H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Blind Justice

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A friend of Brady’s, airline pilot Arthur Holt (Philip Friend), is convinced that his plane is being used for drug smuggling.  His co-pilot Sandy Mason (Jack Watling) is implicated in the smuggling ring and frames Arthur.  Before Arthur can tell the authorities all he knows about the smugglers, he’s shot – with the only witness to his attempted murder being his blind wife, Katherine (Honor Blackman).

A generous amount of the story – the first five minutes – is used to set everything up.  It’s pretty evident right from the start that Arthur is honest whilst Sandy has something to hide (Watling ensures that Sandy looks more than a little shifty).

Jack Watling, father of Invisible Man co-star Deborah, had form for appearing in series which featured his daughter (Doctor Who being the other notable example).  He’s just one member of a very strong cast who help to enliven this story.  Honor Blackman, a few years away from finding fame as Cathy Gale in The Avengers, is another but it’s Leslie Phillips as the cold-hearted Sparrow who makes the most vivid impression.

More used to playing comedy, Phillips plays it dead straight as the well-spoken “Cock” Sparrow, who calls at Arthur’s house, claiming to be a friend of his.  But when Arthur turns up, he shoots him and makes a swift exit.  Did Sparrow know that Katherine was blind and would therefore struggle to describe him?  Even if he did, it seems a little foolhardy to have struck up a conversation with her, as proves to be key in bringing him to justice.

Robert Raglan plays Detective Inspector Heath, yet another police officer completely unfazed at the prospect of receiving assistance from an invisible man, whilst the very recognisable Desmond Llewelyn hovers in the background as his sergeant.

Blind Justice (ah, do you see what they did there?) makes few calls on Brady’s special power until the last few minutes – as Brady convinces Katherine to pretend she can see (and helps her along the way)  so that she can walk up to Sparrow and convince him that she saw him shoot her husband.  Brady hopes that this will break his nerve and make him confess all.

A fairly routine crime story then, but the London location filming and the incredibly impressive guest cast (especially Honor Blackman and Leslie Phillips) are more than adequate compensation.

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H.G. Well’s Invisible Man – The Mink Coat

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Two criminals break into an atomic plant and take photographs of a series of secret plans.  But how will they get them out of the country?  When Dee, traveling to Paris with Brady, spots a shady type – Walker (Derek Godfrey) – placing something into the lining of a mink coat owned by Penny Page (Hazel Court), she realises that something odd is happening.  And soon they put two and two together ….

It has to be said that the secret plans weren’t terribly secure.  The two crooks (immaculately attired in suits, ties and hats, as befits a well-dressed criminal from the 1950’s) only have to snip through some barbed wire and they’ve gained access to the compound.  And once in, they have no trouble in locating the plans which are inside an unlocked drawer.  Maybe putting them into a safe would have been wiser.

Top marks for the security guard, who dies an impressive death.  No sooner has he rushed into the room and blurted out “who’s there?” than he gets shot (although he’s only on screen for a few seconds, the actor certainly milks it for everything he’s got).

For once, it’s Dee who’s ahead of the game and she has to keep plugging away at Brady to make him understand that something odd’s going on.  Eventually he takes her seriously, especially after Walker attempts to ingrate himself with Penny aboard the flight.  He wants to get close so he can obtain the microfilm, but Penny – an independent woman – isn’t impressed by his smooth approach.

The Mink Coat is enhanced by the appearance of Hazel Court.  She was renowned as a Scream Queen, thanks to her appearances in a string of classic horror films (The Curse of Frankenstein, The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death).  Penny’s a quirky character, which is evident right from the start – before Penny boards the Paris flight she produces a puppet who converses with the customs officer.

She’s an ace puppeteer (the doll with the dolls, as her advert puts it) who plies her trade in Paris at the interestingly named Blue Jeans Club.  The Blue Jeans Club is especially noteworthy for one of the worst examples of miming I’ve ever seen (13:32 in, the trumpeter is ridiculously unconvincing).

Penny’s act (with a striptease doll) is mildly risqué, but since this was the late 1950’s everything’s terribly restrained.  This is also evident after Penny returns to her dressing room to get changed – the camera coyly moves away as she begins to undress and Brady – lurking around in his invisible state in order to examine her coat – also makes a break for the door (he’s too much of a gentleman to hang around and take advantage).

Hazel Court gets to scream a couple of times (most impressively) whilst there’s a late, dialogue-free appearance from Joan Hickson as Madame Dupont.  Hickson’s expression as she spies Penny’s husband – the juggler Marcel le Magnifique (Murray Kash) – rushing to her rescue is memorable (possibly it was his tights which caught her attention).

