Friday, 26 March 2021

Tomorrow People: Secret Weapon

 I have so far fought shy of writing about this series, purely because it is so huge, involves so many story arcs and is so variable. In various places it is definitely stonking good television, but in others represents the worst of 1970s TV. I intend, now that I have broken into it, to do a master post to try to get the show into some order in my head, but this post is about the Secret Weapon story, broadcast in February to March 1975 as the first four episodes of series 3.

The series was well underway by now and the essential elements are in place: the next stage of human evolution 'breaking out' as Homo Superior, jaunting using the jaunting belts, etc. In many ways I would see this as the natural progression of the scientific interests frequently mentioned in the TV of the preceding decade, just with the added idea that humanity would progress enough to evolve to the next stage. In the seventies this probably wouldn't have been seen as wildly unrealistic. I do think there is an Avengers-type heritage here. Nor does it ignore the racial interests of the time: one of the characters is black and Tyso is said to be a gypsy and has the traditional gypsy name of Boswell. No indication is given of whether he is ethnically Roma but some attempt is made to reference the culture he comes from.

However this adventure has made me notice some gaping holes in the plot. I actually feel bad saying these because I do like this show.

1. It is said that Tyso will die as he breaks out unless other Tomorrow People get to him. Seriously? That is a real limit on Tomorrow People's powers!

2. Another one is the preference for jaunting with a belt. Honestly do you really need it?

3. The Tomorrow People can have their thoughts read by any telepath (very fashionable area of parapsychic research in the seventies) and apparently have no awareness of this or means of blocking it, except for one occasion where Elizabeth does block her thoughts. This is an inconsistency, but perhaps I'm being picky.

4. Trevor Bannister is ludicrously cast as Colonel Masters. While an excellent actor he is rather typed as the fool type he played in Are You Being Served and The Dustbin Men. He would have been far too gobby in his usual type to get promoted to Colonel and I can't help expecting him to say something funny!

You have to suspend belief for the wonderful touch of temporarily abducting the prime minister. I do love that touch.

There is also a moral undertone which I hadn't noticed before - the Tomorrow People are superior and part of their automatic superiority is not being able to kill. They do take the opportunity to reflect on how hopeless homo sapiens are because of their urge to violence.

The absolute best bit of the DVD box set is the commentary by the cast. It is worth buying purely for the entertainment value of their rude remarks and reminiscences.

Friday, 19 March 2021

The Avengers: The Living Dead

I love this episode, however have fought shy of writing about it because it manages to pack so much in, viz.

1. The Hammer style beginning. I actually think it is one of the nicest Avengers imitations of other genres.

2. Actually perhaps it's more in the style of Amicus because it is set in the present day and includes dialogue about the reality or otherwise of ghosts. I love the Avengeresque acronyms of the two ghost investigating groups, FOG and SMOG!

3. The episode is set against the noblesse oblige background of the Benedict estate. Very classic Avengers setting of the great and the good gone wrong.

4. The caricatured British setting is influenced by a very stereotypical foreigner.

5. It isn't explicitly mentioned but the noblesse oblige setting is not totally beneficent to the workers. The Benedict family not only formerly operated a mine, never a very safe or pleasant place to work, but the operation was brought to a close by an accident. However the dukes of Benedict are definitely not nouveau riche ennobled by Queen Victoria because they have got up to the sixteenth Duke.

6. It segues into (needless to say) a tale of megalomania and the aristocracy gone off the rails.

I honestly don't know why the reviews are mixed on the internet - what's not to love? I can see that the sheer volume of stuff included can be a criticism in itself and there are lists of problems with continuity. However as I keep saying, these showd were not expected to have the sort of scrutiny they now get. In fact the rather fake quality of the sets and props is surely part of the Avengers thing of deliberately not being realistic. The virtue then is in the frankly incredible nature of these shows.

Steed and Mrs Peel are very flirty, and she saves him from a firing squad. Again I am firmly of the opinion that any suggestion of attraction or sex between them isn't real. Despite a reproduction range of Avengers fashions being sold, surely it was only in the sixties that you could dress like an Avenger. Unreal in fashions as in everything else!

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.