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

You know, the Daleks were just more interesting in the sixties, before power creep set in and they had to be all sneaky and crafty because they were not indestructible army-killing super-tanks yet. At this stage, they’re so easily disposed of that Jamie and a friend literally destroy one by slamming it into a fireplace really hard. And their body count is so low that a supporting character completely freaks out when one of them murders a criminal who’d wandered in to rob the place. That’s two men they’ve killed! Two!

As much as I’m enjoying the Daleks in this, and as much as I’d love to have episode three recovered so we could see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines have a really surprising shouting match, this story really is the most disappointing experience. They’re all a little slow and measured by contemporary standards, and use that pace to establish mood and atmosphere, but “Fury From the Deep” moved like lightning compared to this. They could have compacted these four half-hour episodes into two and it would still be walking slowly in place waiting for the story to get to Skaro.

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

Say, wasn’t this in live action the last time we saw it?

As is the way of these things, there’s still a baffling gap between the British release of old Who and the domestic. New Who we get a couple of hours later. Archive stuff, we have to wait two or three months. It’s like it’s still 1985 or something. The newest animated reconstruction is for the mostly-missing “Evil of the Daleks,” and it came out last month in the UK and is due next month in America. We looked at the surviving episode in July, our son still giggles about the Dalek telling Victoria not to feed the flying pests, and honestly, this one moves like molasses. The animation on these rebuilds is continuing to improve and impress, but it feels like the writer, David Whitaker, was really struggling to fill this one out to its running time.

Its great reputation came from somewhere, however, so I’m sure this one’s going to get better. I like Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines’ interaction, as always, and I like the little Easter eggs that suggest pretty much every band worth seeing in 1966 had played London recently enough for their posters and flybills to still be on the tops of the stacks glued to the walls. About the only thing I felt this really needed was a little bit when the Doctor and Jamie – who has not yet met the Daleks – are wondering who their unseen enemy is.

“You don’t think it’s the Chameleons again?” Jamie asks. What the Doctor should have replied was “Pfft! Those losers? Hardly.”

The Saint 2.18 – The Romantic Matron

For a really long time now, Leslie Charteris’s The Saint has been one of those properties held onto by nostalgists. That’s fair; time marches on and nothing lasts forever, but it’s interesting to think about how once upon a time, Simon Templar was such a huge character, known by just about everybody. By the eighties, he wasn’t. I’d catch a glimpse or a reference here and there in Doctor Who Magazine in 1985-86 to there being a show, presumably British, called The Saint where a writer or actor whose names I recognized contributed, but I had no idea what it was. Eventually, I noticed it in the TV listings; it started appearing weeknights at 10 on WATL-36 – this was the show I mentioned last week – and once I finally stayed up late enough to try it out, I had the time of my life. This show was terrific!

Of course I expect everybody reading this nostalgic blog today knows that, but that was certainly not the case with my high school classmates. No matter, The Saint immediately moved up to number three on my list of favorite TV shows, right behind Who and The Avengers, despite nobody at any bookstore being able to find me a program guide with an episode list. The main thing keeping me from completely digging in to the six other ITC series available on WVEU that I mentioned in that link above was that most nights I trying to stay up late and watch this, and I had to do my homework sometime. WATL’s package was a strange one. It seemed to have been 95 hours – the 71 black-and-white Saint episodes and the 24 Return of the Saint installments.

So this evening, we gave a capsule introduction to the show and character to our kid. What did he need to know? Our hero is a gentleman adventurer and former master criminal, still notorious and still unable to stay out of trouble, played by Roger Moore, featured in ITC’s longest-running adventure program. It’s second only to The Avengers for number of episodes for an action-adventure hour of its day, it ran in syndication in just about every American market in the sixties before NBC picked up the color years and played them for three seasons on the network, and I’ve picked ten installments for our sample series. Did I pick them based on the guest stars rather than the plots? Probably!

And once again, our kid proved he can do it, given the right actor. “I think that’s Patrick Troughton,” he said, and my heart grew three sizes that day. Troughton joins some other recognizable British faces, including John Carson and Joby Blanshard, as playing Argentinians in this story. A modern program would probably not do that, but I was particularly impressed with Carson, who has to smooth-talk a truly gullible young American widow into helping him move some stolen gold out of the country. It’s a role that could have veered into stereotype very easily, and he didn’t let it.

