Archive for the 'TV: 1980s' Category

10
Dec
12

Knightmare celebrates 25 years

Knightmare at 25

With most old TV shows I find it hard to believe I was watching them 25 years ago; surely I was far too young to even know what a TV was 25 years ago?! Sadly, I was probably happily watching telly 35 years ago, I just don’t like to admit it to myself.

Anyway, the point of this brief post is to point you in the direction of a nice little reminder of days gone by, when after school TV consisted of series like Blue Peter, Tony Hart in his gallery, Grange Hill and some teenage reporters on the Junior Gazette (I will get around to a Press Gang post one day).

Joining their ranks was ITV’s Knightmare, a fantasy adventure game which took invited children to don a helmet and make their way through a cunningly designed dungeon, under the guidance of Treguard (Hugo Myatt), a friendly(ish) dungeon master.

Each week a team would move from room to room, with the helmet-clad child, the dungeoneer, taking instructions from his or her teammates in another room. They watched proceedings from a monitor and advised their friend which direction to take or how best to interact with the various denizens of the dungeon.

It was a simple enough premise but one which was captivating. Judging from an article on Knightmare.com, I probably watched every season of the show, I certainly remember most of the characters and changes to the basic set-up. I’ve not seen an episode years but would welcome an extras-laden DVD set of the first series if anybody fancies making one.

In the meantime, the owner of Knightmare.com, James Aukett, has done fans proud by making his own documentary to celebrate the programme’s 25th anniversary. James has interviewed many of the cast and crew, including Myatt and creator Tim Child, for this internet-only production, and he’s done a grand job with zero budget and a lot of love for the subject.

Thanks James, you’ve made an old(ish) fan very happy!

07
Aug
12

The Search for Fraggle Rock

It shouldn’t happen to a TV show. The result of months of work by a team of professionals, who then pass it on to a broadcaster to transmit to a few million viewers who then (hopefully) embrace it to their collective bosoms, a great TV programme should then be allowed to retire to an archive somewhere, occasionally receiving visitors in the shape of satellite channels or a DVD company.

In the case of Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson’s 1980s series which brought weird puppets and conflict resolution to teatime telly, something seems to have gone badly wrong in those archives.

Henson’s dream was to have series that appeared to be small-scale to the casual observer, but which underneath was a complex network of international co-production deals and filming schedules. The theory was that children would react better to a series made in their language and with references they understood.

Each episode would start in the “real” world with some business about an old man called The Captain (Fulton Mackay) living in Fraggle Rock lighthouse with his dog, Sprocket. After a few minutes the scene would then switch to an underground world of Fraggles, led obstensibly by young Gobo (Jerry Nelson). There would then follow an adventure in which one Fraggle would get into trouble and the others would save him/her while learning a valuable lesson about life.

If you watched Fraggle Rock in the UK then the lighthouse “wraparound” bit will sound familiar, though Fulton Mackay was replaced by John Gordon Sinclair and Simon O’Brien in later years. If you lived in America, Australia, Scandinavia, Spain or numerous other countries you would have seen Doc (Gerry Parkes), an inventor, interact with Sprocket. Doc’s mini-adventures took place in his garage.

French and German audiences again got their own wraparounds with local actors playing Doc.

Though Fraggle Rock went on to become a huge success around the world, spawning 96 episodes in total, that simple idea involving co-production deals would be the series downfall when it came to repeats, at least it was here in the UK thanks to TVS, a now defunct TV station, producing the UK wraparounds.

When TVS lost their licence in 1992, their back catalogue, and the documentation detailing it, was a victim of massive upheaval behind the scenes, resulting in only 12 episodes of the UK Fraggle Rock now officially remaining in the vaults. These were released on DVD a few years ago from HIT Entertainment on Region 2.

A bit of research (well, Googling) over the years from yours truly leads me to believe that, despite HIT contacting The Jim Henson Company to enquire about the episodes, the original master tapes are indeed missing. As is usually the way of these things, the fans are also doing a bit of digging around and, according to some recent posts on a missing episodes forum, we can add a further 17 broadcast quality episodes held by the BFI to the 12 that came out on DVD.

According to that post, fan Alex Taylor has a further 28 episode recorded off air (on his own video recorder), bringing the total number of Fraggle Rock UK episodes known to exist up to 57 – he’s kindly listed them all over on his own website.

I was fortunate enough to interview the producer of the UK wraparounds, Victor Pemberton, a few years ago and he mentioned that he at one time had every episode on VHS but that he wasn’t sure if he still had them in the basement.

