Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Omega Podcast, New E-mail, New Years Marathon & 2012. Oh my!

Please check out the Omega Podcast this week. You can download it here. Apart from normally being fun and informative, I was lucky enough to be on it this week. I talk with Wes about the return of the two missing episodes of Doctor Who and I also talk about this blog! We even have a chance to talk a little bit about a convention I am working on called Brit Con in Minnesota where we are bringing over Frazer Hines and Sarah Douglas! Please download the podcast. It was a ton of fun to do and hopefully I will be allowed back on it sometime soon!

Some other year end business to attend to....

I have now become upscale! If you would like to send me a note but not leave a comment, may I introduce you to our new e-mail address:

Sometimes when it is cold and you don't want to go out on a January 1st, you may sit down and watch some TV, I know I do. When I look at the schedule, January 1st is nothing but marathons of TV shows. This is generally a good thing but the problem is that these are shows I am not really interested in. So back in 2008, I thought it would be fun to apply my weekly randomness of chossing programs to watch something on a much larger scale. Now, I randomly choose a program for January 1st and watch it as a marathon. Now, don't get me wrong. If some plans were to come up, I would abandon this marathon idea but generally nothing is going on January 1st apart from a hangover and I thought this would be a fun way to sitdown and watch a good chunck of one series. Plus it gives me a good time to recover. Sometimes you gotta be careful of what you ask for especially if you see what I watched my first year. Here is the list of my marathons for the past few years.

2008 - As Time Goes By Series 1-3
2009 - The Thin Blue Line Complete Series
2010 - Family Guy Seasons 1-3
2011 - Dad's Army Series 1-3

This year, through the art of randomness, the program chosen was the 1968 Supermarionation series Joe 90. There are 31 episodes and I plan on watching them all. I do not plan on writing an article on the series as I feel that it may be too many episodes to give a decent overview to and there is always the possibility I will get bored and go out leaving Joe 90 to save the world without me. Do you have a New Years tradition of watching shows in your collection? If so, what is it? Did I mention I have a new e-mail you can send me a note on?

Don't forget there are some great shows coming on TV worth checking out:

Also, brand new Absolutely Fabulous  Job at 9:40pm on January 1st. Also, BBC America will show the first of the specials, Identity on January 8th at 9pm CST.. It is simply a wonderful episode!

If that isn't enough, new Sherlock A Scandal in Belgravia on January 1st at 8:10pm on BBC One.

Finally, my article for On the Buses will go up either Sunday night or Monday morning!

Here's to a great 2012!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Roper vs Roper: Christmassy George & Mildred

There once was a great series called Man About the House. It was about a man named Robin who lived with two women Chrissy and Jo (some guys have all the luck). In the house they lived were George and Mildred Roper. They were Robin’s, Chrissy’s and Jo’s landlords. When Man About the House came to an end, two series spun off from this show. One was Robin’s Nest and the other was about George and Mildred called, well, George & Mildred in 1976! Does this story sound slightly familiar? Do some of these names ring a bell? Well, Man About the House was remade over in the states as Three’s Company in 1977. When that series ended, Jack Tripper went on to star in Three’s a Crowd which lasted for 1 season in 1984. But back when Three’s Company was finishing up season 3 in 1979, Helen and Stanley Roper were given their own series called, The Ropers. This only lasted for one season while George & Mildred lasted for five but if you look at the episode count, The Ropers had 26 and the George & Mildred had 38. That’s something that took me a long time to get used to when I got into British television. A season (or series) in the UK had a run of between 6 and 12 episodes per season while in the US was on average 26.  The funny thing now is that most cable stations who make their own first run programs will run episodes at intervals of 8 – 13 episodes which is very similar to the UK model.
Just like Man About the House, this series is just fun. The word play between the characters is inventive and smart. Mildred is just like her US counterpart Helen, sex starved, wants constant attention and domineering. George is pretty close to Stanley. He’s a homebody who has no interest in anything Mildred has an interest in. Even though I make a sort of comparison between the Ropers of Three’s Company and the Ropers of George & Mildred, there really is no comparison. In my mind, they are both great. The actors from each series brings something unique to the part. For example, one of my all-time favourite character reactions in a TV series is whenever Stanley gets a zinger in on someone; he always turns to the camera and has this fantastic smile and holds it for a few seconds. I love, love it, love it!  This week I look at 2 episodes from George & Mildred and in keeping with the holiday spirits, one of them is Christmas themed. Can you guess which one, I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out…..or not.
The Mating Game TX 27.01.81
Mildred wants her dog Truffles to have puppies and thinks it is a good idea for Truffles to get to know Mildred’s sister’s Yorkie Pomeroy better so they can get it on…or however dogs do it. George isn’t that keen on the idea until he realizes he can get money for the puppies. Mildred’s sister and brother-in-law are very well off. Ethel is constantly looking down on Mildred and especially George. George is very common but clearly is someone who is pretty easy to get along with, if you like past his insanely selfish side, as he generally gets on with his brother-in-law Humphrey.
It’s funny how the concept of two dogs mating is so difficult for the characters to articulate. While Truffles and Pomeroy are getting it on in the back garden, George and Humphrey are nervously making small talk to pass the time and allow the dogs to have their privacy. This also makes way for good comedy as it leads to misunderstandings. While at the vet, the vet asks George how old the puppy is but he asks it as, “How old is she?” Of course, George looks at Mildred and says, “Oh I don’t know, she’s getting on a bit” turns to Mildred, “How old are you?” The vet needs to make a house call to the Ropers and I see he is wearing a tweed jacket, yellow vest and a hat just like Siegfried Farnon. Is this what vets would traditionally wear in the UK? I ask because I really don’t know! I find it very interesting.

