Robert Banks Stewart on Charles Endell, Esquire


It’s been a rough week in the entertainment world, the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman filling news channels, while in the last few days we also heard of the passing of veteran TV screenwriter/producer, Robert Banks Stewart.

Born here in Edinburgh in 1931, Banks Stewart’s lengthy career included work in newspapers and magazines before he moved in screenwriting for series such as Danger Man, Lovejoy and Doctor Whothere’s an obituary over on The Guardian that goes into more detail.

Although I own many of Banks Stewart’s work on DVD, it was a series of his that isn’t currently available to buy that I contacted him about back in 2010, the 1979 STV production of Charles Endell, Esquire.

I was working with STV at the time on a project to bring various archive series back to life via YouTube. They were in the process of uploading shows such as Take the High Road, Dramarama and some top-notch Hogmanay specials, and I got in touch to offer my services as a freelance…well, freelance archive TV fan, if such a thing exists.

During our first chat I mentioned a series I’d read about in dusty corners of the internet, a spin-off from 1970s ITV drama Budgie, which starred Adam Faith as small-time crook Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, and Iain Cuthbertson as dodgy Soho businessman, Charlie Endell.

Seven years after Budgie‘s last episode, Charles Endell, Esquire arrived on STV screens, a comedy-drama that took Endell out of Soho and sent him back to Glasgow to try and rebuild his empire that had fallen while he was in jail. Robert Banks Stewart was a key part in its creation, setting the tone for the scripts.

As part of my role at STV I was building up some additional material for the website, a kind of DVD extra for when Endell arrived on YouTube. I contacted Banks Stewart for an interview and he was happy to discuss his time working on the show. I also spoke to series star, Tony Osoba, and filmed an interview with director David Andrews about the series.

Sadly, six years on, STV has seen fit to remove all traces of Charles Endell, Esquire (and almost all of the shows they uploaded) from YouTube and their website, so the Banks Stewart interview was gone when I went to find it earlier today. Thankfully, some traces of it remain on the internet if you know where to look, and I’ve retrieved the following for anyone interested in the development of a six episode Scottish TV series that few seem to remember.

I still have hopes Endell appears on DVD one day as I think it’s a terrific piece of TV that deserves a place on our shelves. STV has repeated the show on its STV Glasgow channel in recent years, but it needs a wider audience. You can read more on the show on this blog, over on Cathode Ray Tube and on Lady Don’t Fall Backwards.

In the meantime, here’s that interview with Bob Banks Stewart – I feel privileged to have spoken to him and can heartily recommend checking out his recently published autobiography if you want to know more about his life and work.

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DVD Review: Doctor Who – Day of the Daleks

Although the idea of kicking off Doctor Who’s ninth season with the ratings-grabbing return of the Daleks must have seemed like a good idea in 1971, the fact that the metal foes barely appear in Day of the Daleks thankfully doesn’t stop the story, now out on DVD, from being one of the Third Doctor’s most memorable outings.

Called in to investigate sightings of ghosts at the home of diplomat, Sir Reginald Styles (Wilfrid Carter), just ahead of a world peace conference, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) become involved in a plot to change the course of history thanks to guerillas from another time.

As if that wasn’t enough to cope with, the Daleks turn out to be part of the 22nd century plot, with the Doctor forced to move back and forth between modern-day Earth and the future as the safety of the universe hangs in the balance.

Running to just four episodes, writer Louis Marks manages to set up the story and involve viewers in the action with little delay, ensuring that time travelling soldiers of fortune, Ogron bodyguards and a dystopian future are introduced without anybody really missing the Daleks, who finally pop up at the close of episode one.

Jon Pertwee glides through the story with ease, clearly relishing the opportunity to be a man of action, while the regular UNIT cast don’t hamper things too much. Aubrey Woods’ Controller is a decent match for the Doctor, though the assorted guerillas don’t make too much of an impact.

Let down by the Daleks themselves, who neither sound as scary as they should or mark themselves out as being worthy of ruling the universe, the adventure does benefit from frequent pauses to contemplate the merits (or lack-of) of time travel and the consequences it can bring. The episodes also look good, in both time periods, the odd duff effect forgivable when everything else works so well.

