Jason King 1.7 – To Russia with… Panache

The kid didn’t enjoy the last couple of Jason King installments, so I’m glad that he had a ball with this one. It’s another Tony Williamson story, and this time there’s a weird case that echoes back to his time with Department S. Three men in an elevator in Russia were incinerated somewhere between the tenth and ground floors, leaving just smoking piles of ashes and briefcases. Soviet intelligence doesn’t want to waste time with telegrams or asking permission, they just kidnap him and burden him with a gorgeous interpreter, played by Pamela Salem, and three police detectives. Meanwhile, other branches of the Russian spy network want to either assassinate King or catch him in a filmed honeytrap, but King’s willing to work for them in return for finally getting some royalties from local editions of his novels. It’s a really playful and silly story, with Wyngarde being hilariously outraged and lots of funny situations.

Into the Labyrinth 3.7 – Excalibur

In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that they waited this long to do a King Arthur story. When you’ve got a witch and wizard who are timejumping around into other people’s bodies, what better hosts are there than Morgaine Le Fay and Merlin? Regular guest star Ewen Solon is back in this one as Arthur, with Barry Jackson as Bedivere.

This is going to sound really, really nebulous and reaching, but something must’ve been in the water in the early eighties. King Arthur stuff has always been popular, but it feels like there was more Avalon than usual in all sorts of media – comics, records, movies – between 1981-83. This episode fits right in somehow, and while Into the Labyrinth‘s low-budget low-tech world has often seemed like an out-of-time throwback to the mid-seventies, this last half-hour just felt sort of perfectly in time with the rest of the early eighties media landscape.

At any rate, my son and I were glad that he got the crash course in Excalibur stuff before we watched the Doctor Who story “Battlefield” a couple of months ago, because this wouldn’t have made very much sense to him otherwise. He particularly enjoyed Merlin getting entombed in a stone and having itching powder dumped in his beard, and of course seeing Belor finally vanquished for good.

They didn’t make any more Into the Labyrinth beyond this. I think it had really run its course and they were doing the same thing every installment anyway. But while it had only limited charm for this grownup, our son enjoyed it a heck of a lot, so I’m very glad that I picked it up.

Into the Labyrinth 3.5 – Phantom / 3.6 – Xanadu

“Xanadu” features some of the most novel use of dressings to mask the cave set that the show has come up with. This story is set in the palace of Mighty Kublai Khan – another immortal wizard, like Belor and Rothgo – and it features Peter Copley, his voice unmistakable despite the long hair and beard. “Phantom,” on the other hand, revels in the cave set. It’s a Phantom of the Opera story, with the caves doubling for the sewers underneath the opera house.

I don’t know much of anything about pantomime theater, but I think Chris Harris was very well cast as Lazlo. Each episode lets him get into costume and play to the rafters in silly accents, much in the way I imagine that pantomimes are. In “Phantom,” Lazlo jumps into the body of a French ratcatcher, and in “Xanadu,” he’s Marco Polo. Happily, the British actors in the Chinese adventure don’t speak with fortune cookie accents, but Harris gets to talk in comedy Italian. (Or Venetian, if we desire accuracy.)

I guess it must be a generational thing, because I heard Harris using the same broad and silly stereotype voice that I’d later associate with Nintendo’s “Mario.” I asked my son about it and he raised an eyebrow and replied “No, that didn’t sound like Mario at all.” I guess he doesn’t have the decades of comedy gangsters and that’s-a-spicy-meatball commercials upon which the Mario voice was built. To him, Mario is just Mario and Marco Polo is just Marco Polo.

Into the Labyrinth 3.3 – Eye of the Sun / 3.4 – London’s Burning

Evidently I got a detail wrong when we were last in the world of Into the Labyrinth. I thought that “Delta Time” was the world of fiction, but these two installments are back in our own history, with John Abineri guest starring as a Spanish conquistador invading Machu Picchu in episode three, and Frank Windsor as the Lord Mayor, scheming during the Great Fire of London. Seems like the Lord Mayor is planning to profit from the city’s devastation by sending in contractors he knows and who will make him filthy rich as the city gets rebuilt after the conflagration. Some things never change. Meanwhile, people have swordfights and get turned into rats and turned into shadows.

Our son liked both episodes, but he got the biggest kick out of the second one. In another incredibly weird coincidence, the last time we watched some TV set in 1666, he already knew about the Great Fire of London from a Beryl the Peril comic. His bedroom is a disaster, as is often the case with eight year-olds, and as I helped him clean it Sunday, I unearthed that very comic and he read it again that night, so the details remained weirdly fresh in his mind!

