Thursday, October 31, 2013

Doctor Who: in defense of "The Wheel in Space"

The fifth of seven neglected or maligned Classic Who serials that I consider worth revisiting, one for each Doctor. The series commences with "Terminus," then continues with "The Ark," "Delta and the Bannermen" and "Death to the Daleks."

Revisiting "The Wheel in Space," in preparation for this post, made me sad -- not the reaction I was expecting. "The Wheel in Space" is a largely ignored serial, one that I realized during my latest rewatch is even better than I'd remembered. But I was also reminded that a key reason it's under-appreciated is because four of its six parts are missing. And that is to say, the visuals are missing. But here's the thing: the audio is still there. And there are amazing reconstructions: Loose Cannon (obviously) did one, and I see, online, at least two others that I like. And Wendy Padbury narrated the audio book. So there are all kinds of ways to "watch" and appreciate "Wheel in Space" even though only two of the six episodes survive in their entirety, but I've come to realize that some fans -- even some diehard ones -- won't, because it calls for the kind of viewing effort we're not used to these days.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Doctor Who: in defense of "Death to the Daleks"

The fourth of seven neglected or maligned Classic Who serials that I consider worth revisiting, one for each Doctor. The series commences with "Terminus," then continues with "The Ark" and "Delta and the Bannermen."

"Death to the Daleks" is the Dalek story for those who hate the Daleks. It's the Pertwee serial for those who hate the Pertwee era. It's the Terry Nation script for those who hate Terry Nation. By my rough calculations, that's approximately one in every seven billion people, which I guess would be me. For the other folks on the planet, most of whom love the Daleks, many of whom adore the Pertwee era, and from what I can gather, at least six of whom think Terry Nation was a major talent, "Death to the Daleks" is considered one of the nadirs of the entire Doctor Who run -- consistently slagged by fans and fanzines.

I quite like it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Doctor Who: in defense of "Delta and the Bannermen"

The third of seven neglected or maligned Classic Who serials that I consider worth revisiting, one for each Doctor. The series commences with "Terminus," then continues with "The Ark."

"In the end it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about you. You have to be exactly who and what you want to be. Most everyone is floating along on phony public relations... and for what?! Appearances. Appearances don't count for diddly. In the end, all that really matter is what was true, and truly felt -- and how we treated one another. And that's it."
-- Julia Sugarbaker, Designing Women


Once upon a time, at the dawn of rock 'n' roll, at a holiday camp in South Wales, a boy named Billy spied a woman named Delta -- and it was love at first sight. And that evening, before they'd even had a chance to speak, he serenaded her from the dining-hall stage with a suitable new standard, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" And later that night, he stood outside her door, a bouquet of flowers in one hand and slicking back his hair with the other, and opened it, only to discover --

Monday, October 21, 2013

Doctor Who: in defense of "The Ark"

The second of seven neglected or maligned Classic Who serials that I consider worth revisiting, one for each Doctor. The series commences here, with "Terminus."

It's easy to tell a fellow Whovian that you like "The Ark": they think you're talking about "The Ark in Space." They nod, say "me too" and go on their way. But occasionally, one of them stops, as if to ask, "Did I hear you right?", and warily doubles back: "Not the one with the Monoids?" And you gulp, "Um, yah," and they add, shaking their heads as if they're questioning your sanity, "The ones with the ping-pong balls in their mouths?"

And then you realize you have to provide a coherent, reasoned justification for liking a TV serial that features creatures holding ping-pong balls in their mouths.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Doctor Who: in defense of "Terminus"

In the few years since I began watching Classic Doctor Who, it's become apparent that there are quite a few serials I like more than others do -- I mean, way more. I thought I'd call attention to some of the serials that I see as unfairly maligned, and I'd choose one serial for each Classic Doctor. And I'd start with a neglected serial that I consider one of the top-25 Classic Who stories ever telecast. So let's start with two lines that pretty much sum up the "Terminus" experience:

Nyssa: What are they going to do with us?
Inga: Supposedly cure us, but I rather think they're going to let us die.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

WKRP in Cincinnati season 4

We remember WKRP in Cincinnati, the sitcom that aired on CBS from 1978 to 1982, as being better than it was. We remember "Turkeys Away," the ultimate in promotional-stunts-gone-wrong, as live turkeys are dropped from a helicopter, "hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement"; we remember the show that (rightly) made stars of supporting players Howard Hesseman and Loni Anderson; we remember its subversive tone and its striking characters -- we remember all that, and we think of it as an instant classic. But from the start, it was an erratic show, and among its 90 episodes are nearly as many misfires as triumphs. It was a show CBS desperately needed, but never knew what to do with. It was a show designed for two actors that ended up being about two others. It had a control freak at the helm who, judging from the evidence, did his best work when he let others do their jobs. If it holds up after 35 years (and it does), it starts with the original casting director Bob Manahan: the characters themselves were well-conceived (and if they weren't, they grew into characters who were well-developed), but the actors made them memorable. It's one of the best matches of character and casting we've had on American television.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The New Adventures of Old Christine:
invasion of the Raymond writers

It's startling to revisit the first few episodes of Old Christine: she seems so competent. If you watch the whole series, and watch the lead character shed brain cells with every passing season, you forget how the show was conceived: as a single, working mother trying to cope in a high-pressure world. Leaving herself voice messages in the middle of the night, of things she had to accomplish the next day (most memorably: "shave things"), she was instantly relatable: there's too much to do in the modern world, and creator Kari Lizer got that. Christine Campbell was the calm center in the storm. When she got set up with blind dates, they were the crazies. Her ex-husband was a horny adolescent; her employee at the gym she owned was a ditz. Christine was the responsible one. It's a drag being the responsible one, but Lizer also made it deeply funny, because there amidst all the crazies was Christine, trying to do it all: to be a good mother, run a successful business, enjoy an active social life. She even had political causes: in one episode, she's determined to bring a little diversity to her son's whitebred private school. But there aren't enough hours in the day, as Christine learns, and however hard you try, the world is stacked against you. When she tries to instill some tolerance in Richie's school and sponsor a black family for admission, she discovers the family hate gays. That's classic Christine, a point echoed in the Season 4 episode "He Ain't Heavy," when her friend Barb describes the trajectory of Christine's life: she's a modern-day Sisyphus, the one who keeps pushing the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down and crush her. But Christine keeps pushing that boulder, and that's why we like her.

By the series' end, Christine has been so dumbed-down that she gets trapped in a subway station, and loses her passport on a flight to the Bahamas, and, oh yes, gets her foot stuck in the john. It's a fate that befalls lots of sitcom characters over the course of a long-running series: it's easier to write for people who are lazy and inept rather than driven and well-meaning. Certainly it's easier to mine laughs. Let me mention that I think The New Adventures of Old Christine is a smashing TV series. I knew it was good when it first aired; in syndication, I've realized it's a classic. But it's a very uneven classic, at its worst when Christine strays furthest from her original conception -- and when she strays, starting in Season 2, it's mostly due to the invasion of the Raymond writers.