Happily, the kid really enjoyed it. I worried that I may have picked a turkey, because I had forgotten that Templar hardly appears at all until about the midpoint, while the con gets moving. But there’s enough of an undercurrent of ugliness that it works. It’s only jaded and skeptical viewers who will spot Carson’s character as a baddie; the show presents him as an unlikely good guy being followed by some thugs. Then watching Templar put things together, while engaging in some great brawls, kept his attention very well. He was really pleased with the scheme to ship the gold out of the country in the romantic matron’s car: they’ve given her a solid gold bumper! We reminded him that he saw something a little similar in Freewheelers way back when, but that really was a while back, and he didn’t remember it that well. Maybe he’ll feel like revisiting it sometime. I’ll hint at it.

Danger Man 1.8 – The Lonely Chair

I know that you, dear reader, won’t find this as amusing as I do, but I have always enjoyed watching some of these TV series where I’ve just selected some episodes based on a guest star – MacGyver, The Twilight Zone – and then letting enough time pass for me to have no idea why I picked it, and we get to the climax and I find myself asking “So who’s gonna be playing the boss of these kidnappers?” Then Patrick Troughton shows up.

And my kid! My boy recognized him! He may not have known the famous faces in the last two Ray Bradbury Theaters that we had watched with a reminder practically on top of the show, but he said “The second Doctor?!” within seconds and I was so pleased. Then again, the Doctor probably stands right behind Garfield the cat as just about his favorite fictional character, so I shouldn’t be too ridiculous with praise.

Overall, he liked this a lot more than the previous episode that we saw. It’s Drake versus kidnappers instead of Drake convincing somebody to get some backbone and do the right thing. For a ten year-old viewer, this episode had some more meat on its bones.

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks (part two)

Earlier today, the BBC announced the forthcoming release of their next animated reconstruction of a lost serial. “The Evil of the Daleks” was first shown in 1967, and, unusually for British television in those days, it was actually shown again a year later as a summer repeat, but the corporation soon did what they often did and junked the films and wiped the tapes for reuse. A film print of episode two was returned in 1987.

To celebrate the news, I suggested to our son that we give the surviving episode a spin and he couldn’t have agreed faster. He did briefly muse that it was a shame that it wasn’t the first installment of the serial that was available, but I reminded him that the first episodes of Dalek serials typically don’t actually have Daleks in them until the cliffhanger, and he said “Oh, yeah…”

Anyway, he enjoyed it a lot, and concluded that he was glad it was part two that was available because of a short scene where a Dalek, menacing the companion-to-be Victoria, played by Deborah Watling, warns her: “Do not feed the flying pests!” He mused “One of the reasons I like the Daleks is the mix of pushiness and slight ignorance. They don’t know what birds are… and they don’t care!” Bigots are like that.

“The Evil of the Daleks” will be released in the UK in September.

Jason King 1.26 – That Isn’t Me It’s Somebody Else

I told our son that this episode of Jason King would feature a plot that they’d used a couple of times before, although not smuggling Jason somewhere in a box. “Committing crimes based on the plots of his books?” he asked. He hasn’t got the finest memory in the world, but sometimes he pays attention.

No, this is another example of somebody posing as Jason, but this time out, it’s our hero Patrick Troughton! He and Simon Oates play some organized crime types who are trying to get to a deposed Mafioso bigwig who’s hiding out in a fortress, and who, conveniently, is a huge Jason King fan. Even more conveniently, Jason happens to arrive in this allegedly quiet area of Italy to get away from reporters for a while. So yes, this is remarkably silly, but it’s done with such panache. At one point, a police inspector notes the kingpin’s fandom as though Jason’s novels are the real problem. Jason replies that he isn’t responsible for “the dichotomy of my readership.”

Overall, I think I enjoyed the Jason King series more than I enjoyed Department S, even though some of the S episodes, particularly “The Pied Piper of Hambeldown” and “One of Our Aircraft is Missing”, are better than anything in the solo run, and there was never an S episode as lousy as “Zenia”. The kid agrees, but only because he didn’t immediately remember the name Department S, and thought it was a superhero show for a minute. What was I saying about his memory?

Honestly, neither show is as good as I would hope, thanks in large part to so many downright ordinary hours penned by Philip Broadley across both series. But the more Wyngarde the better, I’d say. At their best, both shows gave us excellent examples of these fun romps, and for the most part, when they weren’t thrilling, they were usually at least competently-made and intelligent, with very good guest actors, and I enjoyed them overall. Good stuff.

