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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.12 – Beauty is an Ugly Word

There’s a scene about halfway through this morning’s episode where Adam has a “who’s gonna break first” standoff with the villain, played by Peter Jeffrey. They’re challenging each other over weightlifting, adding twenty pounds each time. Flatly, it’s one of the best directed moments of any sixties BBC program that I’ve seen. You could hear a pin drop in our den, because we were all silent with our eyes wide. The rest of the hour didn’t quite live up to that, but there’s a really hilarious moment where the Ministry Twit of the Week tries to explain beauty pageants to our Victorian hero, and a couple of familiar faces from the period, Annette Andre and Roy Stewart, have small roles.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com

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The Avengers 7.1 – Game

Quick little recap: We subscribe to the heretical-but-factual breakdown of The Avengers into seven seasons. For this final run, we will use the UK broadcast order, omitting the installments that had already been shown in America. That said, I have to agree that the admittedly more sensible people who watch and write about the show in production order have one big advantage: the first episode that was made after “Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…” was not actually shown in either the US or the UK until very nearly the end of the run. It is called “My Wildest Dream” and it was literally shelved for an entire year in Britain.

The mildly aggravating thing about that is “My Wildest Dream” was actually the first episode of the show directed by Robert Fuest, who I think is by leagues the most interesting visual stylist in a show just full of very good directors. This sort of messes up a goofball claim I’d made a time or ten, that “Game” was almost a statement of principles by a vibrant and stunning new director. That simply isn’t true. He wasn’t to know that his first effort would collect dust for a long time.

Strangely, even though it was made sixth in this batch, “Game” looks and feels like it was planned as an almost modern season premiere. It’s a very entertaining, simple, and straightforward story full of familiar faces like Alex Scott, Anthony Newlands, and Peter Jeffrey, but it’s visually amazing. I love the sets and the giant props, and some of Fuest’s camera tricks are just wild. There’s one great shot in a playground where Steed and Tara discover the first of several bodies. They go to a swingset, and the cameraman is sitting on one swing and the actor playing the corpse is in the one next to him, and the swings are moving at different speeds. It takes my breath away every time. Our son really enjoyed this one, especially the fantastic fight at the climax.

Here’s a very weird coincidence for you: earlier this year, I confessed that I once had screenwriting aspirations, and pilfered the villains from “The Fear Merchants” for a series I was trying to develop. Well, I also needed a lot of practice and experience in actually writing scripts, and along with my own humble fumbles, I was writing episodes of defunct programs, to see whether I could ape their formats successfully. I figured very early on that what Richard Harris was doing with his script for “Game” was basically writing an episode of Batman, and so I cut to the chase and rewrote “Game” as a Batman script using a villain called Mr. Monopoly. (I actually have a Monopoly-themed jacket and vest, made from fabric intended for children’s bedsheets. It’s kind of a fragile suit, but I haul it out every odd Halloween and sneer like Vincent Price – or Peter Jeffrey – at trick-or-treaters and co-workers.)

Anyway, I won’t say whether I thought my script was any good or not, but I learned a lot from the effort, and disappointed myself some time later when I realized it was pretty darn close to the first Mad Hatter story, “The Thirteenth Hat.” But here’s the weird coincidence: I stole from The Avengers twice as I was trying my hand at writing, and both of those episodes I robbed feature Garfield Morgan as one of the villains!

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Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara (parts three and four)

Count Grendel isn’t exactly a subtle villain; he’s more from the Snidely Whiplash school of baddies. This makes him a phenomenally effective enemy for any seven year-olds in the audience. Our son loved to hate this guy, and named him “the most jerk in the history of people who are jerks!”

I think Peter Jeffrey knew exactly how to pitch his performance to this age group. Part three of the adventure is definitely of the “escape and run around just to get recaptured” school of Doctor Who third parts, but the big set piece is the Doctor getting out of a trap that the count has set. Four of Grendel’s guards all go down in a group when K9 zaps them, and Grendel gives this unbelievably cartoon-like reaction, and our son exploded laughing. Then in part four, Grendel ties Romana to the railroad tracks – er, I mean, schemes to force her to marry the injured king, and our son did everything but boo and hiss like the crowd at a pantomime.

So no, not very much nuance in this story, but there is a pretty good swordfight in part four, and K9 gets left adrift in a little boat, and our kid loved that, too. Since the first half of the story left him grumbling, it’s good that everything got turned around in the end.

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Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara (parts one and two)

“The Androids of Tara” is the second serial written by David Fisher – second in a row, which is pretty unusual – and the fourth story in the Key to Time adventure. It features Peter Jeffrey in a remarkably entertaining role as the absurdly nasty Count Grendel, and there’s a small part for the veteran Who guest star Cyril Shaps as a court official.