Thanks to Hazel Court (and Penny’s puppets) this one is highly enjoyable.  I especially like the tag scene, which sees Penny introduce a puppet Invisible Man into her act!

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Shadow on the Screen

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Brady is persuaded to board a Russian trawler in order to help a sailor who wishes to defect.  But he doesn’t know that the Russians have developed an ingenious device which allows them to “see” him when he’s invisible ….

Shadow on the Screen is somewhat clunky.  This is partly due to the wide array of false Russian accents on display but some of Ian Stuart Black’s dialogue is also rather stilted, especially in the early scenes.  Brady is visited by Bratski (Raymond Phillips) a man who has dedicated his life to rescuing dissidents from behind the Iron Curtain.  Whilst Bratski is impassioned, Brady is non-committal about pausing his researches in to order to help Stephan Vasa (Edward Judd).  Phillips doesn’t really convince and things aren’t helped by the very earnest speech then delivered by Brady.

Week after week refugees escape from the tyranny of Eastern Europe.  They jump ship, smuggle onto trains, cut their way through barbed wire.  Each step calls for human courage and suffering.

This sort of polemic doesn’t feel natural – since it’s hard to believe anybody would actually speak like that.

Edward Judd doesn’t do a great deal, but it’s nice to see him nonetheless (if you haven’t caught it before, then I recommend the classic early 60’s British sci-fi film The Day The Earth Caught Fire, which features a fine performance from Judd).  Vasa’s wife Sonia (Greta Gynt) is also lightly sketched and is chiefly memorable for her expressive facial contortions in the opening scene once Vasa is dragged back onto the ship (after an unsuccessful attempt to make a break for freedom).

But if the main story is a little unengaging, there’s plenty of compensations elsewhere.  Brady goes invisible and is driven around by Dee.  The only way we know he’s there is courtesy of his cigarette, which pleasingly bobs up and down every time he talks!  Such a simple effect, but it really sells the illusion that he’s sitting in the passenger seat.

These scenes also have a pleasant travelogue air as Dee drives around the eerily deserted streets of London (which more than anything helps to date the story) and past various notable landmarks.

There’s a lovely touch of comedy as Brady encounters a woman in a lift, not once but twice, who he confounds each time with his invisible ways.  She’s played by the peerless Irene Handel which is the reason why these short scenes are such a joy.

The Invisible Man detector is a handy gadget, although unsurprisingly it’s not something that turns up again (it’s pretty obvious why – since it rather negates Brady’s USP).  There’s fun and games during the closing minutes as Brady – kept captive on the trawler – uses all the invisible tricks at his disposal to gain his freedom and that of Vasa.

It’s fairly simplistic stuff then, but if the twenty-five minute format always means that character development rarely rises above the perfunctory level, conversely it also allows the episode to rattle along at a fine pace.

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1990 – Series 2. Simply Media DVD Review

Broadcast between February and April 1978, series two of 1990 continued to chronicle Jim Kyle’s (Edward Woodward) fight against the all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). My thoughts on series one can be found here.

Several key cast changes had been made since the conclusion of the first series. Although Robert Lang returned as PCD supremo Herbert Skardon, Clifton Jones and Barbara Kellerman (who played deputy PCD controllers Henry Tasker and Delly Lomas during S1) didn’t. It’s fairly easy to understand why Jones might have been dropped (Tasker was by far the least developed of the three and therefore often seemed to be surplus to requirements) but Kellerman’s absence was more perplexing.

The relationship between Kyle and Delly provided the first series with dramatic impetus (especially the “will they, won’t they” conundrum) and the introduction of the new deputy PCD controller, Lynn Blake (Lisa Harrow), could be seen as an attempt to replicate a similar relationship. Kyle and Lynn have a history – they used to be lovers – which instantly creates a source of tension, since her new job will inevitably bring her into direct conflict with Kyle.

Lisa Harrow & Edward Woodward

It’s possible that Lynn’s character was a hastily written replacement for Delly Lomas (maybe because Kellerman was unavailable for S2) otherwise it rather stretches credibility that Delly’s replacement was also someone whose relationship with Kyle had the same uneasy mix of business and pleasure.

Home Secretary Dan Mellor (John Savident) is another absentee, with Kate Smith (Yvonne Mitchell) taking his place. 1990 was Mitchell’s final television role (she died in 1979, aged 63). Although primarily a stage actress, she had notched up some notable film and television credits during her career – for example, Nigel Kneale’s 1954 adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four in which she played Julia opposite Peter Cushing’s Winston Smith.

