TV Science Fiction & Fantasy

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

“The Daemons.” A serial of five episodes from the eighth season of Dr Who, BBC, UK, 22 May 1971 through 19 June 1971 (episodes 21 – 25). Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Damaris Hayman, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin. Director: Christopher Barry.

   Sometimes it’s fun to go back and watch movies or television shows that you really enjoyed as a kid, things that really made an impression on you. I remember, for instance, watching the Doctor Who serial, “The Daemons,” on public television when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old.

   Even decades later, I still remembered how this was the serial in which a gargoyle came to life. That idea fascinated me for years and so began a lifetime interest in those stone creatures. I even went so far as taking a series of photographs of cathedral gargoyles while vacationing in France.

   So it was a real pleasure to finally get the opportunity to watch “The Daemons” again, this time on DVD, after so many years. And I have to tell you: it didn’t disappoint.

   Originally aired on the BBC in spring 1971, “The Daemons” features Jon Pertwee as The (Third) Doctor and Katy Manning as his companion, Jo Grant. In this five-part series, The Doctor faces off against his longtime nemesis, The Master (Roger Delgado) as the scheming, bearded villain seeks to summon the seemingly occult power of an ancient alien force that has been using mankind as some sort of bizarre laboratory experiment.

   There’s also a giant horned beast named Azal and a gargoyle come to life named Bok. It’s a thrilling, occasionally tongue-in-cheek journey through the British occult with enough cliffhangers to keep you enthralled and watching. And the gargoyle with the power to make people disappear is pretty cool too. Even after all these years.

GEMINI MAN. Made-for-TV movie. NBC, 2 hours, 10 May 1976. Pilot for the series which began the following fall. Ben Murphy, Katherine Crawford, Richard Dysart, Dana Elcar, Paul Shenar. Based on the novel The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells. Director: Alan J. Levi.

   I must not have been paying attention to the opening credits, otherwise I would have known a lot more about what to expect of this pilot film when I started watching — or perhaps H. G. Wells wasn’t mentioned. I haven’t gone back to look, but I will. (Later: The reason I didn’t remember the credits is that they are at the end of the film, and even more, no, H. G. Wells is not mentioned.)

   The phenomenon of invisibility has been around in fiction for a log time, including both TV and the movies, whether it’s physically possible or not, and Gemini Man is yet another attempt.

   Ben Murphy plays Sam Casey in both the pilot and the series that came afterward. Casey is an easy-going secret agent who’s caught in an underwater explosion while he’s examining a secret Russian satellite that has come down from orbit and landed in the Pacific. It is in the aftermath of the explosion that he discovers he has new powers.

   The only drawback? He can stay invisible only 15 minutes a day, added up cumulatively over the 24-hour period. This is a necessary plot device, since otherwise, of course, he’s Superman without the Kryponite.

   It was difficult to watch this and see Dana Elcar as the villain, working secretly for the Russian government, but so he is. Nor am I revealing anything to you you won’t know with he first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie. Unfortunately this is about all there is to know about the plot. The rest consists of jokey references to Sam’s new ability, cars driving here and there, and a serious attempt at misadventure aboard an airplane in the sky.

   I haven’t checked to see what shows that Gemini Man, the series, was up against in the fall, but of the eleven episodes filmed, only five of them were ever aired. Neither Ben Murphy nor Katherine Crawford (as scientist Dr. Abby Lawrence, also Sam’s mentor) have enough charisma to overcome what I imagine were some rather ordinary stories.

   All of the shows filmed do exist, and are available on collector-to-collector DVDs, but all in all, I don’t think I’ll pony up the $25 asking price for a set I discovered online in pristine picture quality.

Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:

“FIELD OF FIRE.” An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 7, Episode 13 (161st of 173). First airdate: 10 February 1999. Cast: Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko), Rene Auberjonois (Odo), Nicole deBoer (Lieutenant Ezri Dax), Michael Dorn (Lt. Commander Worf), Colm Meaney (Chief O’Brien), Armin Shimerman (Quark), Alexander Siddig (Doctor Bashir), Nana Visitor (Colonel Kira), Art Chudabala (Lt. Hector Ilario), Marty Rackham (Vulcan), Leigh McCloskey (Joran Belar). Writer: Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Director: Tony Dow.

    “I’m sorry, Lieutenant. There’s nothing more annoying than a corpse with a mind of its own.”

