Xena: Warrior Princess 1.6 – The Reckoning

I picked tonight’s episode of Xena because it’s the first to feature Kevin Smith – not the American director, but the actor from New Zealand – as Ares, god of war. I believe that Ares makes the most appearances among Xena’s recurring players. He’s a silky, sly adversary and I did enjoy the fun of realizing – maybe about five seconds ahead of the story – how Xena was going to get out of the frame-up he’d created for her. The story was written by Peter Allen Fields, one of two that the veteran writer contributed to the show. Our kid enjoyed it very much, and really loved Ares getting his comeuppance.

The only thing I didn’t really like was Xena passively accepting her arrest and acting like she’s had this coming for years. That’s as maybe; it isn’t justice that’s going to be served if you want to die for crimes of the past that have nothing to do with the trial in the present. Gabrielle makes a pretty shrewd advocate on Xena’s behalf; it’s just a little unfair when your opposition has supernatural powers and can magically dispose of evidence. Ares is a fine villain and I look forward to seeing him again in a few weeks.

Legend 1.5 – The Life, Death, and Life of Wild Bill Hickok

Regular readers know that this silly blog’s silliest recurring gag is our son’s ongoing inability to recognize actors. You’ll be relieved to know that when John Pyper-Ferguson popped up as this episode’s villain, Jack McCall, our son knew who he was. He shouted “Pete!” because he knows him from Brisco County, Jr. and then he just babbled and babbled over his next four lines of dialogue because he was happy with himself and because Pete was such a wonderfully dumb character. Pyper-Ferguson is also wonderful in this. Like some fanboys who need to let go in the present day, the grouchy McCall keeps reading Legend’s dime novels even though he hates every one of them.

Somewhere else in this silly blog, I once mentioned those Time-Life books about the old west, the ones with “the look and feel of hand-tooled leather.” Well, Peter Allan Fields wrote a corker of an episode here, including telegraphing a show-ending twist that I didn’t see coming, and I enjoyed it tremendously, but he took quite a few liberties with the circumstances of Hickok’s demise, so I don’t know that he ever ordered those books. It seems that the real Jack McCall was a miner that Bill Hickok had the misfortune of meeting just once. The McCall of this story is an outlaw that Hickok has sparred against for several years.

Then again, I clearly didn’t invest in those Time-Life books myself. The episode was nearly over before I realized I’d mistaken Wild Bill for Buffalo Bill Cody. Sorry, Bills.

The Six Million Dollar Man 3.9 – The Bionic Criminal

Monte Markham returned for a second outing as the other bionic man, now renamed Barney Hiller without in-story comment, in this pretty entertaining story by Peter Allan Fields and Richard Carr. This was the fourth of seven episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man that Carr wrote or co-wrote; he’d been writing for westerns and other dramas since the early 1950s. Among his credits is a first season Batman story for the Riddler.

Our son enjoyed this one more than Barney’s original appearance, which surprised me. It is a good story: Barney agrees to be reactivated for 48 hours in an experiment to see whether bionic powers can be turned off and on again in case of national emergencies, but is blackmailed by a former OSI scientist, played by Donald Moffat, into robbing banks. We know Moffat as Rem in Logan’s Run already, and I am pleasantly amused that we got to see one of his bionic appearances alongside our screenings of Run.

But while this episode does have another slow-motion bionic fistfight, which pleased our son, it’s nowhere as destructive and entertaining as the one in Barney’s first appearance. The deciding factor, it turns out, is a long scene where Barney tries to resume his career as a race car driver. A fast car put this one over the top. Six year-olds!

Two other thoughts strike me: there’s an incredibly long flashback with several clips to Barney’s initial outing. It seems really strange to devote almost four minutes to an in-story memory. This episode is one of the few we’ve seen that does not have a pre-title sequence at all, where a “Previously on…” recap might normally go. I wonder why they decided to build a nearly four minute flashback into the narrative instead of just cutting something shorter together before the opening credits.

But the really unusual surprise is that Alan Openheimer returns in this story as Dr. Wells. By chance, this morning’s viewing comes just as a couple of Doctor Who fans – there will always be a couple of Doctor Who fans to make you roll your eyes and sadly say “there are these couple of Doctor Who fans…” – are outraged and upset that the powers that be have recast the role of the First Doctor for a team-up episode. Apparently, every other recasting in all of television and film is acceptable, but because each Doctor is special and magical and sacred, and the show invented the concept of regeneration, then if any Doctor now or in the future were to meet an old version in a team-up, then they should only use one of the last few Doctors, and honorably retire the ones played by actors who have died.

So in The Six Million Dollar Man, we’ve got a character who’s been played by Martin Balsam, then Alan Oppenheimer, then Martin E. Brooks, then Oppenheimer again, and Brooks will take back over the next time Dr. Wells is seen. The world kept turning. But David Bradley playing the First Doctor is some kind of sacrilege despite William Hartnell being dead since 1975. It’s a fictional character in a popular drama, not a blessed holy relic, you know.

The Six Million Dollar Man 2.5 – The Seven Million Dollar Man

I decided to jump straight into another “best of” season, and I’ve picked six episodes from season two of The Six Million Dollar Man, shown from 1974-75. This story by Peter Allan Fields, a drama writer who worked on dozens of American shows but had the most check marks on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with contributions to ten installments, introduces a second cyborg: Barney Miller, a former race driver who lost all his limbs in an accident and has been lined up as the next agent in the OSI.

Unfortunately, Barney, played by Monte Markham, doesn’t take to becoming a metal man very well. He’s rash and violent and turns what should have been a super-speed snatch into a chance to throw four armed men around like rag dolls long after the goods are secured. Inevitably, this leads to a fight with Steve, which really entertained the daylights out of our son. I’m glad he’s enjoying these slow-motion scraps. It’s just possible that after we let him watch his first Marvel movie in a year or so, they’ll look a little less thrilling.

Incidentally, not only is the character named Barney Miller – the celebrated and long-running police precinct sitcom of that name would begin two months later on the same network – but the bartender who gives Barney one drink too many is the spitting image of Abe Vigoda.

Actually, the most surprising part of the episode comes right after the opening titles. Oscar, Dr. Wells, and a nurse at the secure facility – a different character than Jean, who was played by Barbara Anderson in the original movie – all deny that the nurse had given a mysterious man in a red Mercedes a confidential tape. The gate guard denies the guy existed. Steve tells his friends not to gaslight him. I honestly was not aware of that term before 2014, when I read about gaslighting and the word’s origin in an old film noir, but clearly misunderstood that it was a reasonably new word. Yet here the word is shown to be in use forty years earlier. And it’s indisputably 1974 – the lavender-and-white leisure suit that Lee Majors wears in the show’s final scene couldn’t have come from any other time.