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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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Doctor Who: Castrovalva (parts three and four)

So here we see Anthony Ainley made up as “the Portreeve,” an old, learned man in the strange city of Castrovalva. The disguise worked. I paused in the end credits for part three, where Ainley is credited as “Neil Toynay,” and asked Marie whether she recognized the actor, and she didn’t. “So who is he?” our son asked. “Mom and I saw him the other night in Out of the Unknown,” I said, attempting one more clue. Unknown was a BBC anthology series that started as adaptations of proper, pipe-smoking sci-fi that evolved into original works of psychological horror and the supernatural by the end. What survived the BBC’s wiping is incredibly uneven and occasionally terrible, but almost always interesting to watch. My favorite is the 1966 adaptation of Frederik Pohl’s “Tunnel Under the World,” which is just eye-poppingly amazing. Ainley was the star of a 1971 story called “Welcome Home” which she and I watched Wednesday night. It is almost oppressively creepy, and he’s excellent in it.

So bravo to Ainley, the makeup team, and director Fiona Cumming for pulling it off. When he reveals himself to be the Master in part four, only one of the three people in this audience saw it coming. I honestly don’t remember whether I saw through the disguise when I first saw this in late 1984. I probably didn’t.

Castrovalva is a city on the top of a steep, rocky hill on a quiet and calm wooded planet that made us all want to hike and climb the rocks there. The city is populated by incredibly likable and kind people, one of them played by the fine character actor Michael Sheard, and the Doctor evidently hasn’t paid enough attention to 20th Century popular culture, because he doesn’t spot that the city is built like an MC Escher print, with all the staircases leading to the same place and sometimes upside down.

I’ve noted this little hole in the Doctor’s knowledge before, back when we learned that the Master is a King Crimson fan. I’ll tell you what was going on during the Third Doctor’s exile. He was taking Jo to the National Gallery, name-dropping all the artists he’s known, and telling ribald stories about Titian. Meanwhile, the Master was hanging out in record stores and head shops, seeing what pipe-smoking sci-fi readers were framing on their living room walls, and sneering about snobs who use words like “ribald.”

Our son was very pleased with this story, which was nice, because he’s been more patient than engaged with the last few things we’ve watched together. “I really liked this one,” he told us, singling out the part where one of the Castrovalvan people saves the day by swinging from a chandelier into the Master’s infernal machine. The Master shouts “My web!” when it happens, which is slightly comical. Then he tries to escape in his TARDIS, finds that he can’t use it to get out of the collapsing, recursive geography of Castrovalva, steps outside and bellows “My web!” again, which is more than just “slightly” comical.

So that’s it for Peter Davison’s first adventure. He makes a great team with Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, and Janet Fielding. The story is original, and certainly unlike anything we’ve seen on the show before. The dialogue’s sometimes clumsy, and Tegan must have grown up in a household full of pipe-smoking sci-fi readers, because she has accepted all of this with no confusion or complaint, but this is another very good example of what I was talking about with “The Leisure Hive” when I said that the program is trying to look and sound interesting and different. You really get the sense that everybody involved wants to make this show work.

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Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy (parts three and four)

Our son liked the story’s final line – Frederick Jaeger hoping that K9 is “TARDIS trained” – so much that it overshadowed the big explosion. For me, Jaeger and K9 and Louise Jameson are pretty much the only things about this one worth watching. It’s worse than I remembered it, ponderous and boring, with some of the most poorly staged gunfights in the whole series. The next one’s better.

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Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy (parts one and two)

When I first watched Doctor Who in 1984, I missed several of the stories in season fifteen because of family travel or whatever. I missed the first three stories – “Fang Rock,” this one, and “Image of the Fendahl” – and the last one of the season. So K9 was a big surprise to me, and because when you’re a twelve year-old boy, the desire not to have other people mock your childish interests is like a survival code, it wasn’t a nice one. I couldn’t believe this show suddenly had a cute robot. He predates R2-D2, incidentally. This story was taped a month before the American premiere of Star Wars.

