Friday, 31 January 2014

The Avengers - the Cathy Gale era

The Avengers was actually three different series during the course of its long run. The show went through three quite distinct incarnations with very different flavours.

The first phase lasted a single season. Since only two of the 26 episodes survive and not even the scripts survive for almost half of them it’s difficult to say much about this incarnation of the series. It seems to have been conceived as a hardboiled crime thriller series with Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee as tough trenchcoat-wearing crime-fighters. This first season was at best moderately successful.

Ian Hendry’s departure led to a major revamp. The series became an overtly secret agent series and after the first three episodes of the second season (in which Steed was partnered by Dr Martin King, played by Jon Rollason) Steed gained two new partners, both female. The idea was that jazz singer Venus Smith (Julie Stevens) and anthropologist and martial arts expert Mrs Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) would appear in alternate episodes. It soon became apparent that the Cathy Gale character had more potential and was more popular with viewers and Venus Smith was featured in only half a dozen episodes.

The revamp for season two include another major change. John Steed became more or less an entirely different character. The trenchcoat disappeared and Steed became an overtly upper-class debonair English gentleman with more than a touch of the dandy, although still with a hint of ruthlessness. 

The revamp was a major success and season two became a major hit in Britain and generated the series’ first overseas sales. 

The third incarnation of The Avengers, after an eighteen month hiatus, involved an equally major revamp. The series was now to be shot on film rather than videotape, production moved to Elstree Studios and drastic changes were made to the production team. The whole look and feel of the series changed dramatically, to the style that most people now associate with The Avengers - slick and stylish. The story lines changed just as dramatically, with much more emphasis on tongue-in-cheek humour and on the camp elements that had been present in embryo in the Cathy Gale era. Plots became much more outlandish.

And of course Cathy Gale was replaced by a new partner for Steed, Mrs Emma Peel, to be played by Elizabeth Shepherd. Shepherd didn’t work out and was hurriedly replaced after a single episode (which was never screened) by Diana Rigg, and the rest is history.

The spectacular success of this third incarnation has tended to overshadow the earlier seasons. While it’s fair to say that the third version of the series was the best the Cathy Gale era is not without its charms and should not be overlooked.

First impressions can be dangerous. Anyone who is only familiar with the Emma Peel and Tara King episodes is likely to be very disappointed by their first taste of the Cathy Gale era. The Cathy Gale episodes have that slightly muddy shot-on-videotape look (exacerbated by the fact that these episodes are often not in pristine condition) and they seem very studio-bound.

They were studio-bound, but a limitation is only a limitation if you look at it that way. In the hands of a talented director and with good production designers a series shot entirely in the studio can be surprisingly visually inventive, and The Avengers had both talented directors and good production designers. The best episodes from this era have a distinctive flavour of their own and look a good deal better than most British TV series of their time, with an interesting mix of film noir-style low-key lighting and stylish set design achieved on minimal budgets.

They also have Honor Blackman, who overnight became a pop culture icon. Female spies and private eyes would proliferate on both British and American television in the mid-60s but Cathy Gale has a strong claim to being the first of the line. She was certainly the first to make a major impact.

I haven’t seen all the Mrs Gale episodes but I have seen nineteen of them (as well as a couple of the Venus Smith episodes). One thing that is apparent is that Steed in these earlier seasons is a much more abrasive character than in the later Emma Peel/Tara King seasons. After the major reworking of the character at the beginning of the second season Steed continued to evolve throughout the series before taking on a more or less fixed form at the beginning of the Emma Peel era.

The Steed-Mrs Gale relationship is definitely interesting. She obviously only works unofficially for whatever agency it is that Steed works for. Much of the time she’s being manipulated by Steed or else he’s deliberately withholding information from her, often to her considerable annoyance. There’s certainly affection between them but it’s offset by this tension and Cathy clearly is not always certain just how far she can trust him.

The plots are mostly fairly straightforward spy thriller plots although there were certainly some early hints of the more outrageous direction the series would take.

Brian Clemens’ Build a Better Mousetrap is I think is one of the best-ever episodes of The Avengers, from any era. Brief for Murder, also by Clemens, is as good as anything he’s ever written, and with Peter Hammond directing the result is superb television. A great supporting cast headed by the inimitable John Laurie is the icing on the cake. Clemens’ script is full of ingenious twists as Steed apparently attempts to murder Cathy Gale. The Charmers is yet another fine effort by Clemens.