Into the Labyrinth 3.1 – Lazlo / 3.2 – Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde

Now it’s back to 1982, and never mind the low budget, in the eyes of a kid, Into the Labyrinth is “a crazy show where anything can happen.” This time out, people get turned into dogs, shrunk, and zapped in the rear with magical bolts. There are swordfights and Victorian-age floozies and all the usual mayhem. Bob Baker wrote the first episode and Robert Holmes wrote the second. This time, the music is full of womp-womps and cues that say “comedy.” Honestly, they should have gone the whole hog. I started pretending there was a laugh track and enjoyed it more.

The plot this time is that one of the kids – HTV wisely figured there was really no need to pay for three leads when one would do – gets pulled into a parallel time track called Delta Time which runs through our world’s fiction. There, he meets a fast-talking time traveller and small fry magic user called Lazlo, and he’s got another macguffin that the evil witch Belor covets. So in episode one, they battle with Long John Silver and in episode two, Lazlo becomes Dr. Jekyll and Belor takes over his alter ego’s gang as “Fanny Hyde.”

I was surprised by that turn of events, actually. Lazlo is played by an actor named Chris Harris, who was very well known for his stage work in the UK, both highfalutin’ and pantomime. The second sentence of his Wikipedia entry says that he was a pantomime dame, so when I saw the title of the second installment, I expected him to don drag as Mrs. Hyde. So while our kid enjoyed the two episodes enormously, and was both thrilled and amused, the only surprise that they had for me was that they didn’t stick Harris in a dress.

Into the Labyrinth 2.7 – Succession

The final episode of Into the Labyrinth‘s second storyline had a couple of frights that left our son with a couple of worried expressions. Belor transforms two of the kids into birds and zaps Phil into a stone statue. It all works out just fine, thanks to a power of love ending, unfortunately, and, once again, a memory wipe. I’m glad the kid enjoys it, anyway.

There’s a third series of Into the Labyrinth, but we’ll return this to the shelf for a little while to keep it fresh and have a look at it around the last week of August. Stay tuned!

Into the Labyrinth 2.5 – Shadrach / 2.6 – Siege

Mostly, Into the Labyrinth charms our son a whole lot more than it does me, but “Shadrach” is completely wonderful. Robert Holmes wrote it – that’s right, so sit up straight – and it introduces Belor’s best idea yet. She magically alters the features of the first fellow she comes across so he will look like Rothgo and the kids, once they turn up, will waste valuable time trying to convince a complete stranger that he’s an immortal time-jumping wizard.

Then she plans to drug the unfortunate bystander so they’ll waste even more time waking him up. The bystander in question is a detective called T.J. Shadrach, and he’s been hot on the trail of two villains from India who have plans to steal the Koh-i-Noor Diamond from the Tower of London. So Ron Moody and Pamela Salem get to have a pair of hilarious exchanges while she dons a pair of disguises herself to get him to drink her knockout micky.

Shadrach used to be a miner, and his lack of formal education causes him to make a few slips of grammar and word choice, plus, like Parker in Thunderbirds, he alternately adds and drops haitches. Once he’s finally roused, the kids comment on how he dresses like Sherlock Holmes and poor Shadrach becomes infuriated because that blasted Holmes stole his dress sense and style and, in the end, all his thunder and glory. Even when he does get to meet Her Majesty after wrapping up the case, it’s not really her, it’s Belor again. Poor guy. He never gets to learn what actually happened. I’m not sure what the third series of this show will be like, but I bet it won’t be a tenth as entertaining as a seven-part T.J. Shadrach series would have been.

Episode six is more of the same. This one’s a Crusades story written by John Lucarotti and featuring Ewen Solon, back again in a new guest star part. I don’t know much about the Crusades myself, but I could give my son a really brief explanation of what was going on with all these French knights in Malta holding out against the massive forces outside their fort’s walls. Episode five won our son’s affections with a played-for-laughs fight scene, while episode six has a… erm… not so great swordfight. Pamela Salem’s male stunt double showed his face to the camera two or three times more than he should have. The kid didn’t notice, but I had a chuckle or two.

Into the Labyrinth 2.3 – Alamo / 2.4 – Cave of Diamonds

Well, that was utterly bugnuts. And here I was all set to grumble about them casting very British character actors like Cyril Shaps to play Indian mystics, but then Ron Moody gets to battle various demons and magical beasts that jump out of paintings. It is one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen in a while. The episode ends with a brief, climactic struggle over a pit engulfing sulfuric smoke. I think everybody inhaled too much of it this week, because “Cave of Diamonds” is just crazy. The kid had a blast with it, even applauding some of the heroes’ wins. And he really liked Rothgo turning his enemies into statues of monkeys and pigs.

