Thursday, 29 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Journey into Terror

Don't worry, Hoover didn't catch me. My friend Scary Cat, who is the bravest and scariest of all cats, scared Hoover away. Now he is joining me to watch the scariest episode of Doctor Who evar. Part four of The Chase is called Journey into Terror, and even the name is scary!

At first Ian thinks the place the TARDIS has landed will be a good place to fight the Daleks, because there are lots of stairs there and "Daleks don't like stairs." Lol, Ian has obviously not been to the future and watched Remembrance of the Daleks, or he would know that Daleks can climb stairs quite quickly considering.

There are conflicting clues about where on Earth they have landed - the vampire flying mouses suggest South America, while the architecture says Central Europe - so the Doctor suggests they look around to solve this mystery, and obviously that means splitting up.

The Doctor and Ian find a laboratory where Frankenstein's Monster scares Ian. Barbara and Vicki are already scared when they meet Count Dracula, before they are separated by secret passages and then Barbara sees a Banshee.

The Doctor has a theory that they are in a world of nightmares created by the collective fears of mannys. If they had landed in a world of things cats are scared of then they would have met Hoover and Washing Machine and there would have been thunder and lightning and fireworks. But that would have been too scary to show on the BBC so they would not have done that.

The Dalek time machine appears and the Daleks start to look for the TARDIS crew. A Dalek shoots Frankenstein's Monster but he is not killed. Dracula distracts another Dalek so the crew can escape to the TARDIS, except for Vicki who is left behind. Dracula and the Banshee are also immune to the Dalek pewpewpew guns, and the Banshee laughs at the Daleks who are finally up against things more scary than they are.

The Daleks are not immune to Frankenstein's Monster, who picks one up and smashes it (giving us this week's loser of the Dalek Reality TV programme).

The Doctor never finds out that his theory is not right - they really landed in Frankenstein's House of Horrors in the year 1996. I was not made in 1996 so am too young to remember that, although I wouldn't have been able to go there anyway as the sign says it was "cancelled by Peking". Considering the places that the Doctor would later visit in stories such as The Celestial Toymaker or The Mind Robber, his theory was not a silly one.

Vicki escapes from Frankenstein's House of Horrors by hiding on the Dalek time machine, where she sees that the Daleks have made an evil robot copy of the Doctor, one that looks exactly like him when seen in close up. The end of the episode is them giving the robot its orders to "infiltrate and kill" the TARDIS crew.

Journey into Terror is Terry Nation back at his imaginative best, with the original idea of Daleks meeting Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula. At first the Doctor and Companions are faced with a new set of scary monsters to be Chased by, but in the end the monsters fight each other. And then the evil robot promises a new peril for our heroes to encounter next time.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Flight Through Eternity

Part three of The Chase is the first part of the story with an episode title that makes sense, referring as it does to the Chase properly getting underway.

There is the usual brief recap of the end of the previous part. The Dalek that says
"Cease firing. They have escaped."
sounds like a sad Dalek, disappointed they did not get to exterminate the Doctor. Their different voices hint at personalities. One of the other Daleks is more upbeat, saying
"Final termination is inevitable!"
and this seems to cheer the first Dalek up. They chant together for a bit until another Dalek tries to get them to focus on their mission (as well as explaining the episode title) by saying
"We will embark in our time machine at once! The Dalek Supreme has ordered they are to be pursued through all eternity! Pursued and exterminated!"

We see the TARDIS and the Dalek time machine flying past the title and Terry Nation's "written by" credit. In the TARDIS the Doctor's time path detector detects another time machine, 12 minutes behind them. The Chase is on!

The TARDIS lands amidst some stock footage of New York.

Atop the Empire State Building are some mannys, one of whom appears to not know his lines, and another of whom definitely isn't Steven Taylor even though he is played by Peter Purves. He is called Morton Dill and is from Alabama, a fact which he is keen to stress at every available opportunity, perhaps so we do not mistaik him for Steven Taylor.

Vicki makes a rare continuity reference to The Dalek Invasion of Earth when she recognises "ancient New York" and says it was destroyed by the Daleks.

Ian and Barbara are back in their own time, or at least about as close as they have ever been to it, but Ian and the Doctor agree that there are too many innocent mannys nearby for them to risk staying and confronting the Daleks here, so they go back in the TARDIS and leave. This scene is played for laughs (badly) and so misses a tremendous opportunity to show the dramatic sacrifice Ian and Barbara are making in losing out on the chance for them to return to their home planet and time.

The Daleks arrive and meet Morton Dill and their scene is also played for laughs so Morton Dill is not exterminated. The next stop for the time machines is the Mary Celeste.

It's only a model.

Barbara wanders off from the TARDIS to get captured by Mr Richardson. Vicki saves Barbara but then hits Ian on the head by mistaik - again the dramatic potential of the Chase is being squandered in the name of cheap 'Ian being hit on the head' laughs.

The ship is a good set for such a small part in the story - I wonder if it was left over from another BBC programme? The gentle nodding of the camera is a simple but effective way of conveying the ship's movement.