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DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Sun Makers

Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor finds himself in a rather taxing situation in The Sun Makers, landing on Pluto in the far future with Leela (Louise Jameson) in tow as he discovers the planet’s populace is being kept in its place by The Collector (Henry Woolf).

The Sun MakersAssisting the rebels fighting to overthrow their oppressors, the Doctor discovers the true nature of The Collector’s origins and that sometimes money is the root of all evil.

Written by Robert Holmes, perhaps Doctor Who’s most celebrated scriptwriter and also its script editor at the time of The Sun Makers, the story is packed with the type of humour rarely seen in the series.

With overt references to the British tax system, this was never going to be your typical Saturday tea time romp, but social commentary doesn’t overwhelm the science fiction at the script’s core.

Baker and Jameson are both on fine form and it’s a joy to see them take on Woolf and Richard Leech as Gatherer Hade, even if things do get slightly heightened as the story goes on. The guest cast are uniformly excellent, particularly Michael Keating and William Simons as Goudry and Mandrel respectively.

Clever, challenging and always entertaining, The Sun Makers is a welcome DVD release which shows once again just how diverse the series has been over the years.

Extras on this single disc edition include an informative commentary from Baker, Jameson, Keating and director, Pennant Robert, and a new documentary, Running from the Tax Man, which looks back at the story’s development and production.

Yet more fact-filled production notes can be switched on to aid enjoyment while the usual PDF documents and a photo gallery are available.

Story ★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

The Culp Collection #2: Last of the Good Guys (1978)

Denis Dugan and Robert Culp in Last of the Good Guys

This week’s entry into The Culp Collection, my irregular trawl through the various Robert Culp TV movies which have appeared on YouTube over the last year or two, is Last of the Good Guys, a 1978 effort from Columbia Picture Productions.

The 1970s saw Culp star in a raft of made-for-television films, with the genre a popular one for US TV networks keen to give their audiences 90 minute movies that they didn’t have to leave their homes to watch. Actors such as Culp, who was still appearing in the odd theatrical release, were still big draws for TV viewers, and he became a regular in films such as 1973’s A Cold Night’s Death and Last of the Good Guys.

This time around Culp is cast as the establishment figure of Sergeant Nichols, a no-nonsense cop running an LA precinct of oddballs which includes Dennis Dugan’s Officer Johnny Lucas and Larry Hagman (who’s given Special Guest Star billing) as Sergeant Frank O’Malley. When we meet him, O’Malley is close to retirement, which immediately sets alarm bells ringing in the minds of experienced/jaded TV viewers.

We soon discover that O’Malley has been ill for a while, but doesn’t dare tell anyone in case his pension is affected. As this film aired in the same year as the first season of Dallas, in which Hagman became a household name around the globe as JR Ewing, I’m assuming the two were filmed around the same time, but this is a very different Hagman to the oil tycoon. Hagman ensures O’Malley is a sympathetic character and it’s easy for the audience to feel for him.

It’s tricky to explain the plot without giving away what could be considered a spoiler, but what happens next is the crux of the film; look away now if you’d rather not find out. Still here? OK, well O’Malley dies, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves, until Lucas decides that he’s going to help his old buddy by pretending he’s alive right up until his retirement date, by which point he’s guaranteed a pay-out.

Knowing that Nichols won’t agree to the scam, Lucas convinces his colleagues to set up an elaborate set of tricks and ruses which essentially mean O’Malley doesn’t attend morning roll calls while Nichols slowly begins to twig that his men are up to something.

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The Culp Collection #1: A Cold Night’s Death (1973)

Following the death of Robert Culp in 2010, I made it my mission to try and watch more of his performances in films and on TV. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally got around to it, mainly thanks to YouTube and the appearance of a number of Culp TV Movies on the video channel.

To kick things off I started with A Cold Night’s Death (also known as The Chill Factor), directed by Jerrold Freedman and first shown on ABC Television on 13 January, 1973.