Episode three wasn’t quite as successful for him, and it was awfully painful for the grownups. It’s not just that “Alamo,” written by John Lucarotti, finds a place for every possible word of teevee cowboy slang – vittles, chow, yonder – in some of the most tortuous dialogue ever written, but Ron Moody gets to play a “Red Indian” in redface and we get all the hows and heap bigs and the like that I seem to remember dying out in our own entertainment by 1981. Jack Watson’s in this one as Davy Crockett, and he’s not bad. There’s even an actual scorpion and a couple of real snakes in these two episodes, instead of putting a rubber party favor on the screen like they did with that bat last time.

Into the Labyrinth 2.1 – The Calling / 2.2 – Treason

The blog was feeling a little ITC-heavy, but while adults can certainly see the difference between those filmed series and HTV’s cramped videotape show from the early eighties, our son is every bit as thrilled and excited by Into the Labyrinth as anything else we watch. This time out, the immortal wizard Rothgo recalls his three young friends for more trips in time because the witch Balor has created a counter to his powerful magical Macguffin. Episode one ends with the Nidus conveniently split into five segments so they can pick up one apiece in episodes two through six.

As we discussed previously, the first series of Into the Labyrinth was shown in the United States on Nickelodeon’s The Third Eye anthology. Series two and three were never purchased by the US. Did it air in Canada, I wonder? Well, kids missed out, because this is full of fights and fisticuffs and magical powers and villains turning into bats. While the grownups cringed at what must surely be the fakest fake bat in the long and storied history of fake bats, our favorite eight year-old critic had no problem at all with it.

Episode one is twenty-five minutes of hit-the-ground-running mayhem set in Asgard. Episode two was a bit long-winded for him – in 1606, Rothgo is incarnated as Guy Fawkes, and his long, long, long secret discussion with the king did not make a lick of sense to him and went on forever – but it had some special effects and surprises eventually. Actually, the nicest surprise was the first installment opening with some location work around some stone circle or other. Unfortunately everything else is in that redressed cave set, but for a couple of minutes, it looked pleasingly different.

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks (parts three and four)

Why yes, as a matter of fact, our son really did love the Special Weapons Dalek. It’s a Dalek “tank” that can blow up two or three renegade Daleks at a time.

“Remembrance” may be a case of style over substance, but it’s an incredibly fun story. I kind of wish the music was a bit less eighties and a little more sixties, but it’s a fine production of a good script. I definitely wish the show had been this confident and this much fun every week between 1982 and 1986.

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks (parts one and two)

We’re in 1988 now, and the Doctor and Ace are back at Coal Hill School and I.M. Foreman’s junkyard in 1963 with Daleks, because it’s the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who and that’s what you do for anniversaries on television: go and revisit the past. But in the case of Ben Aaronovitch’s debut serial for the show, “Remembrance of the Daleks,” reveling in nostalgia works just fine. This is a splendid story with lots of location filming, some recognizable guest stars including Simon Williams and Pamela Salem as sort of the early sixties version of UNIT, and George Sewell as a fascist who’s allied himself with one of two rival factions of Daleks. They even found small roles for Peter Halliday and Michael Sheard, who’d appeared in something like a combined nine prior Who stories.

This looks and sounds a million times zippier than Who did just three years previously. We’ll hit a couple of places in the show’s last two years where the emphasis on speed will derail the program’s ability to tell a coherent story, but “Remembrance” gets it incredibly right. The action scenes are staged and directed far better than Who could typically manage, leading to the beautiful cliffhanger to part two, in which Sophie Aldred and her stunt double beat the daylights out of a Dalek using a supercharged baseball bat and then jump from table to table and out a glass window. I really love that scene!

Our son was in heaven, of course. There are Daleks and death rays and lots of explosions. In fairness, though, the two of us did see Godzilla: King of the Monsters this morning and he’s been dancing on air ever since. (I didn’t post about it because I didn’t want to sound like too much of a fuddy-duddy, but when we picked up Marie for lunch, she said “The movie was longer than I expected” and I replied “I checked its running time first and it was longer than I expected, too.”) So yes, he liked these two installments quite a lot, but I thought to remind Marie of Quatermass and the Pit between episodes so she’d catch the Easter egg in part three. She said “Yeah, the one with the buried alien monsters, right?” and our son said “That reminds me of Godzilla somehow!”