The reason for my summing all of this up is that this week saw The Jim Henson Company upload six new clips to their excellent YouTube channel featuring Fulton Mackay as The Captain. Of the six clips, three now only exist as fan owned, off air, non broadcast quality episodes – The Trash Heap Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Sir Hubris and the Gorgs and The Garden Plot – and yet they all look in perfect condition to me:

So what does this mean for the existence of more UK episodes at The Jim Henson Company? Are these merely clips that have been lying around that have now been put online in isolation? Or are these excerpts from full episodes held by Henson that could, theoretically, be released in full? Do they have more clips still to be put online?

I’ve been holding back publishing this post for a few days as I’ve emailed the team at Henson to ask what the situation is, but assuming they’re busy with more pressing issues I may not hear back for a while.

It’s also useful to raise the subject once again in case any reader of this post has an episode on VHS that is missing, presumed gone. If so, feel free to let me know in the comments and we can try to get it into some new archive…

30
Oct
11

Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood – Jason Connery

Robin of Sherwood

Building up a loyal following in its mid-1980s Saturday teatime slot, Robin of Sherwood, Richard Carpenter’s bold reimagining of the Robin Hood legend, could do no wrong. That is until Robin himself, Michael Praed, decided to abandon Sherwood for Hollywood, leaving the Merrie Men without a leader and the fans without a hero.

Carpenter returned once again to the legends that had originally inspired him, deciding that if they told of more than one origin for the Robin Hood character, so would he. Series three saw the introduction of Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery), a wealthy member of the gentry chosen by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri) to take on the mantle of Herne’s son and lead the fight against injustice.

Just as Robert’s background was the polar opposite of Robin of Loxley, so Connery was very different to Praed, both in hair colour and personality. While Robin had the classic brooding hero character down pat, Robert seemed to be more of a spoiled rich kid rebelling from his parents, at least in the opening episodes.

The two-part Herne’s Son sets things in motion once again, reminding viewers of the tragic events that closed season two before introducing Robert properly. With the old gang of outlaws now scattered far and wide, only Tuck (Phil Rose) left living in Sherwood, Robert must gather them together when Lord Owen of Clun (Oliver Cotton) takes up residence near Nottingham and sets his sights on the Lady Marion (Judi Trott).

Also back on the scene is the scene chewing Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace) and his dimwitted assistant, Gisburne (Robert Addy), while Clun gains something of a right-hand man in Gulnar (Richard O’Brien), a sorcerer with an evil streak.

With much to pack in to these episodes, Connery isn’t given a lot of space to prove himself other than in the action stakes, where he does a good job of showing the character’s physicality.

Luckily the young actor is surrounded by performers such as Ray Winstone and Clive Mantle; while Connery reads his lines well, Winstone and Mantle ensure you believe they’ve lived wild and killed out of necessity.

This 13 episode run takes the characters into new territory, introducing them to a once and future king, a village that spells danger for Robin and his men, an increasingly desperate Sheriff whose methods get more inventive every time.

This year saw Carpenter divide writing duties with Anthony Horowitz, episodes such as Cromm Cruac, The Betrayal, Adam Bell and Rutterkin  pushing the characters and giving guest stars, including Phil Davis, Bryan Marshall and Ian Ogilvy, something to get their teeth into.

The downside to this need to try new things, not dwelling too much on the Sheriff’s failure each week to kill any of the outlaws, does mean that plot points are introduced and forgotten about with haste, more so than in the first two seasons. The Sheriff gains a nephew one week while Little John suddenly plans to get married another, while characters who aid Robin are seemingly forgiven as soon as they escape from the Sheriff’s clutches.

Continue reading ‘Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood – Jason Connery’

12
Sep
11

Chris Jury on Lovejoy: ‘It was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic’

Dudley Sutton, Ian McShane, Chris Jury and Pyllis Logan

As an actor, writer, director and producer, Chris Jury may have worked extensively in film, theatre and televison, with directors as diverse as Anthony Minghella and Danny Boyle and on series such as Doctor Who and EastEnders, but it’s as Eric Catchpole on BBC One’s Lovejoy that he’s perhaps best remembered by the British public.

Having recently reviewed the re-released complete Lovejoy on DVD, I spoke to Chris about his memories of working on the top-rated programme which baffled TV producers but viewers couldn’t get enough of.

Jonathan Melville: How did you first come to audition for Lovejoy?

Chris Jury: In 1985 I was in a play at The Bush Theatre on Shepherds Bush Green next to the BBC drama offices. They couldn’t find Eric and a secretary in the office saw me in the play and suggested they came and saw me. I was then interviewed by the director Baz Taylor. I heard nothing for three weeks so assumed I had not got the part and accepted a job in Glasgow as Assistant Director to David Hayman for theatre company 7:84.

I was then called back into meet Ian McShane, producer Bob Banks-Stewart, writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, executive producer Alan McKeown and director Ken Hannam. It was terrifying! I was offered the job the next day and had to drop out of the directing gig with 7:84.