The Nutshell is more a straight Cold War thriller but it’s a very solid episode.  The Golden Fleece is a tour-de-force with a very clever script about British Army officers involved in criminal activities, but for the most generous of motives. Death à la Carte is a little disappointing but it’s fun watching Steed working undercover as a chef.

The James Mitchell-scripted Man With Two Shadows is another variation on the ever-popular idea of doubles, an idea that seemed to obsess the makers of 60s spy series. This is one of the better attempts at this idea and the story also neatly ties in brainwashing. A fine episode.

Don't Look Behind You was remade in the Mrs Peel era as the excellent The Joker. The Mrs Peel episode benefits from much better sets but this is still a very good episode from another clever Brian Clemens script.

The Grandeur That Was Rome has its problems but it’s a fascinating foretaste of things to come with a plot involving a revived Roman Empire!

Out of the episodes I’ve watched so far there have only been a handful of clunkers and there are quite a few that compare very favourably with anything from the Mrs Peel era.

The Region 1 DVDs from A&E are out of print and hard to find but the Region 2 sets from Optimum are in print and of slightly better quality (and include some worthwhile extras).

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Undermind

I’ve now watched seven of the eleven episodes of Undermind, made by Britain’s ABC Television in 1965. It’s unusual in being a British science fiction TV series that actually survives in its entirety. Which is fortunate, because the series has a very definite series-long story arc and if any episodes had been lost it would have been very difficult to follow.

I’ve becoming more impressed with this series as I get further into it. It has a nicely low-key approach which makes the underlying menace more effective.

The first episode sets things up. Drew Heriot (Jeremy Wilkin) is a personnel consultant who becomes more and more disturbed by the behaviour of his brother Frank, a cop. Frank’s estranged wife Anne (Rosemary Nicols) is equally concerned. By the end of the first episode Drew and Anne realise they’re up against something very big and very sinister. People are being brainwashed into carrying out acts of sabotage against Britain - acts that seem intended to undermine confidence in the nation.

They don’t know who or what is behind all this but they come to call it the Undermind. It may be a preface to an invasion, but will it be an invasion from another country or even perhaps another planet?

The basic premise of somebody discovering a sinister alien conspiracy but being unable to make anybody in authority believe them because the aliens look like perfectly normal human beings wasn’t especially original, dating back to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie. The way this series deals with this theme is however rather interesting, particularly in the way it anticipates The X-Files.

The threat in Undermind is deliberately vague and ambiguous. The protagonists know they’re dealing with something extremely deadly but they don’t really know exactly what it is. They suspect that the threat comes from outside the Earth but they can’t be absolutely sure. And if it is an alien threat what exactly are the intentions of the aliens?

The methods of the Undermind conspiracy are also interesting in being somewhat similar to the methods of terrorism - creating fear and uncertainty and shaking public confidence in the established order. Terrorism wasn’t as big an issue in 1965 as it is today but it was certainly not unknown. The methods of the Undermind are also of course reminiscent of the methods of communism, which certainly was an issue in 1965 although today it’s not politically correct to talk about such things.

This series anticipates The X-Files in having two protagonists, one male and female, who are not a couple. They’re a woman and her brother-in-law. Their shared knowledge of the threat and the fact that they have to fight it together creates a strong bond between them but it’s not a romantic bond. They barely knew each other before the event that triggered the nightmare they’re now involved with but they have to learn to trust each other absolutely because they have no-one else at all they can trust. There’s a good deal of X-Files-style paranoia.

The nature of the alien threat is interesting in that in some ways it anticipates Gerry Anderson’s 1967 Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons series. Like the Mysterons the aliens in Undermind don’t appear to be aiming at invasion or even necessarily with total destruction. Their object seems to be to strike randomly in order to spread demoralisation. And like the Mysterons they make use of humans who have been turned into zombie-like puppets.

The mind control idea was a popular theme in the late 50s and early 60s and the series handles it pretty well.

Some episodes do work a lot better than others. The second episode, Flowers of Havoc, falls somewhat flat despite the presence of the wonderful Michael Gough as a motorcycle-riding with-it priest. Its attempt to deal with youth culture, as so often in series and movies from that time, comes across as rather embarrassing. On the other hand the following episode, The New Dimension, is an absolute corker. This episode is a definite example of a studio-bound series using that limitation to its own advantage creating a very menacing and sinister atmosphere, and using some very nice sets. It’s an episode written in such a way as not to need any location shooting. In fact location shooting would have opened up the episode and diminished the atmosphere.

