Sunday, 2 December 2018

Cybermen/Cybernauts with Reference to Doctor Who! The Moonbase


I have been watching The Moonbase, and I'm liking it very much. Not for the first time it has made me ponder that Cybermen appear in Doctor Who, and Cybernauts appear in The Avengers.
Cyber of course indicates that something pertains to the world of computers, information technology and, nowadays, virtual reality. Much of this was a fond dream in the 1960s but the appearance of this word reflects the contemporary enthusiasm for the brave new world of science, an enthusiasm I have written about here frequently. I have also written about the corresponding fear of what happens when technology gets out of hand, which is of course present in the depiction of both Cybermen and Cybernauts. I had wondered before whether anyone else had made a connection between these two monsters, and of course fandom didn't fail me, see for example here. That link also kindly did my homework for me and revealed that the Cybernauts were first broadcast a full year before the Cybermen made their first appearance in The Tenth Planet in 1966. It also ponders the similarity of the two monsters' chopping motion, which I had made myself, but doesn't follow the connection round full circle to The Avengers. I would like to think that this Who, where the sugar in the coffee is a problem, was influential on the sixth series Avengers episode, False Witness, where the milk in the coffee is the source of the trouble. The Cybernauts look more like the Cybermen in the latter's first appearance than subsequent ones and I see that tellingly the working title for The Moonbase was either The Cybermen or Return of the Cybermen.
I'm afraid I have been forced to come to the conclusion that these coincidences are where the similarities end: the two enemies were dreamt up in the same historical time. It is also clear that the Cybermen are not quite the invention of a single mad genius, although they are sometimes attributed to human invention. The space and time setting of Doctor Who provides a very different setting to the class-bound world of the Avengers, and if you want to read about the Cybernauts interpreted in terms of the British class system, you can read about it here, which page I must also credit for the image above.
I have to confess to a personal bias in these restored Dr Who episodes: my personal preference is for the soundtrack to be put to existing screenshots or even drawn still pictures. This is in no way a criticism of the monumental effort which obviously goes into recreating the missing episodes.
I like The Moonbase a lot. It's a taut story by the standards of many Who adventures of this time, exactly the right length. At this length of time I don't find it frightening, but probably would have done fifty years ago. The DVD has a commentary track and some extras which will help the viewer along.
The Moonbase has a great strength, which is unfortunately also the only weakness I can think of. The sets and Cybermen''s costumes are very effective. This means that the humans' costumes aren't so effective and the base's staff uniforms consist of white T-shirts. On the other hand this makes a clear distinction between the humans and aliens, makes the possibility of actually living on a moon base seem more attainable for the normal person.
Ultimately the point of this Dr Who is exactly the same as that of the Avengers episodes about the Cybernauts: it is that technology can be dangerous and ultimately we are superior to machines. After all we can't be dissolved with nail varnish remover. Because obviously you would need that on a moon base. Oh, and my absolute favourite bit is where Polly asks the doctor if he really is a medical doctor and he says he took his degree in Glasgow in 1888.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Target: Shipment

I try not to do much in the way of description here, because there's a lot of that about on the internet. In the case of Target there isn't any, so here we go.
Hackett arranges a sting because he is informed a strong van is going to be raised. It doesn't happen but he finds his informant has been murdered in his own car. Hackett immediately suspects Maynard, a local respectable luminary of being behind this, and confronts him at the golf club. After twists, threats and intimidation, and much police footwork, the truth about what is happening on the ship, is revealed. I love the glee with which Hackett confronts Maynard at the end.
I commented before that the cars in this show are gorgeous. Hackett is given a mark 3 Ford Cortina to drive after the murder in his original car, a more recent Ford. The flares are also quite something.
Apart from the cars what most strikes me about this show is how old fashioned the police's office looks. The clattering of typewriters dominates everything, and I know this is slightly ridiculous but that really struck me in comparison to modern offices. In addition to the settings on dry land there are also scenes on ships. Again I suspect that things are very different behind the scenes on ships these days. Hackett is quite antagonistic to the chief petty officer, played to sinister effect by (I think) Jack May.
Hackett comes across as a frankly acerbic and rather unlikeable character. I rather like that myself, I don't think you could do his job and not be embittered. Having blithely said there was an absence of sex in this show, of course there is some in this episode. Hackett pursues women in the kind of way you would expect of the protagonist of this kind of show. Unusually for the time Mower himself seems to be the main sex object, with a whole scene wearing only underpants. There is also a joke when he is handed his property from the car in which the murder took place, where he comments that the packet of three items for his own pleasure, are not his size! He does, however, come across as genuinely sympathetic to the murdered informer's widow.
Otherwise this episode of Target is open to the main criticism which can be levelled against the show: it's one-dimensional, violent, and I have seen it described as being like a boy's adventure comic of the time (here which is also my source for the gracious illustration to this post). Personally I don't mind that. Moral depth and philosophical hand-wringing would be out of place in this show, where the police are dealing with some really nasty pieces of work. And long diversions into the characters' love lives would slow it down.
So my verdict is that if you don't think you'll like this, you probably won't, but if you like this sort of thing you'll be in your element.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Target: First Impressions