The other characters of this series are the Ropers’s next door neighbours. They are the Fourmiles. There is Jeffrey, Ann and their son Tristram plus a little infant.  Generally, Jeffrey is constantly irritated by George for all the stupid things he does and always borrows Jeffrey’s things. This episode the Fourmiles don’t appear too much but their storyline revolves around smoking. Tristram is found smoking in the shed basically because he sees is father doing it. So, Jeffrey decides that he will quit. Of course, I need to mention the obligatory Doctor Who reference. After Tristram was caught, Jeffrey punishes Tristram with no TV for five days. Tristram then says, “Five days, then I can’t watch Doctor Who. You and I always watch Doctor Who together.” Then Tristram goes on to say that they are right in the middle of a story where Doctor Who is fighting some kind of monster. Jeffery pauses, realizes that if Tristram misses it, he will miss it to and says, “ Alright, no TV for four days!.” This was actually made in 1978, can you imagine being a kid and Tom Baker as Doctor Who! How cool! So, obviously The Mating Game is not the yuletide episode which means it must be…

On the Second Day of Christmas 27.12.78

Nobody wants to see George or Mildred on Christmas. No one stops by. Not even Ethel or Humphrey. Even Mildred’s mum is having a saucy party at her own place with other old people. Completely annoyed, George opens up Ethel and Humphrey’s gifts and starts to consume them. Lucky for them to kill the boredom, Ann from next door stops by and invites them over for a drink. Over at the Fourmiles, Tristram received the old video game system Pong for Christmas. Do you remember Pong, that very primitive system where you volley a ball back and forth on a screen and you try to stop your opponent scoring on you? Anyway, Tristram is just learning it and loses to his dad as the Ropers stop by. George challenges little Tristram to a game. George, who always loves a bet, asks Tristram to put 5p on the game. Just as Jeffrey comes back into the room, he sees that George has won and Tristram sadly hands over the 5p. It is a little sad to see George make Tristram pay up for losing the game on Christmas! Jeffrey decides to play against George on Pong to get Tristram’s money back  and to make it lively, they decide to put a pound on per game. Even though George easily won against Tristram, because Tristram wasn’t very good, now George is playing against Jeffrey who is a natural at this game. Jeffrey is simply killing him in the game. Jeffery doesn’t even have to watch the screen to beat George; he doesn’t even need to really play. George keeps scoring on himself he is so bad! Every time George loses, he challenges Jeffrey to another game, double or nothing. By the time they are done, George owes Jeffery somewhere in the region of over £140,000!
Before George can lose any more money, Mildred gets George back to their house because they see Ethel and Humphrey have arrived. It’s very awkward for George and Mildred since George drank and ate Ethel and Humphrey’s Christmas gifts! So the Ropers excuse themselves to the kitchen to find some gifts for the Ethel and Humphrey. While the Ropers are in the kitchen, Ethel is looking around the living room, eyeing the decorations. Decorations on one or two cards held up on string going from one side of the wall to another and she glances and some other knick knacks. She turns to Humphrey and says, “It’s all a bit Blue Peter isn’t it?” Very, very funny! George and Mildred return soon enough with Ethel’s and Humphrey’s gifts, items found in the kitchen, a block of cheese for Ethel and some oven mitts for Humphrey!

So does George owe Jeffrey money by the end of the episode? Once Jeffrey told Ann how much George owes him, Ann tells him he has to let George win or they will never be left alone because George will never stop coming over for re-matches! Finally, when George comes by to ask for another game, Jeffery suggests tossing a coin double or nothing for everything. Jeffrey tosses it and of course George picks the wrong side. So, Jeffrey suggests two out of three. This time George picks right and they are all happy, until George reminds him it’s two out of three. Jeffrey asks George  to pick heads or tails for the final flip, George not the brightest Christmas ornament on the tree says, heads……..and tails. How could you lose with that?

It’s another fun episode of the series. It is interesting how both episodes really do not have Mildred baring down too hard on George. Actually, in both episodes, Mildred is just as much caught up in the action as George. I think a big part of this is that George doesn’t have some kind of scheme going that is going to wind up Mildred. These episodes really miss out on George’s friend Jerry (played by Roy Kinnear) who is very unreliable and constantly screws over both George and Mildred. Just earlier in the series, Jerry install a shower in George and Mildred’s bathroom. It would work well if it wasn’t for the fact that the pipes were made in Korea and do not fit with any shower heads made in the UK or Europe for that matter! Both George and Mildred are very reactionary in these episodes. In The Mating Game, Mildred is almost too worried about truffles to focus on anything else. Even On The Second Day of Christmas, I would have thought she would have gotten all upset after George was dipping into her sister and brother-in-law’s gifts. At the very least that George owed Jeffery over £140,000. Maybe she mellowed with age?