The TARDIS leaves and Mr Richardson is confused. He and his friends are still looking in vain for Barbara when the Daleks come and scare them so they all run away and jump off the ship into the water. One Dalek also falls in the water when chasing the last manny - no prizes for guessing which Dalek gets voted off the Dalek Reality TV programme this time!

The Doctor says the Dalek time machine is cathcing up with them more and more, so they now only have 8 minutes lead on the Dalek time machine. He makes a dramatic pronouncement to serve as a cliffhanger:
"We must face the facts: the Daleks are closing in on us!"

The uncomfortable juxtaposition of serious dramatic threat with attempts at (bad) comedy make this episode not nearly as good as it should have been.

Can you hear that?

Oh noes, it's Hoover! Hoover is coming to Chase us! Mew mew mew!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Death of Time

Part two of The Chase begins with us seeing the Dalek rising out of the sand again. This works better as a reprise than it did as a cliffhanger ending, and allows the story to start again straight from this point. So Terry Nation knew what he was doing after all! Mew, I was worried for a moment there.

Ian and Barbara avoid the Daleks but meet alien mannys, the Aridians, instead. The Aridians look fishy to me, I bet they are very nomable.

Ian and Vicki are saved from the monster when the Aridians blow up the room they are in to kill the monster, without knowing Ian and Vicki were in there. Ian is also knocked out by the explosion.

The Daleks capture the Aridians and make them capture the Doctor and Barbara, so the Aridians are neither goodys or baddys, but only do what they have to to survive. They don't know that the Daleks will exterminate them anyway, because that's what Daleks do.

Vicki is captured as well, but then another monster breaks in through a wall and the Doctor, Barbara and Vicki escape in the confusion as the monster noms the Aridians like it is a big cat. Exactly what kind of big cat I don't know, maybe a tiger because tigers are great.

The Doctor, Barbara and Vicki find Ian and they all go to where the TARDIS is. It has been found by the Daleks, who cannot destroy it so they have left one Dalek to guard it while the rest go off to look for the mannys and exterminate Aridians.

Ian has a clever plan that confuses the Dalek and makes it fall down a hole, and they escape in the TARDIS before three more Daleks come. The episode ends with the Daleks vowing to continue the Chase next time.

This is a rather workmanlike episode, with nothing particularly great about it but also nothing awful either. However it has given me the idea that The Chase is a Dalek Reality TV programme, which the Doctor's space-time TV accidentally picked up a bit of in the previous episode. Each week the team of Dalek contestants have to try and Chase the Doctor through time and space, and then at the end of each programme one Dalek is voted off and exterminated. I think it is safe to assume that the losing Dalek this week is the one that Ian tricked into falling down the hole.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Executioners

Spoiler warning for the recently released film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Also for the 51-year-old Doctor Who episode The Executioners.

The Executioners is the first part of The Chase by Terry Nation. It was made in 1965 and starred William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell as Ian, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and Maureen O'Brien as Vicki.

I thought now would be a good time to review The Chase because it is the oldest Doctor Who TV story with Daleks as the baddys not to have been made into a film version starring Peter Cushing. For years I thought this would never happen because Peter Cushing stopped acting in the mid-1980s, but this year he has unexpectedly come out of retirement to appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Maybe, like Harrison Ford, he needs the money.) So if I can create enough interest in The Chase now, maybe they will make it into a film and he can be Dr Who in it. That would be great!

The first scene of The Executioners is a very short teaser where the Daleks summarise their plan for this story to each other and, by extension, us:
"Our greatest enemies have left the planet Xeros. They are once again in time and space."
"They cannot escape! Our time machine will soon follow them. They will be exterminated! Exterminated! Exterminated!"

After this we get several minutes of the TARDIS crew watching space-time television, Terry Nation's latest attempt to disguise his padding out an episode. First they watch Abraham Lincoln give a speech, then Shakespeare meeting Queen Elizabeth i.

This is actually a clever meta-commentary on Doctor Who as a whole - normally we watch the Doctor and companions meet famous historical characters on TV, here they are also watching the historical characters on TV, while we are watching them watching TV. And while the science behind the way the Doctor's time-space TV works is so preposterous that the Monkeys With Badges were threatening revolution when they heard it (I didn't understand it myself), it is no more than a subversion of the fact that we do not know how the TARDIS gets the crew to their historical adventures either, except by the power of television.

Finally they watch the Beatles sing a song, and Ian dances to it. They stop watching TV because the TARDIS has arrived and it is time for them to have a proper adventure.

Ian and Vicki go off to explore, but the Doctor and Barbara stay behind to be lazy like cats. It is lucky they do so because the TV picks up a signal from the Daleks, giving them a warning that the Daleks have a time machine of their own and it is on its way to Chase them for five more episodes!

I wish our TV would warn us cats when Hoover is coming, mew!

Ian and Vicki discover a trapdoor that Ian then, foolishly disregarding some of the most sensible advice ever given, opens...

Suffice it to say, they go inside and are almost immediately trapped in there with a monster.

