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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (part three)

The first time I watched (most of) “Planet of the Daleks,” on PBS around 1987, I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t impressed when I watched it again after getting a complete copy in 1994 either. But about nine years after that, I watched it with my older son, then about six, and got a new appreciation for it. This is definitely a story to watch with a kid, as we experienced again tonight. The thrill that a child has for Daleks, and the total conviction they have in their cruelty and their power, almost totally overshadows any production problems or scripting silliness.

You can be a curmudgeon on your own; watching this story with a kid is huge fun. Ours was excited, worried, frantic, and, when the ice-volcano erupts and two Daleks are splashed with gallons and gallons of “ice hot lava,” absolutely pleased. We briefly debated whether that shouldn’t be called “ice cold lava” before paying attention to the next bit of running down corridors. Upstairs, now, his nightly playtime before bed has been interrupted several times while Mommy has been threatened with extermination.

Note that I say “almost totally.” Kids can love Daleks all they want, but nothing can save the next Dalek serial that they made, the following year. That thing’s a complete turkey.

Anyway, the reason I’m less familiar with this story than almost all the others from the era that I’ve seen many times is that Lionheart, the company that syndicated Doctor Who in the 1980s, deliberately provided stations with a badly edited version. As I’ve mentioned previously, the BBC wiped many of Jon Pertwee’s color tapes, retaining only black and white film prints for export to countries who hadn’t switched to color yet instead. Lionheart’s package of the 24 Jon Pertwee stories, edited into TV movies, included five black and white movies and nineteen color ones.

However, both “Planet of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” from the following season, were idiotically offered as color TV movies with their missing color segments simply cut out. Since part three of this story was missing in color, the narrative of the movie version just jumps from the character telling Bernard Horsfall “Somewhere on this planet there are ten thousand Daleks!” to a scene a few minutes into part four, once everyone has escaped from the Dalek base. Twenty-five minutes just chopped out. I know I’ve said that these six-parters are all about one episode too long, but that’s insane. They should have syndicated it as a complete black and white movie. It was good enough for “The Daemons.”

(Even weirder, I’ve read that Lionheart also offered this in its mostly-original episodic format, only with the credits remade, so the American “part three” was the original “part four,” and so on. Since WGTV only bought the Pertwee adventures as TV movie compilations, we never saw it like that in Atlanta, but I wonder whether this version included the escape from the refrigeration room that was cut out of the TV movie.)

Anyway, the version of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” that they offered was, while still obnoxious, not quite as incoherent since the missing color part was the opening episode, and so it looked like the movie began with the adventure already in progress. I hope we’ll be watching this story in about one month’s time, and I’ll talk more about that when we get there, but it was also one that I skipped copying off air.

There’s a terrific short documentary on the DVD about how they rebuilt this episode and restored the color. It took two separate projects: traditional colorizing done by a firm in Los Angeles, and a really neat project in London that extracted color information – chroma-dots – from a black and white telerecording. It’s absolutely wonderful to finally see this episode just about exactly as it was first taped.

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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (part one)

It’s a great pleasure to finally see “The Mind of Evil” in color. I’ve had this DVD for a while and, like “The Ambassadors of Death,” I’ve been waiting patiently to watch it with my son. All of the other lost-in-color Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who had some kind of color version available in the tape trading days, usually a low-quality multiple-generation copy that came from an American broadcast of the series in the mid-seventies. Nobody is known to have recorded this story and kept it. A gentleman called Tom Lundy recorded the other four (I think he was in Buffalo NY) and kept them, but he recorded over “The Mind of Evil” with a football game. All that remained was a few minutes at the beginning of part six before he taped something else.

A few years ago, the BBC’s technicians and magicians reassembled this story as close to the way it was originally shown as can be managed, and it looks very good. Every fifth (or so) frame of part one is hand-colored, with computers estimating the rest, and parts two through six were restored through chroma-dot recovery, extracting a color signal from the data within a black-and-white copy. I think this is all so fascinating. The only critique I can make about part one is that the insides of actors’ mouths seem unnaturally black. Otherwise this looks incredibly good.

