Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A NEW BEGINNING...

AN INTRODUCTION. 

Welcome to my blog, a revival of my TV episode reviews that used to run on my old Greenside Comics Blog. I have been working my way through a huge pile of DVDs of old (and not-so-old) TV shows and blogging on them. Some classic, some not-so-classic and some frankly that you may have wished I hadn't come across (yes, I'm looking at you 'The Starlost'!). Shows that may have outstayed their welcome, and shows that died far too early.
There is no real system to the order in which I view series. The episodes themselves will be in order, either original transmission order, production order or just the order they're on on the DVD, but which series I'll dip into for each blog entry will appear to be completely random. There is a definite swing towards shows of a sci-fi or fantasy nature, as those are my favourite genres, but there will be others – spy shows, cop shows, mystery, comedy, historical drama, the occasional Western. So let's get going...

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – PILOT (SERIES 1, EPISODE 1)

Mission Impossible is one of those shows that sometimes isn't easy to catagorise. It started out in the spy show genre, although lacking the more fantastical elements of shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or The Wild, Wild West. After a while, maybe feeling that the spy elements had run its course, the show shifted towards a crime drama in which the members of The IMF would go up against organised crime as opposed to foreign powers. It ran seven seasons in it's original run, then was revived a decade later for another two season run. Later still, it came back as a series of blockbuster movies starring Tom Cruise, which attempted to pass itself off as a continuation of the TV series, even though the charm of the original was sadly lacking.
It all begins here, with a lighted fuse and that iconic theme tune in 5/4 by Lalo Schifrin – surely one of the most famous themes in television history. A rapid fire title sequence, intercut with action from the weeks episode gives way to Dan Briggs (Steven Hill), leader of the Impossible Missions Force entering a record store and requesting a specific LP, which he then plays and receives the details of this weeks mission...
"Good morning, Mr. Briggs. General Rio Dominguez, the dictator of Santa Costa, makes his headquarters in the Hotel Nacionale. We've learned that two nuclear warheads furnished to Santa Costa by an enemy power are contained in the hotel vault. Their use is imminent. Mr. Briggs, your mission, should you decide to accept it, would be to remove both nuclear devices from Santa Costa. As always, you have carte blanche as to method and personnel, but of course should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. As usual, this recording will decompose one minute after the breaking of the seal. I hope its, "Welcome back, Dan." It's been awhile!"
The LP then self destructs and Briggs returns to his apartment where he selects his team for this mission. Rollin Hand, master of disguise, played by Martin Landau who is listed as a guest star, not as a series regular; Terry Targo, safe cracker (guest star Wally Cox); electronics expert Barney Collier (Greg Morris); strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupis) and femme fatale Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain). Bizarrely no matter what the nature of the mission, Briggs would use the same team week after week with Cox's character replaced when needed by another expert-of-the-week. And Briggs, who judging by the mission specifics given by the mysterious voice on the LP had just returned from some unexplained sabbatical, would disappear at the end of the first season without explanation, to replaced by Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) who would stay with the show for the rest of it's run, including the 1980's revival. In fact Phelps was so much the face of the show that when the first of the big-budget films starring Tom Cruise used Phelps turning traitor as part of the plot, fans were in uproar. Now if it had been Briggs who had been revealed to have been the traitor...
Anyway, the team head off to Santa Costa to retrieve the nuclear warheads. The convoluted plan involves Rollin impersonating General Dominguez, Barney tampering with a TV camera and microphone and also rigging a fireworks display, Terry removing the warheads from their container in the hotel vault, which he will also break out of and Willy transporting the 200 pound warheads from the vault by hand. Oh and Cinnamon? She will do "what comes naturally(!)"
Needless to say, things don't quite go to plan. Terry's hands are broken when Dominguez slams a door on them. Although if you look carefully it's obvious that the “hands” caught in the door are a pair of fakes held by actor Wally Cox.
In the end, Briggs himself has to steal the bombs, getting both himself and the real General Dominguez (also played by Landau) into the vault and then forcing the General to reveal the codes to disarm the warheads. This episode sets up the series format, one it would rarely stray from. The main cast (including still-a-guest-star Landau) acquit themselves well stepping straight into their characters. Landau, in particular, excels in his dual role and the amount of screen time he gets in this episode could lead one to believe that he was the series lead. So, a routine Mission Impossible episode, but a good start. So good, that many later episodes would mimic it.