The rapport between yourself, Ian McShane, Dudley Sutton and Phyllis Logan seems genuine – did you enjoy making series one?

Chris Jury todayAll the series were a joy to make. Ian, Dudley, Phylis, Malcolm Tierney and I got on like a house on fire. My abiding memory of filming Lovejoy is laughter and friendship. It doesn’t happen very often. I was very lucky. To this day I regard all four of the regulars as among my dearest friends.

Were you all set to return for a second series in 1987 or was it clear early on that the first series might be the only one?

We were hopeful of a second series in ’87 (which would have been filmed in ’86) but the BBC made Executive Producer Alan McKeown an offer he couldn’t accept and all power to him he walked away. The deal’s the thing you see. That’s why Alan is as rich as Croesus and I’m skint.

When did you learn that the programme would finally be returning?

In spring 1989 Michael Grade left the BBC to go to Channel 4 and within three weeks Witzend, Alan’s company, contacted my agent and we were back on. The deal was finally done in the Autumn of ’89 to start filming 10 eps from Easter 1990.

1993 saw two seasons and a Christmas special air, quite unusual for a BBC drama. Did you sense the BBC were particularly fond of the show at that time?

No. I always felt many of the metropolitan TV industry types were slightly embarrassed by Lovejoy. It wasn’t cynical, urban, edgy or cool enough for them. like Heartbeat and Last Of The Summer Wine, it was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic – and of course immensely popular with the public! My own taste is for drama that engages more directly with the contemporary world but I could appreciate Lovejoy for what it was and that it was done extremely well. The scripts were brilliant!

This sneering metropolitan attitude crops up even now and the show is the butt of jokes from the likes of Catherine Tate and Little Britain who portray the show as a talisman of an unsophisticated middle-England. Very patronising.

Continue reading ‘Chris Jury on Lovejoy: ‘It was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic’’

09
Sep
11

DVD Review: Lovejoy The Complete Collection

With scripts as well crafted as a Chippendale, performances as finely tuned as a Stradivarius and a production history more complex than the workings of a Thomas Earnshaw timepiece, Lovejoy arrives on DVD to once more charm viewers who have missed the series since its departure from TV screens in 1994.

Adapted for the small screen by veteran scriptwriter Ian La Frenais, who took Jonathan Gash’s rather earthy novels and made them acceptable for a mainstream audience, season one aired on BBC One in 1986.

That series introduced the character of East Anglian antiques dealer and ‘divvie’, Lovejoy, as played by Ian McShane in full-on rogue mode. Aiding and abetting are wily Tinker (Dudley Sutton), nice-but-dim Eric (Chris Jury) and the delectable Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan), while hindering Lovejoy in his plans to make a tidy profit on each deal is the panto villainesque Charlie Gimbert (Malcolm Tierney).

Slightly closer to the books in those first 10 episodes, the first year established the type of story offered up by La Frenais and his fellow writers; a mystery involving a rare antique draws in Lovejoy, with a dash of humour and the odd aside to camera helping things rattle along at a fair old lick.

Thanks to an unfortunate rights snafu, and a short trip to Dallas for McShane, season two didn’t appear until 1991, by which time Gimbert had gone but the rest of the gang were still available for more of the same. For the next few years it was as if nothing had happened, Sunday nights enlivened by preposterous plots and a cast of recognisable British thespians – including Sir John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Bill Travers, Joanna Lumley, Richard Griffiths, Michael Kitchen and Donald Pleasance – drifting in and out of each episode to add a touch of class to proceedings.

By 1993 the series was a bone fide BBC hit, with season four running from January until April and season five from September until November, with a US-set Christmas special thrown in for good measure. Sadly, nothing lasts forever, and season five would see two of the leads leave, only for a new cast to be phased in and the dynamic change. Lovejoy may still have been loveable but the world around him was different.

Comprised of self-contained episodes for the majority of its run, the last year would see the makers build on the romance between Lovejoy and Charlotte (Caroline Langrishe), even if his heart was always with Lady Jane.

Bringing every episode together, with the original music present and correct for the first time, this set takes the viewer into a world where it’s permanently summer, every antique shop hides a lost treasure and friends conspire to help and hinder each other before making up with a pint in the pub and move on to the next dodgy deal.

Continue reading ‘DVD Review: Lovejoy The Complete Collection’

15
Aug
11

ITV turned down the return of Ray Winstone and Robin of Sherwood

Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing’s ever forgotten. Those words will be recognisable to any fans of the hit 1980s TV show, Robin of Sherwood, which ran for three years on ITV from 1984 to 1986 and captivated a generation in the process.

