’ll tell you what’s got me worried: Sandra and her mother make 53 inhabitants, and there are 53 stones. Adam and Matthew make 55… and that strange painting shows only two people making it out of whatever’s happening. This doesn’t look like it’s going to end well.

We will leave it there for a couple of days and give our son a little break to watch something that may be more exciting, possibly with a helicopter chase or something. You might be surprised what’s coming up tomorrow night.

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