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.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Doctor Who: The Smugglers Episode One

Of course this is not the first time I have blogged about TV which no longer exists (my series of posts on series 1 of The Avengers will be continued at some point in the future). This First Doctor adventure still exists as a soundtrack, some bits which survive and telesnaps. I have never got on well with audio issues of programmes which were intended for TV, so what I am writing about here is the wonderful Loose Cannon reconstruction of this adventure, which I won't link directly because it is readily available on their Daily Motion channel.
Normally I wouldn't get on very well with this adventure, simply because historical dramas never do it for me. That is even usually the case for Dr Who, but the historical setting doesn't put me off.
I was recently in a shop buying a Dr Who when the man behind me started telling me that Who has never been the same since it went into colour.
He's wrong, in my opinion. Two things which marked sea changes in the show were the first regeneration and the show losing its original educational purpose. This one shows the history to great educational effect - what it would have actually been like to be there - and because it's a first doctor we haven't had a regeneration and I think this means he hasn't confirmed his strangeness for the viewer.
Nor is the adventure particularly strange. The change in time and scene is a change from Swinging London in The War Machines. I suspect you will either like this fact or won't. It means the usual science preoccupation of 1960s TV is completely absent.
I had forgotten how these early ones have the elderly doctor accompanied by such young companions. Polly and Ben provide wonderful contrast from the prickly doctor.
This first episode does a wonderful job of establishing the village with its shady smugglers. It's a much more scary place than the big city depicted in The War Machines. The actors all portray their parts effectively.
Let me end with a contemporary cutting from the Radio Times:

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Danger Man! Not So Jolly Roger

I was sure I had blogged about this, but if I have I can't find it. This is the last black and white Danger Man episode and it's a stunner.
For a start the human chameleon John Drake becomes the cool DJ Johnny Drake, or JD. How cool is that?
For another the setting is about as groovy as you could want. At the time we didn't have many licensed radio stations in the UK and the inability of the BBC stations to cater to the audience for pop music led to a proliferation of pirate radio stations. Naturally pirate radio continues, but the setting places the episode firmly in the latest trends in 1960s Britain.
Many of these stations were based off shore to take advantage of a legal loophole, but this Danger Man sets Radio Jolly Roger on the Red Sands Sea Forts in the Thames estuary. They are still there and an internet search demonstrates loads of nostalgia for their time as several pirate radio stations. That's right, the uber-cool Danger Man series recorded an episode on location at a genuine pirate radio station, Radio 390. You can see contemporary pictures of its use as a radio station here and hereThis page shows more of the workings of the pirate station.
So to be honest it would be a bit difficult for this Danger Man to go wrong. One of the things I like best at fifty years' remove is the sight of a radio station which now seems so old-fashioned, dependant as it was on analogue media.
If I have a criticism it is that once Drake arrives at the sea fort it is fairly obvious what is going on. I have another criticism which is the bizarre choice of the Blue Danube Waltz to signal that they are signalling. It is completely off genre from the other music. If you like the records played on the radio station, you can find details of them here.
So despite a predictable plot, this episode of Danger Man makes up with sheer sixties chic.