“The Mind of Evil,” written by Don Houghton, is a little bit of a throwback to the previous season of Doctor Who. It’s a harder-edged story than the increasingly fanciful and lighter eighth season, tackling prison reform and the threat of global war without an army of candy-colored monsters. The special effects are not as garish as in the previous story, or anywhere as close to how they’d be in the next one, and the Doctor is still yelling at bureaucrats who get in his way, only this time the target of the Doctor’s loud mouth snaps back, and it is pretty hilarious seeing the Doctor get a little comeuppance for his constant rudeness.

Our heroes are faced with two issues that keep them separated in part one. The Doctor and Jo are observing an experimental procedure that is said to be the work of the famous Dr. Emil Keller. It is supposed to remove the “evil” impulses from the minds of criminals. It seems to work on a cruel fellow called Barnham, played by Neil McCarthy, who was the farmhand from the first season of Catweazle a year before this was shown. Also in the cast is perennial guest-starred-in-everything actor Michael Sheard as the prison doctor.

Meanwhile, UNIT is trying to balance providing security to a World Peace Conference while simultaneously planning to dispose of a missile – you don’t think these plot threads are going to join up, do you? – and their jobs get complicated when a Chinese military captain first reports some stolen documents and then waits half an hour after finding her country’s delegate murdered body and lies about it. Joining UNIT for this story and the next is Fernanda Marlowe as Corporal Bell, whose uniform indicates that she enlisted in the RAF, not the Army, before being assigned to UNIT. Corporal Bell has very little to do in her two stories, but it’s nice that the TV people made the effort to continue giving UNIT some recurring characters before forgetting about the character!

I kind of predicted this would start out a little complicated and over the head of our favorite six year-old critic. He wasn’t really taken with it, but he did let us know that the strange Keller Machine, and the bizarre deaths that happen in the prison’s processing room, are “creepy.” Hopefully he’ll enjoy the next episodes a little more!

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Ace of Wands: The Power of Atep (part three)

We’ll pause for a moment from the mysteries of Egypt to mention another mystery. Was Ace of Wands ever shown in America, and, if so, which episodes?

This is going to read a bit like “A guy I met swears somebody claimed to have a missing Doctor Who episode,” or “Don’t I recall a bit in the Book of Ezekiel where the wheel landed on a primitive Nazca line,” because I can’t quite prove this, but here goes. TV stations used to get an annual copy of this book, and I can’t even tell you the proper name of it. I always called it “The Syndie Bible,” a big catalog of series, serials, and movies that stations could purchase, and who to contact. I found a few of these in the UGA Library in the early nineties when I was researching a proposed book I was co-writing, an encyclopedia of American TV sci-fi and fantasy. Then the internet happened and the book became surplus to requirements, as you might say.

In the book, I found a listing for a package of Ace of Wands being offered to American stations in the 1970s and 1980s by a company called D.L. Taffner. I did a little rudimentary hunting and that seems to make sense. Taffner, an American producer, did a lot of work with packaging Thames TV series for the US. His biggest success was with the various Benny Hill shows and specials, but Taffner later started following in Norman Lear’s footsteps and remaking Thames sitcoms into popular American shows: A Man About the House / George and Mildred into Three’s Company / The Ropers, and Keep it in the Family into Too Close For Comfort. In 1987, Taffner financed a pilot for a revival of The Saint that CBS didn’t pick up.

But if any public broadcasting stations – for it was most likely PBS – did show any Ace of Wands in America, which episodes did they show? The package was 13 episodes, but the existing series three is 20 episodes, comprising six stories. So, was this a package of four of the six existing stories, or, more tantalizingly, might this have been the first season, which could have been more likely? Did Taffner have thirteen episodes of the show long after Thames wiped their copies?

