The StoryTeller 1.3 – A Story Short

Tonight’s StoryTeller was another little triumph that we all enjoyed very much. This time, he tells a tale about something that had once happened to him. Many years ago, having won a meal from a skeptical cook by way of the old stone soup scam, the storyteller gets brought before the king, who decides his punishment. Our hero must tell the king an entertaining story every night for a year before he will be freed. All is perfectly well for 364 fine evenings, and then he wakes up on the last day without a tale in mind. Richard Vernon plays the king, and Arthur Hewlett, who was in everything in the 1980s, has a tiny role as well.

So this was tremendously good fun, but unfortunately in the US, it was shown to the smallest audience yet. It aired about three months after the previous NBC special, on Friday, January 22, 1988, where it ranked a very distant third to new episodes of Beauty and the Beast and Mr. Belvedere on the other channels. Rival ABC was not yet at the point where they would completely dominate the evening with family-oriented sitcoms – the TGIF umbrella was about 18 months away – but they already had a fairly solid 8 pm hour. NBC probably knew at this stage that they would have to do something about ABC’s growing family audience, but sadly the dismal performance of this StoryTeller special didn’t seem to make them realize that Jim Henson probably wasn’t going to be the answer to this problem. More on that very soon…

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode four

I’d completely forgotten the old Beteleguese death anthem that Ford and Zaphod warble together at the end of this episode. Man alive, that’s funny.

But speaking of sound, this DVD was released, as DVDs were in the early 2000s, with all sorts of hoopla about it having a digitally remastered stereo soundtrack. And all I can say about that is that thank heaven they included the original broadcast mono, because their remastered stereo made every single thing that Valentine Dyall said as Deep Thought utterly incomprehensible, drowned in layers of reverb. You get so used to all the advances in restoration making old programs look and sound better that you forget that once in a while these guys can get it so amazingly wrong.

We don’t get nearly as much in this installment from our heroes, sadly. Most of this episode is given over to the story of Deep Thought and the philosophers and scientists who built it to find the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and it doesn’t make for good television, honestly. Probably worked great on radio, though. So fewer giggles overall this time for our son, who certainly enjoyed the two space cops gunning for our heroes at the climax. The fellow with the mustache – “Shooty” – is Matt Zimmerman, who had been the voice of Alan Tracy in Thunderbirds.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode three

It’s one of those weird little quirks of television that I’m not at all familiar with anything else that the four lead actors in Hitchhiker’s Guide did, but the guest cast is peppered with terrific performances from people that I do know. Slartibartfast is played by Richard Vernon, one of those character actors who’s usually called “the distinguished,” and I’ve seen him in dozens of things. This episode takes our heroes to the legendary planet Magarathea, where Zaphod believes that the amassed wealth of the pre-collapse galactic economy can be pilfered. But this world’s business is waking up after a five million year slumber and Slartibartfast is one of the planet-builders who may be tasked in literally creating a new Earth.

Okay, I lie, I remember Sandra Dickinson – and her then-husband Peter Davison – in that godawful Tomorrow People story they did, but nothing else.

The kid giggled and laughed all the way through this episode again. Marvin stole the show once more, grumbling and complaining about everything he can imagine, and since he’s 50,000 times smarter than you, that’s a lot. The animated sections were his favorite, though. Since he heard the book already, it was of course like waiting for well-worn jokes to be told anew, but he howled over the bowl of petunias giving their sad final words, and the dolphins leaving the planet with their own final words, “So long and thanks for all the fish.” Remember the 2008 Doctor Who story “The Stolen Earth,” where the bees left our planet for a better place? I really think it’s a tip of the hat to this.

Department S 1.2 – The Pied Piper of Hambledown

This one’s terrific. I enjoyed it a lot and it’s easily my favorite so far. It’s the one with the ghost village, where everybody has disappeared. It’s so reminiscent of a Doctor Who they did seven years later called “The Android Invasion” that I was expecting to see its writer credited. It’s actually written by Donald James, who of course was turning out lots of quality scripts for ITC in the late sixties. It’s a really entertaining mystery that kept me guessing, and I still hadn’t figured everything out by the end. About the only thing I could guess was that we’d see a couple of actors enter the story again after the script tried to tell us they weren’t important. But ITC typically didn’t hire people like Richard Vernon or Jeremy Young for single scenes.

Department S was in production at the same time as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), so I was expecting to see some locations and sets used between the two shows. This episode uses the village of Latimer and a pub called The Duke of Cumberland. The crew from Randall and Hopkirk was back here a few months later to shoot their installment “The Man From Nowhere”.