With the highest TV budget of the period, Michael Praed made for a dashing Robin i’ the Hood, but one whose fate never looked to be to a happy one, at least as long as he and his followers, including a young Ray Winstone as Will Scarlett, lived in an England ruled by men who put land and money before the welfare of the populace. At least that’s something which we could never say is the case today…

The series came to an abrupt end after the third series, when the company behind it, Goldcrest, went belly up, leaving viewers wondering what might have happened next. Rumours surfaced in the 90s that a film version might appear, but that was scuppered by Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which “borrowed” a number of elements from Carpenter’s series.

Today I had the opportunity to meet with Clive Mantle, Little John in Robin, thanks to his presence in Edinburgh for the Fringe. He’s here with his stage show, Jus’ Like That, in which he portrays comedian Tommy Cooper, and it’s a fantastic performance that he’s honed to perfection. I wanted to discuss the show but I couldn’t help mentioning Robin of Sherwood and had to ask if there were any plans for the upcoming 30th anniversary.

His response was as follows, and you can hear it in full over on audioboo:

“We wanted to do a television update and we submitted to ITV, 18 months or two years ago, [the idea of] a two hour special or a couple of specials, [with] all the original team, Ray back, Jason [Connery] and Michael [Praed], and ITV turned us down. We couldn’t believe it, especially with Ray on board. Kip Carpenter had written a fantastic idea and when I heard they’d turned it down, I stood there open mouthed and thought “I think that’s a mistake,”. Ray loves it so much that if he had a gap in his schedule and we were all available, I’m sure he’d give it another go.”

So there it is. Everyone wants to make it but nobody wants to fund it. ITV were offered, on a plate, the return of one of its most popular series, plus a star name in Ray Winstone, and they turned it down. It’s no secret that series such as X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent cost pennies to make and pull in large audiences, so it’s understandable that ITV would want to keep churning out the cheap stuff as long as they can.

Continue reading ‘ITV turned down the return of Ray Winstone and Robin of Sherwood’

25
Jul
11

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Paradise Towers

They say that the memory cheats. They’re wrong. I still remember being banished to my bedroom to watch Doctor Who back in October 1987, at the same time as Coronation Street was being enjoyed in the living room downstairs. The same thing happened every week, and every week I expected a classic episode.

Then along came Paradise Towers.

Even as an 11-year-old I knew something wasn’t quite right about this one. The way the actors just spoke their lines rather than investing them with any feeling. The way Bonnie Langford seemed to think she was on the stage,  shouting every line to the gods. The way the music seemed to actively be fighting against any attempts at drama that might escape from the script and onto the screen.

Paradise Towers

Watching this new DVD release 24 years on it’s fair to say that nothing much has changed, with 2entertain sadly avoiding any sort of special edition treatment that might excise most of the actors and replace them with CGI replicas.

The plot, for those of you who haven’t moved on to the Wikipedia entry by now, sees the Tardis land on the Paradise Towers of the title, a rundown tower block where a war is being waged by different factions as a group of caretakers attempt to keep things under control.

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) manages to become embroiled in the various goings-on, while the death toll rises around him.

What is perhaps more apparent on this viewing is that Stephen Wyatt’s script does have darker undertones that, had they been given free reign, would have seen Who’s position as prime time family entertainment being questioned by TV watchdogs in the 80s. Cannibalism by two old ladies? Allusions to Adolph Hitler by Richard Briers? Bonnie’s costume?

Director Nicholas Mallett could have been trying to tone down the darker aspects for the pre-watershed crowd, but if so it was hardly worth putting the script into production in the first place, meaning we’re left with something that doesn’t really cater for anyone.

McCoy tries gamely with what he’s given but there’s little of substance for him to latch onto, his Doctor, only in his second story, still something of a blank canvas with a Scottish accent. Richard Briers is clearly in another of his sitcoms and it’s only Clive Merrison who comes out of this with anything vaguely resembling dignity, managing to balance humour and menace (what little there is) equally.

Extras

For the extras we’re given a commentary featuring actress Judy Cornwell, writer Stephen Wyatt, special sounds supervisor Dick Mills and moderater Mark Ayres, which touches on various aspects of the production without giving it quite the kicking one might expect.

Horror on the High Rise, a new documentary featuring contributions from script editor Andrew Cartmel, writer Stephen Wyatt and actors including Richard Briers and Howard Cooke, does contain some honest opinion from those involved, and it’s the highlight of the disc. Wyatt remains unimpressed with the BBC’s take on his script, though he did undertake the writing process with the best of intentions.

Another short documentary, Girls! Girls! Girls! – The Eighties, brings together Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Sophie Aldred to discuss their time aboard the Tardis and it’s nice to see the various companions reminiscing, even if Fielding’s comments are tend not to deviate from her standard views on the era.