I have to say though; I am really not a fan of the theme music or the opening title sequence for the show, at least from series 2 onwards. In the first series, the theme by Johnny Dankworth, was very lively almost jukebox like, maybe a bit of a vibe from the 1960s. The title sequence was also more designed, stylised and fun including a actual logo for the series. I think either series two or three, the theme music changed to the new version by Roger Webb. It is almost some sort of crappy soft porn sound music and the title sequence got less and less interesting. For these episodes, the titles were just a silhouette of George and Mildred with that awful music. There is no logo at all either, just some really bad superimposed credits. Why bother? For some reason, it really dampens the show for me. It’s such as slow and boring start to the series. Maybe if the original better version never existed then I wouldn’t have been so annoyed.
As for The Mating Game, maybe we should call it The Dating Game. On my viewing of episodes, I base things off of episode guides online and the order of how they appear on the DVD sets I have. Everywhere I look has The Mating Game right before On the Second Day of Christmas both part of series 4. Yet, Kaleidoscope lists On the Second Day of Christmas at the end of Series 3 and The Mating Game the series 5 opener in 1981. I know Kaleidoscope is correct because that is what they do; they are always right about British television. From what I am gathering is that production on the series stopped in 1979. There was some episodes held over but there was a break to make the George & Mildred feature film. There were plans to make more episodes of the series but Yootha Joyce who played Mildred died in 1980. The series came back for a very limited run of 3 episodes in 1981. An abrupt end to a fun series and two iconic characters. Now, I just looked at the inner sleeve of the DVD set and it says that The Mating Game aired on 21/12/78 and On the Second Day of Christmas was 27/12/78. I am confused. By no means do I write these articles as someone who is an expert. I like to take information and synthesize it to create a fuller picture but I am stumped on this. If anyone knows what the story is please feel free to chime in. Your knowledge is requested!
I watched these from the Network complete series DVDs. I was worried about perhaps too much DVNR applied to the episodes but they looked alright yet I thought On the Second Day of Christmas was a little overly compressed. It was almost immediately obvious. No work was done to the 2” masters as this is one of those series just lives on and on and no one ever thinks there needs to be work done to it. It is clear that these episodes may be a little too compressed on the discs. One true sign is slight shimmering around objects. This is very obvious on the lettering of the opening and closing credits.
Although maybe not the best authoring, I have heard previous releases of these episodes on DVD were even worse. I love this series and am just happy to have them!

I post articles a week after I view the episodes. So I have another week of Christmassy viewing to post even though we will be past Christmas , I just want to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday! Have a great day!

Next week: the last of the Christmas themed episodes for December and 2011 as I move from Thames Television to London Weekend Television, I look at two episodes of On the Buses. Christmas Duty and Boxing Day Social! These are two great Christmas themed episodes.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays from From the Archive!

As we head into Christmas I noticed this comment made on my article of the return of two missing episodes of Doctor Who. Written by the great Dave G, I don't think there is a better sentiment among  Doctor Who fans of what we would like for Christmas. So, from the quill of Da Vicar himself:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love better give to me...
12 Daleks Masterplanning
11 Highlanders Piping
10 Smugglers a-Smuggling
9 Terrors Reigning
8 Macras a-Terroring
7 Marcos a-Poloing
6 Daleks Powering (or Eviling, or both!)
Tenth Planet 4
4 Galaxies
3 Savages
2 Ice Warriors
And a Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve.

Happy Holidays!

Don't forget new Doctor Who is on the air Sunday with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe. This is on BBC One at 7pm UK time and on BBC America at 8pm CST.

Also, brand new Absolutely Fabulous Identity on BBC One Sunday at 10pm and on Job at 9:40pm on January 1st.

If that isn't enough, new Sherlock A Scandal in Belgravia on January 1st at 8:10pm on BBC One.

Finally, my article for George & Mildred will go up either Sunday night or Monday morning!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Elementary My Dear Santa Claus, It's Sherlock Holmes!

I always have time for Sherlock Holmes and luckily he exists in many different styles. If I want to see him fight Nazis during World War II, I’ll just take a look at some of the Basil Rathbone Universal films. If I want to see a really modern and very cool take on the character, I will look at the very stylish version created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock. If I want to see a very traditional telling of a Holmes’ story, I have a lot of choices. There are generally three versions of the character I watch when I want to watch a traditional Holmes’ story: Douglas Wilmer, Peter Cushing or Jeremy Brett. I know there are a variety of others who played the role and very well but these three are among my absolute favourites. Though for me, ultimately it will always be Jeremy Brett. The others feel like a great re-telling of the story, the Jeremy Brett Granada version of the series feels like I am entering into their world.
The Blue Carbuncle TX: 05/06/84
As I continue on going through series in December that have a Christmas theme to it, don’t be put off by the air date of this episode. It is certainly a Christmas episode. It may have aired originally in June of 1984; it was certainly still a very enjoyable in December of 2011.

This episode begins with two seemingly separate storylines. The first is about a jewel, The Blue Carbuncle, which is stolen from the hotel room of Countess of Morcar. The second one is the case Sherlock Holmes takes on which is a near random act of violence to an elderly man who ends up dropping a bowler hat and a goose he was going to cook at Christmas. Local commissionaire Peterson was on the scene when it happened and when he blew his whistle, everyone ran away including the old man. Holmes tells Peterson to go ahead and take the goose home but leave the hat. It is later that Peterson will return with some startling news.             
Meanwhile, as Countess of Morcar is devastated by the disappearance of the jewel an arrest is made of the plumber in the hotel doing work at the time of the robbery. John Horner who had a previous record is arrested for the disappearance of the jewel.  When Horner says he has no idea where the jewel is, a reward is set up for £1000 for its return.  Truly a king’s ransom.