It gives me great pleasure finally to be writing about Target here, and I'll just give my first impressions because the discs only arrived today and I'm rushing into print.
Target is one of those legendary series of UK television, legendary because nobody has seen it since it was broadcast. Legend has it it was the BBC's answer to the popularity of ITV shows like The Sweeney and The Professionals. It followed a similar formula and perhaps overdid the violence because after a record number of complaints it was pulled after only two series. Basically if you like the other shows you should like Target. I do.
The shows still exist and I have bought series 1 from here. If you send the guy an email he invoices you by email and you pay by PayPal. What you get is three printed DVDs in cardboard sleeves. They have menus but otherwise there's nothing fancy and that's fine by me. Picture quality is acceptable in my opinion, but as usual don't expect HD from a show of this age.
The series uses the by then reliable formula of a particular specialist branch of the police, in this case the Regional Crime Squad of Southampton. It uses the familiar device of the genre of being hard as nails, with some quite graphic violence for the time. When I have written about 1970s shows in the past, I have written about the corrupt reputation of the police of the time, and Target has made me reflect that it's not really any surprise if the police leant on people too heavily when they were pretty much their own closed world. The world depicted in Target is tough all round and clearly creates the sort of environment where police can round up six random Irishmen for the events of 21st November 1974. This is not so much a procedural as a get-by-however-you-can.
At this length of time Target is a visual delight. Those of us who remember the seventies as happy times will reminisce and yet laugh at the same time. The cars are wonderful, the clothes are ridiculous, you can smell the cigarette smoke.
I have just one criticism which is only in light of the comparison with similar shows. The others all rely on two lead characters, and the tension between them. Target makes the mistake of having four people in the team which makes the lead a bit diffused, but in practice Patrick Mower tends to be the strongest character. I'm not sure if that was how it was meant to be - reliable evidence about this show is almost entirely lacking. The actors include a lot of familiar faces in the manner of the time.
It also has doms surprises. I have only just started watching but I am surprised by an almost complete absence of sex in a show of this time. The word that comes to mind is businesslike. I suspect this may touch on the BBC/ITV division, where the BBC was worthy and independent TV was frivolous - exactly the issue in my recent Danger Man post about pirate radio. Target feels more like a worthy drama than the entertainment provided by the Other Side. However this is a personal impression obviously.
But the absolute best thing about Target is the theme, so I'll finish with that:


Saturday, 17 November 2018

Danger Man: The Ubiquitous Mister Lovegrove

I have been prompted to watch this episode by a new comment posted on my original post on this episode. It has been some time since I have watched many Danger Man episodes and have also not watched through The Prisoner lately so wanted to revisit what I thought before.
When I started this blog I had an ongoing fear that I would find I had blogged about all the interesting shows and run out of things to say. This no longer frightens me because I now realise that good TV can be watched repeatedly and bring different things to mind.
In my first post I decided to take the view that this episode was a true precursor of The Prisoner. This time round the episode has made me think differently, purely because of the opening scene of the car crash. It is evident that Drake of course works for an organisation. And this has taken my train of thought two ways.
The first is that the opening scenes remind me of the Avengers episode, The Hour That Never Was. Visually they are incredibly similar. My mind is therefore already moving towards the sixties trend for all things spying and the other sixties trend of spoofing the world of spying and the contemporary cold war.
The other way my mind has wandered is towards James Bond: most evidently the idea is explicitly planted by an actual Bond novel appearing. Obviously Drake will never be the same sort of person as Bond but it seems to me that in this one he looks the most like Bond he ever does, and inhabits a fantasy version of Bond's world. The casino and fight scenes are particularly Bondian.
The other thing in the sixties psyche which I didn't think about the last time I wrote about this one was drugs. I wouldn't go to the stake for this view, you must understand, because unless Drake was already intoxicated when he crashed the car, or was drugged while unconscious, there is no apparent opportunity to drug him. That said, the events of the episode have a distinctly trippy feel about them.
Further, there is a theme underlying of being discovered, uncovered, etc, even if by mistake, and as a result being ruined. If this is a trip, it is definitely a bad trip, but also draws on a common fear or nightmare. This is a dramatisation of that dream people have where they are naked in the street, only with the addition of the other common fear of mistaken identity.
My favourite line: 'Thanks, but I feel a lot safer with you as an enemy'. I like the scenes of Drake at home in this episode.
I regret that the TV minus 50 blog is no longer being updated, and I owe the illustration and some ideas for this post to it.
Of course you can tell where I'm forced to go with this can't you? I was going to say something about the fact a show can be understood so many different ways indicates that it's quality. But that's what I always think about The Prisoner so I've fenced myself into a corner!

Friday, 9 November 2018

Freewheelers: Series One

The only series of this show currently commercially available is series 6, which I have written about here before. I see from IMDB that this show was not only very go-ahead at the time, apparently being the first time in the UK that a boat was set up as an Outside Broadcast Unit, but also suffered from the junking common at the time. Apparently the only reason it survives at all was because the material chanced to be kept by the series film editor.
The upshot is that apparently what I have is a reproduction of this single copy. You can buy it off the internet as I did myself. The only thing I would say is that I have decided I am not going to name (and thus advertise) the vendor for one reason. I was impressed with the speed at which they rushed the order round here, sending me emails all the way to let me know what was happening. So customer service is great.
The discs came to around £15 which I suppose would be a shop price for many box sets, and in this case I don't mind paying it for a rare series which has obviously taken work on somebody's part to bring out on DVD. The problem with the discs is that the box contains the phrase 'digitally remastered', and those words are the reason I won't be advertising the company because they give the wrong impression. I will grant you that technically making a digital master of an analogue recording means just that and doesn't necessarily mean altering the sound or picture at all, which is probably exactly what's happened. But in 2018 most people viewing a digitally remastered TV series from the 1960s will expect it to look more like one of the other remastered series - the Avengers for example- that we've become used to.
There are some very damning reviews of these discs on Amazon, which I disagree with. The writers have expected to get a radically cleaned-up series, but these shows definitely show their patchy pedigree. The picture tends to darkness, with lines across most of it. Other faults in the analogue tape are clearly visible and the episodes tend to abrupt jumps, with bits around the titles missing. I have no doubt that these tapes must have been in a state which required considerable work to get them to where they are, but cannot match up to commercial releases. The sound is mainly good, but rather quiet and tends to be rather inconsistent. In my opinion they are perfectly watchable and while the discs do include a disclaimer about the quality of the recorded material they would have been better to leave off the statement that they are digitally remastered.
That's enough about the discs, the programme itself was intended to be an adventure series in the vein of The Avengers, and without wanting to over-egg the cake, I really think it is worthy of this comparison. That's right, you just heard me say that.
When I wrote about series 6 I was thinking about young people's hero worship of slightly older people. The dynamic is a bit different in series 1 because the youngsters are terribly grown up and the adult characters quite a bit older. The theme of the youngsters being taken on by the professional secret service against a diabolical mastermind (which was the original point) emerges loud and clear. That this was intended for young people is shown in the fact that many of the adults are corrupt, insane, stupid, or otherwise hopeless!
I love the idea of the baddy, Von Gelb, who wants to 'reverse the effects of the last war'. He's just threatening enough to be frightening, and his ideas are ridiculous enough to maintain an aura of unreality. In this the series is a worthy inheritor of the unreality thing found in The Avengers. I realise that again this will sound like very high praise, and it is.
The world inhabited by the freewheelers is otherwise the real world, just with opportunities not afforded to everyone. Possibly in the 1960s it was possible to trespass on a naval base by climbing over the fence, but I'm sure few managed it. The unreality is therefore also in the nature of the youngsters' escapades.
The pace of the show is quite different from The Avengers. Story lines carry on through episodes so that it wouldn't really be possible to watch an episode in isolation.
I think my favourite thing is that, fitting with the baddies Nazi sympathies, much of the incidental music is by Wagner.
Oh - the illustration is an actual screen cap off my laptop.