Seven is so much nicer an age than twelve. Our son was instantly charmed by K9. He got up and walked to the television, wide-eyed, and pointed at K9 just in case we missed it. “Look! It’s a robot dog!” He’s going to be so happy when K9 comes along at the end of this story.

I asked whether K9 is the best thing about this serial and Marie instantly interrupted “Yes!” I did warn her that this story is what happens when Dr. Science is not paying any attention at all to the script. I’ve never really cared for it either, but I’d forgotten just how good part one is. There’s a real sense of menace and mystery about the strange space infection, and I really like the design of the Titan base. The visual effects range from passable to regrettable as always, but all the other elements of this adventure – K9, the clones, the shrinking, the journey into the Doctor’s brain, that shrimp costume – are so much more memorable, mostly for all the wrong reasons, than the fabulous first episode. The dropoff is unbelievably steep.

Anyway, so this story was written by veterans Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and the memorable guest stars include Frederick Jaeger, as K9’s master Professor Marius, and Michael Sheard, as one of the infected bunch from the Titan base. This was a very rushed production and it badly, badly needed another draft of the script, preferably one where the clones wear basic orange jumpsuits and maybe some scuba gear! Episode one was far better than I remembered it, and episode two was about as lousy. But our son thought episode one was creepy and scary, and episode two has K9 in it, and would not agree.

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Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars (parts three and four)

Our son was still about as frightened as a kid could be during the second half of this adventure, so much so that we had to pause during part four to get him to calm down. He was distracting himself from the horror onscreen, which reached new depths when Sutekh took control of the Doctor’s mind, first by firing an imaginary gun at Sutekh with a growl, and then by, I’m sorry to say, belching. And then giggling about it. You try to be understanding. He is just six and needed a distraction from one of his heroes being used as a plaything by the most evil and powerful creature in the cosmos. But man, was it an obnoxious mood killer!

Anyway, I think there’s an unheralded moment in this story. I think this is the first time, at least the first in quite a while, that evil forces take control of the TARDIS. I remember the villains came on board, briefly, in “The Enemy of the World” and in “The Claws of Axos,” but is this the first occasion where something as awful as this happens? It really adds to the feeling of gloom.

I think it’s an absolutely terrific production. Many people call it one of their favorite Doctor Who stories from the era for good reason. There are a few brief moments of sparkling wit among the incredibly high stakes, and Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are fantastic together, especially in part three when the Doctor shows no emotion at all when Michael Sheard’s character is found to be dead, and Sarah starts to lose her temper with his dispassionate lack of what she starts to call “humanity” before checking herself. It’s scary and exciting, and people love it to pieces for a reason.

Hopefully the next story won’t have our son too terrified, but I’m a little concerned about the one after that…!

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Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars (parts one and two)

The third saddest child I think I’ve ever seen would be our son, tonight, right after the cliffhanger to part two of “Pyramids of Mars.” He didn’t completely break down, but his lower lip trembled more than I’ve seen it in a while. Almost frozen with fear, he huddled beneath his security blanket and said “I need a hug.” Thumbs were definitely down. “Pyramids of Mars” is the scariest thing ever.

The first and second saddest children I think I’ve ever seen would be his older brother and sister, who saw this story in late 2003 or early 2004. They did indeed completely break down. There was screaming and there were tears and then there were two kids in bed with me.

Even worse, I didn’t have this story in serial version at the time, I had a VHS copy of the compilation movie that was shown on public television. So these robot mummies that have indiscriminately killed everybody they’ve come across in the grounds of this old priory in 1911 and are completely unstoppable come charging into the lodge after – unbelievably – crushing a poacher to death between their chests, they smash the Doctor to the ground, kick the furniture over, and are about to strangle Sarah as the music swells. And, since I had no other way to do it, I just pressed stop in the middle of the mayhem. Screams.