Peterson returns to Holmes and Watson and produces a blue jewel that was inside the goose which was left behind in the street the previous night. Just reading about the theft of the jewel and the reward in the paper, Holmes knows the jewel he has is the Blue Carbuncle. Holmes holds on to the jewel from Peterson and he himself puts a notice in the paper trying to coax out the man who had the goose the previous night.

The next day, Holmes and Watson gets a visitor by the name of Henry Baker. Baker only bought the goose that night through a special program at his local where a little bit of money is put away all through the year and at the end of the year, they get a goose. It is clear that Baker has no idea about the jewel. He doesn’t ask for one and is quite satisfied just to get any goose for Christmas dinner. This sets Holmes in motion. He goes to the pub where Baker got the goose and is able to track down where the landlord got his geese from. This leads Holmes and Watson to Covent Garden where they meet a man named Breckinridge. Breckinridge is immediately angry at Holmes because Breckinridge is sick and tired of people coming up to him to ask where he got his geese from. Holmes tricks Breckinridge into giving him the information they need. It looks like for Holmes to get to the bottom of the case, he will need to go way out to Brixton.
Luckily this will not be necessary. Just as Holmes and Watson are about to leave Covent Garden, another man goes over to Breckinridge to ask about the geese. This is James Ryder. Holmes and Watson go over to Ryder and start to question him and eventually take him back to 221b Baker Street.  Back at Holmes’ house they get to the bottom of what had happened. Ryder and one other person, Catherine Cusack, were employed by the Countess of Morcar.  They stole the jewel and framed Henry Baker. Ryder, who knew the police were going to search the hotel the Countess was staying at, took the jewel to his sister’s place. His sister Maggie Oakshott raised geese for the holidays. Ryder made one of the geese swallow the jewel and later took that one. Little did he realize that he took the wrong one and was frantically searching for the right one ever since.
Ryder is nearly frantic himself for stealing the jewel. He regrets ever getting involved with the scheme and pleads to Holmes for forgiveness.  Because it was Christmas, Holmes was very kind and told Ryder to leave. Leave the continent and Holmes will not mention his name to the police. John Horner gets released from prison back to his family. Merry Christmas!

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in 1887 written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes’ first novel appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. The annual was printed between 1860 and 1898. The short stories detailing the cases of Sherlock Holmes appeared in Strand Magazine. Strand Magazine ran from 1891 through to 1950 running at 711 issues. It seemed like a long time to me because it overlapped between the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th but that is only 59 years. Time Magazine has been running for 88 years and is not showing signs of slowing down.

Although the Granada series are generally considered to be the most faithful adaptations of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, this episode has one piece that is a little different from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. In the episode, when Ryder flees the continent it appears that Holmes is going to keep the jewel and not give it back to the Countess. Instead he tells Watson that he will keep it for his museum. Not only does the Countess not get the jewel back but Peterson will be neglected of his reward! In the story, Holmes sends a note to the Countess alerting her that he has the missing jewel.
What I love about the Holmes stories is that for most of the stories, it is set during the Victorian era. This of course is referenced to Queen Victoria as head of the British Empire. This era began when she was crowned in 1837 until her death in 1901. Her reign is the longest in British history lasting for over 63 years. Recreating the Victorian era for these stories is one of the best things about this series. As I said at the top of this article, this series actually invites you into the world of December 1890 which is when this series is set. If you watch this series, pay close attention to the sound design. There is always some kind of background noise going on that sells the setting. A great example of this is when Holmes and Watson go out to Covent Garden to track down Breckinridge. Not only are there tons of extras acting not only as buyers and sellers but everyone is yelling something out. Their yelling to sell their goods, there are horses trotting down cobbled streets making wonderful sounds. I love those sound! My eyes get so excited by what it sees I have to re-watch scenes once in a while because there is so much happening. This is not by any means a criticism; I love watching this and picking up on new details I have not seen before. Even Baker Street was a full scale set which was constructed at Granada Studios in Quay Street Manchester. That’s more great detail!
This series succeeds on both sides of the camera. Starting off by adapting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work is a great start but bringing in John Hawkesworth is what gets my attention.  When I see something with John Hawkesworth’s name on it, I will make time to check it out. Hawkesworth, along with John Whitney re-worked Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh’s idea about a period comedy with 2 maids and turned it into Upstairs, Downstairs. He produced The Duchess of Duke Street and created and produced Danger UXB. To me, his name will always be connected to meticulous period drama detail and amazing script writing. The story is credited to Paul Finney but this is just a pen name. The original writer was asked for his name to be taken off the episode after he disagreed with some of the changes done at the draft script stage by Script Editor Michael Cox and John Hawkesworth. I don’t know who the original writer was on this episode.