The Doctor and Barbara are looking for Ian and Vicki, but have only succeeded in losing the TARDIS. A Dalek slowly rises out of the sand near them, making for a confusing and unimpressive end to the episode as it is not clear if it even knows they are there. This is a rare misstep on the part of Terry Nation, who can usually be relied upon to create fantastic cliffhangers, and I think it would have been much better to end on the monster in the darkness - it is not, after all, a surprise twist that there are Daleks in this story.

Despite the lacklustre ending, The Executioners has its good moments, but with five parts of The Chase still to go it is clear this is really only a prologue, setting up the conflict that is to come later.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Duncan reviews The Power Game, Season Three

Contains spoilers, including of the really big twist in episode 9.

Every so often, perhaps once every few years, I discover for myself another great TV show from the past. I think the last one that qualified for this was Shōjo Kakumei Utena. I'm pleased to say that The Power Game is certainly among them.

In the third season it reinvents itself - after two seasons of Sir John Wilder and Caswell Bligh fighting each other for control of Bligh's company, both men left it behind at the end of season 2. We pick up two years later, with them meeting again and both working for the same firm - only this time the "firm" is the British government. Caswell, now Lord Bligh, is the minister for Trade, and Sir John is his Special Envoy - a kind of ambassador, but not a civil servant, and don't the real civil servants hate him for it!

The conflict is therefore twofold, as Bligh still blames Wilder for causing the rift in his family (he cannot see how much of the fault is his own, an ongoing plot thread for this season too) and wants revenge, but there is also their joint attempts to gain control of their department from the civil servants - like Yes Minister but not played for laughs. Indeed there are many comparisons you could make with that superb series, and I would say The Power Game is not found wanting.

It seemed to me that Sir John Wilder was a softened, more sympathetic character in this season than before, which I would put down to two things. First, while before he was rarely, if ever, able to take the moral high ground against his business opponents, now his antagonists are Bligh, who often acts solely out of spite, and the civil servants who are shown to be an old boy's network of self-seeking and tradition bound time servers, who oppose him and the good he is trying to do for British trade only because Wilder is not one of them, or because his methods are unorthodox.

Secondly, we see much less of Wilder's hypocrisy in this season, a trait which always made me like him less whenever it manifested. In the absence of Susan Weldon, Wilder has no new mistress, and seems to be abstaining from infidelity - at least for the first half of the season - and we see him rejecting one outright offer of same. Not that that stops Pamela Wilder from suspecting him, and that drives the plot of at least one of the better (and more farce-like) episodes.

There is an exception to this, and it comes in the one bad episode of the season - arguably the one outright bad episode from all of the three seasons put together. Cat Is You, Bird Is Me sees Wilder have a sort of mid-life crisis, running off with a Foreign Office interpreter who happens to be a 19-year-old hippy chick. This being made in 1969, it is as cringe-making a portrayal of the hippy culture as you would expect for mainstream television, scarcely better than Star Trek's The Way to Eden. This sort of storyline would be done much better in Rumpole of the Bailey, 10 years later, with the character of Guthrie Featherstone QC MP in Wilder's role.

While on the subject of bad things about The Power Game, I should mention the quality of the DVDs - while Network did a great job on the first two seasons, this one seemed not quite up to their usual high standards, with the picture seemingly less cleaned up (of course I don't know what the quality may have been like before they got their hands on it), and with the ad breaks excised from all but the final episode. In some cases this was clumsily done, with the edit points very jarring and noticeable. A shame.

But back to the good stuff which far, far outweighs the bad.

To go with the new setting there are new regular characters. The one deemed important enough to make it into the new title sequence is Wilder's civil service Private Secretary, Lincoln Dowling, played by Michael Jayston.

There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality.

Dowling seems like a potential ally for Wilder to begin with, but before long his ambition turns him into a rival, a junior version of Wilder himself. He feuds with Don Henderson (Jack Watling, somewhat sidelined this season, but not so much that he could slip away to be Professor Travers in The Invasion, which must have been made about this time) and romances Pamela, and while he lacks Wilder's lifetime of business and political experience and connections, he has one card Wilder lacks - we see his recruitment to the Secret Intelligence Service.

With the benefit of hindsight, the episode in which this happens, The Goose Chase, is somewhat odd. Because Michael Jayston would, 10 years later, play Peter Guillam in the BBC's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy series. While in The Power Game, the two SIS agents we see recruiting Dowling are played by Michael Aldridge and Terence Rigby, later Tinker and Soldier respectively. Now I'm not saying Lincoln Dowling = Peter Guillam, but...

Another new regular character is Sir Jason Fowler, played by Richard Hurndall. Hurndall is an actor I'm not hugely familiar with - I mainly know him for his attempt to fill the huge shoes of William Hartnell in The Five Doctors, a matter of months before his death, and Big Gay Longcat won't let me not mention he was in Blakes 7's Assassin. But he's really good here. Fowler is the Permanent Under-Secretary of State to Bligh's minister, the role Sir Humphrey Appleby serves to Jim Hacker in Yes Minister, but Sir Jason's no Sir Humphrey: Bligh, Wilder, even Dowling - a junior civil servant to Fowler in both senses - run rings around him, and as their schemes develop over the course of the season he is shown to be increasingly out of his depth. Fowler is a pitiful character, past his prime and, it turns out, with not long to live from (probably) cancer. Hurndall captures that side of the man beautifully, and makes him one of the most tragic of the series.