Stranger things have happened. In 1973, the BBC made a glacially-paced space drama called Moonbase 3 that nobody watched and wiped their copies a few years later. 20th Century Fox had co-produced the show, thinking that it might run on ABC, and held onto their set. In the early nineties, the Sci-Fi Channel launched, desperate for programming, and bought the show from Fox, surprising all the “telefantasy” fans in the UK who thought that the series was gone forever. I wonder whether the same thing might have happened with Ace of Wands, or whether the package was just 13 of the surviving 20 episodes.

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The Goodies 2.8 – Come Dancing

If our son was muted and polite about that Ace of Wands adventure, he was screamingly happy with another new-to-him escapade with The Goodies tonight. This time, we watched 1971’s “Come Dancing,” and he prepped for it by rewatching two of the episodes we’d watched previously this morning before I went to work.

He chuckled and giggled all the way through it, but I thought the climactic silly film bit wasn’t half as funny as the middle-of-the-show silly film bit, and that wasn’t half as funny as watching the guys step back to let June Whitfield and Joan Sims steal the whole show. They play rival gangsters stepping on each others’ dancing shoes to control the fixed ballroom dancing circuit. Whitfield spits out an amazing paragraph of gobbledygook when her subterfuge is revealed, and Sims’ character, Delia Capone, is like a villain from a John Wagner 2000 AD comedy.

Marie wondered whether this was originally made for 3D as the color is slightly off, with pink and blue bands occasionally overlapping the actors. It turns out that “Come Dancing” was one of the episodes that the BBC wiped, as they did back then. The print we have today was made from mating a decent quality black-and-white telerecording for overseas sales to a long-forgotten and beat-up color videotape that somebody at BBC Scotland had made of a 1972 repeat of this installment, discovered 26 years later. I remain amazed both at how good of a job the artists and technicians who perform these restorations do, and how frustrating it is that there’s a need for their services at all.

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Ace of Wands: The Meddlers (part one)

Back in the seventies, Thames TV looked across town at the remarkable success that the BBC was having in deleting, trashing, and wiping their early color television shows and decided they needed to get in on that action. They even found a perfect candidate for a program that lots of people really loved and would miss if they threw it out. It was called Ace of Wands, a series created by Trevor Preston in which a stage magician with psychic powers – you remember when Uri Geller was actually a comic book character in the Marvel Universe? Kind of like that – matched wits with bizarre criminals in modern London. Tony Selby and Judy Loe played his sidekicks, and his villains included Russell Hunter, Christopher Benjamin, Isobel Black, and Hildegarde Neil. Thames destroyed all of the first two seasons, the vandals. They even dumped Tim Curry’s second credited TV part.

Fortunately, the third and final season of Ace of Wands was spared the ax. It aired from July through November in 1972. Michael MacKenzie was back as the adventurer Tarot, and in the first serial, “The Meddlers,” written by P.J. Hammond, he meets two new associates, Mikki and Chas, played by Petra Markham and Roy Holder. Michael Standing plays the leader of an unkempt street band who seem to malevolently hover over a failing urban market, where fires break out, goods are smashed, and vegetables rot before they should. Rumor has it that a man had been killed there a hundred years ago and placed a curse on the land. Or is there a more real world reason for all the unhappiness and violence?

I didn’t dare ask our son whether he enjoyed it. This is a very slow opener, with very little action, and what action we do see is pretty incompetently staged and edited. Nothing is very strange and certainly not scary, and the whole affair violates the “show, don’t tell” rule to absurd degrees. This episode doesn’t work well, but the engaging characters and realistic mood promise better things. Indeed, better and weirder is definitely to come.

In fact, the thing that generated the most enthusiasm was a strange decision by the set designer. There’s a high-rise towering over the market, and a shadowy man on the top floor keeps an eye on the stalls through binoculars. He has a desk, and he keeps a python in a birdcage, but he has no other furnishings. There’s so much empty space that our son suggested that he could play tag in the man’s office.