Doctor Who: The Smugglers Episode Two

I'm afraid this post will be rather derivative, since I looked online and found that everyone else has already thought and published the thoughts I had myself!
What is all my own thought, though, is a growing distaste at the idea of time travel. I'm actually no great traveller at, although it's the actual travelling I dislike rather than the being in different places. This episode makes very clear how dangerous time travel is and how much you could feel trapped. Nobody will believe the truth about your situation and you will be permanently an alien in the place and time you travel to. A humorous point is perhaps rather overdone about this in the way the other characters consistently mistake Polly for a boy, because of her sixties-era trousers and cap:
In a further touch of panto, Polly is mistaken for a lad throughout. The joke’s on her for wearing 1960s slacks and a Bob Dylan cap, but the notion that any lusty seadog wouldn’t immediately clock luscious Anneke Wills in her long eyelashes is hard to swallow. Source
There is also the fear in this episode of getting involved in the arguments of another age. The Radio Times article linked above expresses the point (better than I did in my last post) that this adventure is different from other Who historical adventures because it is concerned with relatively pedestrian events rather than 'great' historical events. Rather, it references a whole swashbuckling genre of literature:
It’s a departure from foregoing history stories. The Doctor isn’t delving into ancient civilisations or witnessing turbulent events. There’s no attempt to educate or struggle to lampoon. The Smugglers (which could just as easily be called The Pirates) is happy to be a rollicking yarn, only the second set in Britain’s past and one borrowing shamelessly from literary sources. A swig of Treasure Island, a tot of Jamaica Inn and lashings of Peter Pan. For Captain Samuel Pike, read Captain James Hook. It’s a wonder JM Barrie’s estate didn’t complain. (Same source ut supra)
I even find that the Radio Times article has commented on how effective Ben and Polly are as a partnership. Meanwhile the doctor is off on his own pretending to be a government official investigating the smuggling.
In fact I'm just going to abandon even trying to write something myself and just finish by quoting a Radio Times interview with Anneke Wills, because it is so redolent of the age of television I like so much:
In 1966 she joined Doctor Who as posh totty Polly. Though she loved the job, “working with Bill Hartnell wasn’t easy. He got bad-tempered and kept losing the plot. If he couldn’t remember a line, he’d blame you for it. He was into all sorts of trickery by then.”
The old guard soon moved on: “I remember the meeting in rehearsals between Patrick [Troughton] and Bill, and Patrick being suitably humble and Bill being rather chuffed that someone like Patrick was taking over.” Happy days: “Our table at the BBC bar was where everyone wanted to be. Patrick would be discussing politics and people were drawn around him like a magnet. We’d be giggling all afternoon. At the same time we were focused and got a lot of work done.” Source, and the rest of the interview is also fascinating.

Steed's Library: Spotted Again

I have rather got out of the habit of posting my sightings of the books from John Steed's flat in Stable Mews. I suppose I have got used to the idea that this set of distinctive leather-bound books would keep appearing all over the place in sixties TV (and it's not only the books, props reappear all over the place in The Avengers, and recently I have read about props being used in both The Prisoner and Randall and Hopkirk Deceased). I have got so used to seeing them, that recently it took me aback to see Steed hiding behind his books when pretending to be under the influence of a powerful hallucinogen and chased by a murderous fake nanny who is a diabolical mastermind. Of course the episode could only be Something Nasty in the Nursery.