I had such fun introducing our son to the entertaining world of ITC that we’re going to have some sampling mini-seasons of five other shows from the company for the blog a little later this year. We’ll start with a few episodes of Danger Man in August. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Fury From the Deep (parts five and six)

As much as I’d like to claim that I’ve spent the last three evenings completely lost in the fun of escapism and remade lost sixties TV, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the future, because this release of “Fury” is attached to the real world in a specific way. I haven’t spoken much in the pages of this blog about the pandemic. We’re very, very fortunate to have good jobs and can work from home and are earning enough to pay off bills and set a little bit aside just in case the economy were to start taking a crash dive. Ordering DVDs from another country is a luxury.

I’m worried about what might start happening in the near future. Amazon UK’s international shipping prices went from “incredibly cheap” to “unbelievably exorbitant” overnight, and so I ended up ordering “Fury From the Deep” from Base.com. Within two weeks of my package arriving, Base sent a follow-up email to North American customers announcing that they are no longer shipping outside of Europe. It feels like a harbinger of bad times coming.

Sorry to have a downer of an entry. We did enjoy the story very much, and I’m so pleased with the great work by the animation team. I hope that they’re able to release another classic serial in 2021, and maybe they’ll release it to a happier world. Fingers crossed!

Doctor Who: Fury From the Deep (parts three and four)

They did a really good job in this serial foreshadowing Victoria’s decision to leave at the end of it. Perhaps Peter Bryant, who had taken over as producer, looked back at what a raw deal Michael Craze and Anneke Wills were given when his predecessors wrote out Ben and Polly at the end of “The Faceless Ones” and decided that they needed to do better. So Victoria gets plenty of opportunities to express that she is very tired of this life and sick of being terrified by monsters everywhere they go. The Doctor and Jamie are not entirely empathetic to her position on this. They’re having too much fun.

We switched to the black and white presentations of parts three and four in the new set, and our son quasi-complained that it just made it even more frightening. It really is something else; he went behind the sofa for the eerie cliffhanger to part three, and spent most of the following half hour behind it. It’s a shame that any television is lost – it should all be available for people who wish to enjoy it – but I wonder whether the loss of part four isn’t one of the greatest losses in all of Doctor Who. The audio and the animation is darker and creepier than our son was ready for, and incredibly effective. The recovery of most of “The Web of Fear” proved that Who was on fire that season telling scary, effective stories about monsters in dark tunnels with incredibly good visuals. I wish very badly that this episode still existed to see how it compares. If I could pick which of the 97 that are still lost could come back next, I think it would have to be this one.

There are some small flaws with the original production, like Robson being obnoxiously obstinate and unreasonable even before the seaweed gets him, but overall I’m incredibly pleased with this. I know how it ends – even if I have forgotten everything about Victor Pemberton’s novelization of the story for Target Books, I remember how they save the day – but I’m really looking forward to seeing it tomorrow night.

Doctor Who: Fury From the Deep (parts one and two)

For the latest animated recreation of a lost Doctor Who serial, we’re back in time to March 1968 and the six-part “Fury From the Deep.” It has a reputation as one of the creepiest and most frightening Who installments, and it delivers. This is just completely terrific. It’s set in the far-flung future of 1975, where residential huts on industrial complexes have great big videophones in the back wall between the kitchen and the sliding doors*, and where some strange and ghastly thing is crawling around in the pipes. Worse, there are very, very eerie men who wander around the complex with seaweed up their sleeves who exhale toxic gas.

The BBC, in their dimwit way, destroyed the serial after its expected sales potential had expired, with the only surviving bits some clips that an overzealous censor in Australia snipped out and sent to a government archive to show they’d done their job. How frightening was the bit they cut? Well, the animated version of the eerie men – Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill – belching gas at Maggie Harris had our son hiding behind the sofa, as indeed it should. I then showed him the original clip, included on this splendid new release, and he said “I don’t get what’s so scary about that.” Kid can find a lotta bravado in just twenty minutes.

I’m about 99% completely thrilled with the animation. Because we’re human and we quibble, I could grumble that many of the characters seem to have really long arms, and they often don’t do a good job filling the frame with the characters, and the guy who was played by John Abineri really doesn’t look like John Abineri. But that’s okay; the character’s meant to be Dutch and Abineri’s accent wasn’t very convincing in the first place anyway. Considering the budget limitations these have, I’m very pleased.

