The Preventers (1996)

Every once in a while, I bend the rules for the blog and we watch something that isn’t commercially available. The Preventers, an absolutely delightful 25-minute comedy film written by and starring Morwenna Banks, Robert Harley, and Chris England, has never been released on video. A fellow in the UK with whom I was swapping tapes sent me a copy in early 1997, telling me correctly that I would love it. Shortly after, he sent me an audio cassette with Fab TV, the four-episode radio series that preceded this one-off special. It featured two installments of The Preventers, and one apiece of Curtis & Ballard (Deceased) and I am Not a Number.

So if you hadn’t guessed, this is all a loving lampoon and tribute to the worlds of ITC, along with plenty of other spy and adventure shows from the period. The Preventers are two fellows in turtlenecks, accompanied by an enigmatic and vaguely foreign woman, saving the backlot – Pinewood, not Elstree – from an international threat. Old ITC hand William Gaunt comes along for the silliness as the Preventers’ Controller, known only as the Controller. The villain is played by Simon Williams. His name is Lord Timothy Belvoir St Nash, but it’s not pronounced like that.

And of course the show is packed with specific little gags familiar to anybody familiar with these shows, even the Supermarionation ones. Our son was still chuckling about the Mysterons’ answering machine greeting after we finished, and of course ITC’s white Jaguar goes over a cliff. There’s hypnosis and there are martinis and casinos and poorly aligned rear screen projections so the characters can pretend to be in Paris. Harley’s unbelievably dumb hero character, Craig Sturdy, has had me saying “I think you’ll find that au lait is a Spanish expression, commonly used in bullfighting” for twenty-three years.

The plot doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but it probably doesn’t have to. It’s quotable and dopey and just plain huggable. It’s a ridiculous and funny half-hour, and Carlton Television definitely should have commissioned a full series of this.

Bootlegs of The Preventers are usually available on YouTube.

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

Why yes, as a matter of fact, our son really did love the Special Weapons Dalek. It’s a Dalek “tank” that can blow up two or three renegade Daleks at a time.

“Remembrance” may be a case of style over substance, but it’s an incredibly fun story. I kind of wish the music was a bit less eighties and a little more sixties, but it’s a fine production of a good script. I definitely wish the show had been this confident and this much fun every week between 1982 and 1986.

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

We’re in 1988 now, and the Doctor and Ace are back at Coal Hill School and I.M. Foreman’s junkyard in 1963 with Daleks, because it’s the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who and that’s what you do for anniversaries on television: go and revisit the past. But in the case of Ben Aaronovitch’s debut serial for the show, “Remembrance of the Daleks,” reveling in nostalgia works just fine. This is a splendid story with lots of location filming, some recognizable guest stars including Simon Williams and Pamela Salem as sort of the early sixties version of UNIT, and George Sewell as a fascist who’s allied himself with one of two rival factions of Daleks. They even found small roles for Peter Halliday and Michael Sheard, who’d appeared in something like a combined nine prior Who stories.

This looks and sounds a million times zippier than Who did just three years previously. We’ll hit a couple of places in the show’s last two years where the emphasis on speed will derail the program’s ability to tell a coherent story, but “Remembrance” gets it incredibly right. The action scenes are staged and directed far better than Who could typically manage, leading to the beautiful cliffhanger to part two, in which Sophie Aldred and her stunt double beat the daylights out of a Dalek using a supercharged baseball bat and then jump from table to table and out a glass window. I really love that scene!

Our son was in heaven, of course. There are Daleks and death rays and lots of explosions. In fairness, though, the two of us did see Godzilla: King of the Monsters this morning and he’s been dancing on air ever since. (I didn’t post about it because I didn’t want to sound like too much of a fuddy-duddy, but when we picked up Marie for lunch, she said “The movie was longer than I expected” and I replied “I checked its running time first and it was longer than I expected, too.”) So yes, he liked these two installments quite a lot, but I thought to remind Marie of Quatermass and the Pit between episodes so she’d catch the Easter egg in part three. She said “Yeah, the one with the buried alien monsters, right?” and our son said “That reminds me of Godzilla somehow!”