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Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (parts three and four)

I’m not surprised that our son came around in the end. He still had a couple of moments of fright, but between all the explosions, and the Doctor’s magic tricks, and the incredibly fun cliffhanger to part three, he was much more excited tonight than scared. Happily, our son’s still not quite at the age where he can see what’s coming very easily. I’m pretty sure any grownup would figure out that a girl from a planet called Vulpana who gets frightened by pictures of the moon and who gets taunted with a silver bullet might just be a werewolf. Not this eight year-old.

By a weird coincidence, over supper, our son asked me what my favorite Who stories are. I mentioned some from the shows that we’ve watched together: “The Enemy of the World,” “Spearhead from Space,” “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” “Kinda,” and “Snakedance.”

And then there’s this one, which is just completely brilliant.

That’s the end of this batch of stories, but we’ll watch the last of the original seasons of Doctor Who in July. Stick around and stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (parts one and two)

Tonight’s Doctor Who adventure has our son absolutely freaked out. He hasn’t been this completely frightened by the series in a long, long time. He spent most of the second episode behind the sofa. That’s in small part because the clowns at the Psychic Circus have got under his skin, but mainly because the sense of something being badly, badly wrong is totally overwhelming. He’s really enjoyed the heck out of the last seven stories, and then this thing turns out to be a nightmare.

It’s a delightful shame, because I love this one to pieces. “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” was written by Stephen Wyatt and features a fun guest performance by T.P. McKenna as an intergalactic explorer and blowhard. Along with him is a curious girl in very, very late eighties makeup and hair played by Jessica Martin. This is one of Ace’s finest stories. She’s every bit a sixteen year-old grump in this one, and it really looks like for once, the Doctor’s got it all wrong because Ace is absolutely right to be worried and afraid of the circus.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 2.13 – A Sinister Sort of Service

Well, they certainly didn’t go out with their strongest episode. The first sixteen of the episodes we watched were all really good, but Tony Williamson’s “A Sinister Sort of Service” was just kind of dull. The villain is played by T.P. McKenna, and he has an evil supercomputer. I got more of a giggle out of our son suggesting that instead of it being a real computer, there’s a little man inside typing everything out than anything that actually happened in the story! But they can’t all be winners, and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with Adam, Simms, and Miss Jones. It’s a very good little show, and I hope that another one or two of the missing twelve episodes turns up one of these days!

(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.)

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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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The Avengers 4.4 – Death at Bargain Prices

Wow, I’d forgotten just how good “Death at Bargain Prices” is. It has a great reputation, and many fans say it’s one of the best episodes of the show, with good reason. It’s a terrific script by Brian Clemens, one of the great ones where we don’t know what the villains’ plans are at all and figure it all out along with our heroes. We know that the criminal scheme is based around a fancy department store, where Mrs. Peel is soon working undercover, but don’t quite know who among the staff are the real baddies or what they’re doing, or who can be trusted. The house detective could very easily turn out to be a villain, and we’re left wondering whether he will betray Mrs. Peel for a few minutes.

It all turns out to be agreeably grandiose, and climaxes with a dynamite fight scene that entertained our son almost as much as it did me. He really hooted when Steed deflects a dagger with a cricket bat into a dartboard, leading me to explain what a cricket bat is! Everything about this hour is incredibly impressive, especially the sets for the department store. The whole thing is about as flawless as it can be.

And there’s another batch of splendid guest stars! Maybe there’s not as many as last time, but heck, six is awfully hard to top. This week, Andre Morell, T.P. McKenna, and Allan Cuthberson, who’s practically typecast at this point in his career as a stuffy snob with a carnation in his buttonhole, all turn out to be villains, although I’m embarrassed to say that I somehow couldn’t place Morell, despite knowing him from at least six other films and TV episodes I could mention. This won’t be the only time that an actor who played Professor Quatermass appears in The Avengers, either; Andrew Keir is in a couple of the color episodes.

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