For me, the best episode of the season and, probably, the series as a whole, is The Heart Market, containing the most surprising twist of all. Caswell Bligh has a heart attack, and in hospital is told by doctors that he has less than a year to live... unless he has a heart transplant! Knowing something about transplants myself I realised at once that, in the 1960s, that was practically a death sentence either way.

Absent from the new titles and the first seven parts of the season, Kenneth Bligh (Peter Barkworth) returns to the show to guest-star for two episodes and is reconciled with his father before the end, even helping Caswell ensure a potential organ donor's next of kin is willing for the heart to go to Caswell. In his final act of the series, we see that for Bligh Senior everything is about money, when he callously offers the soon-to-be widow £20,000 (so over £300k in today's terms) for her husband's heart. Kenneth is horrified by his father's behaviour, but he still cries for him after his death.

Caswell gets his new heart, but doesn't survive the operation. We cut from him going off to the operating theatre to just after his funeral, a scene that Barkworth completely nails and which cements this episode as the best of them all.

Yes, the show kills off its main antagonist with four episodes still to go. A new character is brought in, Garfield Kane MP (played by Barrie Ingham, great as Sejanus in The Caesars the year before this) to replace Lord Bligh as minister, but the role of Wilder's nemesis goes principally to Dowling after this, for all that they have to work together against Kane from time to time.

It is somewhat ironic that the first two seasons of The Power Game closed with endings that felt as though they could have been the end of the story, had the programme not been recommissioned, while this season ends with the feeling that they were very much setting up the next one. From what I can gather, they would have made more but for Patrick Wymark's early death in 1970.

But there are more stories with John Wilder available - for them I will have to go back to the earlier series The Plane Makers in which he, his wife, and loyal sidekick Don Henderson first appeared.

The Power Game season 3, and the entire series, get ***** ratings from me.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Doctor Who Night 2016: The Worst of the 1980s

The theme for this year's Doctor Who Night was "the WORST of the 1980s", or more specifically to watch one of the worst stories from each of the three 1980s Doctors: Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

First up was Warriors of the Deep, in which the most nomable of all Doctor Who monsters, the Silurians and Sea Devils, returned to menace the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, and with no Paul Darrow to help them this time!

With the Silurians taking over a third of the story to begin their plan of besieging a base under siege, it is a slow start, with the Doctor acting out of character (his rigging a nuclear reactor to overload as a distraction is ridiculously over the top and irresponsible) just to pad out part one and lead to the first hilariously bad moment of the story - the cliffhanger, when Turlough asserts the Doctor must have drowned when he had been in some water for scarcely a few seconds.

There's not much entertainment to be had from the slow invasion of the base, except for unintentional entertainment such as seeing the Doctor and Tegan trying to act as though Tegan's leg is trapped under a heavy door, when it visibly wobbles at the slightest movement.

The Myrka is hilariously bad, being both the best and the worst thing in the story, and the highlight/lowlight is when the evil base doctor tries to fight it before getting electriced.

The battle scenes between the Sea Devils and the base mannys are also laughable, because they are directed so badly and undramatically - the two sides standing around shooting at each other until occasionally a manny goes
and then the Sea Devils advance... very slowly.

At the end of the four episodes, every single guest character who had a speaking part is dead. "There should have been another way," says the Doctor, and I can't help thinking he's right, and that would have been to not watch this story at all.

In an attempt to make Warriors of the Deep look good by comparison, next we watched The Twin Dilemma, a story which always - and it really does seem to be always - comes last in fan polls. It isn't hard to see why: it is dreadful, with every part of the production (writing, acting, directing, design, and - of course - costumes) failing in such a way that even the few things that aren't so bad still seem bad because they are surrounded by other things that are bad. Take the Jocondan alien costumes, for example - in a lot of other stories of that era, they would have seemed perfectly alright.

As the first story with Colin Baker playing the Doctor, this is the first appearance of his costume and cost. Putting a cat badge on the coat is not enough to make it okay, and that is saying something! I wonder if the real reason Space Policeman Hugo Lang (played by Kevin McNally - he was in I Claudius a few years earlier, what did he do wrong to end up in this?) changes from his uniform into a loud, colourful shirt was to try and make the Doctor look good by comparison?

It works about as well as our trying to make Warriors on the Cheap look good. Not very, mew.

The best thing that can be said in defence of The Twin Dilemma is that there are some quite witty lines of dialogue in part three.

The most unforgivable fault of The Twin Dilemma is, of course, the newly-regenerated Doctor's behaviour (which does indeed put the Doctor's out of character antics in the previous story into perspective), which should never have been done the way it was. The Peri-strangling scene may be the most infamous moment in the original series run, and may even have killed Colin Baker's era as the Doctor (he just took a couple of seasons to stop moving, that's all) by making him impossible for viewers to like and think of as the same Doctor as came before.

Having the Doctor act oddly for a time after regenerating is one thing, but this was exactly the way not to do it. It's horrible.

Delta and the Bannermen was, with hindsight, a mistake to include in a "worst" Doctor Who Night. It is actually pretty good - almost certainly the best story from Season 24, although that's not saying very much.

