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.


Sunday, 6 December 2020