Our son is utterly lost and confused by the story, which I’d say was a simple enough story of court intrigue, deception, and identical doubles on a medieval planet, but the rules of the planet’s monarchy had him grumbling questions about why everything has to be done in this silly way. Perhaps he wasn’t in the right mood tonight; usually he just goes with the flow. Or possibly he’s impatient for space monsters. He picked out “The Power of the Daleks” to rewatch this afternoon while we were home together. I’d tell him to hang on, they’ll be back really soon, but I don’t want to spoil things.

A big reason I’m against spoilers right now of all times is because “Tara” is the story where, for me, Doctor Who stopped being this strange program that nobody in my circle knew anything about, and became something past tense that I could read about. If you scroll back through this category, you’ll see me mention the 20th Anniversary magazine several times. I know that my friend got that magazine right before WGTV showed “Tara” because on page 22, there’s a photo of Mary Tamm wearing the purple outfit you see in the picture above. Also on that page, there’s a photo of Lalla Ward. And that was the sad problem. I went from knowing nothing to knowing more than I really wanted to know.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I was looking forward to the next two Doctors and the imminent return of the Daleks and the eventual return of the Cybermen, and Kamelion certainly looked interesting. Oh, well. Some of the magazine left me incredibly confused, though. Since I didn’t realize that we were seeing edited compilations of the serials, I just understood that Doctor Who was a 90-minute show. So I didn’t quite understand why they were making such a fuss over “The Five Doctors” being a 90-minute special, and I was blown away by the implications of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” being a twelve-episode adventure. Imagine an eighteen hour-long Doctor Who story. I sure did.

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The Avengers 5.15 – The Joker

“The Joker” is the third of the color Mrs. Peel adventures to be a rewrite of a Cathy Gale story. The original was really among my least favorite from those days, but the rewrite is an amazing change of pace. It’s a dark, grim, and very frightening Hitchcock-style thriller with Mrs. Peel being stalked in a creepy old house by an unpleasant face from her past. But who’s playing the baddie, Ronald Lacey or Peter Jeffrey? I think it’s brilliant, and Diana Rigg is on fire, but I’m glad the show was able to dip in and out of whimsy and not be as intense as this every week!

Our son didn’t enjoy it very much. We asked whether he liked it or if it was too weird. “A hundred thousand and eighty-eight percent too weird,” he said.

I did spot an odd little bit of synchronicity, though. By chance, I watched something else earlier this afternoon that was written by Brian Clemens, an episode of Thriller with John Carson and Joanna Dunham. Both stories have racks of knives hanging in the kitchens of the home where they’re set, and in both stories, dangerous people slowly walk past the knives and run their hands across them.

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The Avengers 4.15 – Room Without a View

Tonight we returned The Avengers to our lineup with yet another episode that required a pause to explain a bit of culture lost to time: Chinese laundries. We thought we did a good job explaining what these were in general, but we skimmed over the nuts and bolts. At the end of the episode, our son was baffled why a character who was murdered was transported in a wicker box.

Roger Marshall’s “Room Without a View” features an interesting villain played by Paul Whitsun-Jones, who we saw recently in the Doctor Who adventure “The Mutants.” Happily, when I asked whether our son remembered him, he said “Oh, yeah! That’s so neat, it’s the same guy!” He’s learning!

Whitsun-Jones’s character, Max Chessman, has been building a chain of luxury hotels with secret, bonus floors that can be used for nefarious ends. Chessman has a cute affectation: he’s a gourmand who suffers from thin blood and has gained enough weight that his doctors have ordered him onto an insanely strict diet, so he takes pleasure watching other people eat in front of him. Philip Latham plays one of his henchmen, and Peter Jeffrey, in his first of four appearances as different characters in The Avengers, plays one of Steed’s ministry associates. While this character is played for laughs initially, he turns out to be a pretty resourceful agent. Usually when characters like this one show up, they end up dead before the second commercial break.

Plotwise, this isn’t one of the strongest episodes of season four, but the acting is a joy and Steed’s undercover operation at the hotel is a treat. I don’t mind “spoiling” the revelation that a bonus hotel floor with a fake room 621 is at play, because it’s incredibly obvious – for grownup viewers – that physicists are not really being spirited away to a Manchurian prison camp and somehow escaping all the way back to the UK. But for our six year-old son, this was something new and unfamiliar, and kept him guessing. I just realized that he’ll see something very similar in the eleventh season of Doctor Who, which we’ll watch later this month. I must remember to point that out if he doesn’t make the connection!

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