Another short entry: Tony Williamson’s “When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?” requires a lot of “TV logic” when it comes to hypnosis, doubles, masks, people alerting the heroes of the story to keep the narrative running for fifty full minutes instead of phoning Ivor Dean’s character of Inspector Large and wrapping things up much more quickly. But it’s incredibly funny and had us all laughing out loud, so why complain? Keith Barron has a small role as one of the villains; always nice to see him.
If you’re as much a fan of familiar actors from the seventies as I am, then Dennis Spooner’s “Target!” is an absolute pleasure. You’ve got Keith Barron and Deep Roy as the villains, and Frederick Jaeger, John Paul, and Bruce Purchase in supporting roles. There’s a hint of the old Avengers spirit at play when Deep Roy disguises himself as a little kid on a tricycle, hiding a lethal hypodermic behind a bunch of balloons.
Our kid doesn’t care about actors, but there was plenty for him to enjoy in this one. The diabolical masterminds this week have rigged a shooting gallery survival course with darts filled with poisonous curare. Since The Avengers is very rarely about gunplay, or kill-or-be-killed shootouts, this is a pretty atypical story, not least in the sound department. It takes our heroes an eternity to figure out the link between all these apparently random agents, but the visuals of the survival course make for a hugely fun story to watch, and our son was on the edge of his seat.
My favorite moments were when Gambit kills two of the bad guys. He murders their inside man entirely by accident, thinking he’s just playing a cruel prank, but Deep Roy later gets one of the all-time great Avengers death scenes, and he totally had it coming.
On one end of the spectrum, there’s that run of Doctor Who stories in 2013 which is all about the mystery of Clara, the mystery of Clara, the mystery of Clara. On this other end in 1983, you’ve got this seventeenish year-old alien who was hanging out in a posh private school and making secret murder contracts with immortal evildoers and practically nothing whatever was mentioned about it. I just can’t help but feel there’s a comfortable medium somewhere between them.
As annoying as it got in the spring of 2013 having every single story revolving around the Doctor investigating what his companion is up to and who she really is, it was still preferable to the cone of silence that was dumped on Turlough. This could have been so interesting. There are whacking great chunks of “Terminus” where Tegan and Turlough literally have nothing to do because the plot is happening elsewhere, but instead of writing some dialogue about this new character, all they say is “we’ve got to get out of here.” All of “Terminus” was a missed opportunity, but I’ll go to my grave thinking they could have improved things by having the two just sidelined and waiting and talking. “So where are you from, and what were you doing on Earth?” Even if Turlough didn’t want to answer these questions – I suspect that nobody had really bothered at this point to figure them out yet – why wasn’t the incredibly inquisitive Tegan asking them?
There are a few scenes in “Enlightenment” where Turlough does seem to act like a cowardly kid around seventeen years old. Usually, he’s not depicted that way. He’s a nebulous early-twentysomething in the hands of the scriptwriters, and just as every subsequent adventure is going to forget that this one ends with Turlough asking the Doctor to take him back to his home planet, every subsequent adventure is going to forget that the character is a teenager.
I shouldn’t complain. The program is just about to forget a character entirely. You want to talk about slapdash…
Fans sometimes debate whether the Doctor knew that Turlough was in league with the Black Guardian, and whether the Doctor had the right to put Tegan and Nyssa in such danger by bringing him on board without telling them his suspicions. I kind of like the friction between the Doctor and Turlough, and at least it gave Davison, who was very, very frustrated by the experience of making the show, something different to do.
I think the problem is that “Enlightenment” doesn’t have a payoff. We can guess that the Doctor knew the Black Guardian was behind this from the beginning and had taken lots of steps that we didn’t see to ensure his enemy would lose. I’ll find a thing or ten to complain about Steven Moffat’s six seasons when we get there, but credit where it could be due: Moffat would have made the end of “Enlightenment” completely spectacular, and Davison could have played the hell out of a tables-turning scene where the Doctor reveals that he was steps ahead of his enemy the whole time.
Instead, the Doctor just stands there. It’s not an impressive ending.
Our son has grasped the existential horror behind Barbara Clegg’s “Enlightenment” quite well, I think. “They scoop out the memories of the people on the ship the same way we scoop ice cream out of a bowl and eat it!” He’s really enjoying the story. Part one ends with a terrific cliffhanger revelation, and the whole story is built around mystery, so it’s got his brain working overtime.
