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."