   Lieutenant Dax may not look it, but she’s more than one person. Being a Trill, Dax has had a symbiont implanted in her; for better or worse, the symbiont itself possesses all of the memories and skills of every host into which it has been previously introduced. In Dax’s case this turns out to be for the worse, because one of those predecessors was a murderer …

   An interstellar war is raging and millions are dying. The huge space station Deep Space 9, now occupied by hundreds of Starfleet personnel, is serving as a staging area for operations in the war.

   A young Starfleet lieutenant, one who has distinguished himself in combat, is found dead in his quarters, the victim of a bullet fired from a projectile weapon (an antique by 24th century standards) at point blank range — only there are no “powder burns” on the body, the room was locked from the inside, and no one can think of a motive for the crime.

   Later in a fevered dream, Dax unwillingly calls up the forceful but warped personality of Joran Belar, responsible in a previous life for three murders. Reluctantly, she realizes that Joran’s “skills” as a killer could come in handy in the investigation and agrees to let “him” (i.e., the remains of his persona) guide her.

   Soon enough two more murders, both victims serving with Starfleet, occur in the same fashion as the first. Despite Joran’s urgings to think like a killer, Dax is having no luck in her investigation — until an offhand remark from Joran lets her connect the dots, enabling her to locate the murderer. When that moment comes, Dax will have only a few seconds to decide whether she should kill — as Joran is all but screaming at her to do — or be killed …

   In this particular impossible crime mystery, the HOW is discovered fairly soon (and can only have been pulled off in a science fictional scenario); it’s the WHO and the WHY that have everybody flummoxed. For long-time Star Trek fans, the why and the who just might come as something of a shock.

   Tony Dow, who directed this episode, is probably most famous for being the Beaver’s older brother Wally on Leave It to Beaver (1957-63).

NOTE: A transcript of the show (with SPOILERS) is here.

Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:

ONCE UPON A TIME.” An episode of The Twilight Zone. 15 December 1961 (Season 3, Episode 13; 78th of 156. Buster Keaton, Stanley Adams, James Flavin, Jesse White, Gil Lamb. Writers: Richard Matheson, Rod Serling. Director: Norman Z. McLeod.

   Thirty-seven years after filming Sherlock, Jr. [reviewed here ], Buster Keaton paid a visit to The Twilight Zone. He plays a curmudgeonly individual, Woodrow Mulligan by name, dissatisfied with the era he’s living in, the year 1890. A store sign says (heavens to Betsy!) that steak is 17 cents a pound, a newspaper headline announces the government has only an 85 million dollar surplus, and street traffic is allowed to proceed at an insane eight miles per hour, causing Woodrow to wind up in a horse trough.

   But quite by accident Woodrow discovers a way to escape this purgatory. Series host Rod Serling’s setup is unusually terse (for him):

    “Mr. Mulligan, a rather dour critic of his times, is shortly to discover the import of that old phrase, ‘Out of the frying pan, into the fire,’ said fire burning brightly at all times in The Twilight Zone.”

   As luck would have it, Woodrow works for an inventor, and his latest invention, again as luck would have it, is a Time Helmet. And guess who, as luck would have it, activates the helmet and it’s off to 1961.

   This first segment of the show is done silent film-style, with title cards and undercranked camera action. When Woodrow arrives in the future, however, blaring sounds of heavy traffic greet him.

   It isn’t long before Woodrow encounters Rollo (Stanley Adams), a guy who is definitely on the make. When he finally realizes that Woodrow and the Time Helmet are for real, Rollo (also “a rather dour critic of his times”) makes plans of his own, plans which involve the helmet—but not Woodrow.

   The final segment of the show takes us back to 1890 and the silent era. As the story winds down, we see a biter get bit — “the best-laid plans” and all that.

   In his closing remarks, Rod Serling sums it up:

   “‘To each his own’ — so goes another old phrase to which Mr. Woodrow Mulligan would heartily subscribe, for he has learned, definitely the hard way, that there is much wisdom in a third old phrase which goes as follows: ‘Stay in your own backyard.’ To which it might be added, ‘and if possible, assist others to stay in theirs’ — via, of course, The Twilight Zone.”

   With all that comedic talent available to it, this episode could have been a lot better, but it does have its moments. Just seeing Buster, at the time sixty-six, very late in his career makes “Once Upon a Time” worth at least one viewing.

by Michael Shonk

   October means Halloween and Halloween means monsters. Fiction is full of scary monsters, evil monsters, but hero monsters? TV alone has more than its share of stories with humans fighting monsters. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER, SPECIAL UNIT 2 and X-FILES are just a few of the TV series with monsters as the villains, but what about the shows with a monster as a good guy? Its time we scream for those monsters willing to change sides.

   If you are going to mention monsters you have to begin with vampires, and what is it about cops and PIs that attract vampires?