“Enlightenment” is the first story in the Doctor Who canon to be written and directed by women. It was Clegg’s only script for the program, but one of several serials in the early eighties that Fiona Cumming helmed. Familiar faces in the cast include Tony Caunter as one of the crew of this strange Edwardian-era racing yacht and Keith Barron as its captain.
I’ve always thought this was a good story, but not an especially gripping or thrilling one, so I’m glad that our son’s enjoying it, and giving the Black Guardian an appropriate level of evil eye action. But as much as he enjoyed the first cliffhanger, the second one fell flat. It should have been a memorable one – Turlough leaps to his apparent death rather than being stranded for all eternity on a spaceship he can never leave – but our son remembered that a character had literally just explained there’s an energy screen keeping them safe. “He’ll just land on the screen,” he interjected. As it will turn out, he doesn’t, but I’ve watched this a dozen times and never caught that.
Growing up in Atlanta in the seventies, one of the channels we could watch was a local UHF station, WTCG-17, which evolved over time into TBS. Ted Turner, who owned the station, seemed to have a limitless love for monster movies. The Land That Time Forgot probably first aired around 1977, and at least twice a year after that for the next decade. I imagine that it must have been one of Uncle Ted’s favorites. It was certainly one of mine.
Land was based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and it was the first of four fantasy adventure films that Kevin Connor directed that starred Doug McClure. McClure had been a television heartthrob and leading man, but he kind of became the Gerald Ford-era version of Vin Diesel on the big screen, convincingly square-jawed in the face of outrageous special effects. McClure was the obligatory American lead in a British production, leading a cast of familiar faces like Anthony Ainley, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, and Gordon James.
This was a good year to rewatch Land, as it’s set an even hundred years ago! In 1916, a German U-boat sinks a British merchant ship, but the survivors take the U-boat when it surfaces. For half an hour, control of the submarine goes back and forth between the parties as they sabotage each other’s efforts, and, more than a week later, they end up so far south and so off course that they find a cliff-walled land mass that Captain Von Schoenvorts deduces must be Caprona. This is a legendary island that some Italian explorer claimed to find two hundred years previously, but it does not have a beach or any way to land. However, it does have a river flowing through a cave into the ocean, so they dive and go check it out.
Daniel was surprisingly good through this part of the film, but really came alive when the U-boat navigates the underwater river. “It’s just like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” he shouted. When they surface, the fun really starts.
I kind of remember as a kid there being lots and lots of humans vs. dinosaurs movies from the seventies. Most of them are long forgotten now, and I bet none of them have aged as well as Land. The special effects are charming in an unreal way, apart from a hilariously poor pterodactyl which is swung around on wires as thick as your arm. The animosity between the secondary characters, while their leaders wish to keep peace in the name of science and refining oil to refuel the U-boat, is really fun. You can see why Anthony Ainley won the role of the Master on Doctor Who five years later, because he’s so evil and underhanded here.
Plus, there’s a genuine sense of urgency and danger to the story, as the various tribes of natives – tribes from different stages of human evolution, a plot point the movie doesn’t really take time to address – keep attacking the U-boat’s crew and inflicting gruesome casualties. You want to see a movie where German sailors are repeatedly impaled in the spine by the jawbones of dead tyrannosaurs? This is for you.
Truth be told, I had forgotten how violent the film was, only that I adored it when I was a kid and watched it whenever I was aware of it. In those days, WTCG’d run a short ad for a Saturday afternoon screening during a Monday repeat of Gilligan’s Island and I’d be on pins and needles all week ready for more of Doug McClure and the sailors filling allosaurs with hot lead, and I certainly did not spot that inanimate pterodactyl statue as a fraud.
The violence didn’t faze Daniel, although the dinosaurs did scare him a bit. In a rotten bit of luck, he crawled on Mommy’s lap for safety and proceeded to whack the living daylights out of her legs, so she made him move and it broke his heart to the point of anger. He spent the climax of the film sad, heartbroken, and furious, grumbled loudly in an awful pout instead of paying attention to what was happening, even when the volcano – inevitably – erupted and he should have been bouncing off the walls as two of his favorite things, dinosaurs and hot lava, collided. He stormed upstairs at the end, growling that the movie was not cool at all and that he hated it.
A couple of hours later, calmed, happy, and having had a nice lunch, he gladly volunteered that the movie was totally cool and that he was super scared of the dinosaurs. Good man.