Saturday, April 27, 2013

These Are The Boys: The Final Two Episodes of Dad's Army

Sometimes it may appear like I have only 3 or so TV series in my collection. At least that is how it may look when scrolling through the series I have wrote about in this blog.  It can sometimes be embarrassing because I may randomly watch something and then I pick that series again a couple of months later. For me that’s fine because I rarely have the chance to watch what I love because I am watching so much for reviews or doing other things. So when I do pick something familiar it’s like seeing an old friend.

This is what I get when I pick Dad’s Army. I had recently taken a look at this series back in early February. Since it has been a while, I will give a refresher about this blog. Apart from when I write reviews, everything I write about for this blog has been randomly chosen. I am not picking what I watch but I am randomly picking from my collection of British television series then write about it. So, I randomly picked Dad’s Army in February and now I have randomly picked it again. Even the episodes within the series are randomly chosen. For example, when I watched it in February, I randomly chose episodes from the first series and when I picked it this time, I randomly picked something from the last series. You may be asking why do I choose this way? My philosophy is that I know myself too well. I have some very strong favourite episodes of series that I would go back to again and again. I would never watch anything else. By randomly picking what I watch to write about, it ensures that I watch something that I may like but not love for example something like As Time Goes By.
The last time I took any Dad’s Army DVDs off the shelf and watched anything was when I wrote that article in February. I remember being very impressed with the series and spoke about how poignant everything was in terms of how well the platoon wanted to help the war cause. Here we jump to the final two episodes of the last series. This is nine years later. Most of these men were old when the series started, how would things progress for the last two episodes of this iconic series?

Number Engaged 6/11/77
Much to the chagrin of Captain Mainwaring, too many people know about a top secret set of phone lines that are to be put into use if the German’s invade. It is so secret that the military is guarding it 24 hours a day.  The Home Guard has been ordered to relieve the military already out there and keep watch on it.

Of course nothing goes according to plan. The road that the platoon needs to take to get out to the area is under construction which forces them to drive over some odd terrain. When they get to the location they are late. The first thing Frazer does it make sure the porridge gets started for breakfast for the following day. He gives this duty to Pike and tells him how to make it. The recipe is one jug of water and one mug of oatmeal for everyone on the platoon. Everyone goes to sleep for the evening with Pike and Jones staying up to keep guard and keep an eye on the porridge.
During the night an air raid occurs but no bombs seem to fall in their area so there doesn’t seem to be much to panic about for once. The next day the platoon is eating their porridge but realizes that it’s a little too thick. That is because Pike didn’t fallow Frazer’s recipe and instead did one mug of water and one jug oatmeal for each person making way too much porridge and making it super thick. So, at this super-secret location where these telephone wires are located, the Vicar and the Verger show up to give a prayer service to the platoon. ARP Warden Hodges drives them out to give the service. As the Vicar starts saying the prayers, everyone in front of him notices that up in the air, tangled in the phone lines is a bomb. It was dropped the previous night and got caught on the wires. At this point Mainwaring decides that something must be done to get the bomb down without it exploding and without it causing any damage them or the phone lines.

This is where the episode becomes a sort of run around of gags that are not overly funny. This sort of becomes a Tex Avery cartoon where the dog has a goal he needs to accomplish and tries many different things to get it accomplished but each attempt blows up (sometimes literally) in his face. Basically for the remainder of the episode, the platoon tries to find various ways of getting the bomb off the telephone wires. This includes Mainwaring trying to climb the pole with horrible results, everyone stacking furniture from a passing furniture truck so Pike can attempt to climb up the rickety furniture only for it to collapse and him toppling into a bale of hay. Then Jones has a go of it. There is a nearby crane that lifts him in a bucket to the top of the pole. From there here climbs onto the pole and shimmies to the bomb where he retrieves it. As he tries to get down, he drops the bomb but luckily, it lands in the super thick porridge.
Even though I own all of the Dad’s Army DVD sets, I do not recall ever seeing this episode before. My last look at this series was those episodes from Series One; sadly this episode came as a bit of a shock. Everyone looked tired. Arthur Lowe as Mainwaring did not have the right coloured hair or mustache. It was too light and he even looked tired. The pacing of the episode was generally slow and not very good. I forgot about poor John Le Mesurier. He had some kind of illness and was very gaunt throughout Series 9. It looked like it was worse for him while they shot on location because in studio he looked better. Location filming on the series always took place prior to going into studio.The overall story did nothing for me. Now, from what I remember about Series 9 is that whole series was hit and miss. It starts taking the series in odd directions like in Knights of Madness and The Miser’s Hoard. One moment does stick out for me which I thought was pretty funny. When everyone is asleep, only Mainwaring and Wilson have a bed and it’s a bunk bed. Wilson has the bottom bunk while Mainwaring has the top. Throughout the night, the top bunk keeps sliding down so by the time Mainwaring is woken up, he is basically shaped like a U and nearly sitting on Wilson.

Never Too Old 13/11/77
“Does she love me for myself or does she love me for my meat?” Jack Jones the Butcher

After nine series and two specials plus a feature film Dad’s Army comes to an end. This was the series the BBC were originally a little nervous about making because they had wondered if it were too soon after the war to send it up. What Dad’s Army did was never send up the war. It never made fun of the people who died or the sacrifices that were made. It’s true that this series was not the one I reviewed back in February from Series One but the heart was still there and for the first time in a while, it really came out in this final episode.
Corporal Jones is a little giddy. He has asked his love Mrs. Fox for her hand in marriage. The thing about Corporal Jones is that he is sweet. Even when he is angry, he is a sweet gentle man. There is something enduring about all of the characters from this series but Jones is one of my favourites. If there is anything that can make him happy, I’m all for it. The good news is the Mrs. Fox has said yes! Yet, there is still a problem for Mrs. Fox.