ANGEL. (WB, 1999-2004) Buffy didn’t slay all the vampires as the vampire with a soul, Angel (David Boreanaz) was on her side from the beginning. At one point he moves to Los Angeles and opens his own PI agency.

BLOOD TIES. (Lifetime, 2007-08) Female ex-cop turned PI, Vicki Nelson (Christine Cox) gets help from a cute Vampire, Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid) as they solves crimes and she deals with her jealous boyfriend and former police partner Mike (Dylan Neal). Based on books by Tonya Huff.

FOREVER KNIGHT. (CBS, 1992-96) Vampire Nick Knight (Geraint Wyn Davies) who wants to go straight becomes a Toronto Homicide cop on the night shift. The link is to the first episode.

MOONLIGHT. (CBS, 2007-08) Vampire PI Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) solves crimes as he tries to resist falling in love with human reporter Beth (Sophie Myles).

   Where would monsters be without mad scientists seeking answers Man is not supposed to know, those scamps are the stuff of horror legends…and crime fighters. H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man has been a popular choice for a TV good guy.

THE INVISIBLE MAN. (CBS, 1958-59): Imported British series featured scientist Peter Brady. Brady’s experiment turns a rat invisible but there is a leak and he becomes invisible as well and unable to return to his natural visible state, thus cheating the actor whose face is never seen out of an on air credit (reportedly he was Tim Turner). Brady would use his invisibility to fight crime and help the government. Link is for the first episode.

THE INVISIBLE MAN. (NBC, 1975): Scientist (David McCallum) creates a machine that turns things and people invisible. He destroys the machine to keep it out of the hands of the military but his antidote fails and he is unable to become visible again. He and his scientist wife (Melissa Fee) go to work for the Klae Corporation where he handles security missions for the company while he and his wife search for a cure to his invisibility.

GEMINI MAN. (NBC, 1976): Government agent Sam Casey (Ben Murphy) works for the U.S. agency Intersect. While on a mission he is exposed to radiation that turns him invisible. Scientist Abby Lawrence (Katherine Crawford) creates a DNA stabilizer that allows Sam to control his invisibility. But if Sam stays invisible for longer than fifteen minutes he will remain that way forever. The link is for Part One (of Five) of the episode “Minotaur.”

INVISIBLE MAN aka I-MAN. (Sci-Fi aka Syfy, 2000-02): Comedy action series. A mad scientist uses his brother, career criminal Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca) as the test subject for a government funded experiment. Things go wrong (don’t they always?) and Darien, who now has the ability to make himself invisible, is forced to work for a secret agency in exchange for regular doses of an antidote that keeps him from going insane. The link is for the pilot episode.

   Sure, we all overcome obstacles every day in our lives, but these characters didn’t let a little thing like death stopped them from fighting evil.

BRIMSTONE. (Fox, 1998-99): Dead Damned good cop Zeke Stone (Peter Horton) murdered the man who escaped justice after raping Stone’s wife. Stone ends up in Hell. He is offered a deal by the Devil (John Glover), recapture 113 escaped demons from Hell and Stone gets a second chance on Earth. The link is for episode three.

G VS E aka GOOD VS EVIL. (USA, 1999/ Sci-Fi aka Syfy, 2000): Dead Cop Chandler Smythe (Clayton Rohner) joins “the corps,” God’s police force. With his dead partner Henry (Richard Brooks) a cop from the 70s, they hunt “Morlocks,” demons from Hell who are on Earth disguised as humans. The link is for Part One (of Five) of the first episode.

   Witches and Wizards, like humans, can be found on both sides of the line between good and evil.

DRESDEN’S FILES. (Sci-Fi aka Syfy, 2007): Loosely based on the books by Jim Butcher. Wizard and PI Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne) solve crimes involving the supernatural with curious cop Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz) trying to discover the truth.

TUCKER’S WITCH. (CBS, 1982-83) Married couple Amanda and Rick Tucker (Catherine Hicks and Tim Matheson) work together as PIs solving mysteries with the help of her yet to be totally mastered witchcraft. Mystery*File review here.

   There are times a monster rises above our prejudices and remind us that not all scary ugly monsters are alike.

SWAMP THING (USA, 1990-93). Professor Alex Holland (Dirk Durock) is a victim of a murder attempt by mad scientist Anton Arcane (Mark Lindsey Chapman). Turned into a monster that is part man-part plant, Holland protects his swamp home and friends from Arcane and various other evildoers.

   Saturday morning TV has been a place for an endless number of good guy monsters including SWAMP THING (Fox Kids 1990-91). The link is for the episode “Un-man Unleashed.”