Culp stars as Robert Jones, a research scientist sent to a snowy research base along with colleague Frank Enari (Eli Wallach) when contact is lost with a Doctor Vogel. Snow storms have prevented previous attempts to reach the Doctor, and as we hear in a voiceover at the start, radio transmissions from Vogel had suggested that he’d been in discussions with Napoleon and Alexander the Great.

Flying in by helicopter, Jones and Enari soon discover the frozen body of Vogel sitting at the radio transmitter, with no obvious signs of anything suspicious. The pair bring with them a monkey for research purposes, a companion for the other primates being tested for the US space race.

From here the story begins to enter psychological thriller territory, with the two scientists trying to understand what happened to their predecessor while undertaking their own work. Needless to say, a type of cabin fever descends on the men, leading them to question each other about strange goings on during the night. Meanwhile, the monkeys quietly watch and listen.

It’s a simple tale that’s given a sheen of quality due to the performances of Culp and Wallach, while Freedman, a veteran of TV Movies, manages to find some interesting angles in the confined set.

While YouTube is hardly the best place to watch a film, 10 minute installments not the best viewing experience, it’s better than nothing and A Cold Night’s Death is well worth 90 minutes of your time.

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 and enjoy yourself. You can also join the Stephen J Cannell Facebook page for more updates

James Garner brought to book in The Garner Files

It’s taken me a while to mention here that James Garner has finally agreed to publish his memoirs in November.

The Garner FilesSimon and Schuster announced the news in March that The Garner Files: A Memoir is being written by Garner and author Jon Winokur, with the actor noting that he’d avoided writing the book before now because he feels he’s “really pretty average”.

Garner went on to say “I’m still a little uncomfortable, but I finally agreed, because people I trust persuaded me people might be interested and because I realized it would allow me to acknowledge those who’ve helped me along the way. I talk about my childhood, try to clear up some misconceptions, and even settle a score or two”.

This is a book I thought we’d never see, a chance to hear first hand about the life and career of one of Hollywood’s finest leading men (I’d suggest the finest). I’m interested to hear more about his time on Maverick in the 1950s and about some of those legal cases which saw Garner taking various film studios to court.

Hopefully we’ll also get some insight into his own acting process and perhaps his theory as to why he was never quite on a par with Eastwood or McQueen when it came to starring roles.

I’ve pre-ordered my copy from, though it seems to be the US edition. I’m not sure if a UK edition is in the pipeline and I’d welcome any news on the subject.

As an aside, I stumbled across this excellent new article which asks whether 2011 could see a reapappraisal for Garner, thanks to the release of the biography and a raft of new DVDs from Warner Archive.

DVD Review: The Boy Merlin


Typing the name “Merlin” into Wikipedia is a frustrating exercise, particularly if you’re attempting to summarise the facts behind the legend which resulted in Thames Televison producing their 1979 series, The Boy Merlin: fact is, there aren’t that many “facts” out there.

The legend portrayed in Anne Carlton and Stewart Farrar’s six-parter, spun-off from the anthology series Shadows, takes as its basis Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, the 1139 tome which itself took elements from various sources to portray a wizard called Merlin Ambrosius living under the rule of King Vortigern.

The Boy MerlinAs its title suggests, The Boy Merlin gives us a younger Merlin (Ian Rowlands) who is living in Wales with his foster family: Dafydd (Donald Houston), Blodwyn (Margaret John), and Myfanwy (Rachel Thomas). Merlin’s mother is a princess who lives close-by in Vortigern’s castle, knowledge of the boy’s magical prowess (which is nurtered by Myfanwy) suspected by the royals and their servants.

As established in the original pilot, Merlin’s powers are still a little rough around the edges, his abilities resulting in concern from his family when they fear he may “out” himself to the authorities. As the series progresses Merlin learns new tricks, such as refilling empty cups with wine and making his foster mother invisible, but the threats he faces remain minor until towards the end of the run.

Rowland may not be the most natural of child actors but he does well with the straightforward scripts. In just six episodes there’s not enough evidence of the character’s development, but his confrontation with Grimbald (Derek Smith) in The Book of Magic, showed promise.