The studio-bound feel becomes less of a problem as the series progresses. It’s not the kind of series that requires elaborate social effects or alien spacecraft sets or anything of that nature and the studio shooting does tend to enhance the brooding nightmare-like feel. Everything looks very normal but because of what the protagonists know these normal mundane things don’t feel safe any more.

Drew Heriot (Jeremy Wilkin) his sister-in-law Anne (Rosemary Nichols) make effective protagonists because they’re so very unheroic. They’re very ordinary people indeed who must suddenly find reserves of heroism inside them that they didn’t know they had.

Rosemary Nicols will be familiar to all cult TV fans from her starring role in the superb Department S a few years later.

On the whole it’s a series I can recommend to fans of understated science fictional horror.

Network DVD have released the complete series on DVD in Region 2. It's amazing enough that the series survives at all, and it's in fairly good condition.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Honey West (1965-66)

Produced by Aaron Spelling, Honey West ran for a single season on the American ABC network from 1965 to 1966. Glamorous female spies, secret agents and crime-fighters were enjoying a major vogue at that time and Honey West appeared to have all the right ingredients for success.

The character of private eye Honey West originated in a series of entertainingly trashy pulp crime novels in the 1950s, beginning with This Girl For Hire in 1956. She made her first appearance, with Anne Francis playing the role, in a second season episode of Burke’s Law in 1965. The character was popular enough and seemed to have sufficient potential for a spin-off series to be commissioned.

One rather odd decision was to go for half-hour episodes, a feature that was starting to be a bit passé in 1965. By that date the half-hour format was starting to be associated mainly with series aimed at younger audiences.

Anne Francis proved to be the ideal choice for the title role. She could be both glamorous and likeable and could deliver the necessary wisecracks very capably. And she was reasonably convincing in the action scenes. She’s superb in the role and is certainly one of the show’s main assets, in fact its number one asset.

Honey West is your basic private eye TV series, played slightly tongue-in-cheek. Honey has a partner, Sam Bolt, played by John Ericson. Although he was presumably intended to provide the necessary muscle it’s actually Honey herself who takes on most of the dangerous tasks with Sam keeping in touch with her by radio from a van parked close by. The producers also provided Honey with an exotic pet in keeping with her glamorous image, an ocelot named Bruce. She also obviously needed the right kind of car and her sleek and sexy AC Cobra sports car is just right.

The Honey West series was apparently partly inspired by the success The Avengers was having in Britain at the time. This proved to be somewhat ironic since ABC eventually decided that it would be cheaper to simply buy the British series and cancel Honey West. This was unfortunate, although it has to be admitted that it proved to be a wise business decision with The Avengers becoming a much bigger hit for the network that Honey West had been.

Despite its brief run Honey West stands up pretty well. It has a nice balance between action and humour and it’s as sexy as a series could be in 1965. It doesn’t make the mistake of leaving the fight scenes to Honey’s male sidekick. Honey handles herself quite capably in both unarmed combat and with a gun.

The half-hour format does mean that there’s limited scope for complex plotting but on the other hand it also means that this series can’t waste time on lengthy buildups. It gets straight into the action and this gives it the sort of energy that perfectly reflects its heroine’s no-nonsense approach to the private eye business.

The series was shot in black-and-white and in a fairly stylish manner. 

It may have been partly influenced by The Avengers but Honey West avoids the more fantastic elements that were starting to feature more and more in the British series. Honey West also sticks to straightforward crime plots without any hints of espionage. Perhaps the series might have done better had the producers introduced some of these elements but in that case we’d have ended up with a series that would have been merely a clone of The Avengers, instead of which we are left with a series that has its own distinctive flavour and its own distinctive charm.

And Honey West, both the series and the character, has plenty of charm. I wouldn’t quite put it in the top rank of 1960s action/adventure series but it’s certainly a very worthy entry in the second rank. All in all it’s a good deal of fun and is highly recommended.

The complete series of thirty episodes has been released in DVD boxed sets by Delta in the UK and by VCI in the US.

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Time Tunnel


You know that a 1960s Irwin Allen sci-fi TV series is going to be lots of silly fun, and that’s exactly what The Time Tunnel (which ran from 1966 to 1967) is. A top-secret US government project has come close to unlocking the secrets of time travel, but when a pesky Senator turns up to find out how the billions of dollars poured into the project have been spent they have to admit that they haven’t done any actual time travel yet. To avoid seeing the project closed down Dr Tony Newman (James Darren) volunteers to be the guinea pig. When he gets himself into trouble his pal Dr Doug Philips (Robert Colbert) follows him into the time tunnel to rescue him. 