Of course there is Jeremy Brett. Jeremy Brett is energy. When he is on screen, one cannot help but be drawn towards his performance. That said, I don’t think he steals the show. He almost competes with the character he is playing. The character of Holmes is so larger than life that it needs someone of Brett’s caliber to play him or else it is not worth even trying. The character is perfect at everything but is flawed in many ways. His perfection is what makes him flawed. His mind is brilliant but he has addictions. I suppose it’s a bit cliché to say that Brett and Holmes are similar. It is probably also old hat to say that Brett succumbed to playing Holmes and that playing Holmes took over Brett.
I saw some familiar faces in this episode. Rosalind Knight who played Countess Morcar, I’ve seen her in quite a bit of things including Carry on Nurse (1959), Mapp & Lucia (1986), Only Fools and Horses (1989). Brian Miller who played Inspector Bradstreet was married to the late Elisabeth Sladen. Frank Middlemass who played Henry Baker is probably best known for playing Rocky Hardcastle in As Time Goes By.

I watched these episodes from the boxset that first included the re-mastered prints. They look stunning. I can only imagine how good they will look in HD. This will be an inevitable Blu Ray release. I know that HD masters have been prepared for re-broadcast on some channels. The series was shot on 35mm film. I had a friend once tell me he had seen an episode shown in school when he was a kid from 16mm film. That would have been cool to see. Especially since this was an American school. For years, the film prints seen were not transferred well and were always faded. With telecine technology vastly improving and continuing to improve plus the film being transferred from the negatives, these episodes look great. I have the whole series and there are no extras. It would have been nice to see the inclusion of the mini episode which made up part of The Four Oaks Mystery which in itself formed part of ITV’s Telethon 92 broadcast. Also, I get really annoyed when companies feel the need to replace logos. Why can’t we enjoy the series completely as it looked at the time? The episodes are missing the blue opening/closing card for Granada and only has a replaced CGI created one at the end of the episode. That said it is small nuisance for a beautiful DVD set of one of the greatest detectives of all time.

Next week: comedy returns to Christmas as we look at two fun episodes of George & Mildred. Only one is an actual Christmas episode, we will watch The Mating Game & On the Second Day of Christmas.

Have a great week!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Missing episodes of Doctor Who found!

Breaking news from Missing Believed Wiped held today. Two episodes of Doctor Who returned: Galaxy 4: Airlock & The Underwater Menace: Episode 2. I have not heard any information yet on how these episodes have been found or the stories behind how they survived all these years.

UPDATED: 12/11/11 1:33pm CST

Do you want to see a minute of a clip from each episode?

Galaxy 4 go here
Underwater Menace go here

UPDATED: 12/11/11 12:08pm CST

Here is the official press release/article from the BBC:

Two classic episodes of Doctor Who - thought to be missing forever - have been returned to the BBC archive.
Episode 3 of the William Hartnell adventure "Galaxy 4" and Episode 2 of Patrick Troughton's "The Underwater Menace" were purchased by film collector Terry Burnett at a village fete near Southampton in the early 80s. He had been unaware that the canisters contained material missing from the BBC. Thanks to the kind loan by Mr Burnett, the classic footage has been shown today at the British Film Institute's annual "Missing Believed Wiped" event at the National Film Theatre in London. Host at the event was Doctor Who writer and actor Mark Gatiss who said: "Christmas has come early for Doctor Who fans everywhere. It's always wonderful when a missing episode turns up but it's been years since the last one so to have two is just brilliant. Add to that a proper bit of action from the legendary Chumblies (and the horrifying Rills!) plus the utterly mesmeric Patrick Troughton on great form. Well, what more could we all ask for?"
Over 100 episodes of Doctor Who from the 1960s still remain missing. The tapes were routinely wiped once the rights to repeat them had expired. It seems unfathomable to us today, but before the advent of DVDs and iPlayer, grainy black and white material was thought to no longer be of interest to the television audience. However, many film prints sold overseas have since been returned. These latest discoveries are the first complete episodes to have been located since 2004.
None of the four episodes of the 1965 adventure "Galaxy 4" were known to have survived, although a short extract had been retained. "The Underwater Menace" dating from 1967 is now the earliest surviving complete episode featuring Patrick Troughton's performance as the Second Doctor.  Research has shown that the returned episodes originated from the ABC channel in Australia. In fact, the copy of The Underwater Menace is still missing a few short sections which were removed by the Australian censors upon its original transmission Down Under. Fresh scans of the missing material have been made by the National Archives of Australia and will be incorporated into the restored episodes ahead of a DVD release.
Details of a commercial release will be announced by 2 entertain in 2012.

You can read it from their site here
Earlier today, forums became alive with rumours of episodes coming back including episodes from The Wheel in Space to The Space Pirates. What is interesting is that from the beginning, I heard the Galaxy 4 episode was definately one of them.

Rumours started this morning from all sorts of sources:

Rumour confirmation yet to come but for those who've not heard, two missing Classic #DoctorWho episodes have been found...

Clayton Hickman:
 "It's Rilly Drahvin me mad waiting for news of these 2 newly found Who episodes. I just Fish People would let us know. I Amdo excited! "
Christmas has come early! Today, in fact. Stand by
Expect a youtube report from me this evening on certain #DoctorWho rumours. At this point they sound decidedly fishy.

and then from the BBC itself:

@bbcdoctorwho Doctor Who Official
Christmas has come early for Doctor Who fans. Expect us to tweet some very - no REALLY exciting news in just a couple of hours' time.

Finally someone attending MBW:
The finding of Doctor Who episodes The Underwater Menace-2 and Galaxy 4-3 has been announced at Missing Believed Wiped at the NFT. Hurrah!