Mrs. Fox has no one to give her away. She invites Captain Mainwaring over to ask him if he could give her away at her wedding. He really doesn’t know what to expect when he shows up. She is not completely dressed yet and when he sits down he accidentally grabs one of her bras which he hides in his bowler hat as everyone else comes over to celebrate. One of the great unsung comedy duos of the series and perhaps among any of the British television series is Pike and Mainwaring. Pike is always doing something that slips up Mainwaring or ruining something he owns. They are a great double act. It is a treat to see this again in this final episode. When Pike comes in, he sits next Mainwaring and then proceeds to sit on his bowler hat. An agitated Mainwaring grabs it from Pike but also to ensure that no one sees he has Mrs. Fox’s bra in there. Just with some of Pike’s hand movements he crumples up the hat again this time grabbing it and realizes there is a bra in there! Mrs. Fox has everything planned out. Mainwaring will give her away, Mrs. Pike will be the Matron of Honour while Wilson will be the best man to Jones. Mrs. Fox has another great idea, she thinks all the soldiers should wear their uniform at which point Corporal Jones thinks they should also wear their medals. Mainwaring thinks is a horrible idea, of course that is because he has no medals! I know that is meant to be funny but it’s kind of sad at the same time. Mainwaring always means well even if he can be a bit pompous yet everyone always seems to one up him.

In the church hall, everyone gets ready for the ceremony. Everyone (who has them) shows up in their military medals. This is where we learn something about Sgt. Wilson. In the First World War, he was a Captain, just like Mainwaring is now. Mainwaring is a little surprised by this but mentions to the always even keel Wilson, “It makes no difference.” As Mainwaring and Mrs. Fox walks through the door to get to the church they both get stuck and sit there for a couple of seconds trying to maneuver through to get to the church. It’s such a small insignificant moment but it is one of my favourites of the entire series. This was added by Pamela Cundell and Arthur Lowe while in rehearsal as it really happened to them in it. Pamela said that the two laughed but Arthur Lowe said that since no one saw them do it they should not to tell anyone about it and do it again for the actual recording. It is a wonderful moment.

After the two are married, the Home Guard is put on alert as the German invasion may happen at any moment. This is very much one of those great moments that we would see in Series One and Two where the platoon snaps to a serious mode as the threat of invasion is upon them. Out on watch, there is a sweet moment as Mrs. Fox….I mean Mrs. Jones visits her new husband. After she leaves the rest of the Home Guard come to visit Jones and Pike who are on duty. Hodges shows up and is really rude to them about how they are no good and Hitler’s men can walk right over them. Even for Hodges this was a little extreme. After he leaves, Mainwaring tells the platoon not to worry, there are thousands of Home Guard soldiers all around England (and Scotland as Frazer butts in). To that, they all look into the camera and give a toast to the Home Guard. Thus ending one of the best remembered British television series of all time.
It seems like everything that was wrong in Number Engaged was corrected for Never Too Old. Everyone gave their all for the final episode. It’s so bizarre but as the episode was ending, I felt empty in my stomach, like I was about to say farewell to some old friends. I was dreading the end of the final episode, the final episode that aired almost 36 years ago. It’s amazing how it still had an impact.

In my article from last May about Memorable Final Episodes, I said that final episodes fall into a couple of categories: death, weddings, meeting a goal, cast dispersal, and storylines that involve dreams. This certainly falls into the wedding category but I find it interesting that the series didn’t end with the end of the war. Maybe that would have been too twee and this was more fitting with the style of the series.
There is a lot to love in this episode and it doesn’t feel like something from Series Nine. This is an excellent episode. There is a great moment when Wilson toasts the Matron of Honour who is Mrs. Pike. Of course, Mrs. Pike and Wilson are involved so that was a nice moment. Early on in the episode, Frazer speaks about when he was in love with a woman named Jesse. John Laurie really exercises his skills of being very dramatic at this moment. This is to the point where the audience is not sure what is going on:

Frazer: Aye man, she was a fine lassie. She had long, sturdy legs and she loved to tread the path, by the high cliff with the night wind blowing through her threses. (serious look) One night... she ne'er come back. It seemed she was blown over the cliff... carried out to sea. Every night I stood on that very cliff and shouted... "Jesse!... Jesse!... will ye no come back to me.". But the wind just blew the words back in my face! They mocked me... mocked me ye hear! Many years after I received a letter... It err... I was sure that it contained news of her. My fingers shook as I opened it. (pulls piece of paper out of top right hand side pocket). Aye son, I still carry it here, next to my heart.
Pike: Your hearts on the other side.

Frazer: (reading) "Dear James, I shall always love ye. I still wear ye ring. I'm in Singapore and I want ti come home and be wed. Please send forty pounds. Yours forever, Jesse."
Pike: Did you send it Mr Frazer?

Frazer: Away we ye boy, do you think I'm made of money?!
Dad’s Army was not just a comedy. It is an institution. It will always be remembered for many things but it is part of the British heritage. These characters are immortal even if the actors are not. Just like M*A*S*H, there was a follow up series to Dad’s Army. It was a radio series called It Sticks Out Half A Mile. The premise set the series in 1948. A retired Mainwaring is in a seaside city of Frambourne-on-Sea where he wants to renovate a pier. He goes to his local bank to get a loan only to find the bank manager to be Arthur Wilson.

The pilot episode was the only episode of the series recorded with Arthur Lowe and it was the last thing he ever recorded. Arthur Lowe passed away in 1982. The BBC decided not to run the Pilot episode and re-recorded the pilot and a whole set of episodes with Bill Pertwee as Bert Hodges taking Lowe’s place. What was unfortunate was that the original pilot was wiped as well as some other episode of this radio series. It wasn’t until years later, episodes were returned. In fact, the only person who kept a copy of the un-aired pilot was the writer/producer Harold Snoad. If it wasn’t for him, this wonderfully important piece would have been gone forever.  Below is an excerpt from the Pilot. It’s is wonderful at the Le Mesurier and Lowe are together again for one more episode but do to Lowe’s illness, his speech is very slurred and it is very obvious from this excerpt.