A fun production notes track helps keep up the viewers’ spirits during the long haul of the episodes, while an alternative score for the story lets us hear what it would have been like had composer David Snell not been replaced by Keff McCulloch. Deleted scenes, photos and PDFs are also present and correct.

Story ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

10
Jul
11

DVD Review: Shelley – The Complete Series Five

Returning for a fifth series of less-than-heroic adventures in 1980s Britain, James Shelley (Hywel Bennett) is a man of his time. Or rather, he’s a man of every time, particularly if that time involves a Tory Government, unemployment and an economy that’s well and truly knackered. Sound familiar?

With his wife and landlady long gone, Shelley decides to rent his mate’s (Warren Clarke) flat, instantly falling foul of the doorman (Garfield Morgan) before realising that the single life he had once tried to leave behind has now well and truly returned.

Like that other comedy stalwart, Frank Spencer, Shelley is constantly on the lookout for new work. However, while Frank would happily go for an interview and end up roller skating down the local high street, Shelley is more likely to end up debating the state of the nation or bunking off down the pub for a booze-sodden afternoon of despair.

The plight of the (not) working man is very much at the heart of the series, Bennett’s incomparably bemused look and stinging replies to those in authority as important a record of the social disquiet of the era as any contemporary newspaper report or documentary.

Perhaps the highlight of the series is Shelley’s new temp job, filing: it’s one so menial that the viewer instantly knows it can’t last. His reaction to the instructions are classic Shelley.

With most episodes taking a while to gain momentum – this is a series that revels in dialogue rather than sight gags – this could be too slow for modern viewers, but stick with it. With its themes as relevant in 2011 as they were in 1982, this really does feel like timeless comedy: quite whether we should be glad of that or not is another matter.

When you coming back, Shelley?

Shelley: The Complete Series Five is available from Network DVD

10
Jul
11

DVD Review: Cannon and Ball – Complete Series Two

Pulling in 12 million viewers a week during their 1980s heyday, some easily imitable catchphrases and a cheeky chappies routine making them popular with both older and younger viewers (a weekly strip in junior TV Times, Look-In, helped the latter) Cannon and Ball were ITV’s golden boys for over a decade.

This release of their second series sees a change in title sequence and set but the same old set-up which proved so successful in series one: have the boys take centre stage and engage in some banter before acting out a few sketches, invariably involving one or both of them trying to pull a bird or outwit some new foe.

A quick scan through the guest list reveals names such as Diana Dors and Peggy Mount, about as ITV as one could get at the time, and hardly likely to lead to controversial television.

Indeed, writer Sid Green, perhaps best known for his work with Morcambe and Wise, sticks to traditional set-ups and pay-offs and the half hours are all the better for it, with the performers even struggling to keep a straight face at times.

Those looking for anything deep and meaningful will be disappointed, but then they’re unlikely to have picked up this set in the first place. For a trip down memory lane, and a glimpse at how simplicity is often best, Cannon and Ball really can’t be faulted.

Cannon and Ball: The Complete Series Two is available now from Network DVD

03
Jul
11

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Earth Story

Rather uncomfortably bundling together a First and a Fifth Doctor story together in a collection known as “Earth Story”, the thematic link with the latest Doctor Who release is, well, that they’re both set on Earth. Simple, really.

Combining one story not known for its popularity in Doctor Who fandom – the overt humour in William Hartnell’s The Gunfighters often branding it unwatchable – with another praised for its ability to condense a complex tale into just two episodes in the shape of Peter Davison’s The Awakening, the set makes for an odd combination.

In The Gunfighters, the Tardis brings her crew to the famed town of Tombstone when the Doctor finds himself suffering from toothache. Deciding that America in the 1880s is the best place for medical attention, the Timelord seeks out Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs), a man who is currently somewhat at odds with the Clanton brothers, leading to much confusion regarding the Doctor’s identity and a gunfight that really isn’t OK.

In The Awakening, modern day (1984) England is the location for some village war games, recreations of a Civil War battle. As the Tardis materialises, it becomes clear that an alien war machine known as The Malus has started to meddle with the timelines, merging the 1980s with the 1640s and leaving the Doctor, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) to try to put things right.

With its dodgy American accents and a script which attempts to play too much for laughs, The Gunfighters isn’t an easy watch. The overuse of the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, a not-so-witty little ditty sung at various points of the four episodes is wearisome to say the least, while the change in character of the Doctor, Steven (Peter Purves) and Dodo (Jackie Lane) to facilitate them misunderstanding the gravity of their predicament is insulting to the audience.

Taken as a piece of throwaway 1960s TV this is just about passable, with Hartnell on good form and the set design and direction impressive, but as a piece of drama it’s pretty average.