More info to come as I get it. Please check back.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Family Guy Christmas!

It is that time of year when I randomly pick anything to watch for this blog during December, it will be something to do with Christmas. Now although this blog is predominantly associated with British television, I break away from that this week to watch a Christmas themed episode of Family Guy. I was planning on watching two Christmas themed episodes of Family Guy but there is an issue with that which I will go into a little bit further down in this article.
A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas TX: December 21, 2001

I love episodes of TV series that have unnecessarily long names such as this one A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas. It’s not that I don’t like them; I just prefer not to type them.  The story is simple; everyone around Lois is either incompetent or selfish. She had put up with a lot from her family. Peter gives away all the family gifts to Toys for Toddlers instead of the one gift that was designated for them. Stewie doesn’t want to play baby Jesus at the nativity pageant. Brian nearly burns down the house after he sets a fire in the rarely seen living room fireplace. Though, it wasn’t Brian’s fault, he was all set to put out the fire with the fire extinguisher but unfortunately, it was the prank extinguisher Peter bought.
The whole time, Lois has been very forgiving. She is still blessed with the joy of Christmas. Even coming home, she is understanding and blessed that although her house is a mess from the fire, Brian is alright. This is until she snaps! Lois asks Meg for a paper towel to help clean up the mess and then goes into a rage when she is told there are no more paper towels. She violently leaves the house via the window. It takes the family tracking her down at town square where Peter knows that she wants to rip down the star at the top of the giant Christmas tree. Finally, to help coax Lois down from the tree,  Peter and the family start the pageant with Stewie as baby Jesus that Lois, all the way at the top of the screen, tears up in happiness. She doesn’t tear up quick enough to avoid being shot by a tranquilizer gun to get her down.  Everyone has a happy Christmas including Stewie who gets what he wants: plutonium. He made a deal with Santa to be nice to get what he wants.
It’s kind of weird for a show like Family Guy to have a Christmas episode. The characters are never that nice to each other. The Christmas episodes tend to have some kind of moment when selfish people realize that they are selfish and turn themselves around. Obviously, Family Guy is going to take that and put a twist on it. Yes, you have characters that realize that they are selfish. Peter knows right away why Lois had a nervous breakdown. Why it doesn’t happen to her in every episode is anyone’s guess! He knows he needs to bring her back and make everything alright. The twist? Though he means well, she still gets shot by the tranquilizer gun, slides down the tree and is a mindless babbling mess for the rest of the episode. Even Stewie changes his tune. He absolutely did not want to play baby Jesus in the pageant but decides to change his mind and do what Lois wants. Why? He made a deal with Santa (a mall Santa) to be nice in the hopes of getting his plutonium. He believes the words to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is actually a real warning that people should heed:
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why

He believes Santa may be watching him from an ornament on the tree. It is interesting to me that in this episode Lois has to almost force Peter to hang out with Joe, Peter’s handicapped next door neighbor. As the series goes on, Joe is one of Peter’s closest friends but here, he want hardly anything to do with him. In earlier episodes they seem like friends, it is a very interesting dynamic to the episode. Makes me wonder if this was written or even produced earlier before they decided Joe was going to be a close friend? To be honest, I don’t remember when Joe became part of the group so I may be talking complete crap. They may have been best friends from episode 2 onwards but I don’t remember.
There are some nice little pieces to this episode. My favorite is the little bits and pieces on different TV sets Peter watches throughout this episode which was the holiday special KISS Saves Santa. Obviously a take-off from KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, this episode has all four members of KISS doing voice over guess appearances. It is stuff like that I love and this is where Family Guy excels. If you are able to get most of the pop culture references, this series is great. It is clear that Seth MacFarlane and everyone who works on the series loves that sort of thing and they are great at weaving that into the episodes. It makes me wonder what they are going to do with The Flintstones.

From Wikipedia, because I find this interesting, here are all the cuts made when the episode was shown in syndication:
The line "I'm the virgin Mary; that's my story and I'm sticking to it" to "I'm the virgin Mary".
The reflection of Stewie's buttocks on the ornament.

The line the boy in the trailer park remarks about the VCR being named "Sony".
Brian's statement after shooting the snakes out of the novelty fire extinguisher.

This episode is found on the Volume Two Disc 2 set and because these episodes are so short, I decided to treat myself to watching all the episodes on the disc. Watching these episodes are bight size morsels of joy. They are always funny and never disappoint. These episodes are the last few before the show was cancelled in 2002. I know a few friends who loves Family Guy but refuses to watch any episodes of the series that were made before the cancellation. If it is post 2005 for them, no problem. I can kind of see that as I am a huge fan of The Simpsons yet I deplore the first season. If I can avoid it, I will not watch any episodes from that season. I think those episodes are crude and are so far off the mark from where they ended up that watching them are embarrassing. Though, I think this is different with Family Guy. Family Guy got itself settled almost from the start. This is especially true with the batch of episodes I watched. If anything, Peter is slightly (and I mean slightly) more father-like. I don’t think I watched a single episode where Peter farted in Meg’s face. Some were really funny but one that I think stood out for me was Emission Impossible. Peter and Lois want to have another baby and Stewie will go out of his way to stop it. What I love about Stewie is all of the technology he builds but he is still a child and always needs the help of Lois. In the episode he builds this ship that can shrink itself down small enough where he can enter Peter (that’s right) to get to his testicles to destroy all of his sperm, thus stopping him from impregnating Lois. There he meets his future nemesis, Bertram. Bertram is virtually the same as Stewie. He is brilliant like Stewie. They have a great fight sequence. Finally, Stewie realizes that Bertram, if conceived and born, could be beneficial in Stewie’s life because they share a hatred for Lois. The best part of the episode is that the voice of the computer on Stewie’s ship is Majel Barrett. Magel was the voice of all the Federation ships in the Star Trek films and Star Trek: The Next Generation. She has been gone for three years and she is sadly missed.