Series two kicked off with Wilfred Greatorex’s Pentagons. Kyle is now a member of Pentagon, one of a growing number of dissident groups. But whilst he favours non-violent action (“words have won more batttles than bullets”) others, such as Thomson (John Nolan), are more keen to fight fire with fire ….

Nolan (probably best known for his semi-regular role in Doomwatch) is one of a number of familar faces who pop up in this one – Barry Lowe, Oscar James and Edward de Souza also feature. Lisa Harrow, debuting as Lynn, makes an immediate impression. Harrow and Woodward share a series of strong two-handed scenes which form the core of the episode (Lynn has been tasked to discover the identity of the PCD mole who has been passing sensitive material to Kyle). Juggling several plotlines – including the complex relationship between Kyle and Lynn – Pentagons is a solid season opener.

Lisa Harrow & Robert Lang

As with the first series, the second run of 1990 used a small pool of writers. Creator Wilfred Greatorex penned four episodes, Edmund Ward contributed three whilst the remaining episode was provided by Jim Hawkins (his sole contribution to the series).

Edmund Ward’s three episodes – Trapline, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope and Hire and Fire – were broadcast third, fourth and fifth and therefore form the heart of the second series.

In Trapline, Commissioner Hallam (John Paul) seeks Kyle’s assistance. Hallam may be a senior officer in the civil police, but he bitterly tells Kyle that it’s “the second-class police force. The street sweepers that clear up after the politicals”. Private security firms such as Careguard, run by William Grainger (John Carson), are where the real power lies, thanks to their links to the PCD.

It’s always a pleasure to see John Paul (Doomwatch‘s Spencer Quist) as well as John Carson (one of the most dependable and watchable character actors of his generation). The episode explores how the authorities (both Hallam and the new Home Secretary, Kate Smith) have grown increasingly concerned about the unregulated power wielded by the PCD and Careguard. The fact they want Kyle to help them is an irony which amuses him greatly.

Edward Woodward & John Paul

The verbal fencing between Skardon and Smith, as both jostle for supremacy, is highly entertaining as is the interaction between Kyle and Smith, who become unlikely allies. When Kyle calls her “love” (a rather Callan-like touch) watch how Yvonne Mitchell moves from mild disapproval to amusement in a heartbeat.

Robert Lang is well served by this one. Not only has Skardon gained a girlfriend, the very attractive Barbara Fairlie (Sandra Payne), but he’s also given some killer lines. When informed that the Home Secretary is beating a path to his door, he replies on the intercom that he’s preparing to genuflect. Smith overhears this, leading Skardon to respond that on reflection he can’t. “Injury sustained in youth. Choirboy’s knee”!

In the intriguingly-tiled Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope, Skardon puts his latest plan into action – Authorised Systematic Harassment (ASH). Described as “an authorised version of the Chinese water torture” it uses the most deadly weapon of all – bureaucracy.

The unfortunate targets – Kyle’s editor Tom Doran (Clive Swift) and his family – find themselves under close surveillance, but that’s only the beginning. When the state bailiff moves to evict them from their home and into a slum area then the pressure really begins to tell. As a way of breaking somebody’s spirit, mindless officialdom can be more effective than kicks and blows.

Skardon succinctly sums it up. “The slow and noiseless steamroller of the state, the daily brown envelope dropping on the mat”. Doran used to be a fighter like Kyle, but now he’s older and more frightened of making waves, which makes this persecution even crueller. It’s all been arranged in order to put pressure on Kyle, but Lynn argues that by targeting Kyle’s friends they’ll simply turn him into an even more implacable enemy …

Because it’s so horribly plausable and shockingly bleak, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope is one of the most memorable S2 episodes. Woodward, as usual, is electrifying.

A vicious protection racket, centered around a state factory, is the theme of Hire and Fire. Another first-rate cast – Colin Douglas, Joseph Brady, Simon Cadell – power a story which sees Kyle and the PCD (in the shape of Lynn) form an uneasy alliance for the common good. Skardon is less than impressed when he learns that Kyle has been brought in – which leads to an entertaining confrontation between them (Woodward once again in sparkling form). Also amusing is Kyle’s luncheon with Lynn and the Home Secretary, where he likens himself to “a rose between two thorns”.

Robert Lang & Yvonne Mitchell

Skardon’s pursuit of Kyle continues across the remaining episodes, with matters coming to a head in the series finale, What Pleasess The Prince. Will Kyle and his friends emerge victorious or can the beleaguered PCD fight back?

As with the first series, Edward Woodward shines. Kyle may be more of a thinker than a man of action like Callan, but their core characteristics (a disdain for authority and a highly developed conscience) aren’t too dissimilar. Robert Lang, Lisa Harrow and Yvonne Mitchell are all strong enough actors to hold their own against Woodward in full flight whilst Tony Doyle impresses again as Dave Brett, one of Kyle’s staunchest allies.