It is funny and silly and entertaining for the right reasons - the only reason I can think of that it might be considered bad is if you wanted to watch a serious science fiction story, as then you would be disappointed. Even the incidental music joins in by pastiching songs and music of the 1950s era where much of the plot takes place.

It is also three parts rather than four, so the plot zips along. The Doctor and Mel get involved in events quickly and Sylvester McCoy's Doctor seems properly the Doctor - even if he is still doing his getting-sayings-wrong thing of his early stories - in a way that the bad writing of Warriors of the Deep and Twin Dilemma meant Peter Davison and Colin Baker didn't.

It may deviate from the standard of Doctor Who's format as a lightweight comedy, but Delta and the Bannermen is easily the most Doctor Who of the three.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Duncan reviews The Power Game, Season Two

Spoiler warning. But seriously, it's a series from 1966 - are you really worried about that now?

Befitting a show about engineers, this season builds greatly on that which came before it, and follows on from the events of season one as seamlessly as though they were planned together from the start. I have no idea if that was in fact the case, or if the writers were just that good at their job.

The main cast of The Power Game (the ones considered important enough to appear in the title sequence) all carry on from the first season, but there is significant turnover in the semi-regular and guest actors, necessitating a number of new recurring and one-off characters.

Before seeing him in this, Robin Bailey was best known to me as Judge Graves, a recurring nemesis for Rumpole. He takes over the void left by the (off-screen) departure of Ian Holm's Sefton Kemp as Charles Grainger, a senior civil servant. There is more than a little of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Grainger, and he proves to be a far more formidable opponent to Sir John Wilder than Kemp was. At one point he even gives a very Humphrey-esque speech where he claims true power lies with the Civil Service, not with the politicians or the businessmen. And the events at the conclusion of the series would appear to bear this out.

Roger Delgado is sadly only in the one episode, playing an opportunistic businessman from the Middle East called Farid Salem whom Sir John Wilder outwits. The show once again transcends its '60s origins by showing racist attitudes of its time that are confined to the characters - the show itself does not espouse them, as dialogue between Wilder and Salem indicates: Wilder accuses Salem of being crooked by making the common generalisation about thieves in his country having their hands cut off. Salem responds that they have abolished amputation just as the British have abolished capital punishment. "Progress is universal," he concludes, in a very Masterful way.

Then you will give your power to me?

It was seeing this performance of Delgado's that inspired Big Gay Longcat to write his article on actors who should have played Number 2 in The Prisoner.

Coming off less well is Alan McNaughtan. He reminds me of the Bargain Basement Frank Finlay I took him for before I saw him give a great performance in The Sandbaggers, as here he plays a Dutch banker whose accent wanders around Europe like he's Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The middle of the season is chock-a-block with faces familiar to me from other British shows, including Kevin Stoney, George Pravda, John Barron, and even Ray Lonnen (the first two both playing foreigners, the latter two both Englishmen abroad in the made up African country of Magalia).

Finally we get our third Number 2 to appear in the series as Guy Doleman, the very first Number 2 encountered by Number 6 in Arrival, guests as a rival for the attentions of Sir John Wilder's mistress Susan Weldon.

Wilder's relationships are again at the heart of the series, and while it is of course the business ones that are usually the main focus of the various plots, his romantic entanglements take centre stage more frequently in this season than in the first: the collapse of his marriage is more or less the point on which the season's arc pivots, with Pamela leaving him representing a change in his fortunes. After a run of successes, it seems his wife is the one person Wilder cannot out-manipulate - and after that we see a gradual loss of control spreading into his business life as well.

Wilder reconciles with his wife by the end, but his relationship with Miss Weldon falls apart for good after declining over the course of the season. While she may or may not end up marrying Guy Doleman's character - the series is ambiguous about whether he is using her just as Wilder did - we are clearly supposed to feel she is better off away from Wilder. His most unlikable characteristic is his hypocritical jealousy - in season one we saw this when his wife also had an affair, this time it is when Miss Weldon sees other men, including Doleman and Patrick Allen. Presumably she didn't stay with Allen because he kept reminding her of the possibility of imminent nuclear war.

There's little to criticise about this superb drama series, but I can't let pass the new title music which has been... funked up... for the second season. If the season two titles had been my first exposure to the series, I would never have been able to take it seriously.

Here, judge for yourselves. Compare this first season title sequence:

to this second season version:

The funk kicks in after about 12 seconds (with thanks to ZillakYT for uploading them to YT).

At the end of the series Wilder finally loses his position at Bligh's, with Caswell Bligh finally "winning" over Sir John. But with Wilder walking away with £330,000 in 1966 money (multiple millions in today's money) as a final move, and Caswell's family torn apart by his manipulations, it is far from being as simple as that.

It does suggest that there will be big changes for the third season, with the status quo not looking like an option. I'm looking forward to it - this is an outstanding series.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

10 Reasons Cats Don't Tweet


#1. We are not birdies.