Rachel Thomas is the most enjoyable aspect of the series, her old granny character initially an irritant before it becomes clear that she’s wiser than all of those around her.

Budget was clearly something of an issue for the production team, much of the series filmed indoors, including the exteriors of Merlin’s home. For anyone used to dramas of the period this isn’t a major problem, but it can be jarring when actual exteriors make an appearance straight after an interior.

These six episodes suggest that an interesting world was being formed around Merlin, one which deserved further exploration. As it is we’re left with a fun little entry into the Merlin cottage industry, one which may not have generated its own magic in such a short run but which, with a little of Myfanwy’s assistance, could have gone on to bigger and better things.

The Boy Merlin is out now from Network DVD

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Mannequin Mania

In the sort of scheduling quirk rather befitting of a Time Lord, Jon Pertwee’s first Doctor Who adventure, Spearhead from Space, comes to DVD just a few weeks after his final story arrived on shiny disc, a chance to see how it all began for the dandiest of Doctors.

2entertain’s Mannequin Mania boxset bundles a special edition of Spearhead, previously released in a bare bones edition in 2001, with the following year’s Terror of the Autons, both stories featuring the Nestene Consciousness and the Autons while marking the debuts of various characters and a new look for the programme.

Having run for six years and already on its second incarnation of the Doctor in the shape of Patrick Troughton, things were looking grim for Doctor Who in 1969. With the threat of cancellation hanging over it at the end of The War Games, the decision to reboot the series and bring it down to Earth, quite literally, saw the start of a new era for a show which thrived on the ability to go anwhere and anywhen in space and time.

Mannequin ManiaCharged with taking Doctor Who into a new decade, with a new lead and in colour, veteran scriptwriter Robert Holmes crafted a classy slice of sci-fi in Spearhead, which echoed the BBC’s Quatermass serials in its opening moments as alien pods arrive on Earth, just at the Tardis materialises with a regenerated Doctor.

The Nestenes are planning a full invasion of the planet, using shop window mannequins as their army, headed up by authority figures such as General Scobie (Hamilton Dyce) and Channing (Hugh Burden). Still recovering from the regenerative process, the Doctor teams up with UNIT’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and new assistant, Liz Shaw (Caroline John), to fight his latest foe.

The Nestenes returned to open the next season in Terror of the Autons, a story also scripted by Robert Holmes which saw him also incorporating the introduction of the Master (Roger Delgado), Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Captain Yates (Richard Franklin).

Though the Nestenes were the main reason for concern in Spearhead from Space, here it’s the Master, a fellow rogue Time Lord, who is the real enemy of the world, and the Doctor. In Delgado, the series gained someone for whom the audience could almost feel sympathy, if not for his methods then for his determination and sheer style in carrying out his plans.

The Master has arrived on Earth with domination in mind, roping in the Nestenes and the Autons to do his bidding. Deadly daffodils, terrible toys and chilling chairs are all used by Holmes to depict the everyday nature of the Nestene threat, the terror present in the most suburban of situations rather than the usual laboratories and bases-under-siege.

As in Spearhead, the Doctor must contend with a new companion and opponent, plus another Earth invasion, Pertwee now comfortable in the skin of the time traveller who is firmly rooted in present-day England.

Under the leadership of Derrick Sherwin and Barry Letts, these two Third Doctor adventures are examples of Who at its very best. It helps that Robert Holmes is behind the typewriter for both tales, his ability to combine humour and drama one which would serve him, and the series, well for years to come.

Shot on film and on location, Spearhead has an extra sheen of quality which shines through on this new DVD. Confident and classy, it’s hard to believe that this is the same series that went off the screen the previous year seemingly on its last legs, something reflected in the ratings and the fact that Pertwee, Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks were allowed to collaborate for five seasons.

Terror is similarly excellent, a tale boosted by the appearance of Delgado and the ball of energy that is Katy Manning. The birth of the “UNIT family” is a joy to behold, the questionable nature of the Master’s scheme (should it really be so easy for the Doctor to change his foe’s mind when he’s already gone to such great lengths?) forgivable when the rest of the story is so much fun.