FANGFACE (ABC 1978-79) was one of the endless cartoons inspired by Scooby Doo, this one with a werewolf.

MONSTER SQUAD. (NBC 1976-77) was a live action show done in a style similar to the 1960s BATMAN TV series. The night watchman at a Wax Museum brings Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and Werewolf back to life so they can do good and make up for their earlier bad behavior.

   Today we have no shortage of “monsters” fighting evil including Grimm’s monster sidekick Monroe in GRIMM (NBC), the risen from the dead Ichabod Crane in SLEEPY HOLLOW (FOX) and a growing groups of clones in ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America).

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

“NO TIME LIKE THE PAST.” An episode of The Twilight Zone, CBS, 7 March 1963 (Season 4, Episode 10). Dana Andrews, Patricia Breslin, Malcolm Atterbury. Radio adaptation: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, syndicated, circa 2002-2003, starring Jason Alexander.

    “No Time Like The Past” is a Twilight Zone original series episode starring Dana Andrews (Laura, Where the Sidewalk Ends) as Paul Driscoll, a time-traveling physicist who comes to realize that, no matter how much you may want to, you simply can’t change the past. It’s one of those Twilight Zone episodes, which, apart from the somewhat clunky-looking scientific equipment one sees in beginning, does not seem remotely dated.

    Indeed, the plot of “No Time Like The Past” and its theme of fatalism seem as timely as ever. That is one reason why Jason Alexander’s (Seinfeld) portrayal of Driscoll in the radio and audio drama version works so well.

    We begin with Paul Driscoll (Andrews) in conversation with his colleague, Harvey (Robert F. Simon). They’re in a laboratory. Driscoll is standing in a crude time machine that he invented. Light and shadow play prominent roles, both literally and figuratively, in this scene. A man of both academic knowledge and unbridled humanism, Driscoll has an incredibly bleak view of the twentieth-century and he’s not remotely reluctant to make his views crystal clear:

    “We live in a cesspool, a septic tank, a gigantic sewage complex in which runs the dregs, the filth, the misery-laden slop of the race of men.”

    It’s Driscoll’s intention to travel backward in time so as to change the present. He chooses three destinations: Hiroshima, in order to evacuate citizens before the atomic bomb is dropped; Nazi Germany before World War II, so he can assassinate Hitler; and on board the Lusitania, to halt the American entrance into the First World War. (In the radio play, Driscoll visits the same three points in time but in reverse order.) In all three situations, he fails to complete his task. He returns, disappointed, to the present and once again meets up with Harvey in the laboratory.

    Driscoll now has a new plan. Rather than trying to change the past, he opts for living in it. Specifically, he wants to go back to 1881 and live in Homeville, Indiana where he can enjoy band concerts and lemonade. He’s read a book about the Midwest in the nineteenth-century and decides he wants to live in simpler times, before world wars and atom bombs. His naivety is galling.

    When Driscoll gets to Homeville, he soon realizes that the past may not be all that great either. He ends up living in a boarding house with an armchair warrior who advocates for American imperialism in East Asia and, within a couple of days, President James Garfield is shot. Complicating matters is the fact that he begins to have romantic feelings for a schoolteacher, Abigail Sloan (Patricia Breslin) but soon realizes that he can’t do anything about it, lest he change the course of History.

    Things get even worse for Driscoll when he realizes that some of Sloan’s schoolchildren are going to die in a fire. He read about it in the history book he carries with him. A man divided against himself, he can’t decide if he should intervene. In a sadly ironic twist of fate, Driscoll inadvertently ends up causing the very historical event he intended to stop. One of the perils of time travel, no doubt. Driscoll finally accepts that the past, as Harvey told him all along, is indeed inviolate.

    Dana Andrews, best known for his film work in the 1940s, skillfully conveys the conflicted emotions the hopelessly tormented Driscoll. He convincingly portrays a man who is angry and sentimental, fearful and hopeful. In the slightly modified radio show version, Jason Alexander successfully pulls off the quite difficult feat of bringing this episode to life without the benefit of visuals. Alexander’s voice acting never once reminds you of his portrayal of George Costanza on Seinfeld.

    In conclusion, “No Time Like The Past” is a classic Twilight Zone episode that stands up to the test of time. The themes of nostalgia, sentimentalism, and wishing one could change the past so as to change the present remain poignant today.

    While some contemporary listeners might be less familiar with the Lusitania than with the Second World War, the points in time that Driscoll visits remain alive in the American public consciousness. One could imagine a future reworking of the script to include references to the Vietnam War and to 9/11, but that might have to wait another couple of decades. It’s an episode both worth watching and listening to.