So now they have two scientists lost in time, since the time tunnel has more than its share of technical problems. Our two young, good-looking but not overly competent scientists find themselves bounced about from one historical era to another, from the past to the future. There’s none of the namby-pamby “we must not change the course of history” nonsense that Doctor Who goes on with. Hell no. These guys try frantically to change the course of history every chance they get. The usual result is to make history turn out the way it always should have done. It’s as reasonable a way as any of dealing with the problems of time paradoxes.

Money was saved by making use of footage from old 20th Century Fox costume pictures, but despite this it was still an expensive series to make, a factor that no doubt contributed to its demise after a single season. It turned out to be Irwin Allen’s least successful series. 

Apart from its expense there are several reasons that come to mind for its failure to grab the TV-viewing public’s imagination to a sufficient degree to guarantee its survival beyond the first season. The two time traveller heroes are very bland, but worse than that they’re too similar. They’re both supposed to be scientists but they’re both doing the square-jawed action hero thing. A successful series of this type needs two heroes who are different enough to complement one another and to set up interesting conflicts. One impulsive action hero type and one cool-headed rational scientist type would have made a more effective combination. It would also have allowed for some far more interesting dialogue.

The series also suffers from a lack of any real insight into the motivations of the time travellers. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a major hit for Irwin Allen. In that series the viewer always felt that no matter how silly the stories Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane actually cared about the consequences of their actions. In other words there was a least a modicum of actual drama.

The scripts for The Time Tunnel also don’t always take enough advantage of the potential of the situations that Doug and Tony find themselves in. In one episode they find themselves about to be eyewitnesses to the Battle of New Orleans but they seem to have no interest in the outcome of the battle or the possibility that their presence might change it. It’s left to a supporting character to provide the only real interest - he’s a descendant of the British commander at the battle who has always puzzled over his ancestor’s crucial command decision. That provides some real interest, but the complete lack of interest displayed by the show’s heroes lets the episode down a bit.

It’s all rather a pity because there was absolutely nothing wrong with the basic concept. In truth it was pretty good. And the series does have some real virtues.

The fact that the time tunnel technology is so unreliable that once our heroes are dumped into the middle of a dangerous situation they can’t just time jump out again at will is a nice touch. Doug and Tony have no idea when and if the time tunnel controllers will be able to get them out so they’re forced to rely on their wits to survive.

The 1960s high-tech control room from which the time tunnel is worked looks terrific and in general this is a visually fairly impressive series. The footage from old Fox movies is integrated into the episodes much more successfully than one might expect and it allows the series to achieve at times an epic feel that most science fiction series of that era could not match.

In the episodes I’ve watched so far have seen our heroes try to save the Titanic, foil an attempt by foreign agents to sabotage the first manned mission to Mars, convince the people of 1910 that Halley’s Comet was not going to destroy the planet, and get caught in the middle of a battle and a catastrophic volcanic eruption. 

Scientific and historical accuracy were not major considerations in the making of this show. They were not even minor considerations, but there’s rarely a disadvantage for a sci-fi TV series. The Revenge of the Gods episode lands our heroes in the middle of the Trojan War. There were certainly Spartan warriors in the Trojan War but the Spartan we see are hoplites from the Persian Wars period, about 700 years after the Trojan War. But what’s a mere 700 years or so?

Despite its flaws The Time Tunnel is still good thoroughly enjoyable goofy fun. 

It's been released on DVD in two volumes in the US and as the complete series in a single boxed set in the UK.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Man in Room 17 (1965), season 1

The Man in Room 17 is another offbeat crime/espionage series from the great age of British television. It was made by Granada in 1965 and was obviously very successful since a second season was commissioned and this was followed by a third season with a slight format change and a change of title (to The Fellows) but still featuring the same two lead characters.

This series follows the formula that was exploited so brilliantly in so many British crime series of its era - a secret government department that investigates crimes that are either too difficult or too sensitive for Scotland Yard (or even Special Branch) to handle, and a team (in this case only a two-person team) of unusual and eccentric investigators.

Oldenshaw (Richard Vernon) is a slightly pompous very upper-class and wildly idiosyncratic former Oxford don. His partner Dimmock (Michael Aldridge) is the equally brilliant and equally eccentric product of one of the modern red-brick universities. They inhabit Room 17 and are called upon to investigate unusual crimes, or in some cases they pursue cases on their own initiative. They were selected for Room 17 because they were known to possess exceptional but very peculiar and individualistic talents and they are mostly allowed to handle their cases as they see fit. Giving them orders would be an exercise in futility since they’d only ignore them anyway.

