Friday, 19 February 2021

The Enigma Files: False-Hearted Lover


Goodness, it isn't often you get two programmes featured here with the same star, but Tom Adams illustrated the last post and is the star of this series, which I have wanted to see forever. Now fortunately the guy who runs the Archive TV Musings blog (if you haven't seen it, rush over there now, because it's much better than this one, he posts regularly and stays on subject better than me) has put the whole series on his YouTube channel. The channel has other good things like episodes of Freewheelers.

The show is described by Wikipedia as a police procedural, but I'm not convinced it is as such. It is set in a sort of hard shoulder of police work so naturally does show police procedure but DCI Lewis, whom Adams plays, is a bit of a maverick and so it is more of an anti-procedural. Given that it was broadcast in 1980, I feel it was a deliberate contrast from the big name detective series of the time, The Sweeney, Target, The Professionals. The Enigma Files feels radically different - more studio-bound, urbane, not so violent, and yet still with the 1970s sludge colour scheme. I would think of it more as a proto-Morse. The accent really isn't on the procedure, it's like the other series I named but reframed for thinking kids.

In this episode an unsolved murder is reopened. This brings up old conflict and there is a slight problem of where the victim's fortune has vanished to. I love the character of the victim's sister, who is obviously a real tartar just like her brother. She thinks the nurse is after the money and is the murderer, which would be a classic solution to the situation. The chauffeur is well set up as a red herring.

Of the cast I think the star is Tommy who has a learning disability and is non-verbal, convincingly played by Colin Fay. Spoiler after the break -

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Villains (1972): Bernie


Sometimes you just have to prioritise yourself. With food prices soaring after Brexit, a global pandemic in which my employer was apparently unable to understand what 'stay at home' means and my joints playing up again, I have come to my senses and handed my notice in. I intend to rest for several months at least to let my joints settle down again.

I have quite a few things either buzzing round in my head or shows I haven't written about yet, to write about here.

Villains doesn't seem to be featured much in the blogosphere, however does have many online reviews which are decidedly mixed and which I broadly agree with. If you see write ups you will see that this is described as a show 'with a difference', which is usually the kiss of death because it usually means someone is being too clever. I don't think that is the case here. The premise is simple: the series follows a gang of bank robbers individually after they escape prison. Spoiler: they get recaptured. 

The fact they get recaptured is a slight problem to start with - by 1972 the notorious case of the Great Train Robbers was nearly a decade old and so everyone knew how to escape from prison properly and not get recaptured. You can read more  here about how that robbery captivated the nation. 

The other frequent criticism on t'internet is that because this show follows the robbers individually you tend to wonder what's happening with the others. To cut to the chase with these valid criticisms: the robbers escape, get captured and are followed up individually. I think you would either like or dislike this premise. The strength of this approach is that it creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere, which I suppose is exactly what being on the run would feel like. The fact you don't know what is happening with the others actually creates for the viewer exactly the sense you would have if you were one of a number of prison escapees, of never knowing what is going to happen or whether you can trust anyone.

This episode is about the thief called Bernard Owens, played by one of my favourite actors, Tom Adams. One of these days I might write about him spoofing James Bond in several films as Charles Vine. Here he uncharacteristically plays a working class character, rather than the toffs he frequently plays. This series has a number of big names, which as you all know, I tend to find distracting.

Bernie's tale has an ethical undercurrent of the effects of crime on the criminal's family. We see his wife pleading with him not to do it and see him arrested in front of his son. The impression I get is the wife's mother should have warned her daughter about him. He doesn't only insist on going ahead with the robbery but minimises the danger and the effect on the family. He's either hooked on the adrenaline or just doesn't care, in fact he actually comes across as quite psychopathic. He also has another woman on the go and his solicitor is definitely crooked! The solicitor is played by Paul Eddington so it seems as if a government minister is involved.

One of the best things about this show is the visuals. It is very clear that crime does pay, because we see lots of flares and the latest eye-popping 1970s interiors. In Bernie, his hideout is in a caravan at the seaside and there are very effective shots of the seaside out of season.

What I think is less effective is the flashback technique which is frequently used and makes the plot rather difficult to follow. That is the only bit where I think it's being too clever for its own good. That said the technique means you have to concentrate on this, which of course may be a good thing in itself.

I don't post about shows which are duds, but I think Villains is open to criticism if you don't approach it expecting what it actually does, which is turn the conventional escape story on its head.

Friday, 8 January 2021

The X-Files: The List

Finally 2020 is over, everyone thought, and a week in 2021 is escalating rapidly. On this side of the Atlantic we're fairly glad the US has the Trump card in the embarrassment stakes but hope Ireland notices when we all starve.

In the somewhat apocalyptic times, this X-Files is about what matters both in this world and the notional afterlife. You can see this as being about reincarnation and revenge from beyond the grave, but it is even more about loyalty and doing the right thing in this life.