The animators also threw in their now-customary Easter eggs, including a wanted poster for Roger Delgado’s Master in the background of a scene. I made the mistake of pointing it out, prompting the kid to bellow “Why would a private industrial plant have wanted posters in it?” I paused and pointed out that it would probably make sense for any place in Britain in the 1970s to stick “have you seen this man” posters up, what with all the aircraft hangars and nuclear power plants and small village churches the Master had been blowing up. When I spotted a very familiar date as an Easter egg on some blueprints a little later, I kept my mouth shut. The eggs are cute as anything, but they will take a nine year-old viewer completely out of the experience…

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones (parts five and six)

It’s kind of the nature of action-adventure television that the hero needs to have a really good challenge in each story, against villains as resourceful as the protagonist. So in a weird way, it’s kind of refreshing to see the Doctor pitted against some adversaries who are way, way out of their league. The Chameleons did not think this thing through. The Doctor’s able to exploit a massive, massive flaw in their science and technology, and hold all but two of them hostage because these bad guys’ tech is flatly not up to the challenge of interstellar invasion. A more polished script would show these villains as desperate and pitiful rather than malevolent. It’s a missed opportunity, but I did enjoy the tables turning in parts five and six.

In fact, “The Faceless Ones” belongs to a very rare group of original Who stories – “Mawdryn Undead” and “Time and the Rani” are others – that end much more satisfactorily than they began. It’s still very unhurried, but the end of this adventure sees all the humans acting decisively and intelligently, and I like the way the Chameleons know when the jig is up. The fellow that they capture spills the beans on the operation with very little pressure, and Donald Pickering’s character, who’s been playing his main villain part as a posh airline pilot calmly ordering his subordinates around, is intelligent enough to see this is not going to end well for him, and immediately begins negotiating. It’s a shame part six is missing; Pickering and Patrick Troughton have a very interesting face-off toward the end. The animation’s as good as we can hope for, but I’d love to see those actors playing that scene.

Incidentally, while I wish that I could be only positive about the animation, I do think they missed a huge opportunity. When all two dozen of the humans who are connected to their duplicates are located, I’d love to have seen an overhead shot, from an angle much higher than the original director could actually have managed, of all twenty-five bodies laid out in the parking lot. I wish the camera moved around more in general. Why limit themselves to just what the BBC could have done in 1967?

“The Faceless Ones” is a little infamous because of the poor way that they wrote out the Doctor’s companions Ben and Polly. The producer at the time didn’t want to continue with the actors Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, so they only appear in parts one, two, and six, and only on location in the last episode, so the BBC could dispense with them as quickly as possible. The story is set literally the day after the previous season’s “The War Machines,” which means that Ben and Polly could pick back up with their old lives as though they’d never been away. It also means that WOTAN, the Chameleons, and the Daleks in the next story were all operating in London in the third week of July, 1966. The World Cup was happening in London at the same time, and Gemini X returned to Earth. Wish I could read a Who-universe newspaper from that week. The Swinging Sixties, man.

We’ll return to the David Tennant days of Doctor Who in May. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones (parts three and four)

Some of the animation in this reconstruction is really quite nice. The team does a really terrific job with airplanes, and so while I’m not completely sold on the movement of figures, I could watch what they do with jets for forty-five minutes without complaint. I do think the production as a whole is limited by the glacial pacing of the original story, and not helped by the lack of music. Black-and-white Doctor Who was occasionally like that; when they overspent in one area, like a day or two on location at Gatwick Airport, they had to cut back in another.

Our son’s enjoying it more than I am, honestly, but that’s by no means a fault with the current presentation, which is definitely a case of the best they can do with what they had to work with. I enjoyed seeing a little modern day Easter egg thrown in: the newspapers have headline stories that a menace that the first Doctor had battled the year before, the War Machines, had been defeated. That’s actually going to be an important plot point in part six. Heck, the original production crew should have dropped those newspapers in when they made this in 1967. That’d be some great foreshadowing! Otherwise, the mandate to be as accurate a presentation of the original production kind of keeps them hamstrung. There’s a bit where the RAF sends a fighter to follow the Chameleon Tours’ jet. As I say, it looks great, but if we suddenly had some Thunderbirds music as the fighter spirals out of control, it’d be even better.