As for Dad’s Army, its legacy endures. It’s not strictly about the writing and the stories but the actors who gave life to these characters. It was the writers who soon learned about the idiosyncrasies of these actors so they could put that into the characters. The actors/characters lines of separation became very blurred towards the end. Jimmy Perry has said that the Home Guard helping to defend England was Britain’s finest hour. In so many ways, Dad’s Army was the BBC’s finest hour.
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Next week: Peter Cushing has played many amazing characters but how about his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes? I am going to take a look at the fourth episode of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet.
Have a great week!

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

50WHO: Multi-Coloured Doc Shop

This is the fourth part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

There are some things I will always pay attention to in Doctor Who. One of those things is if the Cybermen appear in the series. I love the Cybermen. More so I love the look of them. There is not one version of the Cybermen I do not love. The second story of the Sixth Doctor era was a welcome breath of fresh-air. When I saw this, the week previous I had seen The Twin Dilemma. I say the week previous because in my neck of the woods in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, stories were shown as movie versions once a week. For me The Twin Dilemma was unfortunate….
I do wonder how different things would have been if the Colin Baker era had started with Season 22 opposed to his first story being the last story of Season 21. I don’t think there is anything wrong with starting off a new era of a Doctor with a bold, brash interpretation of the role. Each Doctor is very different from the previous one, well that’s the theory. When I watched The Caves of Androzani for the first time, it was a real interesting experience for me. I was young and not into reading the magazines; I didn’t even know they existed. I had no idea that Peter Davison was leaving the series. That was a massive shock for me at the end of the story. I was a massive fan of Davison’s Doctor. I was interested in seeing where the story between him and Peri would go. I remember being shocked at the beginning of The Caves of Androzani because so much had changed for me. The last story I watched was Resurrection of the Daleks. At the end of that Tegan left which was a shock for me too but then I missed watching Planet of Fire because I was at a wedding. In fact that was the second story of the first run of Season 21 I missed and I was one unhappy child. So when The Caves of Androzani began, I was really surprised that there was no Turlough but this new companion Peri had taken his place. Everything about the story seemed different; it was like nothing I had ever seen on Doctor Who before at that point. The Doctor heroically gives his life to save his young companion. Even as a young boy the impact of this gesture was heartfelt. Then the Doctor regenerates.  I didn’t know it was going to happen and after he regenerates and sits up, I thought at first it was still Davison but with a perm. I honestly thought this was a way to introduce a new hair style for Davison! Of course then it set in this was a different actor as he started to insult Peri immediately. In the UK after Part Four of The Caves of Androzani came Part One of The Twin Dilemma. For us in the US, The Caves of Androzani effectively ended Season 21 and The Twin Dilemma was held over for Season 22 or more accurately put the Colin Baker syndication package through Lionheart.

The Twin Dilemma is an uncomfortable experience for me. The stuff with Mestor and the Gastropods are fine. I think they look fine. I wasn’t aware at that time that historically last stories of a season may have a lot less money available than other stories. This production did look cheap. A lot of tinsel or silver sparkly crap and costumes made of purple reflective material. All of this was fine but the Doctor was horrible. I understand the whole concept of post-regeneration trauma but I think it was irresponsible for the production team to allow the Doctor to try and kill Peri. Didn’t I just get done saying in the paragraph above that the Doctor just gave up one of lives to save her? So, he regenerates to only go on to try and kill her? How did JN-T find this acceptable? Peri is truly one of the most accepting and forgiving humans in the history of humanity. This was the new image of a character that started out 21 years ago that was left with the British viewer for months until the series returned with Season 22. For us in the US, luckily we only had to wait for the following week.
Of course the wait between Season 21 and Season 22 in the US seemed to take forever at least in my city. It probably was nowhere near as long as I thought but it felt like years. The Twin Dilemma was a bust for me but looking in my TV Guide, I saw the next episode was Attack of the Cybermen. Immediately things started to get better for me. The cool underground sequences in the sewers, the tombs of the Cybermen on Telos, the concept of the Cybercontroller, the idea of the Cybermen’s original world coming to Earth in 1986. These were all amazing concepts that I loved. Of course, I had no idea at the time that these concepts were already in place in other stories. None of these were new. Looking through old publications of the time, fans picked up on this right away. After I found out that all these ideas turned up in other stories, it made no difference to me. I still loved it.

I think the 1980s version of the Cybermen looked best in this story. The costumes seem cohesively put together, the head piece does not look like a mask. It looks much more integrated into the rest of the costume. I was so taken by them in this story that I remember a friend and I made our own Cybermasks out of brown grocery bags. It actually wasn’t that bad for what it was. That is of course if you like your Cybermen looking like they are made out of brown grocery bags. I could have covered the mask in tin foil but chose not to because I was bored with making it by the time I had gone that far.
I loved the exterior filming that included a small effect to give the exteriors of Telos a slightly bleak look to it. The music was consistent with music in Earthshock which at a young age I appreciated but then there was another cue from the music that played over and over which is stuck in my head for the rest of my life. Do you know which one I am talking about?  I also remember being taken aback by the blood on Lytton’s knuckles as the Cybermen torture him. Unlike The Twin Dilemma, Attack of the Cybermen looked like it had a budget. There seemed to be unlimited Cybermen including black stealth Cybermen lurking in the sewers. It seemed so obvious that their appearance could be augmented by their surroundings. It was camouflage; it was smart. Why has this not been done again? I am a huge fan of the TARDIS console room (and still am) that was introduced in The Five Doctors. We get a ton of TARDIS shots and different rooms in this story. We get pretty compelling characters such as Lytton, Griffiths, Russell (I didn’t realize this was Terry “Davros” Molloy at the time), Payne, Stratton and Bates. The problem was they ALL die. It’s actually a pretty dire and bleak story. There are a lot of people who are trying to do different things in the story. Lytton wants to help the Cryons (Microsoft Word autocorrected this to Crayons which is fine by me), Griffiths and Payne want to make a ton of money from stealing diamonds which is a job headed by Lytton, Russell wants to apprehend Lytton because he sees him as a criminal, Stratton and Bates are part of a bigger plan with Lytton to get off Telos after destroying the Cybermen relinquishing control of the planet back to the Cryons. It really doesn’t end well for anyone. Even the Doctor gets a lesson in what happens when he refuses to believe Lytton actually wants to help.