For this set the Restoration Team have pulled together an impressive selection of extras, offering those of us who bought Spearhead first time around a real reason to double dip.

The addition of a new commentary for Spearhead, Sherwin and Dicks providing a spikier discussion than those we’re used to from Terrance and Barry, offers a different view from the original commentary from Caroline John and Nick Courtney. The pair tell us little new but it’s interesting hearing it from the men who were there.

The two documentaries provide a fascinating overview of both the need for the series to change upon its 1970 return and on the move from black and white to colour, Sherwin’s honest opinions a highlight.

Over on the Terror disc, the commentary is provided by the late Letts and Courtney alongside Ms Manning. As usual, Letts is keen to point out the technical aspects while Manning has fun and Courtney comes along for the ride, their entertaining banter the result of years of friendship.

We’re spoiled by the inclusion of three documentaries, perhaps the best of which is Life on Earth, a comparison between the production process for Who in the 70s and in 2005’s revived version. Discussion about Delgado and the decision to use plastic as an enemy provide the focus for the other two featurettes.

Both stories also feature on-screen production notes, which are easy to take for granted but which provide incredible detail for both the long-term fan and newbie to the series. PDFs of Radio Times listings and features plus photo galleries are also part of the set, a wealth of information which add greatly to the overall package.

Stories ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Planet of the Spiders

It’s the end of an era for both viewers and Jon Pertwee in the latest Doctor Who DVD release, Planet of the Spiders taking the Third Doctor across the universe as he tries to right a wrong after his actions have great consequences for the Earth and his own mortality.

As the Doctor investigates ESP with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), at the same time as the disgraced Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) looks into strange goings on at a Buddhist meditation centre in deepest England, an artefact from the Time Lord’s past reappears: a blue Metebelis crystal first seen in The Green Death.

Planet of the SpidersThe crystal’s original owners, a group of deadly spiders from Metebelis III, have a plan to take over Earth by using mind control, forcing the Doctor and Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen) to travel to the planet with the intention of brokering peace between the spiders and humanity.

As with all good adventures, things don’t go quite according to plan, leaving fans to watch as time runs out for the Doctor as his eight legged foes.

Stuffed with car/Whomobile chases, fight sequences, alien planets, evil spiders and a dose of science vs religion, Planet of the Spiders is, at first glance, a fitting swan song for the dandiest of Doctors. While Spiders may not reach the dizzy heights of Peter Davison’s final story, it does give him a stronger farewell than poor old Colin Baker enjoyed.

Pertwee is on decent form throughout, even if the Doctor is beaten up, kidnapped or rendered comatose a little too often in a story that should have seen him firing on all cylinders.

The decision to return to the character of Mike Yates is a welcome one, showing some maturity for the series when it would have been easy to simply move on and forget. His redemption just about makes up for the treatment of the UNIT family, the Brigadier relegated to the sidelines too often and his military skills ignored.

Where the story falls down badly is in the depiction of the spiders and their Earth-bound lackeys, the eight legged foes never the most convincing of enemies. The idea of the spiders attaching themselves to the back of their victim is sound enough, but watching them in their lair or facing up to their rather hapless minions on Earth does show their limitations.

There’s also the iffy CSO, the system generating the scenery that sits behind many scenes. With actors’ hair frizzing and an odd depth-of-field to some shots, viewers would be forgiven for being distracted from the story itself.

While it may be hard to view Planet of the Spiders as a glorious celebration of the Third Doctor and his tenure, and one wonders what might have resulted from the planned Master vs Doctor finale that was scrapped following Roger Delgado’s death, this should still satisfy those who miss the frilly jacketed hero and his era.

It’s also worth saying that the episodes look quite stunning, restored and rejuvenated for the benefit of new fangled TV sets which show up the flaws so easily.

Thankfully the extras of this two disc set make up for any perceived failings of the actual story to give the Third Doctor a fitting send off.

First up we have the commentary, a banter-heavy affair featuring the late Barry Letts and Nicholas Courtney alongside Terrance Dicks, Elisabeth Sladen and Richard Franklin. There’s much love for the series, Pertwee and everyone involved, with Dicks providing much of the self-deprecating humour and Letts pointing out the flaws. The recent death of Courtney makes this all the more poignant and it’s good to hear him on form.