Earlier in this article, I said I was planning on watching two Christmas themed episodes. Not only A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas but I was hoping to watch the 2010 episode Road to the North Pole. This was a 60 minute episode and it is commercially available to buy so what is my problem? The problem is that this episode was transmitted in HD and the only thing available is a DVD of that first part of the season. I could go to iTunes and purchase the HD version of the episode but I don’t want that. I am old fashioned and like to physically own this media. The two Star Wars parodies, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side and It’s a Trap! were both made in HD and released on Blu Ray. Why is this newest set, Volume Nine, not on Blu Ray? Is it perhaps because the episodes that are on the set are a mix of SD and HD material? To me, that is no reason. The Simpsons Season 20 Blu Ray set included SD episodes on the HD set. They up res the episodes to be on Blu Ray and they look fine. Well, maybe that is because The Simpsons are released by a different company than Family Guy? No, they are both released by FOX so that is not a reason for decision either. Has anyone heard the reason for this?
Please release HD Family Guy episodes in HD!
I have a personal rule for myself when buying DVD or Blu Ray. If something is made in SD, I am OK with picking it up on DVD. It still looks good on my HD set. Especially most of the British television I have is shot on SD video from the 1970s and 1980s. It won’t look that much better on Blu Ray. But, if a series was made in HD, I want to buy it on Blu Ray. It’s not like Family Guy isn’t popular and would make money. It makes me wonder if they are planning to release it twice. Regardless, I only plan on buying it once. Sadly, it looks like I won’t be buying any further volumes of Family Guy until they change their mind on their release policy.

Next week: Going back to British television in our Christmas month. To me, celebrating Christmas always conjures up images of Victorian London and that is exactly where we are going next week. We will take a look at The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett. We will be looking at The Blue Carbuncle.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Classic Nigel Kneale: Beasts - During Barty's Party

I have written before about how I have thought some of Nigel Kneale’s work is sometimes hit or miss. I think I was badly burned when I last watched Beasts and I looked at the episode Buddyboy. There were so many components to that story that were so polar opposite of each other, it was really difficult for me to enjoy it or understand how it should fit together. I thought it was such a stretch. That was last year and now I am back to take a look at the Beasts episode, During Barty’s Party. This was such an enjoyable viewing experience for me. There is so much to like about this episode and to me, classic Nigel Kneale. I will explain exactly what I mean by that statement later in this article.

During Barty’s Party TX: 23/10/76
On Wikipedia the description for this episode in their Beasts episode guide is simply, “a middle-class couple's life becomes overturned by rats.” Although technically it’s true you could also say the description for the 1939 MGM classic, The Wizard of Oz is about a girl who gets hit in the head and has a strange dream. My point is this:  just like The Wizard of Oz, During Barty’s Party is something really special.

The episode starts out on a shot of a yellow car with its door open. Then the screaming begins. So much so that it wakes up Angie Truscott from a mid-afternoon nap or was she dreaming about screaming? There is something wrong with her. Angie is extremely nervous. Something has happened to her in the past though we never know what it is. She doesn’t like to be alone and it appears her condition is getting worse. Her husband Roger comes home for the day from work. They are both middle-aged and live in a nice suburban house. Almost immediately when he gets home, Angie alerts him to the fact that they have a rat. A rat is chipping away underneath the floor boards.
It is clear that Roger has needed to be patient for a while with whatever was happening to Angie. It is not that Angie is annoying or unreasonable; I think it is more to do with Roger being such an overly-rational person that he just does not have the patience for that type of illness because he doesn’t understand it. Angie tells him about her day and how she did go out for a while. She also tells him about her nap she took and woke up to hearing screaming.

Roger is not spooked about rats the way that Angie is and handles it like a “man”. He’s going to show the rat who is the boss in the house! The episode takes an interesting turn when Roger gets a phone call from Peter Newell. Peter is a business associate with Roger. Angie can hear the phone call when Peter tells Roger about reports of a large pack of rats in Angie and Roger’s area. Apparently they are roaming around and people are being told to stay out of the rat’s way.  Freaked out, Angie puts on the radio and a popular show is on called Barty’s Party. It becomes clear that there is more than one rat under the floor, in fact a few of them. Even Roger is starting to get a little freaked.