I love this story for all the reasons above. As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I always tried to get other people to watch the series with me or at least watch it on their own. When I was younger, I could never understand why people did not love Doctor Who as much as I did. Doctor Who would air here in the Twin Cities on KTCA on Friday nights and Saturday nights starting at 10pm or 10:30pm. When the Colin Baker stories debuted on this station, I believe it was around October/November of 1985 and it was on Friday nights. Some of my favourite memories were being in grade school (it was a Catholic school) and waiting all day Friday during school for Doctor Who that night. It was all part of the anticipation. It made the day so exciting to make it through an autumn day and knowing that a school week would end with new Doctor Who. The Saturday morning after Attack of the Cybermen aired, my Dad was at the kitchen table and mentioned to me that he was channel surfing on TV the previous night and caught some of the story. This was where I was hoping he would say that he actually liked it. His response was simply, “it was lousy.” Of course he would say that! Jump forward 28 years, both him and my Mom watch Matt Smith on BBC America.  
In May of 1985 there was a big event that was announced on KTCA. Peter Davison would be making an appearance at an old venue in St. Paul called the Prom. I would have been 11 at the time and I remember seeing this promo for the event on KTCA that took footage from Warriors of the Deep and I knew I needed to be at this event. The concept of meeting someone from the series or that fact that such an event even existed all because of a TV show was truly alien to me.  I knew that if I didn’t go, I would never have a chance to meet Peter Davison again. This was almost true; I have met him only about 15-20 or so times since. Some occasions have been quite awkward. Anyway, my Dad told me he would take me down there on the night to go to this event. I had no idea what to expect. I also had absolutely no clue about the fan base for Doctor Who in Minnesota. Seeing how I couldn’t really find anyone I knew who was interested in the program I figured it would be a low-key affair. I suspect there would be a few people there. Perhaps there would be some merchandise. Maybe a few people would be interested in meeting Peter Davison after all he was also in All Creatures Great & Small so perhaps there would be some fans of that series there too to fill out the venue. This was a Friday evening and once again all day at school I was super excited to go to this. I simply couldn’t wait. I was telling all my friends what I was doing that night. None of them cared. I get home from school and my Dad and I drive out to University Ave which was the street the Prom used to be on. As we got closer the anticipation was ramping up. There seemed to be a ton of people out that night. Little did I realize there were all there to meet Peter Davison. The line was wrapped around the building. It was chaos. It was a small scale Longleat. My dad pulls into a parking lot but not to drop me off but to turn the vehicle around to get back on the freeway and to go home. That was my first Doctor Who convention.

Jump forward to October of 1986. Watching Doctor Who on a Friday evening with my Mom and another promo comes on for a chance to meet Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton. Two Doctors – one convention. This time it was at the Minneapolis Armory. I looked at my Mom who just looked back at me and said no. She remembered the last incident. I could hardly blame her. My Dad’s career consisted of being a sheet metal worker. What he did was fit sheet metal to the tops of buildings under construction. It was a very serious craft and he worked his way from apprentice on up. It was extremely demanding and exhausting work. I think it was more dangerous than he would ever say. This is what he did to provide for me and to give me a good life. Most nights he would come home exhausted and fall asleep by 7pm. It was demanding work and he has physically paid the price for it. The reason my Mom said no right from the start was because she knew that this was also going to be hugely busy just like the Peter Davison convention and this venue was in downtown Minneapolis. Neither my Mom nor Dad wanted to mess around driving down there. I was cool with that. This time, I figured maybe someday I would have a chance to meet Colin or Patrick. I would be half right.
It’s clear that any convention should not be a few hours on a Friday night. This sort of thing should breathe over the course of a few days so not everyone has to accomplish the same thing in the same amount of time. By the time I was able to meet Colin Baker, it would have been at one of the Visions conventions in Chicago. I don’t remember the first Visions Colin attended. It may have been the 1993 30th Anniversary convention or maybe even 1991. I know that 1990 was Jon Pertwee. The Visions conventions were always packed with guests from multiple series. These were huge; they were huge names and they mostly all were flown over from the UK. These couldn’t have made money for the convention organizers but they certainly were able to hob-knob with their idols….at a price.

Going to some Colin Baker panels, it was immediate at how engaging and talented he was in person. He had an incredible quick wit and really was genuine in his appreciation of the fans. I could see how his audition to play the Doctor was him being his entertaining self at a wedding that JN-T attended. Maybe further reading for the part should have been required but he has an electric personality. Why could he have not been allowed to play it more that way? Watching him perform in the Cabaret at conventions has always been fun.
My favourite memory of him was at the volunteer party at the end of one of the Visions. At these things, all the volunteers get together, have pizza and if the guests are still at the hotel they would come down and mingle. At the Visions conventions volunteers would also get a nice glossy picture of all the guests together in one picture and these guests would sign their autographs over themselves. It was pretty cool! When Colin Baker showed up, he came with this big package. Like a box. He opened it up and inside was posters. These posters were original artwork of Colin as his Doctor. I have never seen this artwork before or since. Perhaps it was done by Gail Bennett who was an American artist who did a lot of Doctor Who pieces including one that ended up in Timelash. While the other guests were all drinking and generally talking with each other and not the volunteers (which in all honesty is fine), Colin sat down with these posters at a table and started to sign them. He invited these volunteers to come up and take these signed posters as a thank you from him for the work we did on the convention. When we went up to his table to get the posters, he thanked each of us individually for the work we did on the convention. I was deeply touched by this and it has never left me. Truly it was one of the most humbling moments of my time going to conventions. It gave me an immediate insight into Colin Baker. I have heard and seen many times over the years his generosity of time and commitment to fan organizations and I appreciate it. If you ever have a chance to meet Colin Baker, please do so. He is beyond being a nice guy. Of course, I spent many years hanging out with the Sixth Doctor……well sort of.