Even after all these years, it’s interesting to see how 1990 can be fashioned into a political weapon.  This article from Conservative Woman makes great play of the fact that the government in 1990 was left-wing, although it has to be said that series rarely made party political points (if 1990‘s government had been of the opposite persuasion there would have been little need for any serious redrafting of the scripts – it’s easy to see a fascistic right-wing police state operating in pretty much the same way).

But whatever your political leanings, 1990‘s dystopian future continues to resonate.  At the time of its original broadcast the show was tapping into contemporary concerns about the state of the country (numerous other examples can be found across many different series – Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy, feverishly planning for the day when “the balloon goes up”, is just one example).  Forty years on, 1990 still raises talking points and stimulates the imagination – the year 1990 may be behind us, but many of the issues encountered by Jim Kyle and the others remain.

Tightly scripted and well cast, the second series of 1990 offers another eight episodes of thought-provoking, character-based drama. Both this and series one come highly recommended.

1990 Series Two is released by Simply Media on the 1st of May 2017.  RRP £19.99.

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Four

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The Nimon’s hyperspace portal has transported Romana to the Crinoth (the previous planet occupied by the Nimons) where she meets Sezom (John Bailey).  Bailey adds an instant touch of class to proceedings: after some of the exuberant performances seen during the last few episodes he essays something which was much more subtle and grounded in reality

Needless to say, after what we’ve witnessed recently it’s somewhat jarring to have a decent spot of acting but never mind, this first scene brings into sharp focus the Nimon’s planet hopping and destructive capabilities.  Sezom, like Soldeed, foolishly believed the Nimon’s promises.

SEZOM: But I have caused the deaths of so many others. The total destruction of our planet and all its people. I am to blame.
ROMANA: Why? What did you do?
SEZOM: I allowed the Nimons to come here. I worked for them, became their creature. They promised us technology, peace, prosperity. It ….
ROMANA: Go on.
SEZOM: It seemed so easy. Such a small price.
ROMANA: Did you have to provide them with some sort of tribute?
SEZOM: How did you know that?
ROMANA: I’ve seen something similar.
SEZOM: There was only one of them to start with. I never knew what was to come. I swear, I never knew what was to come. It seemed such a small price to pay.
ROMANA: It always does.

It’s something of an egregious info-dump it has to be said. Romana just happens to stumble straight into the path of someone who can put the final pieces of the plot together, but no matter – at least now we know the fate that awaits Skonnos.

Elsewhere, the Doctor has a friendly chat with the Nimons, which features one of my favourite exchanges of the story.

NIMON 2: Later you will be questioned, tortured and killed.
DOCTOR: Well I hope you get it in the right order.

The other main point of interest is Soldeed’s death scene which has to be seen to be believed. And even then, I don’t quite believe it …

To be fair to Crowden, it does appear that he believed they were only rehearsing rather than going for a take, but as the clock was probably ticking round to 10 pm (when the plugs would be pulled) it presumably was felt to be “good enough”. Which rather sums up the end of season feel of the story (even if Nimon was never intended to finish S17). By this point it seems that time, money and inspiration had rather run dry.

The Horns of Nimon is certainly fun if you’re in the right mood – Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Graham Crowden are always worth watching – but it also has a definite end of an era feeling.  Change was coming and for many it wasn’t a moment too soon.

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Three

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Anthony Read once admitted that The Horns of Nimon was written as a somewhat tongue in cheek story, but he’d hoped it would have been played in a slightly more serious manner.  Although if you script scenes like the opening one of this episode – the Doctor uses a red handkerchief to indulge in a spot of impromptu bull-fighting with the Nimon – then you can’t really be surprised if things turn out the way they did.

After being absent from the main action for the last episode or so, the Doctor is back in the thick of things after meeting up with Romana, Seth, Teka and the remainder of the Anethans (who remain – as befits non-speaking extras – mute).  He starts to wonder exactly what the Nimon are up to, whilst also highlighting Soldeed’s clueless nature (whatever the Nimon are planning, Soldeed seems to be kept in total ignorance).

Sorak has begun to question why the Nimon has decided to aid them in their quest to once again become the dominant force in the galaxy.  “Soldeed, it sometimes occurs to me to wonder exactly why the Nimon is doing this for us. I mean, to be blunt, what’s in it for him?”  It’s a reasonable question, which you’d have assumed someone would have asked before.  Possibly Skonnos is a totalitarian state which brooks no free will from any of its subjects or maybe Read’s script was just rather ill-defined on this point.  Skonnos is pretty much represented by two individuals only – Soldeed and Sorak – which means that it never comes alive as a real, functioning society.