The main documentary is The Final Curtain, a look back at five years of mainly Earth-bound Who which saw a great many changes in the series, both in front of and behind the camera. With contributions from most of those who were there, including archive footage of Pertwee and Letts, it might lack some of the frankness now emerging from some other eras of the show, but perhaps that’s because it really was one big happy family.

John Kane Remembers features the actor who played Tommy recalling his time on the show, while Directing Who with Barry Letts does what it says on the tin, with Letts explaining some of the secrets of his trade. In addition, the ever-excellent on-screen production notes offer yet another take on the episodes.

With a second disc offering an unrestored Omnibus edition of the story (for completists only), this is another top-notch effort from the Restoration team, a loving tribute to one of the most important production teams Doctor Who has had.

Story ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★

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 ★★★★

An open letter to Jason Segel re: The Muppets

Dear Jason,

How are things over in Hollywood? Right about now you’re probably knee-deep in felt as your dream project, The Muppets, slowly comes to fruition. I’ve been reading the various casting rumours and potential plotlines that seem to leak from every corner of the internet, and it all seems to be shaping up nicely.

Knowing your love for the characters of Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of the gang – is it true you’ve always had Muppet pictures and figurines in your house? You’re a fanboy like the rest of us (except for the fangirls)! – you must be in your element and I’ve got high hopes that this won’t be another Muppets from Space.

There’s just one thing that’s worrying me. Well, me and the rest of the population of the United Kingdom. That’s the fact that while the film is being released in the USA on 23 November 2011 (happy Thanksgiving in advance), we won’t be seeing it on these shores until Friday 17 February 2012.

Now, I know that you know your Muppet history. You know that back in the mid-70s Jim Henson was having trouble getting his Muppets into a regular, weekly, TV slot on a US network. You also know that Henson ended up pitching the idea of The Muppet Show to UK TV impresario, Lew Grade, who agreed to produce the programme at Elstree Studios, just north of London, for worldwide distribution.

For five years, Henson’s gloriously bonkers world of talking frogs, bears, pigs and whatever Gonzo was, took the world by storm, with the second Muppet movie, The Great Muppet Caper, also filmed in the UK.

According to the brief blurb on IMDB, your film sees the Muppets team up to save their old theatre. The same one which was first built on a soundstage at Elstree back in the day. The one which was crafted by workers fuelled by British bacon butties and cups of tea as they stood proud for the national anthem and saluted the Queen every lunchtime. Maybe.

Since then the Muppets have left Blighty behind as their careers have peaked and troughed (that’s not a slight on Miss Piggy, by the way), TV specials, movies and online videos appearing sporadically as fans wait patiently for someone to recapture the magic of the Henson years and return them to their former glory.

With Walt Disney Pictures now the owners of the Muppets, we’re likely to get a big budget, well promoted picture with enough spin-off merchandise to fill each Disney Store a few times over. You’ll know all about that, and I’m sure children everywhere will be demanding Jason Segel action figures this Christmas.

Exciting times then. Well, exciting if you’re going to be in America on 23 November. As I mentioned above, here in the UK we have to wait for three months, as highlighted today by Muppet fansite, The Muppet Mindset. Even Germany, the Netherlands and France will see it before us and we all know where Doc Hopper got his ideas from…

Clearly something has gone wrong somewhere along the line. Does it really take three months to ship a print or digital copy of the film to the UK? Staggered release dates across different territories may be common practice, but sometimes there need to be exceptions.

As an example, the most recent Harry Potter film was released in the UK and the US on the same day, 19 November 2010, meaning it can be done if the property is seen to have value, and those pesky illegal downloaders are considered a problem.

You know that the Muppets aren’t just another brand name to be exploited by multinational organisations. OK, so Rowlf the Dog may have been created to promote dog food in the 1960s, but things have changed since then. Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo and the gang aren’t just bundles of felt. They’re bundles of felt with personalities and a global fan base waiting to welcome them back.