This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012

The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012

My twitter has become so powerful that I can actually make my enemies tell the truth.
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2012

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012

It's freezing and snowing in New York--we need global warming!
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012

26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2013

Hillary Clinton has announced that she is letting her husband out to campaign but HE'S DEMONSTRATED A PENCHANT FOR SEXISM, so inappropriate!
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 27, 2015

I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2016

The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary - but also at many polling places - SAD
-- Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2016

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Top 10 actors who should have played Number 2 in The Prisoner

Clickbait subtitle: Number 6 will make your jaw drop!

While obviously Paul Darrow would have made the best Number 2 evar, let's be sensible cats and confine ourselves to actors that could have plausibly been about in the era that The Prisoner was being made, and well known enough that they could have realistically been cast as the series' second main character for an episode or two.

Patrick Troughton could easily have made the list but for one thing, which is that he spent the whole of the period in question being in Doctor Who as a full time job. He just misses out on my top 10 for that reason.

#10. Kevin Stoney

Kevin Stoney is a good enough actor that he could be placed higher, but he is let down by his performance from that time he was actually in The Prisoner, as Colonel Jolly-Good-Show-What-What in Chimes of Big Ben - a character so broad in his English mannerisms that he could easily be best friends with Biggles or Bertie Wooster.

But imagine if Kevin Stoney had played his Number 2 more like his Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion (1968), then we'd be purring.

#9. Anthony Hopkins

Making this list mainly on the strength of his work in the Department S episode A Small War of Nerves (1970), plus of course all the hindsight of his subsequent career, Anthony Hopkins only places so low because of the feeling he'd be wasted as Number 2.

In the Prisoner episode Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Nigel Stock has a good go at playing Number 6 trapped in another manny's body, but despite a couple of strong scenes he can't rescue the rubbish production from itself. Now imagine Anthony Hopkins filling those shoes instead, and I think he may have had more chance than anybody else (except for a time-travelling 1980s Paul Darrow) of lifting that story up.

#8. Dennis Alaba Peters

Staying with Department S for inspiration, Dennis Alaba Peters played the regular authority figure Sir Curtis Seretse, and I think this could have been a good template for a take on Number 2.

He just needed to stay away from dodgy back projection when meeting with Stewart SullivanNumber 6 and he would have been fine. Sadly that was no easy feat in latter parts of the series, which is why he is no higher up this list.

#7. Herbert Lom

Herbert Lom was mainly a film actor, but did appear in a few TV shows, such as playing the main character in The Human Jungle (1963-64) and a guest star in The Man From UNCLE in 1967.

Despite looking a little bit like Kenneth Griffith (Number 2 in The Girl Who Was Death and, arguably, Fall Out), I don't doubt that you would have gotten a very different performance out of this veteran character actor, a few years before he got a bit typecast from playing Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films.

#6. Philip Madoc

Going by his performance as the War Lord in The War Games (1969), Philip Madoc could have been a compelling, sinister, threatening Number 2, a worthy antagonist for Number 6 to face.

Contractually obligated joke:
"Why did you resign?"
"Don't tell him Pike!"


BRIAN BLESSED's versatility and range as an actor have been somewhat obscured by his post-Flash Gordon persona, but if you look at his work in the 1960s and '70s, such as guest appearances in The Avengers or his Augustus in I Claudius, you see what he would have been capable of as a Number 2.

Maybe his beard is Number 1?

#4. Honor Blackman

After leaving The Avengers to star in Goldfinger (1964), Honor Blackman could have returned to telefantasy television as a Number 2 who was the dark side of Cathy Gale or Pussy Galore.

Naturally as a cat I am bound to say I'd prefer the latter option.

#3. David McCallum

The Man From UNCLE series ended in 1968, so it is just possible that David McCallum could have come straight from there to be in The Prisoner, a few years before playing a prisoner himself in Colditz.

David McCallum is a truly great actor, so his Number 2 would have been bound to have been memorable in the first place, but there would also be the added question if, just as some speculated that Number 6 was really John Drake from Danger Man, could his Number 2 be Illya Kuryakin?

#2 Christopher Lee

In between making Dracula sequels for Hammer* Christopher Lee guest-starred in The Avengers episodes Never, Never Say Die (1967) and The Interrogators (1969), so it is not inconceivable that he could have been in The Prisoner around that same time. I think it's pretty uncontroversial to say he would have been a magnificent Number 2.

* This isn't even a joke: Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966); Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968); Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970).

So who is #1?

You are Number 6.

Only joking, it's:

#1. Roger Delgado

Roger Delgado's list of acting credits on IMDB for the 1960s show him as being stuck playing shifty foreigners called Von Golling (Danger Man, 1961), Rodriguez (The Saint, 1966) or Kreer (The Avengers, 1969), and many more examples both on film and on television. Inevitably they were minor villains, henchmen or, at best, guest villains of the week.

Aside from a recurring role as the Spanish Ambassador Mendoza in Sir Francis Drake in the early '60s, it took until his (perfect) casting as the Master in Doctor Who for him to find a regular part that showed off his acting skills to the best of his considerable abilities - although the Master was an alien, Delgado did not have to put on a dodgy accent or even more dodgy facepaint in order to play him.

