My article on Badger Books is now up at Galactic Journey, where I’m now a regular staffer rather than a guest blogger! Badger Books, and their main writer Lionel Fanthorpe, are a great example of the sort of things I love to watch/read so you don’t have to: completely awful, and yet with a certain idiosyncratic joy that shines through even the worst novels. Check them out.
My review of Casino Royale (1967), which I watched so you don’t have to (but really, I think you should), is now up at Galactic Journey! Read it here.
Devon gets injured saving Garth from himself, and thus we learn that the Ark has a biosphere of medical personnel complete with space ambulance. Why we haven’t seen them in earlier episodes where someone’s been injured or fallen ill, like “The Alien Oro” or “Lazarus in the Mist” is never explained, but oh well.
And yes, they know all about the Ark being off course, but they haven’t done anything about it because they’re doctors, not engineers, Jim. Which is ludicrous because 1) plainly not all of them are, the space ambulance crew aren’t for a start, and 2) it’s been centuries, you’d think some of them could retrain in that time.
Anyway, the story rapidly degenerates into a sort of parody of a medical soap, as the Young Handsome Brilliant But Heartless Surgeon could save Devon but is too obsessed with a distress call from an alien spaceship to try, leaving Old Overlooked But Moral Surgeon to step up to the plate. Of course the two reconcile in order to save Devon *and* the aliens.
One of the highlights of the story is Bill Kemp as the space ambulance captain. Canadians of certain generations might remember him as one of the stalwarts of The Wayne And Shuster Comedy Show (if you don’t, here he is playing the Hockey Hall of Fame Chairman in “The Unholy Goalie”, and as the Postmaster General in the Question Time sketch), and, probably because of his background in comedy, he is able to deliver frankly ludicrous lines with absolute conviction. Also, there’s some colour-blind casting in the ambulance crew, which is nice.
One of the lowlights is the alien makeup. The alien spends most of the story hidden behind a digital effect, and the reveal is supposed to be a “twist”, but, given how bad it looks, they might as well not have bothered.
Our hero trio are trapped inside a biosphere called Manchester (yes, really), which seems to have no exits. Manchester is run by a strongman dictator, Mister Smith, and we learn that the biosphere was originally supposed to be a factory producing small arms for use on the new homeworld, but, when they escalated to larger weaponry, the rest of the Ark sealed the place off, and it’s now evolved into a paranoid surveillance state preparing for an imaginary war against imaginary enemies. And just when you’re thinking, “okay, so this is a satire of gun culture? And also the military industrial complex?” the story takes a turn into environmentalism, as it turns out all this gun producing is also turning the biosphere toxic.
This episode definitely suffers from having too many ideas, as well as the usual character inconsistencies, e.g. the hero trio being pinned down in a warehouse by a cohort of armed guards, who then fail to shoot at them for long enough for the hero trio to arm themselves– and don’t get me started on how these supposedly peaceful farmers turn out to be dab hands with automatic weapons. I suppose it’s understandable that the hero trio trust Mister Smith for as long as they do, since it’s already been established that they’re naive and none too bright, but why does the nurse who treats Garth for pollution inhalation trust them enough to give them a huge exposition about how awful Mister Smith is, at some risk to herself? Particularly since this is supposed to be a paranoid society and they’re under suspicion of being spies. The premise doesn’t make much sense either– why have a whole biosphere manufacturing nothing but small arms?– but it’s possible Mister Smith was lying about that, so I give it a slight pass.
I’m trying to find something good to say about this one, but, bar that it passes the Bechdel test, I’m finding it difficult.
A knock-on problem from this episode is that the series’ writers start taking it as the basis for their formula, and from this point on we get a lot of stories where our hero trio stumble across a biosphere of people with a ridiculously narrow specialty, dominated by an alpha male type with a usually-female assistant.
Guest cast to watch out for: The actor playing the bring-out-your-dead man is Canadian comedy stalwart Les Rubie, who had roles in many 1970s/1980s-era episodes of The Wayne and Shuster Comedy Show. Unfortunately, none of the ones currently on YouTube (though you can see him in a non-speaking role in “I Was A TV Addict”), but if you can get your hands on a copy of their Trojan War parody, “The Best Little Warhorse in Troy” (and I wish someone would put that one on YouTube, it’s gloriously daft), he’s playing a Greek soldier named either Ludicrous or Ridiculous, I forget which.
The hero trio discover an art gallery staffed by a mysterious blonde, who tells them it all belongs to someone called Magnus. The Computer With The Good Beard (he’s so pretty! So pretty! So pretty! <click the link for the explanation>) is strangely reticent as to who Magnus is. Spoiler alert, it turns out we’re in the Rogue Supercomputer Episode. You just knew there was going to be one, what with Keir Dullea and all.
So, yeah. Magnus was put on the ship to help the original bridge crew, has the power to cast convincing illusions, and tries to persuade the hero trio to remove the restrictions on his actions so that he can “help” them. Not being too bright, they almost fall for it, and would do so if Magnus himself hadn’t, rather stupidly, given them access to a projection of the Ark’s original commander who explains why Magnus was restricted in the first place (but who is otherwise completely useless, and can’t even tell them where the backup bridge is). Devon of course has to destroy Magnus, who manages to resist the temptation to sing “Daisy, Daisy” as he does so.
Continuity: for the last couple of episodes, the hero trio have been wearing the spacesuits they put on to go into the depressurised zone where Oro was, but now they’re back in their peasant smocks.