I've seen that face before: Guest star Wally Cox, playing Terry Targo, made guest appearances in numerous TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s but is probably best known to American audiences for his starring roles as Mr Peepers and Hiram Holliday, as well as his regular appearances on quiz show Hollywood Squares.

TWILIGHT ZONE – MR. DENTON ON DOOMSDAY (SERIES 1, EPISODE 3)

Oh, look. It's Martin Landau again!
We're in the old West. Well, at least I think we are. That looked suspiciously like a TV antenna in the background in one scene. We meet Al Denton (Dan Duryea) the town drunk, being humilated by Dan Hotaling (Martin Landau - boy, he sure gets around). Turns out Denton was once the sharpest shooter in town, but turned to drink after he shot and killed a teenaged boy in a duel. Mysteriously Denton manages to get back his sharp-shooting skills just long enough to teach Hotaling a lesson. Turns out, a strange salesman in town, one Henry J. Fate(!) had more than a little to do with it. Anyhow, Denton is soon challenged to a duel by another gunslinger, Pete Grant (Doug McClure) . Fate offers him a potion which will make him once again the fastest gun in the west – but only for a few seconds. Come the showdown, it turns out that Grant too has Fate's potion. Both draw, shooting the other in the hand, leaving both with an injury which will prevent either from pulling a trigger again. Denton tells Grant that they have been blessed. His job done, Fate leaves town.
“Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is one of those Twilight Zone episodes that became a bit of a TZ clich√©. Somebody down on their luck whose life gets turned around by some mysterious force. Denton is, sadly, a stereotypical drunk, lifted only by Dan Duryea's performance. In fact, the acting in the episode is fine, Landau is good as the town bully (another stereotype) and Malcolm Atterbury also does well with Fate. McClure doesn't have too much to do as Grant but makes the most of what he is given.
However, the direction by Allen Reisner is perfunctory. The eerieness that pervades many of the better Zone episodes is lacking. I suspect that Rod Serling was still feeling his way around the Zone, not quite sure just what to do with it, or possibly still just trying to work out what the format was capable of.
Overall, an average episode, with just the slightest hints of the greatness to come.

I've seen that face before: Star Dan Dureya made guest appearances in numerous TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s but is probably best known to American audiences for his starring role as China Smith in The Adventures Of China Smith. And Doug McClure? Well, you may remember him from TV shows such as The Virginian, Checkmate, Search and Out Of This World, and films like At The Earth's Core, The Land That Time Forgot and The King's Pirate.  

ROBIN OF SHERWOOD – THE WITCH OF ELSDON (SERIES 1, EPISODE 3)

In which the beautiful Jennet of Elsdon (Anghared Rees of Poldark fame) spurns the advances of Sir Guy of Gisburne. In retaliation Guy accuses her of witchcraft and has her locked up with her husband in the dungeons of Nottingham Castle. The Sheriff, however, realises that Jennet has been set up by his steward and decides to give her the chance to save both her and her husband's lives. Of course he wants a small favour in return...
The Witch Of Elsdon is the weakest episode of ROS so far, although admittedly we are only three episodes in. It doesn't bring the plot of the series forward and neither do the main characters really develop, with the possible exception of Marion, who frustrated at being left behind starts her journey towards becoming more of a heroine. Ray Winstone also shines as Will Scarlett showing a more emotional side to his character as Will falls for Jennet.
I've seen that face before: Anghared Rees was Demelza in the BBC's classic romantic saga Poldark and also appeared in series such as Doctor In The House, The Avengers, Trainer and Within These Walls.

NEXT TIME ON AN ALL-NEW EPISODE OF OPEN CHANNEL 6: Episodes of Lost, Fringe, and the beginning of the longest Sci-Fi show of them all – Doctor Who!

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