Page 1 to the script for Eye Strain.
I don’t know if I ever mentioned it before but I was a part of a Doctor Who fan club called The Whoniversity. Of course I am kidding as I have mentioned it in many articles before….almost too many to mention! I do so because getting involved with that club had profoundly changed my life. I have met one of my closest friends at my first meeting I went to for The Whoniversity. Roger and I are still good friends to this day. The whole point of the first meeting that I went to was to have a look at a script that The Whoniversity was going to produce written by Roger and his friend Jim called Eye Strain. Eye Strain was a Sixth Doctor and Second Doctor story and immediately took place following the events of Revelation of the Daleks. Jim was to play the Second Doctor and Roger was to play the Sixth. I think anyone who is into making Doctor Who costumes will know that there is one costume most people will avoid attempting to make. That is of course Colin’s costume. Roger made it. In fact it would be a personal insult to Roger if I said the costume was well made; it was perfect. In. Every. Detail. This costume is not only close, it is not only similar, it is perfect in every pattern and in every single detail. It is stunning. He found all the clothes and material and his mom put it together. I pride myself on being someone who can detect when details are a little off and this costume is spot on. Even the inner button down white shirt with the question mark lapels is exact. It has the lining going up the front that has the checkered patterns. The braces are correct too.
Although this costume is amazing, this pic was taken before it was completely finished!
I remember Roger telling me that at first the yellow pants had hand drawn lines going up the legs because he couldn’t find the correct material. One day he was at a fabric shop and found the correct fabric and tightly held on to it for the rest of the shopping in the store to make sure nobody else took it. I remember him telling me that at the Intergalactic Expo in Chicago that Colin was in attendance. He asked Colin at the panel or autograph line (while Roger was in costume) if Colin would wear his Sixth Doctor’s coat. Colin said yes and Roger gave Colin his coat at which point Colin draped it around himself. Everyone in the room started taking pictures because for us this was the first time Colin wore “his” coat since he was forced out of the series. Now, I don’t remember exactly when the Intergalactic Expo was but Colin may have been doing the stage play The Ultimate Adventure prior to that but if it was after then it would be the first time Colin wore anything like his costume since leaving the series. Unfortunately for Roger, everyone was taking pictures of this event but not him. He never got a picture of that cool moment.

Although this costume is amazing, this pic was taken before it was completely finished!
Roger kindly sent me this anecdote of his costume and Colin Baker, “The Two Doctors con (RonCon II) at the Minneapolis armory was the first time I premiered the costume. I didn't have a car at the time, so I took a bus from north Minneapolis all the way to Midway in St. Paul where I met up with Jim, and we got a ride the rest of the way. I got the strangest looks from everybody on the bus. I'm sure you can imagine. Then, at the convention, I stood in line to ask Colin a question. I prefaced my question with, "As you can see, I'm trying to create an exact replica of your costume." He fired back immediately, "It's pretty good, but I have more hair." So even in person, Colin could fire back the insults. Then I asked my question of what color boxers he wore in costume. He didn't even bat an eye. He immediately replied in his deadpan voice, "Paisley. Next question." I love it.
Although this costume is amazing, this pic was taken before it was completely finished!
Now, this wouldn’t be a   article if I didn’t tie it into tape trading. I remember at probably the first Visions I went to in 1990 I met noted Doctor Who historian Jeremy Bentham. I didn’t know anyone from the UK at that point. I was desperate to get the Colin Baker stories in the proper 45-minute episodic format. Here in Minneapolis, KTCA showed the stories in movie version but Lionheart also syndicated the episodes in 25 minute episode format by taking the 45 minute episodes and cutting them at the 25 minute mark. The opening credits were re-made using a close-but-no-cigar type font. I wanted the proper 45-minute versions! Jeremy Bentham agreed to make copies for me. I think the entire season 22 in episodic format cost me $60 but that included tapes and shipping. A couple of months later I received the tapes which was quite exciting. I looked at them and saw that they were old tapes. He didn’t buy new tapes which were kind of annoying but it is also possible that they were his original tapes. I remember holding on to these tapes for a while and at a convention somewhere I ran into a fan from the Milwaukee Time Lords named Jay. Jay had a PAL machine and converter and he offered to make me NTSC copies of the tapes, I do not remember if a nominal fee was involved. The catch was that he would make me NTSC copies but he wouldn’t give me back the PAL tapes. He would only do it if he kept the PAL tapes which I thought was kind of crappy. He wouldn’t make a copy for himself and send me back the originals; he wanted to keep them. You see, I keep everything and no one tells me when I give up any of my tapes. So I declined. I rather not have it at all than giving away my PAL tapes. I eventually was able to see Season 22 in PAL and in its proper format once I got my own PAL system and bought the PAL pre-records. I guess Jay ended up lucky anyway. When I received the tapes I noticed when I looked in the VHS windows that there were tiny tape shards in there. I eventually had my friend Louis give these tapes to his friend to convert. The tapes ultimately ruined someone’s VHS machine. I blame the fact that Jeremy Bentham did not make copies for me by using new tapes.