Eric Pringle’s The Awakening is a much better example of Who at its best, the series regulars supported by a high quality guest cast, including ex-Liver Bird, Polly James, and ex-Stig of the Dump, Keith Jayne. Both actors are believable and level out some of the more outrageous performances.

With yet another member of Tegan’s family making an appearance and no sign of the padding which inevitably creeps into multiple part adventures, The Awakening is a lean slice of 80s Who which more than makes up for any weakness evident in The Gunfighters.

Extras

With the Doctor Who range’s commentary moderator of choice, Toby Hadoke, in charge of proceedings for both stories, things go smoothly as cast and crew come together to recall their time on the series.

Peter Purves continues his love-in with Who alongside actors David Graham, Shane Rimmer and Richard Beale plus production assistant Tristan DeVere on The Gunfighters, while director Michale Owen Morris and script editor Eric Saward are the slimmed down pairing for The Awakening.

Both tracks are entertaining and informative throughout, an honesty about mistakes made and an admiration for what was managed all those years ago evident from all participants.

The standout documentary in the set is The End of the Line, a frank look at the production of the programme’s third year. Contributions from those who were there are backed up by excerpts from memos and letters written at the time, while today’s fans also help put past events into some context.

It’s an impressive production which, like all the best documentaries, deserves a wider audience than just Doctor Who fans, and one can only hope that at some point in the future 2entertain consider releasing a documentary-only set charting the Classic era’s development.

One of the odder additions to The Gunfighter’s set is the latest installment of Tomorrow’s Times, which sees a badly miscast Mary Tamm looking at how the series was covered in the press in the 1960s. Tamm’s reaction to one piece of Dalek news is quite the strangest thing you’ll see on a Who DVD this, or any other, year.

The Awakening benefits from a return visit to the fictional village of Little Hodcombe by the cast and crew, with contributions from local residents, and it’s a charming insight into the story’s production and legacy. Elsewhere there’s a look at the making of the story’s creature and some extended and cut scenes that didn’t make the final cut.

As ever, both stories feature PDF Radio Times clippings along with photo galleries and production notes, which by no means deserve to be mentioned last but which are hard to do justice to in a review – just make sure you read them and your enjoyment of any Doctor Who adventure will be enhanced.

The Gunfighters ★★★★★
The Awakening ★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

22
Jun
11

New Stephen J Cannell website

Part of my Cannell collection

Well done to the team at Stephen J Cannell Productions for keeping the legacy of one of television’s greatest assets alive after his death: they’ve just launched a new website which remembers him and celebrates his career.

Regular readers will know that my love of Cannell’s output, whether that’s The Greatest American Hero, The Rockford Files or The Rousters, knows no limits – those are a few of my Cannell DVDs above.

A look around the new website reveals that they’ve ported a lot of content from the previous version but also added some new items. As well as information on the majority of his shows you can download Cannell’s scripts from each of them for free. Combine those with the online writing tutorials, both written and in video, and there’s a writing course just waiting to be taken.

I’m hoping that they keep adding new information from the Cannell vaults over the coming year, certainly some clips from the rarer shows that didn’t quite make it as big as The A-Team. Interviews with Cannell production staff would also be good to see.

For my own part in publishing more Cannell content, I managed to interview long-term Cannell friend and collaborator, Mr Jo Swerling, Jr, while on a recent trip to Hollywood. Jo produced many of Cannell’s series and had a lot to say about TV production in the 1980s. I want to get it online in the next month or so, but as our discussion lasted for almost two hours, it might take a while to write up.

In the meantime, head over to www.cannell.com and enjoy yourself. You can also join the Stephen J Cannell Facebook page for more updates

05
Jun
11

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Frontios

If there’s one thing that Doctor Who loves, it’s Earth colonists (or descendents of Earth colonists) having a hard time of it somewhere in deepest, darkest space. 1984′s Frontios takes this premise and runs with it, the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) arriving in the midst of a particularly nasty meteorite bombardment, the results of which requires the time traveller’s help.

FrontiosAs the Doctor, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) try to assist the planet’s inhabitants, the Time Lord getting confused for an enemy spy by leader Plantagenet (Jeff Rawle) in the process, the viewer becomes embroiled in the politics and confusion of a populace who are tired of being attacked by an unseen enemy.

When that enemy is discovered to be closer to home than anyone expected, the story is flipped on its head to become something much more complicated than a base, or rather planet, under siege tale.

Christopher H Bidmead’s return to Who is a welcome one, his script removing much of the romp-factor from the programme and swapping it with intelligent dialogue and what feels like a genuine challenge for the Doctor and his crew.

Indeed, Turlough gets a decent share of screen time here, the reawakening of dormant memories handled well by Strickson, even if his reaction to the Tractators could be seen to be a tad OTT. Tegan is also given something to do here, Fielding reacting well to Davison whether he’s in breathless or comic mode.