I’m not saying that just because The Muppet Show started here we have the right to watch the film on the same day as you. I’m not even saying that if it wasn’t for Lew Grade and a bundle of British bacon butties, you might not even be making your pet project right now.

However, I’ve read that your take on the Muppets will be “hilarious, fantastic, heart-wrenching, beautiful, nostalgic and remarkable”, and that’s admirable. So why wait so long to let the rest of us see that vision? We all suffered the bad times together (cough…Studio DC…cough) so why not let us share the good stuff as well?

If it makes a difference to your bosses, we’ll each go to our nearest burger chain and buy the relevant meal deal with free Animal glass on the day of release. Twice.

So, to wrap things up and let you get back to the set, can you perhaps have a word with those Disney execs who make the decisions? You managed to get a multi-million dollar movie into production starring a bunch of hand-operated puppets, so you’ve experience in achieving the unexpected. Ask them nicely to release your film around the world on the same date, or as near as possible to it.

Do this and you’ll make a nation proud of you. We’ll even make you a round of bacon rolls and a cup of tea when you come over to do the promotional work. The Queen may even salute you this time around.

Do it for Britain. Do it for yourself. Above all, do it for furry blue weirdos, talking vegetables and the next fan who buys all the merchandise and decides that in 20 years time he or she will bring back the Muppets in a movie, with a cameo from some old actor called Jason Segel.


Jonathan Melville

Remembering Stephen J Cannell

“So that’s it. Cue the end music. Roll the production logos. Bring up the final end card and we’re at: The End.” The final words in Stephen J Cannell’s last novel, The Prostitutes’ Ball

There’s been something missing on this blog for a while now, something I’ve been acutely aware of but which, thanks to time pressures, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do justice to: a tribute to TV producer Stephen J Cannell.

It was last September that the man who created/co-created/produced/wrote/directed series such as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, Hunter, The Greatest American Hero, Stingray, Wiseguy, The Commish and many, many more died at the age of 69.

I’ve noted before that one of my earliest TV memories is watching The Greatest American Hero at the age of five while in Brisbane, Australia. My family had emigrated there in 1982 for what would turn out to be a very short time (we didn’t see the year out Down Under), but certain things linger in the mind. Barbeques. School assemblies. Ralph Hinkley in the red jammies.

A combination of Joey Scarbury’s annoyingly brilliant music and some fast-paced action with a healthy dose of humour meant that to my mind it was televisual manna from heaven, far better than most of the cartoons being thrown my way. At least, I assume that was the thought process. After thirty years things get a little hazy.

A few years later, now back in Scotland, we had a weekly adventure for The A-Team on ITV to look forward too. These days I’m a big Doctor Who fan and I now realise that I was missing the good Doctor each Saturday on BBC1 as I waded through the adverts on The Other Side to see what Hannibal, Faceman, BA and Murdock were getting up to. But The A-Team was shiny and fresh and you could play with the toys in the garden or at being the characters at school. Nobody spoke about Doctor Who back then.

Since then I’ve stumbled across various US series that grabbed my attention and stuck in the mind, usually thanks to their wit and action scenes. Episodes of Hunter and Renegade, mostly only half-watched, screened late night while at school. James Garner in the Rockford Files on weekday afternoons while at university. Repeats of Riptide at 3am on weekends on Channel 5, again while at uni.

What I didn’t realise for a long time was that all of these programmes had something in common, namely Stephen J Cannell. Born in Los Angeles in 1941, Cannell may have had severe dyslexia but he graduated from the University of Oregon in 1964 with a degree in journalism.

It was in 1968 that Cannell sold his first TV script to Universal for the Robert Wagner series, To Catch a Thief. After a few years as a jobbing scriptwriter, Cannell rose through the ranks of TV to end up one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, running his own independent studio and bringing numerous hit series to our screens.

I spent some of Christmas 2010 watching the Archive of American Television’s excellent interview with Cannell, which takes around three hours to get through but which offers a fascinating look into the mind of the man and his dedication to the writing process.

I could go on for multiple blog posts about the skill behind Cannell’s work and the way he makes it all look so simple. He admitted that much of his action/adventure output was targeted at the average Joe who gets home after a hard days work and who wants to be entertained by his TV set. Cannell was happy with being part of mainstream and so were his viewers.