So “Pyramids of Mars,” which was written by Robert Holmes and directed by the brilliant Paddy Russell, has a reputation for being just about the perfect example of seminal, classic, scary Doctor Who. It’s the first time that the show consciously decides to be a Hammer horror film in the classic style with a sci-fi sheen. It’s mummies coming to life in a big old house in 1911, but they’re the robotic servants of the phenomenally powerful Sutekh, an alien who has been paralyzed in an Egyptian tomb for thousands of years. The Mars bit comes because the prison has two parts: the force field that keeps Sutekh motionless is on another planet, to keep anybody on Earth from screwing with it. But his jailers didn’t shut off their prisoner’s mind, and as soon as one of those rich Englishmen showed up to rob tombs in the name of archaeology, Sutekh took control of him and set the man and his robots to work freeing him from his prison.

But the sci-fi stuff is darn near irrelevant. The whys really, really aren’t important, because this is about killer mummies in the woods and evil servants bringing Sutekh’s gift of death to all humanity:

Bringing this to life (ha!), you’ve got Bernard Archard playing the archaeologist as a walking corpse, and Michael Sheard as his unfortunate scientist brother. Peter Copley is another scientist who has a thing or two to say, sir, about all this unpleasantness before he gets killed. The sets are amazing, and the location filming is just terrific. Tom Baker is on fire in this story, as the Doctor knows that he’s up against the greatest threat that he’s ever faced, something that will change the course of history and destroy all life on Earth in 1911 unless he can find a way to stop it.

Incidentally, for those mildly curious about these things, this story is the one that emphatically – and repeatedly – finally puts a firm date on the “present day” of Doctor Who. It’s five years ahead of the broadcast date: 1980. This will later get retconned. Some of us find this terribly amusing and entertaining. About nine people lose sleep over it. They all have book deals.

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The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Our son told me “I can’t wait to watch the next Star Wars movie! It has Imperial Skywalkers in it!” I think he’s been getting peeks and hints from Angry Birds tie-in games. Forgetting, briefly, that they’re also called Imperial Walkers, I told him that they were AT-ATs and AT-STs. “Well, I want to call them Imperial Skywalkers.”

And speaking of things being called one thing and not another, I never realized that Boba Fett is never actually named in this movie. We all knew it in elementary school – we had the toy, we saw the Holiday Special – but here he’s just “the bounty hunter.” How odd.

But the anticipation buildup for this film was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen from our son. There have been times where he’s not entirely gung-ho to watch what we’ve selected, but he’s been on pins and needles for two weeks. This morning, he appeared at the top of the steps and announced that he was too excited to brush his teeth and wanted to start the movie right now. He didn’t want breakfast. We insisted. You’ve never seen anybody resent peanut butter toast so much in your life.

Like all of us, I love this movie. I love how the cast is full of familiar faces like Julian Glover, John Hollis, Milton Johns, and Michael Sheard. Apparently John Ratzenberger is in it somewhere, too, but I never spot him. Our son agreed, full of energy and excitement and worry about the oddest things – he grumbled that he hoped that Luke brought an extra oil can for R2-D2 when they land on Dagobah – and he was scared out of his mind by Luke and Vader’s duel. I made a rare intervention as he hid his eyes under a pillow and said “You better watch.” There are certain moments you’d never forgive yourself for missing.

Spoilers are strange things. When we were kids, the news that Vader was Luke’s father spread like wildfire, and we all went “OhmyGodREALLY?!” I lost that desire or need such a long time ago. I can’t stand having anything spoiled. I was in a grocery store checkout line about three weeks before The Phantom Menace opened and flipped open a children’s tie-in book to see the artwork. The book landed on “Qui-Gon was dead, but his–” and I darn near threw the book across the store. Our son seems to be one of the few who didn’t learn that Vader is Anikin beforehand. It didn’t blow his mind, but it’s a good hook to talk about before we watch the next film in four months or so.

I did try and talk him out of it. I don’t actually like the next four films. The most recent two have been great fun, but I’d honestly rather watch many other movies before Return of the Jedi. I’ve been overruled, though. He insists on seeing Darth Vader defeated, which somebody somewhere seems to have told him happens in “the last movie,” even if nobody told him who Darth Vader actually was.

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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (part six)

This really is a super story, and it ends brilliantly enough to please even the more frightened members of the audience. Our son watched this one with quite a lot of grumbling and nail biting, but I believe that since it ends with a big explosion, he got to grin really big and shout “The Master got his butt kicked!” So this one goes in the win column.

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