Friday, November 21, 2008


What’s New Is Old: The Seventies Are Back! Starring Tom Baker’s Explosion of Desire

On TV over the next few days there’s a feast of wonderful things with one feature in common: a ’70s revival. Tonight’s highlight may hail from 1966 – one of The Avengers’ greatest episodes, The House That Jack Built, at 1am on BBC4 – but it’s preceded by House of Cards, a striking episode of 1976 Avengers revival The New Avengers. Appropriately for Doctor Who’s anniversary weekend, there’s also a new sequel to a 1975 Doctor Who, fine storytelling from The Sarah Jane Adventures (she debuted in 1973) and a remake of Dalek author Terry Nation’s 1975 apocalyptic drama Survivors. And you thought it was just decaying Labour Governments, nationalisations and economic disasters that were back in fashion!

House of Cards at five past midnight tonight on BBC4 is a splendidly double-crossing piece of cold war fun featuring a high-kicking bishop and an outrageous shaggy dog scene about the past Avengers women, and starring the always enjoyable Peter Jeffrey. One of The Avengers’ top recurring guest stars, this is the last of a strange trilogy of episodes spread across a decade, in each of which he plays a different old foe bent on revenge against an Avenger. Each uses a playing card motif; each has a dubious continental connection; and each one is dead…

On Sunday night at six and again at midnight, Doctor Who’s 45th anniversary, brings a radio sequel on BBC7 to a rather fabulous 1975 TV adventure. Terror of the Zygons was the last big hurrah for UNIT, brought in the Loch Ness Monster (seriously), and perhaps best deserves to be remembered for the Zygons, undoubtedly for me the greatest of one-off Who monsters (sorry Reapers, werewolf and Quarks). Despite a slight disadvantage to seeing these aliens with your wireless sets, this sequel with Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith is very different in tone, but fun – guest stars include Tim Brooke-Taylor and Steven Pacey. And though it’ll be introduced as The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, it’ll always be Trevor of the Zygons to me.

The Doctor Who-related highlight, though, despite strong competition from Einstein and Eddington on Saturday night (damn! It clashes with The Devil’s Whore! But still, the Doctor and Terry Nation on the front of the Radio Times, and not even for Doctor Who; how brilliant is that?), is Monday’s The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith. The first half’s on BBC1 at 4.35, and the conclusion follows on CBBC at 5.15; having seen Part One on CBBC last week, I can’t wait to find out what happens after the fantastic Pyramids of Marsesque cliffhanger. Don’t let it being a ‘children’s programme’ put you off; it’s a great series, not only far better than Torchwood but – heretical thought – possibly better than this year’s Doctor Who, too (and how many other kids’ shows quote The Wicker Man?). This story by the very talented Gareth Roberts is the highlight of this year’s Sarahs so far, in which she’s led into a trap by a sinister figure known as the Trickster, who to fans of Doctor Who’s 1978-9 Key to Time season may bear an uncanny resemblance to the Black Guardian (but, as Gareth said to me of something completely different when I jumped him in Borders last week, “We’re not allowed to call it that”).

The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith is also, of course, the sequel to the very best of last year’s The Sarah Jane Adventures, the positively uncanny Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? BBC1 handily repeated that last Sunday, so if you missed it, tune your IPlayer to the 16th and watch the sufferings of Lis Sladen and Jane Asher – but be quick, before it’s gone (or just buy the boxed set of the complete first series, which came out on DVD last week).

And finally, of course, I’m on edge wondering just what the remake of Survivors will be like, coming up on Sunday night at nine. The original series varied from gripping post-apocalyptic drama to, er, The Archers, and was never the same after the producer sacked the terrific actress playing the strong, independent female lead because she was, er, a strong and independent woman. I’m hoping the new Survivors is good; there’ve been some intriguing teasers shown and it’s got quite a few good actors in it, but they’ve given the central part to that woman from Bonekickers. Let’s hope it was the series and not her, eh?

Tom Baker’s Explosion of Desire

Having had a rough couple of weeks and not got out much or been in any way sociable, this morning I spent a couple of hours queuing outside the Stamp Centre on the Strand and getting very, very cold. In keeping with the ’70s mood, it was one of those rare opportunities to see ’70s Doctor Who icon Tom Baker, and indeed fellow ’70s Doctor Who icon Nicholas Courtney, the Brigadier, who’s a very funny man in his own right but usually plays Tom’s straight man at such events. As Tom has a rather mercurial temperament, I thought it best to bring along a little sweetener. You never know if he’s going to go into an extended anecdote and profess his love for you, or eye up what you want signing and mutter “You can see I was in 180 episodes…”

Reckoning he was sick of jelly babies (“Yeerrhh,” he growled), but remembering that he’d given me a bag of them, along with half the kids in Britain, when I met him at the age of about nine, I gave him a pack of Hotel Chocolat’s Fruity Selection. “Fruity seemed appropriate,” I suggested. Those brilliant blue eyes fixed me. “Am I fruity, then?” Fortunately, Nick came to my rescue and told him that indeed he was. On my recommendation, he tried the lemon truffle first: it’s got a centre of lemon and white chocolate, but the outer shell is incredibly tart. Fortunately, he loved it. “That’s kept me from death!” rang this great cry down the shop. “What an explosion of… Desire!” He turned to Nick. “Try the pink one. You’ve played a bishop” (I didn’t enquire whether or not he was high-kicking or not, though I suspect not). Nick agreed that they were, indeed, very good. Tom tried a pink one too, and slowly swooned into Nick for a kiss. Then, upright and bellowing again, “Aren’t these marvellous? We could do the adverts, if they’ll have us!” So there you are, Hotel Chocolat. Get in touch with his agent at once.

The morning’s guests also included the rather brilliant and slightly terrifying David Troughton, who’s appeared in Doctor Who in the ’60s, ’70s and Noughties, with the distinction of turning up in the best story of the year each time. I love him, though, for an ’80s series, A Very Peculiar Practice (like all four of the doctor stars, he’d have made a terrific Doctor). Though the first series is out on DVD, the second’s never even been repeated, so I’ve not seen it in twenty years. He’s of the view, it turns out, that Mrs Thatcher was so offended by it and hated the BBC so much that she stopped it being reshown (and I probably can’t repeat some of his comments; suffice to say that, unlike poor David Davis crying this morning into his Puccini on Desert Island Discs over her resignation, Mr Troughton is more likely to play Elvis Costello). Who’d have thought the man who played uber-Thatcherite Bob Buzzard would be so vehemently anti-Thatcher in person? Well, everybody, admittedly.

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Totally with you on SJA, as is the small person. Will have to introduce her to you one day. Although she may try to steal your daleks.
It'd be lovely to meet her, after having heard so much about her!

And there are too many for her to carry ;-)

I know you don't approve of such new Who, but I've just given Richard and Millennium (and me) plush Adipose this morning, which are exceptionally cute.
Oh, it's not that I don't approve of New Who in principle, it's just that I disapprove of about three quarters of it in practise. Including the adipose ;) I could have done better than that with five minutes in movie-maker. They were pixellated, FFS! It's one of those things where a phsical effect would have been so much better, and could easily have been multiplied by CGI.

* patiently awaits your giggling at the ranting old schooler *

Oh, I can understand that. I think the Krillitanes are a pretty poor cartoon, for example. But I thought the Adipose were cute and funny, and really enjoyed Partners In Crime.

Richard and I both seem to be feeling more positive about Season 2008 after watching it all today with friends, though I still don't think it's a patch on the first three new ones (and the first since 2005 that I wouldn't pick as among the best Who seasons).

But, most importantly, the plush ones are just sooo cute :$
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