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What We’re Not Watching: Paul Temple

We’re not watching Paul Temple with our son because he’s six and wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on in it, but since this series was so closely linked around the production of Doctor Who in 1969-71, swiping its producers and sharing all sorts of talent, that I thought it would be a fun little counterpart. Unfortunately, Marie didn’t enjoy the first three available episodes, so I’ll have to find time to watch the remaining thirteen installments in Acorn’s collection some other time.

The character of Paul Temple was created in 1938 by Francis Durbridge for a BBC radio series, and he’s appeared in novels and comic strips. Mostly forgotten today, Paul Temple was a novelist who specialized in writing detective fiction who became an amateur detective himself. Accompanied by his beautiful wife Steve Trent – her real name is Louise and Steve her pen name – Temple crisscrosses Europe, always on research holidays where corpses can be found, and then he assists police with their inquiries, as Golden Age detectives did. The series is set in the present day and it’s ultra-fashionable, with ascots and go-go boots and totally glam early ’70s clothes. I honestly don’t believe the character ever had any crossover success in America, but he was really well known in Germany.

The BBC made four series of Paul Temple, each with 13 episodes, and then, in that damnable BBC way, they went and wiped all but sixteen of them. To visualize just how closely this was wrapped around the initial color years of Who, the first series of Temple began in November 1969 and finished during the transmission of “The Silurians.” Series two began just seven weeks later, while “The Ambassadors of Death” was running. The third series began alongside “Terror of the Autons,” and the last one began a couple of weeks into “The Daemons.” And if you’ve paid any attention to Who‘s end credits during this period, you’ll see a pile of familiar names working on Temple, including A.A. Englander, Ron Grainer, Dudley Simpson, Trevor Ray, Michael Ferguson, Douglas Camfield, Christopher Barry, David Whitaker, and of course the producers Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin.

And in front of the cameras, there’s a similar “rep company” feel. The show starred Francis Matthews – Captain Scarlet himself – as Paul Temple, with Ros Drinkwater as Steve. Their approach to crimefighting is basically to dive into any villainous plots head-first and see what happens. Their guest casts are absolutely packed with recognizable faces. Now, if you enjoy older British television, you will certainly love the really entertaining Cult TV Blog. I agree with John on lots of things, but not his position on familiar faces. For him, recognizing an actor takes him out of the experience, but I absolutely love that. We were watching the second episode available and I was racking my brain to figure who that was playing the villain under the big Jason King mustache – it was Edward de Souza – when suddenly Peter Miles, who we saw in “The Silurians” literally one week previously, came in the room. You’re also sure to recognize George Baker, Frederick Jaeger, Emrys James, Moray Watson, Catherine Schell, and George Sewell, among others.

Now, about the missing episodes situation… Paul Temple is in a really unique place because, after the first series, a West German company called Taurus Films became the co-producer with the BBC. The Beeb wiped 36 of the 52 episodes. They deleted everything from series one, and all but one episode from series two. They deleted six of the next 13, and five of the last 13. Of the eight remaining from series four, five are only in black and white. These sixteen survivors are available in a six-disk Region 2 set from Acorn Media. (Buy it from Amazon UK.)

But then last year, something surprising happened. A German company, Alive, released all 39 episodes from series two, three, and four… dubbed into German. So the visuals for these all exist, just not the original English audio. Sadly, the DVDs do not have English subtitles either, and they are numbered series one, two, and three. Then their series “three” (the British series “four”) came out with a real surprise. Not only were all the episodes in color, but there was one additional installment, “A Family Affair,” with an English dialogue option. So 39 of 52 exist in German, and 17 of these in English. (Buy this set of 13 from Amazon Germany.)