Of the guest cast, while Rawle is strong as the out-of-his-depth Plantagenet, it’s William Lucas as Range and Lesley Dunlop as his daughter, Norna, who are the most interesting additions. The pair have a chemistry that makes their relationship believable, something that’s important when you’ve got power-hungry aliens vying for attention.

Though Frontios’ budget was tiny (as alluded to by Rawle in documentary, Driven to Distractation), designer David Buckingham managed to make the interiors look suitable lived in, although the occasional exterior shot, in reality a BBC studio, does let things down.

Still, a Doctor Who fan can forgive iffy FX and dodgy monster costumes when the story is as good as this, and in Frontios we have something of an overlooked gem that reminds us just why Davison was so special and his era ripe for rediscovery.

Extras

Without his usual partners in crime, (Fielding, Sutton and Strickson I’m looking at you!), the Frontios commentary may not be quite as buoyant, but it’s still worth booting up to hear Rawle and script editor Eric Saward have their say.

The documentary is another honest look at the production of a Doctor Who adventure, something that can only come almost 30 years after the fact. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of insights we get for the Davies/Moffat-era stories when they’re reissued in special hologram editions in a few years time…

Add to this an informative set of production notes, an isolated music score, deleted footage, Radio Times cuttings and a few other nice-to-have’s, and Frontios becomes yet another important addition to the Doctor Who range.

Story ★★★★
Extras ★★★★

15
May
11

DVD Review: Super Gran – Complete Series Two

★★★★

Arriving DVD almost two years after series one appeared, Super Gran: The Complete Series Two, mirrors the programme’s original transmission: it was in January 1985 that Forrest Wilson’s eponymous heroine made it to ITV screens courtesy of Tyne Tees, but it wasn’t until March 1987 that she returned.

A quick scan of IMDb reveals some upheaval behind the scenes, with the change of three young leads, a new producer in Graham Williams and a new composer in the shape of Dudley Simpson.

At first glance nothing much has changed, with Gudrun Ure back as super granny Smith and Iain Cuthbertson stealing every scene as Roderick “Scunner” Campbell, a baddie so useless that he spends most of his time plotting naff money-making schemes rather than carrying them out.

Filmed on location in Tyneside in clearly freezing weather, with a smattering of thick Geordie accents in amongst the Scottish brogues of the leads, there does seem to have been a decision to add more comic book elements to proceedings, various animated inserts making an appearance.

Ahead of series two making it to screens, Supergran-starved fans were treated to a 1986 Christmas special, a 50-minute romp set during the festive period in which the town of Chisleton becomes the backdrop for a Battle of the Circus’s, a chance for the locals to show off their skills as Scottish circus entrepreneur, Mac McLock (Rikki Fulton), arrives in competition.

An excuse to put Supergran through her paces on the trapeze, the episode has little to distinguish it from the rest of the run, bar the opportunity to see Fulton and Cuthbertson reunited on-screen eight years after the glorious Charles Endell, Esquire.

For the full 1987 series we’re back to special guest appearances – Barbara Windsor, Leslie Phillips, Bernard Cribbins and Ken Campbell just some of those heading to windy Newcastle for a few days filming – and plots which don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

Whether they’re setting out on the annual Chisleton treasure hunt, becoming snooker playing celebrities or trying to get the Scunner back onto the list of top criminals, it’s the bad guys that provide most of the best moments here, Iain Cuthbertson appearing to relish the chance to wring out every available joke from the script.

Indeed, Ure may be the supposed star of the series, but Cuthbertson gets more screen time, even allowed a few flashbacks and dream sequences here and there. The final episode, in which the Scunner must try to prove that he’s the long-lost son of Patrick Troughton’s Roderick of Roderick, Great Sporran of the Isles, is one of the most memorable of the lot for the Scunner, and makes one wonder if a spin-off wasn’t deserved for the tartan terror.

The scripts from one-time comics writer, Jenny McDade, have enough incident to keep the kids entertained for 25 minutes, the meagre budget just about stretching to meet her demands.

Also included on this two disc set is a documentary made during the first series in which the cast and crew appear a happy, if cold, family. It’s also nice to hear Cuthbertson speaking without gruff affectation for once.

Quite why Super Gran didn’t make it to a third series is a mystery, but in just 27 episodes it managed to leave an indelible mark on popular British culture and give us a theme tune that remains a bit of a classic:

Super Gran: The Complete Series Two is out on Monday 16 May from Network DVD.

01
Apr
11

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Revisitations 2

It was in October 2010 that 2entertain first delighted and annoyed Doctor Who fans with the release of their Revisitations DVD set: delighted because three classic stories had been newly remastered with added extras, annoyed because each of them was already available on DVD.