Oldenshaw and Dimmock rarely if ever leave Room 17. When field work is necessary they have operatives whose services they can call on and such is their reputation that they are given access to almost unlimited resources. These are not action heroes. Oldenshaw’s idea of hectic activity is getting up from his armchair for brief spells. They rely entirely on their intellectual gifts and leave any action that may be required to underlings.

The scripts are as eccentric and imaginative as the two heroes. Most of the cases involve crimes with political or diplomatic ramifications, or even out-and-out espionage.

The series does have a few faults. It suffers a little from the excessive and fashionable cynicism of its era - the idea that in the Cold War both sides were as bad as each other, that the British government is always either stupid or duplicitous or even downright vicious. There’s a little too much of the “down with the Establishment” attitude and Dimmock in particular can at times display the sort of irritating sense of supercilious superiority so typical of intellectuals.

Richard Vernon is one of my favourite British character actors of this period and his performance as the rather irascible, quite dotty but oddly likeable Oldenshaw is an absolute joy to behold. Michael Aldridge manages to be a good foil for him despite his occasional annoying propensities mentioned earlier.

Despite these faults the series has enough originality and quirkiness to keep it interesting.

British television drama series in 1965 tended to be very studio-bound but the concept behind this series makes this a virtue rather than a vice. The absolutely top-secret nature of Room 17 makes Oldenshaw and Dimmock virtual prisoners - to preserve their secrecy they must conduct their operations entirely from within their little (although admittedly rather comfortable) private sanctum. They pull the strings but it’s up to others to conduct the actual field operations. 

Network DVD have released the first series in a DVD boxed set. Picture quality is very good considering the age of the series. So many great series from this era have been lost so we can consider ourselves very fortunate that this one survives and is in such good condition.

The Man in Room 17 is an enjoyably different kind of crime/spy series with a distinctive flavour of its own. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968)

In the late 60s and early 70s the BBC produced a series of adaptations of classic ghost stories, including the classic tale by M. R. James, Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad. It was produced in 1968 for the Omnibus program, with the title shortened to Whistle and I'll Come to You.

It was adapted by Jonathan MiIler who also directed.

Michael Hordern stars as the delightfully eccentric Professor Parkin. He is taking a holiday by the seaside. The main relaxation for this very solitary man is taking long country rambles alone.

This is almost a one-man show. Apart from some breakfast-time conversations with another guest (on the subject of ghosts of course) and a few brief exchanges with the staff of the hotel all of Hordern’s dialogue consists of his character talking to himself. Which he does incessantly. This is one of his many idiosyncrasies. This poses a difficult task for any actor but Sir Michael Hordern is more than equal to the challenge. Hordern also succeeds in making Parkin very eccentric indeed without ever making him irritating. Parkin is a kindly soul, the sort of eccentric who makes life pleasant and interesting rather than disturbing.

The story is a very simple one and ideally suited for television - there’s not really enough plot to sustain a feature film. Professor Parkin is sceptical about the existence of ghosts, but without being dogmatic. Exploring a local graveyard he finds a rather strange object. When he cleans it up it appears to be a species of whistle. There is a cryptic engraving on this curious object. Being the sort of man he is, he tries out the whistle. He then thinks no more about it, but this seemingly trivial incident will have profound consequences for the charmingly dotty professor.

Audiences of today, accustomed to the crude and obvious style of modern horror, will be disappointed by this teleplay. Those who prefer their horror to be subtle, to be based on suggestion rather than beating the audience about the head, will on the other hand be entranced by this program. In fact it takes subtlety about as far as it can possibly be taken. It is reminiscent in some ways of classic British horror movies of the past such as The Innocents and Dead of Night which rely on ambiguity and mood, and on the mental state of the characters.

If nothing else it’s worth watching for Sir Michael Hordern’s superb performance, but if you’re a fan of classic ghost stories you should certainly enjoy this production.

It’s been released several times on DVD and is easy to find. The copy I rented also includes a 2010 BBC adaptation of the same story which I didn’t bother with since I have no interest in anything produced by the modern BBC.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Ghost Squad, season one

Ghost Squad was a British crime drama made by ITC which ran from 1961 to 1964.