Eventually, years later and many years before the official DVD came out, I got a copy of this story on DVD direct from the master tapes with slates! It looked great and my friends and I made nice DVDs of this for our collection until we could buy the official version. Here is the cover I made for it below.
One more thing about Attack of the Cybermen in regards to who wrote it. I believe Eric Saward had said that Ian Levine had little to no involvement with the writing of this story where Ian says that’s not true and his involvement is pretty evident. I believe Ian completely. Knowing and working with Ian on a number of things over the last few years, this has Ian written all over it. The continuity references are very Ian and taking elements from many of the past Cyber adventures is something I believe he would do. Before anyone thinks I am saying that is a bad thing, please re-read this article.

As it happens, a couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a friend. I work in Advertising and got to know this person through work. He is a Creative Director and now works freelance. He comes in and works for the agency I work at from time to time on projects. He is talented and pretty cool. The e-mail he sent was simply about some Doctor Who DVDs he got for his birthday in which one of them was Attack of the Cybermen. He simply wrote, “No better way to celebrate a bday than with Attack of the Cybermen...” and sent a picture of the story being played on his TV. He really likes the story just like me. In some ways I envy him because he is a casual fan who buys only the stories he wants to see; not all of them because he is by no means a completest.  He is not a part of fandom that tells him what stories to like and which stories are crap; he is allowed to enjoy the stories he wants. He has absolutely no problem with the continuity references as he accepts them as parts of the narrative. He just likes Doctor Who and honestly, that works for me.
Runner up: If I wasn’t going to write about Attack of the Cybermen then I was going to write about Revelation of the Daleks. Little did I realise it at the time but it was an end of an era and as a kid, I had no idea about the hiatus or what was happening to the series at the time.

Next 50WHO article: Back in 2010 was an exciting time. Doctor Who was seriously changing in front and behind the camera. The next 50WHO article focuses on the Eleventh Doctor’s debut story The Eleventh Hour but more so on how I was able to go to NY sit down and have drinks with Matt Smith, Steven Moffat and Karen Gillan along with reps from BBC America. What a night!
Next week: I am trying to write regular articles again to go along with reviews. Next week I look at the final two episodes of Dad’s Army with Number Engaged and Never Too Old.

Have a great week.
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

DVD Review: Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby's Last Cases

Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases DVD 15-Discs (24 hours)
Released by Acorn Media on March 26, 2013. SRP $149.99 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 16:9

“I’m going to have my cake and eat it.”
I was reading my review I did last year for the DVD set Midsomer Murders: Mayhem & Mystery Files and I was thinking how strange it was to have a period of my life without having this series I could go back to again and again. When I wrote the first review for this series, I knew I was going to like it but I was really surprised by how much I liked it. That DVD set is one that I go back to often. Luckily I have a short-term memory so I am not always sure who the murderer was but I really enjoy the settings and main characters.

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When I was able to review this new set, Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases, I was very happy because I was able to see more great episodes of this series starring John Nettles as Tom Barnaby and Jason Hughes as Ben Jones but sad as these was the final episodes with Tom Barnaby. I don’t know what I am getting so worked up about, he had left two years ago but I hadn’t seen it yet. How would he go? Tom Barnaby is truly one of the great characters in British television. He holds many of the traits of a seasoned detective with one of the traits being patience. It is painfully obvious how his Sgt. is ill-prepared to handle an investigation on the scale that Barnaby can with his final episode really punctuating what an amazing character he is for the series. Yet, I am getting ahead of myself. What about this set?

What we get in Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases is Series 12 & 13 of Midsomer Murders. This was previously released as DVD Sets 17, 18, 19, and 20. I have learned that I do not want to live in any of the Midsomer villages. Not one of them is good if you want to live. Yet, the villages of Midsomer are beautiful. They are often sprawling English countryside with gorgeous manor houses. We also get villages that have bustling activity. There are a lot of events, fetes, and general get-togethers that allow people to mingle and interact. Perhaps that what I like best about the series is that these murders are not stereotypical inner-city sort of affairs. These are not grungy dirty back alley criminals. These are often people with high standing in the community. Murders are a big deal; the series never “sends up” the tragedy yet the murders themselves can sometimes have an eccentric over-the-top feel to them. Some examples, in the episode Secrets and Spies, the Beast of Midsomer comes out and leaves large gashes on their victims which cause death. Where else can a murder suspect be a cat burglar known as The Creeper? What if the settings are too English for you? In that case, how about when someone dies in an old-style Western gunfight?
We get a total of 15 stories and the outlandish circumstances are one reason why this series is so appealing. There are also the guest stars that show up in the episodes too. We get Susannah Harker in one of my favorite episodes from the set. The episode is The Black Book is a story of an old woman who has a painting that she doesn’t realize its worth. Peter Davison puts in quite a nice performance as a drunken man named Nicky in Secrets and Spies. What I like about him in that episode, he looks like he is having a great time with everything. It’s very enjoyable plus he is playing a role I have not seen him play before. There is even a guy named Neil Dudgeon who puts in a couple of good performances too.

Neil plays John Barnaby and we are introduced to him in an episode called The Sword of Guillaume. A lot of the story takes place in Brighton which requires Tom to call on his cousin John. I don’t know if at the time anyone knew of John’s future role in the series but it doesn’t matter because he is so natural. The way the John Nettles and Neil Dudgeon play these roles together is a lot of fun to watch. The two characters are good friends with slight amount of competition between the two of them. They work well together and it would have been fun to see more episodes with the two of them solving crimes together.
The relationship between Tom and his Sgt. Ben Jones is still strong. They respect each other though it is always fun to see Barnaby pull rank on certain situations. I did feel that some of the Jones’ moments with some of the episodes were too comedy-driven. I think it has always been there but it is even more prevalent here. One of the finest relationships in the series is one that can almost easily be forgotten as we get involved with “the case”. The relationship between Barnaby and his wife Joyce is really strong. Joyce is a very patient woman as she has to deal with calls in the middle of the night and the possibility of her husband getting injured or killed. In this set, there are a couple of times where Joyce comes face to face with the case itself. One time she thinks she hits someone with her car in The Silent Land and she has a big role in Fit for Murder as she “discovers” the first dead body at a health spa. All the time, Barnaby is very concerned for his wife making sure she is OK. It is sweet to watch.

