A few nights ago, I introduced our son to the legendary story of “The Party” at Hyperbole and a Half. If you’ve not read it and don’t feel like clicking the link, it’s the story of someone who really wants to attend a party just a couple of hours after being put under for major dental surgery. We laughed like hyenas of course, and it must have stuck with our son, because in tonight’s episode, Isla Blair’s character has had far too many glasses of cognac and stumbles across the room to answer the door. Our son quietly riffed “Parp, parp,” understanding this much of the episode perfectly.
The rest of it was a bit too dense for him. I think it’s an absolutely fine script by Donald James, but I think it juggled a few too many things for him to really understand, including a secret Nazi document, mistaken identities, Swiss bank security, stroke victims, assassins, and Ronald Lacey’s weasel of a character pushing King into another ugly situation.
And what a freaking cast! The good guys include Isla Blair, Christopher Benjamin, and Derek Newark. The baddies are Alan McNaughtan and Barbara Murray, who have hired a top assassin played by Mike Pratt, who is sporting some unbelievable sideburns, to kill her husband, who seems strangely in on the deal and very, very willing to stand in place long enough to get shot. Hard to believe that with all that going on, the kid takes away a drunk scene, but these things happen.
When this dull hour finally finished, my wife knew exactly what the problem was. The counterfeiters, she said, didn’t even have the decency to wear turtlenecks.
For longtime readers, that’s a callback to an old gag of mine I’ve deployed about a bunch of seventies American shows – The Six Million Dollar Man being the biggest target because it ran so long – that should have been about evil supercomputers and android duplicates every week, but went with far more mundane stories most of the time. This one begins with two American playboys in the south of Spain shooting each other over a $100,000 payoff. How this ends up in Department S’s hands I can’t imagine, but conveniently the cash turns out to be the payoff for a counterfeit operation that Interpol’s already working on.
Anyway, the script is by Philip Broadley again, and it’s as routine and ordinary as his previous two, with the added insult of being really boring. George Pastell and Isla Blair can’t save it, and neither can John Louis Mansi’s flatly unbelievable fake drunk routine.
Image credit: ITC Entertainment Blog
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.
“Hard to follow, but fun to watch!” That’s our son’s verdict on this story, which I think is the only episode of The Avengers to go out under a pseudonym. Roger Marshall wrote the original story, Brian Clemens reworked it, and the final credit goes to “Brian Sheriff.” There aren’t too many familiar-to-me faces in the story. John Laurie plays a railroad enthusiast, and Isla Blair is one of the members of the criminal gang.
Since we have next to no experience with inter-city train travel in the southeast US, I’ve always been a little bit interested in stories that feature railway lines and timetables and disused stations. Sure, anybody reading Christie or Sayers’ novels where somebody’s alibi is established by the sound of the tunnel that the 4:50 from Walthamstow enters blowing the horn twice has a considerable advantage over me, but I make do. Of course, our son has even less experience than me. He’s taken the subway in Atlanta a few times, that’s about it. So we had to pause and explain a little more of this than usual. The concept that the ticket collector is punching out a special microdot from counterfeit tickets just sailed over his head.
He was also so confused by the name of the derelict station, Chase Halt, that it didn’t even sound like a place to him. I reminded him that there’s an episode of The Secret Service with a similarly-named station, and of course in his second series, Catweazle lived in an abandoned station called Duck Halt. It turns out that a “halt” is, or was, a very small station with limited service and few amenities, and most of the railways stopped using them in the 1950s, which is why they kept turning up as locations in 1960s and 1970s television. I always like it when we learn something together.
Unless I’m mistaken, “The Correct Way to Kill” was the first episode of The Avengers from its color era where somebody shows up at Steed’s apartment (# 3 Stable Mews) intending to murder him. At least Philip Madoc survived that encounter. Tonight’s might be the first time that the wannabe killer ends up dead himself. That’s going to start happening a lot more frequently!