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Showing posts from February, 2014

The Man from UNCLE: The Gazebo in the Maze Affair

I like this episode lots. It's no use pretending to myself, my first love will always be the later episodes of The Avengers, but this Man from UNCLE can play The Avengers very closely at its own game. It has literally everything you could want, a diabolical mastermind, enough eccentricity to make the later psychedelic sixties look sane, & a contrived atmosphere of phony Britishness. Visually, what's not to love about a red London bus driving down an American street? Very difficult to fail with that one, really. I particularly love the black policeman's double take when he sees it. And of course atmospherically, an old mansion & a maze can't really fail. The main failure of this episode is one I notice particularly as a Brit: obviously I have no idea how it would strike an American. There is something subtly wrong about Partridge's Britishness. That is of course only if you take this episode at face value & not the camp feast it really is: Partridg

Callan: The Little Bits & Pieces of Love

I have now watched all through the Monochrome Years box set of Callan, & have mixed feelings about it. I bought it when I saw it in a shop & it seemed bang up my street. Yet it is somehow different from the other series I blog about here - the tags appearing in larger letters indicate more posts, & therefore a greater liking. Callan is definitely different from what I normally like, it's heavier, more serious, hangs completely on the drama, to the extent that at times the sets are minimal. What I don't like are the really early ones where Ronald Radd plays Hunter: I'll grant he's a superb actor, but how many 60s series can one actor appear in before you see him as Ronald Radd rather than his character? He's also cast slightly out of character, I feel, he's too tubby - the pawn role in The Prisoner suits him down to the ground - the role is better for Michael Goodliffe's lean nervous look. I prefer the ones without Radd for this reason. I'

The Man from UNCLE: The Bow-Wow Affair

If this were an Avengers episode, its subtitle would be In which we discover Mr Waverley has an identical cousin (with a moustache) & Illya becomes a diversity champion. Actually, no, take that back. This episode has more weirdness than you can shake a stick at, right from the start where a man steretypically dressed as a vampire (Andre Delgardo) stabs some pyjamas in the heart. It is also reminiscent of films taking off the detective genre such as Clue & Murder by Death. It certainly has everything you could want: manor house, gypsy fortune teller. This is combined with the sort of fear & big dog you normally only find in a Hammer film. I do love the way the 'gypsies' live in one of those wonderful Sixties houses where the sitting room has everything on lots of different levels. I like this episode enormously, & I think what I like best about it is actually the way it's so overdone, including that there is scarcely a film genre it does not parody. Of course

Doctor Who: The War Machines

It's not happened so far that I've written the title of a blog post & changed my mind about doing it at all, with nothing written. But for the first time I nearly didn't post. I'm actually writing these words on my first time of watching through The War Machines, having turned off when I tried before. I actually am not sure I really have anything to say about this series, since I essentially agree with the iffy reviews elsewhere on the internet, but I realise I respect this serial enough for trying, that I don't want to leave it unblogged. The plot & its main preoccupation is the classic sixties one of the fear of the machine taking over. I do love it that WOTAN is credited in the end credits, but sadly that rather sweet touch won't save this one. It was the first of the more scientific ones made after Dr Kit Pedler was taken on as unofficial science advisor. The result is a preoccupation with the computer technology of the time & with the GPO T

The Avengers: The Morning After

The beginning of this episode is deceptive: I always think, when I see the archetypal Thorson-era Avengers image of the clowns in the military base, that I've put on Stop Me If You've Heard This One by mistake! I suppose it's natural to fix on that episode as the one most likely to have clowns in it. One of the things I like best about this episode is the 60s street scenes - the town is actually St Alban's (with a bit of Watford, & Old Hatfield). I've never been to any of these places & now don't want to go because the modern reality would never compare to the 60s Aveng-ified version we have here. The empty streets are such an icon of the approach the Avengers took to creating an unreal world, that that was a major visual device used in the Avengers film. Of course it took much less effort to create this effect in the 1990s than it did in the 1960s, when I believe it involved merging many repeated shots of the same scene, if it couldn't

The Man from UNCLE: The Shark Affair

I see I have somehow managed not to post about the Man from UNCLE yet: I suspect this is actually because I'll tend to watch one show a lot for a bit then move on to something else (I mean, despite raving about it, I haven't rushed in with a post on Private Eye). The Man from UNCLE was one of my TV first loves, I remember watching repeats of it & Mission Impossible before I was ten, which was definitely before I watched repeats of The Avengers on Channel 4. I think at the time I fancied myself as an UNCLE agent, & certainly having seen some episodes of Mission Impossible recently, I much prefer The Man From UNCLE. It's not apparently that popular here, it's not even available on region 2 DVD, so I took the gamble of buying the entire set from amazon.ca in region 1 - it was cheaper than amazon.com & arrived an incredible two days after I ordered it, despite the delivery estimate being six weeks. I think I prefer TMFU because it seems more international t

Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 2 Episode 8

This is the famous episode where the thing happens with Sapphire's eyes. I don't do eyes myself & can hardly bear to look. Steel remains in his priest/magician/intermediary role, & here the process is genuinely ancient. It wasn't their intention but 'it' enters into Sapphire's body & speaks to Steel through her, reminiscent of how a god or spirit would be called into a boy in the Greek Magical Papyri (I did say I had a thing for weird shit). In the great tradition Steel then makes a deal with 'it'. Steel shows his full cunning here, as he has a plan to trick the darkness. He also makes plain to Pearce that the darkness has deceived him, making him swap sides. I want to side-step discussions of ethics but there is a sacrifice of Tully's life to 'it', to prevent the problem at the station. This is somewhat contradictory given that the point of this assignment is to prevent 'it' keeping on using the resentful dead who

Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 2 Episode 7

I've commented before about how it's important not to expect television of thirty or forty years ago to work in the same way as television now. I like to think that my personal expectations of television are formed by what I like to consider great shows of the sixties & seventies, & in fact rarely see much modern television. Given this view, I'm in a dilemma about this episode. I wanted to say that if there was an episode of this assignment that could be abandoned it would be this one, returning to my original opinion that eight episodes is too long for this assignment's story. On the other hand I'm trying to visualise what a less prolix Sapphire & Steel would be like, & it just wouldn't work. Plot-wise, all that really happens in this episode is: Sapphire & Steel wake up, realise the darkness is up to its old tricks, & attempt to contact the darkness. Perhaps it comes down to your taste in how the narrative unfolds, although obviously

Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 2 Episode 6

At the beginning of this episode Steel remains to all intents & purposes alone - something has happened to Sapphire, & Tully is obviously never going to be on a par with Steel. That said, the important human element in this assignment is maintained by Steel asking questions of Tully about the human consciousness. Tully is dramatically a necessary counterpoint to Steel here, & his humanity is a necessary counterpoint to Steel's, well, steeliness, such as when he tells Steel he realises how he feels about Sapphire. I do love the scene where he is chattering away to Sapphire's inanimate body about brass-rubbing! The darkness is really on the offensive in this episode, taking Sapphire on board & using all the tricks it can against Steel, including an, as it were, hologram of Sapphire, whom Steel knows full well is sitting in the next room. She is so obviously working for the darkness when she tries to persuade Steel that the after-images are harmless & shou

Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 2 Episode 5

This episode begins with the continuation of the sitting from episode 4, & despite Steel's saying it's gone wrong, it let's us into the soldier's world. And rightly, this is done without special effects, purely Joanna Lumley's acting ability, making it to my mind very effective because simple. I have a feeling that the technique used, trance mediumship, would make this seance very disreputable in the world of psychic investigation today, since it really is so vulnerable to cheating caused by the medium's acting ability. Nonetheless as far as Sapphire & Steel's investigation goes, it does get them into touch with the soldier. What comes across for me is how young he is: the actor (Tom Kelly) manages to look about twelve years old with tears running down his face. The contrast of his happy country upbringing with his unjustifiable death highlights that what he has experienced is so traumatic, & he was so young when it happened. Once again this

Sapphire & Steel: Assignment 2 Episode 4

Some of the questions raised in episode 3 are (sort of) answered in this episode, at least in terms of what the hell is going on. Once again the episode is a superb vehicle for Steel - although I feel Sapphire gets more of a look in than she did in episode 3. The function of his rational hard-nosed personality in Sapphire & Steel's work is revealed: he is there to have the wit to reject dodgy appeals from dead people! I've actually just realised that Sapphire & Steel are both wearing evening dress - perhaps the powers that be in their world don't get the wardrobe quite right, in the way Steel is usually out of synch with mores & customs. Sapphire is almost accusing when she says to him, 'You're enjoying this, aren't you,' & of course he responds that he is. What I like most about this episode is that it reaches an almost farcical level, parodying humans' attempts at contacting the dead. The seance is the point at which this reaches

Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 2 Episode 3

I've managed to get distracted from Sapphire & Steel, but you'd noticed that, hadn't you? - & I didn't want to blog about the television-related things that have distracted me in case I ended up leaving this Sapphire & Steel adventure hanging in the air. First The Avengers Lost Episodes from Big Finish distracted me: I've now listened to them further & see no reason to change my initial reaction, that not enough was done to change television scripts for audio. Then I got distracted by two new (to me) series: I've watched a few episodes of Callan (not sure about that one yet, I'll have to come back to it), & then got distracted by Public Eye. I never thought I would like that series, but I saw the box set in Cex (I agree with the reviews, the box set looks so flimsy you might as well buy the separate sets), bought some & have gone out of my mind for more Public Eye, to the extent that that show will definitely get picked apart withi

The Avengers: The Lost Episodes Volume 1 (First Impressions)

This post is first impressions only of Big Finish's new release, since I haven't listened all the way through. Of course I was awaiting these recordings with baited breath, since I'm very curious about the Series 1 Avengers episodes that were junked. I like very much the idea that the dynamic with Steed could be completely different so that he's sidekick instead of the boss, a slippery, shady character, aspects of which are reflected in the way he can sometimes come across as something of a dirty old man in Series 2 & 3. I think it is important to remember how challenging these particular serials would be to reconstruct, not least because of the ephemeral medium television was in those days. These episodes would have been seen as plays, to be performed once. If you wanted to see them again, you couldn't - in fact in video days of television, repeat broadcasts were often achieved by acting the whole thing in front of a live camera over again. In many ways te

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 2 Episode 2

You thought I hadn't noticed what happened right at the end of episode 1, didn't you? I mean, that the soldier - the main soldier that is, amongst the mass of resentful deceased humanity - did make an appearance on the platform, to us while Sapphire was aware of something happening. I do feel the resentment almost passed through her, since despite the change in her clothing & the reappearance of the phantom flowers on the platform, she looks in pain, & describes the hatred. Tully can hear the band, & Steel instructs her to leave the platform. This forms the recap in episode two (it is at this point the titles start), & I deliberately didn't mention it in my last post, in which I focussed more on Tully, wanting to bring the soldier up as a new subject in this post. The sequence in which Sapphire describes the day she is experiencing is incredibly effective, more so given that the effect is largely created by Sapphire's narration & sound effects,