This set has some real good episodes to it. Some of my favorites are The Black Book, Secrets and Spies, The Creeper (with Rik Mayall), The Great and the Good, The Sword of Guillaume, Master Class, and Fit for Murder. There are some real great moments. The Black Book is fun as it has that whole art culture and murders happen over ownership of pieces of art. Master Class is a creepy story about a girl named Zoe who has a ton of talent playing piano but much happens to her in this episode and it becomes really disturbing. Not all of the episodes are classic. One that comes to mind for me was Blood on the Saddle. It involves a Wild West Society which is not something I am a huge fan of watching. It’s funny because the menu for this episode shows Barnaby and Jones dressed in old west style clothing. I suddenly had a fear that we were going to be watching a “dream” episode where perhaps one of them is dreaming they are in the Wild West or something. Luckily that is not the case but that being said it was not a favorite.
The whole theme of this set is the final episodes that feature Tom Barnaby and his last episode is especially good. The episode is called Fit for Murder and focuses on murders that start to take place at a health spa that Barnaby and his wife are staying at for relaxation. The reason why I think this is such a great final episode for the character is that it handles the farewell of the character in the same vein of the character himself. It is subtle just like Tom Barnaby. When the episode ends, I realized I didn’t want this character to leave. Tom Barnaby is one of the great detectives of British television and possibly all television.  A much underappreciated gem.


Interview with Jason Hughes: (23 min) This is a nice little interview that is with Jason Hughes aka Jones. Jason comes across as someone who is very humble and gives a little bit of background to his career and also to the making of the series. He talks about the great locations and he goes through some of his favorites deaths that have appeared in the series. A set this big is not going to have a ton of extras but it is a nice extra bit of value added.

Acorn Media as usual also includes extras such as photo galleries and an essay called “Saying Goodbye to Barnaby” I am not a huge fan of reading long essays on TV screens but clearly people must like them since they end up in most of the Acorn sets.
Quality and Packaging:

Even though by this point the series switched to HD, these are presented as SD DVDs. As this is a compilation of previously released sets, I understand why there is not a Blu Ray equivalent available. The picture quality is still fine yet some of the stuff is shot so well I would love to see this stuff jump off screen in high definition. I would love to see the greenery of the all the fields and trees in these episodes come to life. That is not to say this isn’t very good; it still is very nice. The picture is graded in a way to bring out the warmness of the image whether it is inside a pub or in the countryside.
The packaging is just like the last compilation set that came out: Midsomer Murders: Mystery & Mayhem Files. It is 4 amary cases with either 3 or 4 DVDs in each case. It a heavy compact box of love. It’s nice to have these all together.

Disc breakdown
Disc 1: The Dogleg Murders

Disc 2: The Black Book
Disc 3: Secrets and Spies

Disc 4: The Glitch
Disc 5: Small Mercies

Disc 6: The Creeper
Disc 7: The Great and the Good

Disc 8: The Made-to Measure Murders
Disc 9: The Sword of Guillaume

Disc 10: Blood on the Saddle
Disc 11: The Silent Land

Disc 12: Master Class
Disc 13: The Noble Art

Disc 14: Not in My Back Yard
Disc 15: Fit for Murder

Click below to read my other Midsomer Murder Reviews:
Midsomer Murders: Mystery & Mayhem Files
Next week: I have some more reviews coming down the pike but I also am itching to get back to some randomly chosen series. Some titles I may do includes possibly more Dad’s Army and the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes series. Also the fourth installment of 50WHO should be posted sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Blu Ray Review: Spies of Warsaw

Spies of Warsaw - Blu Ray – 1 Disc (180 min + Extra)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on April 16, 2013. SRP $19.98 (DVD) $24.98 (Blu Ray)
Subtitles: English SDH 16:9 DTS HD 2.0

As I was watching some program on BBC America, I saw a promo for Spies of Warsaw. After David Tennant left Doctor Who, I have not been following his career. I saw this promo and had seen that he stars in this plus I saw some other cast members I like such as Burn Gorman and thought this might be something I would be interested in seeing but figured I wouldn’t ever get around  to watching it. This is mainly because I don’t get BBC America in HD in my area and that puts a damper on me watching anything on that channel. When BBC Home Entertainment offered up this title for review I felt this was my chance to check it out and I am glad I did.
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The reason I didn’t want to watch this on BBC America and why I opted to review this Blu Ray all comes down to the same reason. HD television. I don’t know if any one notices but if you have an HD plan for cable tv, Standard Definition (SD)  broadcast actually look worse than standard definition anywhere else like your DVDs. etc. It’s almost sub-standard definition which is awful to watch. Cable companied compress TV channels so much because there are so many stations that what the consumer ends up with is a very compressy lousy picture. When any production takes the opportunity to make a historical drama that goes to the trouble of making something historically accurate, I want to see it in HD.

World War II is a favorite subject of mine but I am by far no expert. There are many stories out there that have never been told. As time goes on, there will be many stories that never will be told. It’s sad to think the veterans of World War II are dying off just as the veterans of the First World War were doing back when I was young. I have tremendous respect for anyone who serves in the military but for the men who fought and died in World War II is always special to me for personal reasons. As I found with the review of Foyle’s War, there is a lot of minute details of stories that I do not know and with Spies of Warsaw, the story comes from even a more different angle than I would normally be interested in watching.
Imagine a time when people in Europe thought Adolf Hitler may have been a fanatic but would never have been so bold to enter into Poland and invade thus starting war. No one was happy with what the Nazis were doing in Germany but that was Germany. To go even further, imagine that a spy who did the proper recognizance to find out that Germany was planning on invading Poland using tanks rolling right into the country and nobody believed him. It unfathomable but that is what happens in this series.