A special note for fans of Douglas Camfield: only one of the seven Temple episodes that Camfield directed is available in English, and that one in black-and-white. If you get the German sets, you can get four of the seven in color. Unfortunately, the first three that he shot were in the first series – he probably went straight from these onto the Who serial “Inferno” without a break – and seem to be lost forever.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the Paul Temple episodes we’ve seen and think it’s a shame Marie didn’t find it as engaging. I don’t quite enjoy it enough to fork out another $30 for that German set and just one more English-language episode, but that’s mainly because our disposable income is kind of tight right now. It is the sort of silly thing that tempts completists like me. But honestly, if you enjoy seasons seven and eight of Doctor Who in a sort of big picture “this is what the BBC was doing” way and enjoy the production as much as the fiction, then this is an absolutely super companion. For real fun, add the available episodes of Doomwatch into your rotation of all things 1970 and see just how busy some of these actors and directors really were back then!

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Doctor Who and the Silurians (part five)

Another reason I think that Carey Blyton’s music for this story is the second worst in all of Doctor Who – his score for “Death to the Daleks” is even lousier – is that it completely and totally undermines the drama in a critical scene.

Here’s the situation: some of the regulars get to be bored in the conference room waiting for news from the caves, while the Brigadier, Captain Hawkins, and some men wait in a trap, and the Doctor negotiates for peace with the Silurians’ old leader. Meanwhile, a young and hotheaded Silurian decides to just infect Major Baker with a virulent plague that the Silurians used, hundreds of millions of years ago, to wipe out apes, and let him go.

The scenes of Norman Jones being cornered by the shadowy, clawed reptile-people are incredibly well-shot, especially for Doctor Who, where the unflattering and harsh studio lighting and unforgiving videotape often show off all the cracks and flaws. This should have been a scene that, like the occasional attacks in caves from Sleestak in Land of the Lost, would have had our son hiding behind the sofa.

But it isn’t, because the music in the scene tells the audience “this is a comedy.” Timothy Combe has the actors standing in menacing shadow preparing to give children nightmares, and the music is some clown with an oboe playing Yakety Sax. Our son laughed and laughed. We talked afterward about what was happening, in case the threat of the plague went over his head – it kind of did – but it was that stupid music. Nothing’s a threat with music like that.

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Doctor Who and the Silurians (part four)

Our son has grasped the main conflict in this problem very well. He even used an appropriate word: extinct. He says that the humans and the Silurians want to make each other extinct before the other wins. He sees that the Doctor is trying to make peace between the two sides, but he also has the mind of a six year-old who’s seen every other alien life form in this show trying to blow humanity up, and so he’s rooting for the Brigadier to get down there and blow up the Silurians first. But this episode ends with the Doctor thrown into a cage by the Silurians and one of them using its strange third eye to give our hero a psychic attack.

You may have noticed that my screencaps from this story show off some very woeful color. As was standard in the seventies, the BBC routinely wiped their color videotapes of stories, and this is one that was never returned in the old 625-line PAL format in color. The BBC retained 16mm black-and-white films for export, and an inferior 525-line NTSC color copy was returned in the eighties. In 1993, they mated the two, putting the color signal from the poorer copy into the better-resolution black-and-white print.

Fifteen years later, they improved on it somewhat, but it’s still notably below the quality of most of the other Pertween serials. I believe that episode four is the poorest of the seven. There are lines of yellow across the red walls of the conference room throughout, and there’s a scene in the cyclotron room where Peter Miles is yelling at a technician, and the poor guy is under siege by a blue band of color on the wall behind him that is attacking his hair.

Episode four is also notable for introducing Geoffrey Palmer to the story. Like Fulton Mackay in the preceding episodes, Palmer was a very recognizable face to TV audiences in 1970, but his biggest roles were ahead of him. As Mackay became a big star with the sitcom Porridge later in the decade, so did Palmer, with the sitcoms The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Butterflies. Palmer plays the first of several civil servants and government types whom the Doctor, over the course of the next five seasons, gets to chew up and spit out.

We’ll take a quick break from this story and resume it over the weekend. Tomorrow night, more mean cave monsters.

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