I think it would have been great if we had seen a Number 2 played in the same vein, if only the producers of The Prisoner could have looked past the typecasting to the undoubted talent underneath. With all the qualities that made Roger Delgado's Master such a brilliant foil for Jon Pertwee's Doctor, Number 6 might have met his match at last.

It would have been even better if they had allowed him to record his own version of the opening dialogue (rather than lazily use the default sequence, as they tended to do towards the end of the series). That way we could have had:

"I am the new Number 2... and you will obey me." 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Duncan reviews The Power Game, Season One

The Power Game was a British political drama series that ran on ITV between 1965 and 1969, centering on the struggles between the three top men at a large (fictional) civil engineering company for control of the company and the wider political influence that comes with that power.

With a level of complexity to its intrigue that requires viewers to pay attention, and storylines that run across the whole of the first season's 13 episodes, this is the sort of series that US television wants us to believe that it invented about 15 years ago, but which really was already being produced as a matter of course in the UK going back 50 years.

Spoilers of this 50-year-old series follow.

In fact The Power Game is a sequel to another series, The Plane Makers, which I have not seen - yet - but which I do know contained several of the same characters, first of which is the main character of The Power Game, Sir John Wilder (played by Patrick Wymark), joint managing director of "Blighs" civil engineers, a man with a great deal of high level business experience and some political influence as well.

Wilder is the main character, but he is not a "good guy" - he's greedy, ruthless, and only out for himself. He also proves to be a complete hypocrite in his personal life, jealous of his wife while keeping a mistress of his own. He's a thoroughly unlikable character, and it is a tribute to the acting skills of Patrick Wymark when he manages to get the viewers to side with him.

The second main character is Caswell Bligh, played by Clifford Evans - he may have been Number 2 in the worst episode of The Prisoner, but he wasn't the worst Number 2, and here he gets to show off the skills he was denied by being in Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling. Bligh, the founder of "Blighs", is in some ways a more sympathetic character than Wilder - while just as unscrupulous in his business dealings, Bligh is a family man whose ambition is to leave the company he built up to his son and grandson after him (Wilder, by contrast, definitely only wants money and power for himself). There is a darker side there though - it is revealed during the series that Bligh made his fortune during the second world war by skimming profits from contracts that were supposed to be part of the war effort.

The final member of the trio that make up the primary tier of characters is Caswell Bligh's son, Kenneth Bligh. Kenneth (always referred to as Kenneth in the show, not Bligh or Mr Bligh, to avoid confusion with his father) is played by Peter Barkworth, an actor who was in many things but whom I probably most associate with either Leader Clent in Doctor Who's Ice Warriors or else Martin Hewitt in two stories of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Supposedly Kenneth is in his mid-thirties, and while Barkworth was about that age at the time, I find this hard to swallow because he definitely looks older.

So the basic setup is that Bligh (Senior) wants to pass on control of his company to his son, but feels he is not ready yet, so makes him joint managing director with another man until he is ready. Sir John Wilder wasn't Bligh's first choice but Wilder forces his hand in the first episode, coming out of the semi-retirement he ended The Plane Makers in and with a lot more powers than the Blighs are happy with.

Around these three are a second tier of regular characters. Jack Watling (Professor Travers in Doctor Who) plays Don Henderson, another character returning from The Plane Makers to be Wilder's right hand man. He often serves the role that Bernard Wooley served in Yes Minister, with the other characters explaining their deep plots to him and, by proxy, the viewers at home.

Lady Pamela Wilder (Barbara Murray) is Wilder's wife. Susan Weldon (Rosemary Leach) is Wilder's mistress. One of the most impressive things about the series is how unsexist it is for the time in which it was made - let's not forget that even the progressive Star Trek was incredibly sexist in the 1960s - and would even stand up well against some series being made today. They are two of the cleverest characters in the series, but Lady Wilder does not work and Miss Weldon is merely the assistant secretary to a civil service board - despite having a PhD in Economics - because they are unsexist characters who exist in a sexist time.

These then are the characters who appear in almost every episode. There is a third tier of regular characters who recur across a few. Rachel Herbert as Justine Bligh (Kenneth's wife) is perhaps the most worthy of mention for being the other Number 2 to appear in the show. Sorry if that's a spoiler for Free For All, by the way.

Who is Number 1?

George Sewell (Alec Freeman in UFO, or the Superintendent from The Detectives if you prefer) plays Frank Hagadan, employed by Wilder as an engineer and then sacked by him when he discovers Hagadan is his wife's lover. This makes for one of the best moments of the season, when we see that Pamela Wilder didn't love Hagadan at all, she was just using him to get back at her husband for his own infidelity - a twist conveyed by Barbara Murray with only a single look to camera.

Philip Madoc (who I trust needs no introduction) plays a trade union official and member of the National Export Board - as are Wilder and Bligh. He plays them off against each other when it becomes clear that they should not both be on the board when they work for the same company (Wilder was appointed to it before he took the Blighs job), and the main plot of several episodes hinges on this development with first one, then the other, threatened with losing their place and, with it, a good deal of their political influence. Probably my favourite moment of the season comes when it looks like Bligh has been forced, by one of Wilder's many schemes, to resign from the board, but at the last minute he is saved by an intervention from the Minister that neither of them foresaw while at the same time having been foreshadowed, to us, beautifully.