Interestingly, while my love of Cannell shows hasn’t wavered over the years, my own interest in the mainstream has. It’s dangerous to generalise about TV in 2011, but I’ll have a go anyway. While the odd piece of scripted television still comes along that has the power to entertain, excite, scare, chill or in some other way engage the audience, much of it is simplified to the point of being offensive.

A Cannell show may have been dumb fun, but it was never dumbed down. Cannell was happy to keep things looking simple on the surface, but there was usually something more going on beneath. Just watch one of his Rockford’s, where a plot may begin like a standard private eye show before spiralling off into something much odder and always unique.

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DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Mutants

The planet Solos in the 30th century is the location for The Mutants, 2entertain’s latest release from the Doctor Who back catalogue, which sees Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor arrive as the Solonians prepare for independence from Earth.

As regular Who viewers may have guessed, things don’t go quite according to plan as the Doctor and Jo (Katy Manning) land on Skybase with a message for its residents. The decision by the Marshal (Paul Whitsun-Jones) to oppose independence leads to the death of an Administrator (Geoffrey Palmer) and the blame being laid on Ky (Garrick Hagon).

The MutantsCan the Doctor prove Ky’s innocence? Will Jo help or hinder proceedings? Will there be a lot of running about as the story is drawn out to six episodes?

The answer to all of these questions takes time to unfold as The Mutants wends its way to a conclusion. An appearance by Geoffrey Palmer lends a touch of class, but the rest of the cast struggle to match him.

Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin add some depth to proceedings with their allusions to real-world situations, most notably their anti-apartheid stance and mentions of genocide. Not bad for Saturday tea time.

Helping bring the story to life are Christopher Barry’s direction and Jeremy Bear’s set design, the former allowing the latter to look suitably impressive throughout.

In many ways The Mutants is classic Doctor Who, with a moral to convey to the audience, the Doctor fighting for the little guy and enough debate on right and wrong to cover all bases. In saying that, it’s not quite a classic adventure, not as entertaining as it should be but worth sticking with for the long haul.

The extras on the two-disc set are some of the strongest seen in recent months, starting with a commentary from Katy Manning, Garrick Hagon, Christopher Barry, co-writer Bob Baker and more. With moderation by Nicholas Pegg, facts are teased out of the participants, even Manning toning things down once in a while.

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DVD Review: Machinegunner

Returning to a time when ITV invested in one-off TV films rather than padded out, multi-episode series or reality programmes, 1976’s Machinegunner is an oddity which it’s hard to believe will have a huge fan base but which should be welcomed.

The always-watchable Leonard Rossiter is Bristol-based Cyril Dugdale, a debt collector (or machinegunner in West Country parlance) and part-time detective who becomes embroiled in goings-on which, on the surface, appear to entirely unrelated.

MachinegunnerWhen he’s not trying to move residents from one part of the city to another, their dwellings required to ensure new properties can be built and the city regenerated, Dugdale is being employed by Felicity (Nina Baden Semper) to prove that a certain well-known individual is involved in sexual shenanigans of the extra-marital kind.

Being short of money and even shorter on opportunity, Dugdale accepts the job, just before he discovers that all is not what it seems. Colin Welland and Kate O’Mara also make appearances, the former adding some genuine menace to proceedings.

Scripted by veteran writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Machinegunner is suitably grotty around the edges, future Robin of Sherwood director Patrick Dromgoole giving us a Bristol which looks as brown and depressing as Birmingham did in 1975’s Gangsters. Fans of the latter will feel right at home here.

Rossiter’s portrayal of Dugdale isn’t too far removed from his career-defining turn as Rigsby in Rising Damp, the hands-on-hips pose of the latter employed at least once. He’s also magnetic as our “hero”, a cowardly, down-at-heel and perpetually bemused man whose life is unlikely to ever rise above average.

Baden Semper’s role is a substantial one, a strong black woman in a white man’s world, and it’s always fun to watch Dugdale’s fruitless attempts at seduction.

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