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The Avengers 7.8 – Noon Doomsday (further thoughts)

Something about last night’s episode of The Avengers didn’t sit well with me, and I finally figured out why. In the episode, Steed is unbelievably patronizing to Tara, telling her that she needs to be locked away because the criminals are too dangerous. We saw a hint of this in “All Done With Mirrors,” but that really read more like “Tara’s a junior agent and not ready to lead an assignment,” despite the expected chauvinism displayed by the male characters of the period.

But in “Noon Doomsday,” Steed flat out says that Tara is actually a danger to him. He won’t be able to win a battle against Kafka because he’ll be unfocused and worried about her. That’s hogwash, and deeply poor characterization on the part of the writer, Terry Nation. If Steed’s not treating his partner as an equal when the chips are down, there’s a problem. Insanely, Nation actually returned to this exact same trope about five years later in part four of the Doctor Who story “Planet of the Daleks”, in which Bernard Horsfall’s character chews out his girlfriend, played by Jane How, for somehow placing the male lead in the same tough position. He can’t be a he-man while he’s worried about his pretty young co-star, so the pretty young co-stars should stay out of man’s work.

In “Noon Doomsday,” there’s a reason for it, at least. Because this is a parody of High Noon, Tara is shoehorned into the Grace Kelly role, and Gary Cooper’s marshal was correct – in the film – to tell his young bride this was too dangerous and she’d get them both killed. Bending this scenario to make it fit the structure of High Noon also explains why three of the agents who are recuperating in this remote facility refuse to assist Steed. They represent the cowards in New Mexico who wouldn’t help their marshal against the killers who were riding into town. We can really only excuse either of these huge rips in the fabric of the program’s internal logic – or plain common sense – because this wouldn’t be a parody of High Noon if the three killers were going to come riding into town against a hero who has four people standing up beside him.

So it works within the confines of the hour. It still doesn’t make the chauvinism that Steed displays any less palatable, and if this is where Nation got the idea that resurfaced in “Planet of the Daleks,” then it certainly was a huge mistake.

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The Avengers 7.8 – Noon Doomsday

I have this weird coincidence virus that runs through my life and the character actors that pop in and out of the shows that we watch. Of course I remembered that Anthony Ainley has a small role in Terry Nation’s “Noon Doomsday” – I think that this last run of The Avengers is unique in featuring two Masters as well as the Rani from Doctor Who – but I’d completely forgotten that Peter Halliday is also in it.

See, to give the most recent example, back on Sunday night, when I was fumbling for the name of an attractive actress who should have filled the role of a Mary Astor character in “Legacy of Death”, I came up with Valerie Leon just by glancing at the Hammer films on my shelf. An hour later, Marie and I sat down to watch an episode of Up Pompeii together, which we do every other week or so, and there was Valerie! She was wearing rather less than she did in her teeny part in “George / XR40?,” and I don’t think anybody complained.

And Halliday? Well, there was a funny bit of business on Twitter yesterday, when the actor Frazer Hines, who played Jamie in Doctor Who in the late sixties, identified the jacket that he wore in “The War Games” as being the very same jacket that Peter Halliday had worn a couple of months previously in “The Invasion.” I shared the cute anecdote with my family over dinner, knowing that neither of them cared even a hundredth as much as I do, and the very next British program we watch has Halliday in it.

I love this virus. I hope it never goes away. This cold I’ve had all week can scram, but I love my character actor coincidence virus.

Anyway, as for the actual content of “Noon Doomsday,” it’s pretty good! T.P. McKenna’s also in it, and Tara gets to do all kinds of fighting and investigating while Steed and a bunch of other wounded agents are convalescing in a remote top-security nursing home called Department S, which is cute. A new ITC adventure series by that name had only just gone into production about two months before they made this. We’ll be watching Department S a couple of years from now, so stick around with us for that.

And if our son enjoys Department S half as much as he enjoyed this episode, it’ll be a winner. He just about exploded with tension as Tara rushes to climb up out of a dangerous situation before the fellow she clobbered comes to his senses, and he loved the cat-and-mouse finale, with Tara battling three criminals. I thought it was a fun one, but he liked it even more than I did. “That was great,” he said in summary.