I think what is interesting about this episode is that the roles become reversed between Angie and Roger. In the beginning Roger is the one speaking common sense about the situation. He knows that rats are not going to roam on open roads in public and whatever is happening to the Truscott’s is Angie’s imagination. Clearly it is just a small rat problem, right?  As the episode progresses, the Truscott’s hear more reports on Barty’s Party about other people who have seen these rats and all of the sightings have been right by where the Truscott’s live. Although Angie is terrified of basically everything through the episode, it is her that starts to realize what is happening. She believes these rats are super intelligent rats. Angie demonstrates it by making noises on one part of the floor where the rats follow the sound to that area and begin gnawing away but then she makes noises on another area and you can hear them run over to where she is making noise and they start on that area. It is clear that these rats are not content to do anything but get to them. The more Angie pieces the evidence together, the more Roger loses it. The moment, for me, where Roger has become as frightened as Angie is when Angie calls into Barty’s Party. She gives them her name and they put her on the air with Barty. At first he doesn’t believe her but as she tells him what is going on, her terrified voice is enough to get Barty to believe her. As he asks her for her address on the air to get police over to them to help, the phone service goes out. The rats chewed through the phone wires! Angie and Roger are horrified but luckily Barty says on the air that even though she is cut off they will get police to figure out where she is because they have her name and can find her: Angie Prescott. Her name is actually Truscott. Barty got it wrong and they will never find them.
Throughout the episode, the sounds of rats get increasingly louder and suddenly I realized that the sound of the rats is over powering. Just as Angie and Roger are about to try and escape, their neighbors the Gibson’s come home. We never see them; this all happens from outside of the Truscott house. As Angie and Roger speak with them from their window, they have a moment of happiness thinking that everything was alright. Perhaps their imagination is getting the better of them plus the sounds of the rats are gone.  Suddenly, we hear the sounds of rats attacking the Gibson family. All of them and killing them all. Ultimately, Angie and Roger hear the rats come back and finally we hear the rats attacking the Truscotts.

Beasts is an interesting premise for a TV series but was one that Kneale was always fascinated with exploring. In the DVD notes for this series Andy Murray says this premise is “civilized man in conflict with the primal, animal side of existence”. This works extremely well in During Party’s Party. I think why it works so well is that it is a very straight forward story. It is exactly what the Wikipedia entry I listed above says except how the story is executed is what makes this piece very noteworthy.

I also said this is classic Nigel Kneale. I don’t mean that in terms of necessarily a specific style. This whole episode succeeds based on the two actors we see on screen, Elizabeth Sellars and Anthony Bate, making everything believable. The whole episode is about a massive rat infestation yet we do not see one rat on screen. The whole thing is done based great sound effects and the acting of the two characters. To me, I think this is very similar to what Kneale had to write in the very early days of television. I even note it in my article for episodes Five and Six of Quatermass II. It was a live production and the stuff that would be visually difficult to do in a live low budget setting was done off screen and it was up to the actors to convey the threat on screen. Here we have the very same situation. Things we see off screen are the deaths of the Gibson family. It is horrible but we never see it. We only see the Truscott’s reaction to this. The closest thing we see to a rat is the scene where they are chopping their way through the back door. It almost looks like teeth chomping through but it isn’t; it adds to the frenzy the episode reached. I think the creepiest visual for me is the car at the beginning of the episode. We only see it in the first shot yet Angie looks out the window and talks about it a few times. She mentions how it hadn’t moved the entire day and now it is night. While looking out the window she mentions the moonlight shining off it and she still see the car door just hanging open.  Maybe it is creepy for me because I knew those screams were not something Angie dreamed about at the beginning of the episode. Plus there is something creepy about something that looks normal but you know it isn’t.
This is the second time I had seen this episode and I really enjoyed it more the second time through. The first time I had no idea what the episode was about and wasn’t sure if I was going to see one of those episodes where maybe the husband or the wife was going to go mad and murder the other spouse. I had no idea it would be about rats. Although it takes it’s time to build itself up, the episode moves really quickly. I thought I was only about five minutes into it but when I looked at the clock, twenty-five minute had passed. As I mentioned above, although Angie is terrified of so much throughout the episode she is the one who pulls her and Roger together to actually try and escape from the house. When the problem seemed to be just one rat in the house, Roger was very much in control and was losing patience with his wife for overreacting. Once he realized that Angie was right about the rats, he crumbles into hysteria. Angie tries to get them to leave but he is too frightened to even move. The last shot of the episode the empty room with only the sounds of the rats and the Truscotts screaming in the background.

If you are good at recognizing voice (or good at reading closing credits) you will notice that the voice of Peter Newell is John Rhys Davies. Of course, Davies has gone on to have a tremendous film career being in some of the Indiana Jones films, the James Bond film The Living Daylights and the TV series Sliders plus so much more. The episodes on the DVD set must be presented in production order although I do not see it listed as such anywhere. For years I thought During Barty’s Party was the last episode of the series but according to other sources such as the Kaleidoscope ITV Drama Guide, it is listed as the first episode. Those transmission dates are from the HTV West Region broadcasts but I think it was similar in most areas. It’s too bad because I think this would be an amazing way to end to a great series. Then again, it is also a chilling and strong start to a new series too. I guess it works either way.
Of course I have a strange fascination with production slates. As I have said before, Network DVD always did it the best when they used to include the slates before each episode on their DVDs. Sadly it’s a feature they no longer do. That said, for those who care, here is the slate:

Next week: As I move into the Christmas season, I devote all of the programs I watch during December to Christmas themed episodes. I really do not collect American television but I am a big fan of animation. I will look at episodes of Family Guy next week. In particular I will write about A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas but also go on a rant about their strategy of releasing DVDs.