What kind of prison is it where the prisoners routinely get beaten up by the guards? A desperate one where the remedies of the law don't work. Do people who take the law in their own hands ever have justification? Difficult to tell, and I feel that should depend on what they are up against. The even more difficult question is what to do if the system is stacked against yo


u. Manley apparently took the supernatural route, and this can clearly be understood like that.

What if the process is basically fair but you don't like it.... That's when the violence really kicks off and the strongest will rule. I have found myself having some really quite dangerous thoughts recently, such as that some people shouldn't have the vote. I actually don't agree with prisoners not having the vote as such but when I start thinking that, for example, white supremacists shouldn't have the vote, I stop and realise I'm on really dodgy ground.

I honestly don't know how things will end - this is where TV has the advantage over real life - but I'm fairly sure the coronavirus will mutate to be resistant to the vaccine.

Perhaps the real lesson of The List is that what we are made of is revealed by adversity.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Dr Who: the University of Bolton Special Effects Department

 As we go into our third lockdown this post is purely to draw attention to this legendary infection control video by the above university.



Sunday, 20 December 2020

Carry on Christmas 1972: Carry on Stuffing


Another year and once again I'm saving blogging about Too Many Christmas Trees for some unspecified time in the future. It will surely come as no surprise that I adore the naughty and slightly childish humour of the Carry On films. I suspect they may be one of those British things which don't travel well, but as always I stand to be corrected in the comments.

I have deliberately chosen this one of the four Christmas TV specials on the box set because it is my favourite, and yet strangely it is often considered the weakest, according to the internet. Therefore it seems right to give it a plug here and have a go at rehabilitating it. It consists of a number of sketches joined together with a banquet, and manages to contain all sorts of things we associate with Christmas. These include elements of pantomime stories and spoof other genres of films and fiction.

Visually it is splendid, and starts off with a shot of a manor house. We all know that in TV that speaks to established wealth and prosperity. This show doesn't have anything which you could possibly feel discomfited by, unless you are very offended by innuendo. At one point a ship is mentioned called the Nookie and its captain is Captain Knee-Trembler. The innuendo is only what you will find in the films and tickles me no end.

This is sadly a year where we have had many actors die and Barbara Windsor appears in this in several roles, including appearing topless as you can see. I am a bit disoriented to discover that her partner's surname was Mitchell leaving me wondering whether she really was mother to Grant and Phil Mitchell!

There can be no possible criticism of this show. Happy holiday!

Saturday, 19 December 2020

The Stranger: In Memory Alone


I have to come clean at this point - I haven't seen any of the other films in this series but I found them for sale at a price I was prepared to pay and chose this one because it features a railway station.

In the unlikely event that my televisually literate readers haven't come across this series, here is somebody else's account of what they are about:

The first unofficial Doctor Who spinoff video was Wartime, in 1988.  This was made by Reeltime Pictures, known for their Myth Makers interview tapes, and is the only one of its kind that was made while Doctor Who was still on television.  Their second effort was Downtime, in 1995, which we will be looking at soon, probably the best known unofficial spinoff.  The point of these things mainly was to fill the gap left by Doctor Who when it went off air in 1989, to give the fans something new.  Another company was also doing the same kind of thing in the 90s: BBV, which stands for Bill Baggs Video.

Reeltime and BBV had very different approaches.  Although both of them were going for the nostalgia kick, BBV were much more forward thinking.  Reeltime were all about bringing back the past with old monsters and companions.  BBV, on the other hand, sought to give us that thrill of nostalgia by using Doctor Who actors in different roles, and making those roles sufficiently vague, leaving us to come to our own interpretations as to who the Stranger and Miss Brown are, played of course by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.  Once the series was well-established it had a sufficient following to break away from Doctor Who a bit more, establishing the true history of the characters and also using Colin and other Doctor Who actors in specifically non-Doctor Who roles.  So eventually we got multi-Doctor stories that are not actually multi-Doctor stories, but multi Doctor-actor stories, such as The Airzone Solution.

The first BBV effort was Summoned by Shadows in 1991, followed by More than a Messiah in 1992.  The third in the series was In Memory Alone, in 1993.  The Stranger series continued through to 1995, and after that BBV tried some other approaches, moving further into the realms of gritty adult drama with the Probe series, and then finally going down a similar route to Reeltime with the Auton series from 1997, in the wake of the popularity of Downtime, bringing back a Pertwee monster. Source

That writer goes on to say that he can't bring himself to watch any of the series again except this one, but of course I can't speak for the others. You will all know my fondness for trains and train stations, and I will add this post to the tag about railways in TV.

Railways of course have associations with journeys between places, and this is often extended to journeys between dimensions. We have seen that used to great effect in the Sapphire and Steel adventure set in the railway station, where a very angry first world war era ghost creates trouble. Incidentally there is a very good Big Finish Sapphire and Steel set on a train which I would recommend highly.