NOTE: The TV episode can be watched in its entirety on IMDb here.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

“STEEL.” Episode of The Twilight Zone. CBS. Season 5, Episode 2. October 4, 1963. Lee Marvin, Joe Mantell, Tipp McClure. Director: Don Weis.


   Stories set in a future that have long since passed are often particularly fascinating to read. They do not merely portray imagined futures. They also provide critical insight into how writers understood their own eras within the context of History’s tripartite realms of past, present, and future. Most significantly, many of these stories revolve around man’s complex relationship with technology.

   Consider, for instance, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Nevil Shute’s On The Beach (published in 1958, but set in 1963), and Arthur C. Clarke’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The years in which those novels are set have long since come and gone. When we read these novels, we are reading fiction set simultaneously in the future and in the past. True, they are works of fiction; the books’ authors did not intend them to be prescient renderings of what was yet to come.

   Still, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that humanity did not usher into existence the most compelling aspects of these novelists’ imagined futures. More countries have democratically elected governments than ever before. Humanity avoided a nuclear holocaust. Man hasn’t traveled to Saturn. Scientists have not created an artificial intelligence nearly as advanced as HAL. Well, not yet, anyway.

   Similar to the aforementioned novels, The Twilight Zone episode, “Steel,” based on a Richard Matheson story of the same name (published in the May 1956 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), also takes place in a future date that is now past.

   Originally aired on October 4, 1963, “Steel” is set in a future 1974 in which human boxing is no longer permitted. Android-like robots are the only ones allowed to box; human boxing was criminalized in 1968. Rod Sterling’s narration provides context and instructs the viewer that such a law was passed in an attempt to abolish one facet of human cruelty:

   “Only these automatons have been permitted in the ring since prizefighting was legally abolished in 1968. This is the story of that scheduled six-round bout, more specifically the story of two men shortly to face that remorseless truth: that no law can be passed which will abolish cruelty or desperate need — nor, for that matter, blind animal courage. Location for the facing of said truth: a small, smoke-filled arena just this side of the Twilight Zone.”


   The episode begins with Steel Kelly (Lee Marvin) and Pole (Joe Mantell) escorting a shrouded figure off a bus and into a small town diner. We soon learn that the mystery man accompanying them isn’t a man at all. Rather, he — it — is a fighting android answering to the name of Battling Maxo (Tipp McClure).

   Steel Kelly and Pole are in need of some prize money. Maxo, a B2 unit and a heavyweight, is set to fight a more advanced B7 unit named Maynard Flash (Chuck Hicks). Problem is, Maxo experiences mechanical failure right before the big fight.

   That’s when Steel Kelly, a former boxer, comes up with what he considers to be an ingenious plan. He’ll pretend that he’s Maxo and will go in the ring against Maynard Flash. Pole urges against this idea. Steel, portrayed with gusto by Lee Marvin, is not about to be swayed. He’s determined to see this through. All too human, Steel is both courageous and foolish. As one might guess, he doesn’t win the fight.


   Sterling’s ending narration emphasizes that the main theme of the episode is man’s relationship with technology:

   “Portrait of a losing side, proof positive that you can’t outpunch machinery. Proof also of something else: that no matter what the future brings, man’s capacity to rise to the occasion will remain unaltered. His potential for tenacity and optimism continues, as always, to outfight, outpoint and outlive any and all changes made by his society, for which three cheers and a unanimous decision rendered from the Twilight Zone.”

   Upon hearing these words spoken and seeing Steel collapsed on the floor, I initially felt a sense of disappointment at how the episode ended. Lee Marvin was excellent, the androids appeared both plausibly human and uncannily creepy, and the writing was tight and without sentimentalism. But something was missing.

   That’s when I realized that “Steel” is best appreciated within the context of stories set in the past, but which take place in the future, similar to the novels I alluded to previously.


   In order to appreciate this particular Twilight Zone episode, one has to imagine oneself watching it when it was first aired, some two years after President Kennedy’s moon speech and two months after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in which he declared that, “1963 is not an end but a beginning.” Indeed, “Steel,” when considered within dual contexts of advancing technology and changing legal norms, packs more of a punch than when viewed without reference to contemporaneous political issues.

   The episode’s theme of man’s relationship with technology, however, is a far more universal one. Ever since the Gothic horror of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Victorian-era science fiction, the relationship between man and machine has been a constant theme in the genre. In this light, “Steel” isn’t a bad episode. It just seems as though it would have been a much better episode to watch and to ponder in 1963 than in 2014.

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