No matter what your feelings about double-dipping on DVDs, the fact was that the first set was an impressive achievement, offering buyers new insights into stories that deserved, well, revisiting.

Now they’re at it again with the re-release of The Seeds of Death, Carnival of Monsters and Resurrection of the Daleks in Revisitations 2: be prepared to be delighted and annoyed all over again.

Revisitations 2The Seeds of Death sees the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) , Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) cross paths once again with the Ice Warriors who are determined to make the Earth their own.

In Carnival of Monsters, the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) takes centre stage in Robert Holmes’ high-concept tale which sees alien creatures and 1920s passengers on an ill-fated ship brought together thanks to a seemingly benign peepshow.

Finally, Peter Davison dons cricket gear for a turn as the Fifth Doctor in Resurrection of the Daleks. Along with Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson), the Doctor must enter into yet another battle with the Daleks and Davros, this time in 1980s London.

With a number of stories under their belts, Troughton, Pertwee and Davison offer confident performances that make it all look so easy. For anyone simply looking to enjoy more of their favourite Doctor, they’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Script-wise, Seeds is confident enough to leave the Doctor out of proceedings for a good while, before allowing Troughton to quietly take over. As usual, the Second Doctor is happy to watch from the shadows as events spiral out of control, his glee at being the one to save the day palpable.

Director Michael Ferguson keeps things moving at a decent pace throughout, some interesting camera angles introduced as the Ice Warriors make their moves.

For Carnival, Barry Letts does an admirable job of giving energy to Robert Holmes’ layered script, his skill at keeping one eye on the technical side and the other on his cast resulting in an accomplished, and hugely enjoyable romp.

Eric Saward’s Resurrection is the weakest of the three tales, perhaps because we’ve seen the Daleks schemes too many times or perhaps because it’s all just a bit of a muddle. Nothing is quite what it seems here and, apart from a strong turn from Maurice Colbourne as Lytton, it’s hard to care much for anyone.

When it comes to the much-touted extras, the main highlight here is Resurrection’s Come in Number Five, a David Tennant-hosted look back at Davison’s time on the show. With input from many of those involved and some refreshingly honest opinions, Tennant may look a bit grim throughout but this should leave fans of the blonde one happy.

Throw in a new Ice Warriors documentary and a fun look at the monsters that came back for more for Seeds, plus a new commentary, an entertaining look at the making of the story and an investigation into the careers of Who bit-players for Carnival, and you’ve got another fascinating package that tries hard to justify its place on your shelf and, on the whole, succeeds.

Stories ★★★★
Extras ★★★★

27
Mar
11

DVD Review: Callan – Wet Job

★★★★★

Originally airing on ITV in 1981, a decade after the final episode of the original series, and now debuting on DVD just 12 months after the release of the monochrome episodes, it’s hard to imagine Callan: Wet Job not being heavily anticipated by anyone who became addicted to the murky world of espionage inhabited by Edward Woodward’s tortured David Callan.

Sadly, while the classic elements of double-crossing and uncertain morals, not to mention Woodward and Russell Hunter as Lonely, which made the 60s and 70s Callan’s so unmissable, are present in this TV movie, the overall feeling is that everybody involved was doing it out of duty rather than love.

Callan Wet JobThe lacklustre plot sees a retired Callan, now with a new identity and girlfriend, pressed back into duty by a new Hunter as the Russians rear their heads for a new bout of Cold War antics.

Confused youths with misplaced loyalties get involved with ageing agents with old scores to settle, Callan left to ponder past glories as George Sewell adds a modicum of watchability to proceedings.

The idea of returning to Callan after an extended break may not have been the wisest, but there were always going to be ways to do the character justice. Whether Callan had become a washed up clone of Lonely or a high-powered Government official, the dramatic possibilities were endless.

For some reason what we got was an anaemic reunion that didn’t do anyone any favours.

In its favour, Wet Job does feature Callan and Lonely together again, even if the friendship supposedly enjoyed by the pair in the past is perhaps over-stated.

Woodward and Hunter bounce of each other like they’ve never been apart and one wonders if a simple 60-minute two-hander between the pair, two old men reminiscing about their lives, might have been yet another way to make this production more memorable.

For anyone stumbling across this review who decides to sample the world of Callan for the first time, be aware that Wet Job isn’t representative of the parent series. For everything I’ve said above you can reverse the sentiment for the original, which I still maintain is one of Britain’s finest televisual moments (if you can count four exemplary seasons as a single moment).

By all means watch Wet Job if you’ve already immersed yourself in the 60s version, but only then. That way you can put this quietly away on the shelf before picking up series one and starting all over again.

Callan: Wet Job is out now from Network DVD

Related Links

DVD Review: Callan: The Monochrome Years

DVD Review: Callan: The Colour Years




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