The last regular I feel is worth mentioning is Ian Holm, here near the beginning of his career that would go on to include such highlights as Ash in Alien, Pod in The Borrowers and, of course, The Lord of the Rings where he played Frodo Baggins. Here he is the closest thing to a real "bad guy" antagonist, the ambitious civil servant Sefton Kemp.

Kemp is the secretary to the National Export Board and, as such, is Miss Weldon's boss. After failing to get rid of her - which he wants to do because she is actually better qualified for his job than he is - he plots with the chairman of the Board to get rid of Wilder as part of a play that will expand the powers of the Board. This forms the finale of The Power Game's first season, a superb climax that sees everyone turned against Sir John Wilder and, by the end of part two (Network leaving the ad breaks in on their DVDs again - I like it when they do that) he's as up against it as he's ever been. Suffice to say that before the end credits roll he turns it around and it is Kemp that ends up getting sacked, and Wilder comes out with more power than ever before.

Well, by going through the characters in this way I have also covered all the features of the series that I felt were worth discussing, so that's it for my review really. In conclusion, while this might seem like a TV series consisting largely of men shouting at each other in rooms... actually, I'm not going to deny it is that. But it manages to make that into totally gripping drama. Even The Sandbaggers, behind its office-bound setting, had the advantage of being about the inherently more exciting subject of espionage, but The Power Game makes more with less.

I would unhesitatingly give the first season of The Power Game a ***** rating.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

New Number Two

Local politics is getting interesting here in our Village, as this screenshot from the BBC's News website today shows:

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Quenta Sil-MEME-illion

A Cellar Full of Silence

A Cellar Full of Silence is the second of Terry Nation's fabulous episodes of Department S. It is a great mystery that our three heroes peel back the layers of bit by bit, ever advancing towards the dramatic climax where there is a countdown to a bomb going off! Truly El Tel is the master of writing telefantasy mystery stories, every one is so different and you never know what is going to happen next.

The main guest star of the week is Edward Brayshaw, in this the same year as he was in Doctor Who's The War Games. But here he is the main baddy, acting behind the scenes and hardly seen for most of the story until it is time for him to make his move - so more like the War Lord than the character he did play, the War Chief.

If ever there was an actor who was born to play the baddy in telefantasy programmes, it is Roger Delgado. But Edward Brayshaw must be a pretty close second.

I give this episode 5 out of 5, and not just for the pre-titles scene where extras are working topless on a building site for no reason. Honest. Mew.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Mission: Impossible - The Brexit, part six

"Jim, there's trouble."

"What's wrong, Cinnamon?"

"The government have printed a propaganda booklet in favor of Remain and mailed it to every voter in the country."

"Surely you can't be serious? Simple reverse psychology tells us this would give a big boost to the Leave side, as voters feel they're being told what to do and vote the other way out of sheer stubbornness."

"I am serious, and don't call me Shirley. The problem is not with the ordinary voters, who are backing 'Vote Leave' in droves, it is with the politicians - they're believing their own propaganda, and so now every mainstream political Party is officially in favor of Remain. And because the referendum is..."

"...Because the referendum is only advisory, they could vote against it in their parliament. I see. That means we'll have to take steps to make sure there's a majority for Leave in the House of Commons. Fortunately for us, their First Past the Post system has given the Conservative Party an overall majority, so we only need to convince them."

"How can we do that Jim? We know that Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Osborne, and most of the other senior Conservatives all want 'Vote Remain' to win."

"That's true, Willy, but you're forgetting one thing - a vote in parliament would only take place after the referendum saw a majority vote for Leave. So we don't need to convince them now, we just need to ensure that whoever is leader of the Conservatives after the referendum is someone that will carry out the will of the people.
Willy, Cameron will have to go immediately - take care of him, er, it.
Cinnamon, I think ensuring the right person takes his place may be a job for 'Ms Leadsom' - just make sure you don't find yourself in the hot seat when the music stops."

"Yes Jim. But Jim, what about the Labour Party? As the official opposition, couldn't they rally support and block the vote in the Houses of Parliament?"

"I don't think we need to worry about the Labour Party somehow, Cinnamon..."

Meanwhile, at Labour Party Headquarters...

"Jeremy... I mean Comrade Corbyn... I have seen reports in the newspapers that you're not fully behind us in backing 'Vote Remain'. Tell me this isn't true, please."

"Do not believe the lies of the capitalist press, Comrade Burnham. I am fully in favor of our country remaining part of the European Union. Well, ninety percent in favor... seventy... call it fifty-five percent in favor, which is still more for than against it, no?
Besides which, haven't I been up and down the country making speeches in support of our comrades in the European Union? The press must have given them at least some coverage?"

"There's nothing about that here."

"Oh well, ask Comrade Eagle if you don't want to take my word for it."

"Trapped between betraying our socialist principles on the one hand... electoral oblivion on the other... I don't believe in the no-win scenario. There has to be... a third way. Exceptnotthatkindofthirdway. Perhaps... yes, perhaps I could become a mayor... a mayor like Sadiq

...but that's another story.