By extension a railway station is where people set off on journeys and this not- Doctor Who adventure begins with journeys to the railway station. The article I linked to above suggests that this film can be understood as a Doctor Who adventure by merely understanding that the Stranger and Miss Brown are Doctor Who and his assistant Peri Brown, but they have amnesia and have forgotten their past.

Personally I quite see how you could see that, but I would prefer to see it as something different, largely because I feel the appearance, situation and the feeling of 'something' having broken through are much more like Sapphire and Steel IMHO. It obviously isn't Sapphire and Steel but I would rather not see it as Doctor Who, because nowhere does it say it is Doctor Who. I am afraid by saying this I am contributing to the reams of argument on that subject already on the internet.

I like this a lot, however am wary of being disappointed by the others. It also has a making-of feature on the DVD and I particularly like the revelation about the tie. My only criticism is that I would like more of it, however since pacing is perfect as it is any more would have made it rather slow.

I may return with a Christmas themed post in the week but in case I don't have a merry holiday.,

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Quatermass Again: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)


I have rarely had the opportunity to write about 1950s TV here and I'm not really doing so now, since I'm writing about the Hammer film which used the original TV series as its source. This 1953 series is a legend in the world of cult TV:

Originally comprising six half-hour episodes, it was the first science fiction production to be written especially for a British adult television audience.[1] Previous written-for-television efforts such as Stranger from Space (1951–52) were aimed at children, whereas adult entries into the genre were adapted from literary sources, such as R.U.R. (1938 and again in 1948) and The Time Machine (1949).[2] The serial was the first of four Quatermass productions to be screened on British television between 1953 and 1979. It was transmitted live from the BBC's original television studios at Alexandra Palace in London, one of the final productions before BBC television drama moved to west London.


As well as spawning various remakes and sequels, The Quatermass Experiment inspired much of the television science fiction that succeeded it, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it influenced successful series such as Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel.[3] It also influenced successful Hollywood films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien.[4] Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Quatermass_Experiment

I have seen them but sadly only two episodes of the original series remain - if you buy the BBC box set of the 2000s relaunch you can see them and read the scripts of the others. You can see the remaining episodes for free at https://archive.org/details/TheQuatermassExperiment-Incomplete (for some reason the link gadget isn't working today).

Perhaps I should say that while this film used the same source material, its writer, the legendary Nigel Kneale, didn't like this film. Other works of his have appeared here on and off and one of these days I will get round to writing about The Year of the Sex Olympics. Only today I discovered that Kneale and his wife were Jewish refugees to Britain ( in the long gone days when we could play nicely with the other countries) and that he is sometimes called Manx. This is not because he had no tail, although obviously he didn't have one.

As hinted above, the Quatermass shows and films may have been turning points in the development of the attitude to science which we see in so much TV in the following couple of decades. Quatermass is a scientist pure and simple and his loyalty is to cold hard science above all. He is actually seen as the archetypal scientist, who would place the empirical scientific model above all. This is very much the model of scientists seen on succeeding decades. 'But he's a scientist!' is a recurring line in TV of this time and it means the scientist is in disinterested pursuit of the truth alone.

This approach, and the TV it influenced, juxtapose this reverence for science with a fear of science's consequences. Here it is the suggestion that space travel would bring back something dangerous to earth. More frequently in my kind of television it is the fear that some new technology will get into the hands of the wrong people, whether they be dangerous megalomaniacs or the Other Side. The film does incorporate the fear because Quatermass goes off to start the whole thing again, after going to such trouble to get rid of the Thing brought to earth.

I would say it is extraordinary that the returned astronaut's wife busts her husband out of hospital. However she didn't have the benefit of subsequent TV and film warnings to know that if your husband comes back markedly different from space travel you really should leave him in his secure hospital, so perhaps we should go easy on her. In fact my only criticism is that I think the build up is too slow, but again I may not be fairly judging this. It certainly seems to have been considered very frightening at the time.

I like an arbitrary fact about this film, which is that it was or is in the Guinness Book of Records as being the only film ever to frighten a viewer to death, after a 9 year old child in the US died of a ruptured artery while watching it. I have no idea of its rating in the US but here the film was X rated (the spelling of Experiment was deliberate to stress the rating), which at this time meant youngsters under 16 couldn't be admitted to view the film. Another thing I have learned only today is the reason the X certificate is associated with porn is because pornographers in the US hijacked the rating in the 1970s; in the US it wasn't meant to indicate porn originally. The Quatermass Xperiment isn't vaguely pornographic, I should add, not even boobs, bums and furry bits. I suspect it wouldn't even get an 18 certificate here now.

The film deals with the familiar dilemma of how much to tell the public. I like Quatermass's approach that they must be told nothing, if I'm honest. Usually I wouldn't but I like the additional detail that they must be told nothing because his hypothesis of what is happening is so fantastic that the public wouldn't believe it!

This post is strangely suitable this year and it is unfortunate that we have reached a stage where more and more people think empirical science is a matter of belief which can be ignored and other people seek out scientists whose research confirms their own bias. In other words exactly the sort of people this film and the TV shows I write about were warning of.