This isn’t a problem isolated to just this one story, since Doctor Who often struggled to create well-rounded civilisations.  Some writers – such as Robert Holmes – were skilled at using dialogue to put meat onto the bones (think of The Ribos Operation which builds up a fairly vivid portrait of its planet – complete with changing seasons and a strong air of religious dogma) but this isn’t something that Read attempts here.

The major revelation in this instalment is that the Nimon isn’t a single creature as Soldeed thinks.  There are many, many others and they all plan to use their newly built hyperspace tunnel to travel to Skonnos and take over the planet.  As far as invasion plans go it’s rather long-winded – couldn’t they have found a planet closer to home to colonise?

This leads into a rather nice piece of dialogue, with Teka declaring that the Nimon’s invasion is going to take quite a while, considering they’ve only got the one transmat machine.

DOCTOR: Yes, it happens all the time. When a race runs out of space or destroys its home, it has to find somewhere else to live.
SETH: Skonnos?
DOCTOR: Yes.
SETH: But it’s already inhabited.
DOCTOR: Yes.
TEKA: Then how many more are coming?
DOCTOR: Well
ROMANA: To make all this worthwhile, there must be thousands.
DOCTOR: Millions.
TEKA: What, two at a time?

As Romana is accidentally transported in the hyperspace capsule to who knows where, Soldeed once again pops up to menace the Doctor ….

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Two

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Episode Two opens with an ambitious effects sequence, which sees the TARDIS deliberately placed in the path of a spinning asteroid.  The Doctor succinctly sums this up.  “Oh, you know, K9, sometimes I think I’m wasted just rushing around the universe saving planets from destruction. With a talent like mine, I might have been a great slow bowler.”

With the Doctor and K9 stuck in the TARDIS, this leaves Romana, still onboard the ship, free to quiz Seth and Teka.  She learns that the Nimon lives in the Power Complex (“that fits”) one of a number of witty lines which possibly may have gone a little unnoticed due to the broad performances elsewhere.

We meet the Nimon.  Season 17 really wasn’t a vintage year for monsters, was it?  Following Erato and the Mandrels, the Nimon are another disappointment. With a combination of stack heels, an obviously stuck-on head and weird movement, it’s hard to see the Nimon striking fear into anybody.  It’s interesting to learn that the Nimon heads were supposed to look artificial (with their real faces being visible beneath) but this isn’t something that ever comes across during the story – they just look like cheap, ill-fitting masks.

Whilst Romana, Seth, Teka and the others are delivered up to the Nimon, the Doctor eventually arrives on Skonnos and has a chat with Soldeed.

DOCTOR: Having a little trouble with the neutrino converter?
SOLDEED: Neutrino converter?
DOCTOR: Neutrino converter.
SOLDEED: What do you know about such matters?
DOCTOR: Oh, I’ve seen similar things here and there.
SOLDEED: Oh, come now, Doctor. This is my invention.
DOCTOR: How very odd, how very extraordinary, then, you don’t know what a neutrino conversion is. Did you know that someone’s building a black hole on your doorstep?

It’s remarkable for Tom Baker to come up against a fellow actor who makes him look fairly normal, but Crowden’s idiosyncratic performance left Baker with two options – either attempt to match him or play it straight.  Tom decides to play it straight, which was a wise move (leaving the field open for Crowden to indulge himself).  Soldeed’s manic cackling as the Doctor enters the Power Complex is a joy to behold, a weird joy, but a joy nonetheless.

What’s interesting about this scene is the way it shines a light on Soldeed’s self delusion.  He later claims to Sorak that making the Doctor venture into the Power Complex was all part of his great plan, when it was plainly nothing of the sort.  Soldeed might nominally be the power on Skonnos, but he’s continually buffeted by events outside of his control (with the result that every time something unexpected happens, he desperately attempts to reconcile it into his worldview).  This character trait makes Soldeed a much more interesting character than if he’d simply been just another single-minded maniac, utterly convinced of his own omnipotence. Soldeed’s increasing self-doubt is a nice touch.

Before the Doctor enters the Power Complex, he dashes about desperately looking for an alternative.  This gives rise to one of my favourite moments in the story, as he spies a group of councillors standing about.  “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’d like to say one thing and let me make it perfectly clear, I stand before you desperate to find the exit. Can anybody help me?” A wonderful Tom moment.

Meanwhile Romana and others come face to face with the terrifying Nimon. Roarrrrrr!!!!!