Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Time as Treated in Some 1970s TV Series


I recently took a leap in the dark and bought the box set of Timeslip, a show I've never really fancied on the basis of its reviews on the internet. Part of the reason for that is that I like my vintage TV to reflect the contemporary world and I have a preference for series beginning in the sixties up to the end of the seventies. Naturally I make arbitrary exceptions to this rule when it suits me. One of the things about mainly sticking with one period of television is that I become familiar with the conventions of the time, and thus it becomes comfort TV.
The world view I find myself banging on about here is the contemporary 'modern 'reverse one of hope in the scientific future, frequently combined with warnings of what could happen in the event that the burgeoning technology gets into the hands of a diabolical mastermind. I am currently in the midst of several shoes which treat time in different ways, so this post will be about several at once.
The first is The Changes, which I haven't watched to the end of yet and am not really in a position to come to a final judgement. The story goes that quite suddenly humans cannot tolerate being surrounded by any technology, so they begin trashing every gadget they can lay their hands on and the series is about the events thereafter for one girl. The Changes is serious quality television, a top-drawer version of the series Survivors, which is about what happens after a virus. This was a major preoccupation of the seventies, and ironically the house the girl lives in at the beginning is decorated in dead seventies fashion, with lots of natural wood and natural wall coverings. I remember a family friend's house being decorated like that, and thinking it very sophisticated. But what if it all comes to an end? ...was not a question I was asking myself at the time. Interestingly the series is contemporary enough to feature a Sikh family as major characters, and they deal with the crisis in true resourceful Sikh style.
I also haven't nearly watched to the end of Sergeant Cork, which readers will doubtless know is set in the nineteenth century. I don't really know but I get the impression there was a fad for Victorian things around this time. Neither have I watched to the end of Timeslip, which both goes into the past and into the future. You would think it would be safer to travel into the future than the past, but I think it's less safe, because you can only imagine what the future would be like.
In the case of Timeslip, the future is awful, resulting in attempts to stop the glimpsed future actually happening. Naturally the future as imagined was not as we actually experienced it in the 1990s, but still comes across as not a bad imagining of the future. Both Timeslip and The Changes are quality shows intended for children, but which are worthy of adult viewing.
Finally I have been watching a show which hasn't worn so well, so perhaps I should stress that it has a permanent place in my collection - Gerry Anderson's UFO. I have a terrible confession to make, which is that I have never got on very well with Gerry Anderson's TV series. I think this is for the unreasonable reason that I had a friend at school who was very much into them. He virtuously avoided sugar, didn't have one filling, and that fact did my head in. I was also irritated by the way Lady Penelope walked. Not the best of reasons, as you can see.
That said I suspect Anderson's output had a disadvantage for my generation. UFO, for example is set in 1980, and as that year approached the show appeared hopelessly optimistic. The future was plainly never going to be as it was shown. In retrospect it was a good go. The red hot dream of the scientific future personified, and of course UFO allows the viewer to dream that he wouldn't be in the part of the world ignorant of the reality of UFOs.
The show manages to appeal on many levels, although probably most to the adolescent boys who would have been the audience of Anderson's other shows. Episodes touch on complex emotional issues including bereavement, so that the show is not merely dealing with sci-fi and gadgetry. I love the buttons in Straker's office to pour various drinks. Where it falls down is probably in the fashions designed by Sylvia Anderson. Synthetic fibres and purple hair abound and perhaps the strangest ones are the string uniforms. To wade into the debate on the internet: the men plainly don't wear anything underneath and the women plainly do! This is another illustration that this show isn't as successful as it could be, because people get distracted into talking about the bizarre uniforms,
As is my policy, all of the shows I write about here are worth watching in my opinion, but the different treatments of the present, past and future mean they are quite different and some have worn better than others.




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.