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Doctor Who: City of Death (parts three and four)

The great big question, of course, is not whether the Doctor, Romana, and Duggan will save all of human history by defeating Scaroth on the shores of primeval Earth four hundred million years ago, but whether our son would come to his senses and enjoy this story. Happily, he did, and even conceded that the first half was also pretty exciting. Of course he enjoyed Duggan. Heroes in Doctor Who who just want to punch and thump their way through the narrative are pretty rare, so Duggan’s fists-first approach resulted in a few giggles. When Duggan observes “That’s a spaceship!” in part four, how could you not just love the guy?

But our son is also very clear that Scaroth is, somehow, one of the creepiest and scariest of all Who monsters. “He’s just got one eye, and no nose, and no mouth,” he told me with some urgency. He also loved/hated the part where Catherine Schell unrolls an old parchment to see that one of the green-skinned, one-eyed splinters of Scaroth was hanging out in ancient Egypt with Thoth and Horus and, presumably, Sutekh, and I could feel our son’s skin crawl across the sofa.

Part four also has the delightful cameo appearance of Eleanor Bron and John Cleese as a pair of art snobs critiquing the TARDIS, as they’ve mistaken it for an installation in a gallery. When it dematerializes, Bron, without a note of passion in her quiet voice, calls the installation “exquisite,” having no real idea what she’s seen. I love this bit. It certainly takes you out of the story to see John Cleese making a cameo, but it’s so funny that it’s impossible to object. The whole production’s like this. If there’s a flaw anywhere, who cares.

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Doctor Who: City of Death (parts one and two)

If there’s a person on the planet who doesn’t think that “City of Death” is one of the all-time best Doctor Who stories, then naturally, that little contrarian would be sitting on the sofa with us, complaining that Julian Glover is too evil a villain, and that his alien other-self is too creepy and scary. I’ve shown several people this story over the years. Trust our seven year-old to be the first and certainly the only one to grumble about it being creepy.

Never mind him. “City of Death” is a magically witty, silly, and clever story with hilarious characters and some of the most consistently funny dialogue in the history of the program. The serial has an unusual origin. It started life as “The Gamble With Time,” a four-parter written by David Fisher and set in Monte Carlo, where the Doctor and Romana teamed up with a detective meant to be a pastiche of Bulldog Drummond to investigate a mysterious count using alien technology to manipulate casinos. At the eleventh hour, with most of the serial actually cast and rehearsals set to begin, “Gamble” was finally abandoned, in part probably because nobody in 1979 still cared about Bulldog Drummond, and, over four frantic days, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams rebuilt it into “City of Death.” They rushed off to France to film everybody jogging around Paris, and everything just clicked completely.

The rest is history. Accompanied by a publicity blitz surrounding Doctor Who‘s first overseas filming, “City of Death” hit the hugest ratings in the program’s history. In part that’s because ITV was actually on strike for the first three Saturdays this aired, but part four still had an audience of more than 16 million people. It’s one of the most amazingly quotable Who stories, although our son was baffled why I burst out laughing when the Doctor tells the countess “Well, you’re a beautiful woman, probably.”

Joining Julian Glover for this wonderful romp, there’s David Graham – still the voice of Parker from Thunderbirds – along with Catherine Schell, Tom Chadbon, and Peter Halliday in a small role. You’ve got seven Mona Lisas, timeslips, Louis XV chairs, alien technology, running through Paris, and a detective who’s very anxious to “thump” anybody. Even if this was creepy and scary, which it most certainly is not, I can’t imagine not loving this completely. Ah, well, our son does tend to enjoy the second half of Who adventures more than the first, so we’ll see what tomorrow night brings!

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Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (part four)

I don’t have much to add tonight. We really enjoyed the conclusion of this story – again, it’s one of my favorites – and our son liked it as well. It did strike me this time that almost all of the great Drashig action is confined to just episode three. Two of the beasts do escape onto Inter Minor in part four, but they’re really quickly dispatched… after they’ve dispatched Michael Wisher’s scheming politician character. Wisher would return a couple of seasons down the line as one of the all-time great Doctor Who villains. Peter Halliday, shown above as one of the other politicians, will also return to Who down the line in a couple of small roles.