Jean-Francios Mercier is in the military and is a spy working in Poland. He is a decorated soldier who was a war hero in the First World War.  He is following up reports about things that are happening with the Nazis. Mercier is more than a soldier but an aristocrat and with his rank he finds himself often going to parties and social events with top tier officials and high standing citizens. On one such event he brings along a date set up for him named Anna. Immediately Mercier is taken by her beauty and personality. He probably had fallen in love with her right away. Mercier was married but is now a widower. As much as Mercier has fallen for her, she is in a relationship with Russian writer and activist Maxim Mostov.
The political climate is dangerous. For example, Mostov is an activist for the Socialist cause which is dangerous; also (not for Mostov) anyone being Jewish is a concern as Nazi Germany is next door. Even some Germans who work for Nazi related causes are concerned by the direction their country is moving towards. When we meet Mercier, he is working with a circle of contacts in Warsaw to get information from Germans about the tanks, tank production, any kind of intelligence they can get their hands on for understanding what the Germans are going to do. The French and Polish military employ people to go undercover and assume new identities to try and get information. All along Mercier only wants to have Anne in his life.

I generally enjoyed this mini-series. It is two parts in which the first part ends in a nice cliffhanger. This is based on the novel by Alan Furst from 2008. Some of Furst’s other novels were Night Soldiers, Dark Stars, and Mission to Paris to name a few. This was adapted for television by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais which excited me because they are responsible for programs such as The Likely Lads, Porridge, Never Say Never Again and my absolute favorite Lovejoy. If you have never seen Lovejoy please do so soon. This is just a sliver of the total body of work they have done.
Now, I said I generally liked this. Don’t get me wrong, you are not going to confuse this with John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in terms of production. This is shot on location in Warsaw. In fact here is a translation from a Polish newspaper of the filming here. It looks really good. In some ways I thought it looked too good. Like the streets were too clean. Even though this takes place prior to World War II and prior to the fighting, I felt that even in some of the back streets were some of the action was happening, it was perhaps a little too polished? That being said, there still would have been a massive feel of authenticity missing if this were shot on the back lot of Pinewood Studios or somewhere inauthentic. There are some wonderful shots that gives us these wonderful Polish building with the high pointed roofs and has a very European feel to it.

I actually preferred the second part of the mini-series. A lot of set up happens in the first part but in the second part, the story is more woven into the fabric of actually being in Nazi Germany. Mercier actually needs sneak into there a couple of times and we get a peak of a country preparing to invade. That is what I found really interesting. Plus I am intrigued with seeing the aspect of German citizens who are torn between the country they love and Nazi influence they hate growing with more prominence. It’s powerful and a wonderful reminder that countries are often the face of their leader and government but not usually its citizens.
Then there is a question of accents. I think this is a problem that I run into every time I watch a program like this which takes place in a country that is not the UK or US. I don’t know why this bothers me, yet to me it is hugely annoying. We have David Tennant as Mercier who is playing it with a British accent. He is not using his Scottish accent which I would agree would be even more inappropriate. In fact, anyone who is French has a British accent. Colonel Pakulski who is a confidant of Mercier is Polish and has a Polish accent. The Russian Mostov has a Russian accent. These are accent but not languages. They speak to each other in their different accents and understand each other. Then we have the Nazis who speak in their German lamguage. It is very strange to me. It all seems very Kevin Costner Robin Hood to me where he had no English accent at all. I know having the French speaking with French accents may be a bit ‘Allo ‘Allo! but I feel that perhaps more of an attempt towards a slight subtle French accent would not have been out of place. I wish it didn’t bother me so much but it just does.

Perhaps why it bothers me with Tennant is that I can see so much of the Tenth Doctor in this role and he speaks the same way as the Tenth Doctor spoke. He phrases a lot of his lines as the Tenth Doctor would speak, especially in a scene early in the second part where talks about gasoline leaking from a car. I just saw the Tenth Doctor, not Mercier and to me that is a problem. Now a counter argument is that David Tennant is David Tennant. Parts of him will shine through in any performance he does but I had just seen him in an episode of Foyle’s War and I thought he was brilliant in it. The same goes for Casanova. This doesn’t mean he is not good in it. He fits the role well and physically makes the role work. It makes me happy to see him in this role that has so much going for it but to me he plays it too similar to how he played the Doctor. If any one reads this, I would love your input on it if you’ve seen it.
Janet Montgomery as Anna is captivating. She is beautiful but loyal to Mostov. She makes mistakes she regrets but is a good person and puts others before her own happiness. Pakulski is played by Marcin Dorocinski. He is loyal to Mercier and to his country. We even get Burn Gorman, Fenella Woolgar and Julian Glover in this which they are all quite wonderful.

David Tennant on Spies of Warsaw: (10:05)  It is not just David Tennant but also includes David Clement and Ian La Frenais. This is just a talking heads sort of interviews. There is really nothing of immense meat to this. It’s nice but nothing really of note.

Quality and Packaging:
The quality is a non-issue as it is HD and looks great. It is graded a little more cold in color but that seems to be intentional and kind of gives an underlying bleakness to the production. I don’t think any of the colors could be considered lush.

The cover is interesting as it has a sort of action movie feel to it; almost a motion picture feel to it. The UK release (which is a DVD only)  is a little more straightforward. To be honest, I prefer the US Blu Ray cover which is not over-designed but yet evokes some excitement which is in the series. It fits.
I don’t do ratings or scales for reviews. There is nothing clever like giving this 3 out of five Captain Mainwarings or anything silly like that. All I do is ask myself if I would ever want to sit down and watch this again. The answer to this is simply yes. I enjoyed it and I feel when I do watch it again, there will be stuff I missed and will pick up this time around. It’s worth checking and if you are a David Tennant fan then this is a must!

Next review: Still much to get to and I took a little break. I started to get antsy and now I am back. There should be more articles published soon. I can’t wait to give my fingers a work out!
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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