The series deals with a division of Scotland Yard specialising in undercover work, with officers who infiltrate criminal organisations for extended periods of time. The series was inspired by an actual division of the Yard. It was based on books by John Gosling who had been an officer in the real-life squad.

Ghost Squad is fairly typical of the early 1960s style of British crime/adventure television series. Most of the action supposedly takes place in exotic locations but in fact it was filmed almost entirely in the studio, relying on stock footage of the exotic locales. And as was the case with so many of the British series of the era the lead role was taken by an American, the idea being that this would improve the chances of the series in the US.

Michael Quinn as Nick Craig is a perfectly adequate hero although his supposed genius for disguise has to be regarded with some scepticism. Donald Wolfit overacts delightfully as Nick's boss at the Yard. As always with British television of this era it's fun to spot the guest stars, with people like William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who), Warren Mitchell, Brian Blessed and Honor Blackman putting in appearances.

The title of the series was changed to G.S.5 for the third season but unfortunately no episodes from that season survive, which is disappointing since Australian actor Ray Barrett took over the lead role at that time and he was always fun to watch.

The complete series (in other words the two surviving seasons) has been released on DVD by Network DVD and, as is the case with most of their releases, in general it looks pretty good.

So far I’ve watched four episodes and while it’s not quite in the top rank of early 60s British television shows it’s reasonably entertaining.

Doctor Who - Terminus


My dislike for the new Doctor Who has been so intense that for some time it has even turned me off watching the old episodes, which I used to love. I’ve finally managed to get over that (although I still detest the new series just as much). So recently I watched Terminus, the second of the so-called Black Guardian trilogy, a Fifth Doctor serial from 1983.

This is not a very highly regarded episode but it has its virtues. Its biggest problem is the problem that afflicted the series for most of Peter Davison’s run as The Doctor - too many companions. As Davison points out on the commentary track, apart from the difficulties of trying to find something for each of the companions to do the worst aspect of this was that it allowed little scope for the characters of any of his companions to be developed in any depth, and as Davison notes the saddest part of this was that Nyssa was potentially a very promising character but her potential was never developed.

The story itself has a good deal of scientific silliness (always a plus in my book) and some good ideas. Terminus is a gigantic space structure that is used as a hospital for lepers. Only it seems that this is a hospital from which no patients ever return.

Writer Steve Gallagher threw a good deal of Norse mythology into this one, with mixed but interesting results. 

Turlough is still supposed to be trying to kill The Doctor but in fact he does nothing whatever of any consequence in the entire four-part serial. Tegan has even less to do. Nyssa on the other hand does actually get to do some important things and she does finally get (ironically much too late) to show some character development.

This one boasts some fairly impressive sets and some remarkably silly costumes. The Doctor and his horde of companions encounter a couple of space pirates who look like something out of an old Buck Rogers serial but with 80s hairdos. The costumes of the guards on Terminus apparently proved to be wildly impractical but they actually look rather cool. That’s also a big guy in a costume that makes him look like a huge friendly dog, much to Steve Gallagher’s disgust since his original conception of this key character was very different and would have been a lot creepier.

This is notorious as the “Nyssa drops her skirt episode” although no-one has ever satisfactorily explained why she does so. Certainly neither Sarah Sutton nor writer Gallagher had any idea why she was asked to do this. In fact it’s just one of a series of scenes in which Nyssa appears in some startlingly suggestive poses.

Terminus had a disastrous production history and director Mary Ridge, who hated the idea of doing science fiction anyway, seems to have lost control badly. The episode has a lot of pacing problems, even by the standards of 80s Doctor Who.

Despite all this the good ideas are enough to keep things reasonably interesting and Terminus really isn’t all that bad. Visually it’s actually remarkably good bearing in mind the horrendous budgetary constraints the show was made under. And it does have some pretty effective horror moments.

The commentary track gives Peter Davison the opportunity to vent many of the frustrations he felt about doing the series. It’s clear that he loved the series but was saddened by the fact that episodes like Terminus had the potential to be a lot better than they turned out. He actually makes some pretty good points and it’s one of the more interesting of the Doctor Who commentary tracks.

the purpose of this blog

The purpose of this blog is to indulge my love of the cult TV programs of the past. The show I'll be blogging about will be mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, with occasional forays into the 50s and very very occasional forays into the early 80s.

I will not be posting about more recent series. There are more than enough websites and blogs devoted to the TV of the 90s and beyond. My own personal interest in popular culture pretty much ends with the end of the 70s.