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Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (part three)

Another reason I love “Carnival of Monsters”: this bit here was the first Doctor Who that my daughter, who was then very small, ever saw. She came in just as the Drashig burst out of the ship’s hold and ran screaming from the room in almighty terror. She cried and cried and wouldn’t let me or her older brother watch an episode without making a federal case about it for months. He and I had then our viewing of season eleven interrupted by life getting in the way in a big, but good, way, and after several weeks’ break, he and I resumed in the privacy of our new home with the girlchild usually sitting on the staircase pouting that we were watching something too scary for her, occasionally punctuating our viewing in the television room by bellowing “I AM NOT WATCHING THAT!” If I remember correctly, it took ten episodes like that before she deigned to actually enter the room with the TV to watch Pertwee’s final serial.

If you’re familiar with Doctor Who, you’ll know that last one has some whacking huge spiders in it. She was almost as upset by those as she was the Drashigs. We had to wait a couple of weeks before starting the Tom Baker years.

Proving that the Drashigs still have their amazing tendency to horrify my offspring, while there were no tears tonight, our son did watch portions of this episode with his face buried in the pillows behind his mother’s back. It didn’t take long for her to get tired of that. They really are just superb monsters to inspire such antics.

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Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (parts one and two)

I absolutely adore “Carnival of Monsters,” which, depending on what day you ask me, might make my list of favorite Doctor Who stories. I love everything about it, from the unbelievably dense and witty script to the sets to the costumes to the better-than-average visual effects for its day. I’m so glad to revisit it and pleased that our son seems to really like it, too. “That was pretty creepy,” he announced with a yelp when a Drashig shows up.

Looking back to his earlier adventures with Krotons and Autons, you can see writer Robert Holmes flexing his muscles and learning how to fill in years of backstory with the tiniest amount of dialogue: the Seely’s marriage, the unhappy Farrell family. Here, he can rely on our familiarity with the culture of the 1920s for those characters, and go to work on the alien civilizations: the bureaucratic and xenophobic ruling class of Inter Minor – one is instantly reminded of how Douglas Adams would later develop the Vogons in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if one doubts very much that these gray people would write poetry – and the Lurmans. I really love how he brilliantly uses our understanding of colorful, down-on-their-luck showpeople with big dreams to give Vorg and Shirna color that the audience can easily grasp, and then sketches in their galaxy and their opinions of Earth people. We’re called “Tellurians” in their far-distant corner of the universe, and they’re so far away from our sphere of influence that Vorg has to think twice to remember the name “Dalek.”

So it’s a great world and a brilliant script, with new information added very slowly, leaving our son wondering what connects these weird space people and a human cargo ship in 1926. Part one ends with one of the all-time great cliffhangers, as right out of the blue a gigantic hand plucks the TARDIS away. Part two has another fine ending, as we meet the roaring, monstrous Drashigs for the first time. Doctor Who would spend the rest of its original run trying to replicate the perfect success of these giant monsters and flopped, the visuals letting them down every single time. Dinosaurs, giant robots, the Skarasen in Loch Ness, Kroll, the Mara, none of them are as effective or as fun as the Drashigs.

Lastly, what a cast! Barry Letts put together a wonderful team of guest stars. Two of the gray bureaucrats of Inter Minor are Peter Halliday and Michael Wisher, each of whom we’ve seen before. On the SS Bernice in what looks like 1926, we’ve got Ian Marter, who would later join the cast as companion Harry Sullivan, and Tenniel Evans, who starred with his good friend Jon Pertwee in the long-running radio comedy The Navy Lark. Vorg and Shirna are played by Leslie Dwyer and Cheryl Hall. While Dwyer had appeared in dozens of films already, both actors would become better known for sitcoms that were in their future: Hi-de-Hi! and Citizen Smith. They’re perfectly cast here. I love these characters, and I love this story.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part eight)

This really long story wraps up after a pretty small and very well-staged shootout between the UNIT troops and some badly over-matched Cybermen. Subsequent adventures would see the humans outclassed and often on the losing end of alien firepower, but not here. It also sees John Levene’s character of Corporal Benton taking a larger role, apparently because the fellow who had played Sgt. Walters had got on director Douglas Camfield’s bad side. Benton would reappear a few episodes into the next season, and remain a semi-regular into season thirteen.

Our son really enjoyed this story, and it’s clearly one of his favorite Doctor Who adventures. He let us know, in his inimitable five year-old way, that his favorite moment was when the missile destroys the main Cyberman ship. He demonstrated this by rolling on his side and explaining that his foot was the Cybership, and his hand the missile. He slapped them together and thundered “Ka-BOOM!”

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