Also, the guest star’s performance is pretty good, adding more support to my hypothesis that everyone is directing themselves.
I’m deeply honoured to have an article comparing “Doctor Who: The Mutants” and Nigel Kneale’s “The Stone Tape” in the 50th anniversary issue of Foundation, the oldest science fiction studies journal! In due course it will be available online, but if you can’t wait (and/or want to support the Science Fiction Foundation’s activities), you can get your copy by joining here.
I’ve got a guest blog post this month at Galactic Journey– the site where everything is 55 years in the past– reviewing the recently-released (in 1967) movie Carry On Screaming. Read what I think here!
Richards is a scientist and political activist from a dome where, as the Computer With The Good Beard eventually informs us, there was until recently a functional two-party democracy. Then one of the parties, the “Control Party”, took over, imposed restrictions, declared the other party illegal and arrested its officials, and began running rampant through the environment.
With the dome in irreversible ecological decline, and learning about the Ark’s dire situation, Richards decides that the only thing for it is to flee the Ark in a lifepod with his daughter Valerie (Canadian gen-Xers, say hi to a very young Nerene Virgin, later to play the unforgettable Jodie on children’s edutainment programme Today’s Special), and blow up the Ark itself to give its inhabitants a merciful death.
Unfortunately, all of that’s just interesting backstory which is mostly wasted: the lifepod fails to eject, and Richards is forced to disarm the self-destruct mechanism with the aid of the hero trio. Which involves a kind of miniaturisation process (it gets heavily explained three times) whereby people project tiny versions of themselves into a microchip, and so most of the episode is taken up with Devon and Richards thunking clunkily around the microchip set, while Garth, out of his usual job since Valerie has a boyfriend, mostly sits at the computer finding out the abovementioned backstory, before eventually someone twigs to the fact that it might be a good idea to get him into the microchip as well, because technical guy.
The ending makes no sense whatsoever. Richards (spoilers!) sacrifices himself to save the Ark, and everybody immediately goes misty-eyed about what a genius and humanitarian he was, and nobody points out the obvious, i.e. he was the one who put the Ark in danger to begin with. Valerie and boyfriend trot happily off back to their biosphere, with no one apparently concerned about the fact that it’s been taken over by Nazis. The whole story about the death of democracy, which I think a lot of us right now would like to hear, just stays as backstory.
To end on a more positive note: all the guest stars this week are Black (we’ve seen a bit of diversity in the Omicron episode, but that’s been it so far), and there’s no plot reason for this, making it colour-blind casting. However, I’m inclined to unkindly suspect that the reason Valerie has a boyfriend rather than being Garth’s love-interest-of-the-week is due to the production team worrying about how an interracial relationship, even a chaste and largely implied one, might play south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
.Walter Koenig turns up (hooray) as an alien, Oro, whose ship has crashed into the Ark. Enterprisingly, he starts cannibalising the environment he’s landed in for parts, and recruits one of the locals as an assistant. She is, of course, a beautiful woman named Idona, and Garth, whose job it is to fall for whichever woman is guest-starring, obliges.
The tension, such as it is, comes from the fact that Idona has a terminal disease which Oro’s people can cure, but she has to leave with Oro if she wants to live, meaning she’s got to choose between life and Garth, as it were. Some tension also comes from Devon being (understandably) a bit irked at someone coming along and treating the Ark as raw materials, and not even volunteering to help fix it in return.
I say “such as it is” because this is an incredibly tension-free episode. There’s about fifteen minutes’ worth of plot, a couple of contrived attempts at peril, and otherwise it’s just people talking flatly at each other. We again get character swings, in this case Oro spending 90% of the episode saying he won’t fix the Ark because frankly it’s not his problem (harsh but true), and then, five minutes before the end, saying he wished he could have helped and he’ll ask his people once he gets home.
Once again we find out that women in Cypress Corners cook and sew and bake bread and that’s about it. This is the third time we’ve been told that– and since Rachel has encountered women with more technical roles since then, you’d think she’d be less surprised to find one.
Fun fact for non-Francophiles: the name of Idona’s home biosphere, where the men all die before the age of 18 and the only adults are women, is “Igreque”, which is the French word for “Y”.
Our hero trio come to New Eden, apparently deserted but for a single young woman, Lisa, who is traumatized into speechlessness. She rapidly recovers and starts manipulating the trio, setting them against each other. Unbeknownst to them, they have wandered into a social experiment run by two scientists: Dr Asgard, an Ayn Rand type who thinks humans are basically selfish, and Dr Diana, who thinks they’re basically compassionate.
The whole thing plays out rather like a multi-way cross between Blake’s 7: Duel, Star Trek: The Empath and any given episode of The Prisoner, and as such it’s actually not too bad, for The Starlost values of “not too bad” of course. Of course Dr Diana’s view eventually triumphs as the hero trio demonstrate that their love for each other is transcendent and self-sacrificing, but we do actually get a little time to explore Garth’s ambivalent feelings about being the third wheel to Devon and Rachel’s romance, and there’s a suggestion that Rachel’s puritanical upbringing means she’s a little suspicious of men in general, even ones she likes, which wouldn’t be too surprising.
Drawbacks: the message is iterated over and over in declamatory speeches between Asgard and Diana, to the point where I was groaning every time the story cut away to them. Also, while we do actually get an older woman with agency in this story in the form of Dr Diana, the gender politics are still mighty sketchy: of course it’s the Woman Scientist who is all about Compassion and Love, and the Delilah trope with Lisa is more than a little misogynous.